Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

Developer: Square
U.S. Publisher: Nintendo
Original U.S. Release: September 8, 2003
Genre: Tactical role-playing game

Based on: Moving along a grid, attacking from behind, not living up to the expectations of your older brother, ruining things for everyone else.

Games | Game Boy Advance | Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

Article by Brandon | August 21, 2007

The biggest drawback to any satisfying, engrossing game is that with each boss defeated and each new area discovered, you bring yourself one step closer to the end. This holds true for books, movies, and TV shows, as well -- whatever its form, when a story grabs a hold of you and compels you to spend more time in its world, you will inevitably end up with less time left to spend.

This realization makes for a bit of a downer, so it's a small wonder that few stories ever dwell on it. Still, with big-name games like BioShock gathering attention -- games that pride themselves on their ability to get into a player's head and force them to think about the very nature of what they're playing -- it bears mentioning that a game of a much smaller scale has already tackled this topic: Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Though it didn't receive nearly much attention for its troubles.

When Final Fantasy Tactics Advance warped gamers back to the kingdom of Ivalice in late 2003, things weren't quite as they had left them five years before, at the end of the original Tactics?. Gone was the political intrigue and backstabbing, the religious overtones, and the atmosphere of historic tragedy.

In its place was a cheerful world of child adventurers, refereed battles, and scantily-clad bunny women. Instead of a dense and bewildering story of warring kingdoms and evil stones, the plot of this new Tactics was much simpler: four friends open a magical book and create a fantasy world based on one of their favorite games. Taking the role of Marche (the only one of the four friends who isn't thrilled with the magic and adventure of Ivalice), players are tasked with finding and destroying the four crystals that maintain the world.

On the surface, this premise seems childish and almost laughable, espeially in the wake of its predecessor's epic nature. What Tactics Advance actually does, however, is subtly and slyly reveal to the player that they are the villain of the piece. Just why does Marche want the old, original world back, anyway? Because he believes that a fantasy world, no matter how convincing, is no comparison to real life.

And while this might otherwise be a noble stance, his friends -- and the rest of the inhabitants of Ivalice who will more or less be "erased" should Marche succeed -- don't exactly agree. One of his friends has become a king, his father a loving and honorable man in sharp contrast to his horrible parenting skills in the real world. Another friend finds acceptance living as a warrior and adventuring with a group of new friends. Then there's Marche's brother, Doned. Back in the real world, he had been a sickly child confined to a wheelchair. In Ivalice, Doned has full use of his legs, as well as power over magic and weapons. All three of these people have a sizable stake in this new world.

But Marche can't be swayed and doesn't seem particularly interested in convincing his friends. Instead, he gathers around him a group of apparently suicidal Ivalician warriors and sets out to destroy the crystals. This is the point at which Tactics Advance begins working its way into your head.

Each crystal is guarded by a large and interesting monster that will, upon defeat, join you as a summonable creature. You, as the player, are rewarded each time you destroy a crystal. On the other hand, with each crystal shattered, the world of Ivalice comes closer to dissolution and you are given less opportunity to use these new spells and summons as you draw near the final boss fight.

Ultimately, it would seem that the choice is made for you. Even if you want to spend more time in this world, there is little you can do outside of the main missions (all of which involve destroying Ivalice). While there is some fun to be had wandering around learning new spells and fighting random clans, the meat of the game lies in the more scripted battles. And so, just as you wouldn't dwell on a single page of a book just to delay the ending, you find yourself heading onward again toward the finale.

Things aren't completely one-sided, however. To help give you that extra little push towards the dark side, Square has introduced a system of laws for each battle. These range from the inconvenient (no healing magic) to the soul-crushing (no physical attacks allowed). Each battle's laws are enforced by judges, invincible characters who can freely move about the map and punish any offenders. Break too many laws and that character is sent to jail until you cough up the gil to pay their bail. So while it's a bit unsavory to destroy an entire reality and all its people, it is kind of nice to know that you also obliterated a needlessly frustrating system of laws in the process.

Needless to say, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance put forth a pretty ambitious idea that would have been hard to pull off under any circumstances. Square ultimately brings the story to its logical conclusion: Marche destroys Ivalice and returns the world to the way it was. However, each of his friends manage to take something away with them from their time in the fantasy land that helps them deal with the real world they've been dumped back into. Whether it is self-confidence, respect for a bumbling but caring parent, or just a bit of smugness at knowing how proficient they all are with melee weapons, they are all changed for the better.

Well, except for Marche's brother. Stuck once again in a wheelchair, his only solace comes from playing Final Fantasy and helping people out with parts they have trouble with. No doubt he enjoys the sharp pang each time he remembers that he used to be a part of that world, a strong and well-liked adventurer now forced to live on only through memories and video games.

Way to go, jerk.