Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

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I have a confession to make: I’ve never played a Final Fantasy game. When I was younger, I didn’t care for turn based battle systems, and when I was older and in college, the anime styling was just not appealing. I’ve come around on both accounts, and was able to dig in a bit on Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia).

For those who don’t know, FFTA is a strategy RPG – you command a group of characters in turn based battles who then gain experience points and levels. I didn’t get far enough to see exactly, but it seems that there is also an element of loot with different equipment available to the various characters. This is a full on RPG no doubt, but with a more strategic combat phase. It’s a nice mix, but I will say that the various mechanics are a bit overwhelming to a newcomer like me – job and law systems, the different character classes and their attacks and roles in combat, and a map that allows you to place points of interest. Incredibly deep and complex. I could see spending the first dozen or so hours with this game to just learn and get a feel for it, then start over.

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The game is played from an overhead isometric perspective and the visuals are top notch. Sprite work is detailed and beautiful and the battlefield is readable at a glance – no small feat on the small screen and limited resolution of the GBA. I am still in love with the look of this game, it may be the best looking GBA title in my collection.

Music is overall great – but I can see it getting a bit stale after dozens of hours… not a fault of the game, but a limitation of cartridge sizes at the time. Sound effects crisp, clear, and perfect in every instance I saw. Overall, this is a great sounding game and it compliments the visuals quite nicely.

Overall I enjoyed my time with FFTA, but I think I need to read a beginners guide before I get too much further. The amount of time I dedicate to each title for this site is usually sufficient to judge – but in this case it wasn’t even close. I played close to double what I normally do and I was still a bit lost when it came to some of the mechanics. Thankfully, FFTA is compelling enough for me to keep up interest and follow through – I’m looking forward to playing all the way through in the future.

Verdict: Play again! This is fun and really deep – I can see sinking a ton of hours into it over lunch breaks.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

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Mega Man Battle Network 3 (White)

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The Mega Man Battle Network series is one that I had honestly never heard of until a few years ago – originally released for the Game Boy Advance, and later the Nintendo DS, the games were never on my radar as I had taken a very long hiatus from portable gaming. I luckily got a copy of Mega Man Battle Network 3 (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) in a GBA lot at a rummage sale, but never got around to actually trying it out.

The game starts with you at a field trip for your school to a network security company. There is a lot of text in this game, and almost all of it is jargon – my guess is the designers assumed the player had experience with the previous title and would feel right at home. I didn’t and was a little overwhelmed. From what I was able to glean from my friends and teacher, most people in this future society lead dual lives – one in the real world, and one in the net. You have a PDA (this was before the ubiquity of smart phones) which has a digital assistant who becomes your avatar when you ‘jack in’ to the net. In the net you can randomly encounter viruses and you need to fight to eliminate them in semi-real time battles.  As the player, your assistant/avatar is none other than Mega Man himself. During battles, you select a number of chips to send out with Mega Man – these include attacks and special items like heals or buffs. You can only send him out with chips that are of the same type. On the grid, you move Mega Man up and down and can attack with the mega buster using the B button (which does little damage)  – but you can use a chip action with the A button. Once you use a chip, it’s gone for this round. You can send out more chips but have to wait for a meter to fill up before you can open the menu to select them. This all sounds fairly complex, but in practice it was intuitive with the chips sort of representing cards in a hand. If I have any complaints about the game it’s that knowing what the game wants you to do next is not very clear, and navigating the net was – well, not intuitive to say the least.

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Graphics and sound are something I normally break out into two sections, but for this I don’t think it’s necessary. Graphics are quite nice for a GBA title and run at a solid frame rate. Sound was pretty good for a title on the GBA, with music fitting the tone and sound effects matching well with the graphics they represent. Not the best looking or sounding game on the system, but above average.

I feel I need to address the elephant in the room. The game really feels like it’s stealing from Pokemon, but any resemblance is really at the surface level – this is a card battling game wrapped in anime/jrpg tropes with a strange amount of mid 90s cyber punk terminology. It’s an odd combination, but I can’t deny that it does work on some level. It also does  seem to be trying desperately to get a slice of the Pokemon audience – and I’m not sure how successful it was at that.

Verdict: Back on the shelf. While this is well made, and I can see the appeal, it didn’t click with me at all. I can see an alternate universe where this released when I was 10 or 11, and I would be obsessed with it.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb