Hello, and welcome to our latest edition of Video Games You Should Have Played By Now. Today’s installment is a very special one for me, because we’ll be covering a game that is precious to me, a personal favorite from my childhood that comes from that place where nostalgia meets genuine quality. That’s because we’re looking at Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for the GBA.
The story of FFTA revolves around a group of young children who don’t quite fit in with those around them. All of this changes, however, when one of the children discovers a magical book which transports them to a strange and exciting world named Ivalice, a land of magic and adventure. From here, we follow the struggles of our protagonist Marche as he adjusts to world of warring clans and fantastical creatures, all while seeking a way to journey home.
Once within the world of Ivalice, the game plunges you into a strategy game with some of the most impressive depth you will ever come across. In terms of gameplay, fans of Advance Wars, Fire Emblem, and especially Tactics Ogre will feel right at home as you control a squad of warriors and mages, moving them along a gridded map like pieces on a board. In addition to managing their attacks and powers, you must also account for things such as elevation, the direction each unit is facing, and a set of Laws that regulate what you are and are not allowed to do in that battle. On the whole, FFTA hits that sweet spot that balances accessibility and complexity, easy for someone to pick up and play, but with layers to it that reward mastery and intelligent maneuvering.
The game is perhaps most famous, though, for its extremely robust job system, which allows customize your squad’s classes and powers with a staggering number of options. From the very onset, you have number of race-specific Base Classes to choose from, and your options will only grow as you learn techniques and unlock several Advanced Classes as well. Combined with the vast array of equipment at your disposal, you could spend hours just outfitting and tweaking your small army of soldiers.
And make no mistake: You will sink a lot of hours into this game. Boasting an excess of 300 missions in addition to random encounters and turf wars, FFTA constantly provides you with new challenges. Add it all up, and you could easily spend well over a hundred hours on this game and still have more to do.
A wealth of tasks can become a chore to get through, however, if all those hours are spent in an uninspired setting. Fortunately, there is no such problem here, as the world of Ivalice is abundantly charming. Looking over the character designs and concept art, the detailed but outlandish creatures help to establish the otherworldly nature of our story. Yet since the GBA is obviously not a graphical powerhouse, the developers of Tactics opted to focus on the fantasy, giving the sprites, settings, and battle animations a whimsical quality, one that is further reinforced by the music which shares this same airy feel. In tandem, the in-game aesthetics pull you into the dream-like setting.
But I think that even beyond the finely crafted mechanics and charming aesthetics, the thing that really makes it special is the endearing nature of the characters and the simple but pertinent message of its story. As stated before, the game is about a small group of people, mostly children, who leave their old lives behind and start living a life of fantasy. And not all of them want to go back. If we’re being completely honest, I think that this is something that hits pretty close to home for a lot of us. Especially for those of us who play games, read comic books, or just love stories, it seems so easy to leave our problems behind and lose ourselves in these worlds we share in. It shouldn’t be hard for us, then, to understand why Ritz, Doned, and Mewt don’t want to go back, and why even Marche himself is forced to admit his secret reservations. Eventually, though, the characters in the game (and hopefully the player as well) come to realize that even the kindest of lies is still a lie, and that life has to lived, troubles and all.
The beauty of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, then, is that it acknowledges the appeal of fantasy, but understands that we cannot succumb to it, and that ultimately we must live in the real world. In a game with such a kid friendly atmosphere, this is a fairly complex and mature message, one that remains pertinent to us many years later.
Admittedly, part of my love for this game is based on the love I had for it as a kid. I don’t pretend like it’s perfect or anything: there are some issues with class balance (Assassins are absurdly OP), and the final boss is a bit too easy. At the end of the day, though, this game is cherished favorite because of its quality, with its staggering depth and lasting charm. To me, this game is magic: pure, simple magic. If you can track down a copy, you owe it to yourself to find out why.