With Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift, the DS sequel to 2003's Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for the Game Boy Advance, Square Enix wages turn-based battle on handhelds once more. The punishing laws of the first game have been loosened up, but does A2 do justice to its fans?
Square-Enix and epic storyline are often synonymous with one another, but the story takes a backseat in this Grimoire. Like the last game, things begin in a school where a kid named Luso stumbles across a magic book with an incomplete story. The curious young boy decides to make his mark on one of the page, and is whisked away into the midst of a battle in another world.
The remainder of the game takes place in the land of Ivalice, where Luso searches for a way to return home with the help of the Gully clan. Except for a few select points, the story never develops into anything truly meaningful. For a series that started off with a bang in the story department, the franchise has slowly regressed to the point where narrative is almost an afterthought. This is a shame since without a strong plot, there's very little reward for those who stick with Luso until the end.
Grimoire of the Rift is a tactical role-playing game revolving around recruiting and managing a clan full of party members and accomplishing various quests in order to advance through the world of Ivalice. Outside of battle you'll manage your party's skills and abilities, which you'll then use to defeat enemies and complete objectives in combat.
Initially the player's clan is made up of a few members with basic job classes like Black Mage, Archer, and so on. As the game progresses, players will be able to recruit new members to their team and unlock new jobs which to new and existing members can take on in order to create a stronger, more versatile party.
The primary objective for players is to complete the mandatory quests which allow the game's plot to continue and open up new areas of the world map. During the vast majority of quests, players will engage enemy units in battle area using an isometric view, taking turns in order to complete the objective, though not all quests center around combat.
Aside from typical quests and optional missions, a series of clan trials are available that can enhance one of the clan's four primary attributes. Successfully completing the trials under various difficulty levels will result in new titles for the clan, raised stats, and new clan abilities players can select before the start of a battle.
Not every quest requires the player's physical presence; certain missions will allow players to dispatch available team members, but they won't be able to participate in normal battles until they return . Once the mission is completed, they'll be available once more.
All quests and clan trials are accessed via various pubs throughout Ivalice. Standard quests not related to the main plot will come with an expiration date, and because time passes as players cross the world map, completing quests in a timely fashion is crucial.
Shops are also a vital part of the game, allowing players to buy and sell items as well as create new ones by selling loot in the Bazaar. New items typically don't show up in shops until they're created in the Bazaar, so players will need to spend significant time forging new weapons and gear in order to be well prepared for upcoming fights.
Fortunately, players can outfit their entire clan at once with relative ease using the new fitting room feature. Here you can temporarily equip gear to multiple team members at a time, easily inspecting the benefits and costs before making the purchase. .
Depending on what time it is on the calendar, players can now travel to a local auction house and engage in a bidding war for control of Ivalice's numerous regions. Owning a certain region has its benefits, and stumbling into a rival clan's territory has its consequences.
While the majority of Grimoire of the Rift is very well designed, there is one issue that presents itself quite early on in the game. Simply adhering to the main quests and avoiding optional quests will leave the player's party too weak to advance at certain points, so a rigorous amount of level grinding is required.
Though Grimoire of the Rift supports the use of the stylus, traversing the world map, engaging in battle, or navigating the numerous menus, are all much easier to do with the d-pad.
Each battle is turn-based, and the top screen displays the order in which individual units, friend or foe, will act. Players can also see how a specific move will affect that order before executing the action, letting them better plan their actions further on down the line.
The placement and movement of party members during a battle is crucial, forcing players to take into consideration a wide range of variables. The direction a unit faces while executing and receiving an attack, elemental weaknesses, and the layout of the landscape also comes into play as well.
There are various types of skills and abilities available to both sides, including melee, projectile, and magic attacks. Certain attacks like a standard sword swing will only affect a single unit, while magic spells can hit multiple targets at once. Each job also member carries a unique ability, which can be executed alongside normal attacks. Special attacks based on luck also become available at random, adding a bit of unpredictability to each skirmish.
Finally, special "laws" are imposed on each battle by your clan's guardian judge, such as a ban on healing magic or multi-target spells. Break the law and you lose the benefit of your clan ability, forfeit the ability to revive fallen party members, and miss out on bonus items awarded at the end of the battle. Depending on the law, playing by the rules can be crucial to success in many battles.
Grimoire of the Rift features simple controls, but the depth of the combat and strategy elements will provide a rewarding experience for those who with enough patience. The world feels a bit small and you're unable to explore towns or any area outside of combat, but that's often the nature of tactical RPGs. The focus here is on the nitty-gritty details of character customization and combat.
For a Nintendo DS title, Grimoire of the Rift sports fairly decent visuals, but other than its cleaner sprite work and exceptionally well-done character portraits, the title does very little to set itself apart from its predecessor released five years earlier on the Game Boy Advance.
Battle sequences unfold in an isometric view, which can obstruct units due to the inability to rotate the camera. Battle maps do become quite diverse over the course of the game, however, and the use of weather effects is a nice touch. Grimoire of the Rift also forgoes FMVs and animatics, using in-game visuals and talking character portraits for its numerous cutscenes.
The soundtrack is up to Final Fantasy standards, especially for a Nintendo DS title. Most tracks are very upbeat and suit the atmosphere perfectly. Overall, Grimoire of the Rift features a solid production effort.
Grimoire of the Rift rewards players with a rich tactical RPG experience, but the lack of a meaningful and well-developed plot will leave many desiring more. Even the inclusion of Penelo and Vaan from Final Fantasy XII feels like a wasted opportunity. Grimoire of the Rift fails to outdo its predecessor, it is still a fun and challenging experience.