Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift
On paper, like most things, this game works. Figurative cousin of the everlasting Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift promises to demand more cerebral dexterity than merely having your fighting character attack, the black mage cause elemental destruction and the white mage heal. Instead, your pieces get placed on an isometric grid and you take turns with the CPU-controlled enemy to see who can kill off the other first. In theory. In reality, you pair a cannoneer and illusionist class together and deal wanton, unstoppable and devastating magic that hits every enemy on the screen and wins you every match in less than two rounds.
Where's the tactics, Square Enix?
The other gripes with FFTA2 are all secondary to that fundamental flaw. Whilst you're initially sucked in with the delightful illusion of strategy and an infallible smorgasbord of options, it doesn't take long to realise that particular classes (assassin, illusionist, any class that can dual-wield) dominate everything else and have no weaknesses whatsoever. Plonk down a few of them and laugh all the way to an uncomplicated, challenge-free victory. There simply wasn't enough focus in the development of this game to create something where the essential strategic core of choosing and maneuvering your pieces actually matters.
It doesn't help that the difficulty level is constantly stuck on 'overly simplistic', either. There's no reason to make one of your (usually six) characters in the field practice restorative magic because you're simply not going to soak up enough damage to make them a feasible choice. FFTA2 is so remedial that a good chunk of the potential strategy in the game is automatically made redundant, leaving the player to decide which overpowered, imbalanced super class they want to win with today.
Extra complications are crudely shoehorned in with the inclusion of 'judges', all-powerful NPC characters that insist on you sticking to arbitrary laws such as not using fire magic or attacking an opponent from behind. These rules are often no more challenging than casting a different elemental spell, but occasionally the judges spout ridiculous demands (each character has to move exactly three tiles in their turn) on maps where enemies cast spells like charm (you lose control of your player) with unrelenting alacrity, subsequently leaving you powerless to watch your addled character break the law. There's no real punishment for this other than denying you a post-match free item, taking away your minute law-abiding stat boost and removing your ability to re-raise fallen players. Which you probably won't ever need to do, anyway.
Strategies aside, it is constantly challenging to figure out the point to a game so sorely lacking in urgency and drama. Protagonist Luso Clemens is more than happy to muck around with various tedious, random quests than work out how to get back home. He's been sucked into the world of Ivalice through a magic book, you see, but the blink-and-you'll-miss-it storyline is about as necessary as a lifejacket in a nightclub. I can see why this was done, as the portability aspect of the DS is arguably more suited to an assortment of non-related little missions that inter-link to create an altogether more casual game. One you can play for twenty minutes here and there and never get worried that you're forgetting crucial plot developments.
Only, like so many parts of this game, the story has been bogged down with nonsense it ended up overly wrought with complications and festering with unnecessary features. Instead of having to track one grand, verbose storyline you're forced to engage with a hundred miniscule, diminutive plots that follow you around whilst you work out how to get the not-really-explained magic book to send you back home. Few of these quests could be considered intelligent and, ultimately, almost none of them are actually interesting. The developers are also unable to shrink the scope of their plot to deal with the game's miniscule devotion to it, instead trying to shoe-horn a typical Final Fantasy-esque plot - entire world in jeopardy, intricate villain hatches impossibly convoluted scheme that band of heroes eventually succinctly destroys by a series of increasingly-large boss fights - in about fifteen boxes of dialogue.
Yet, perhaps confusingly, and very much in spite of everything, all is not rotten in the state of Ivalice. Ultimately, FFTA2 is an enjoyable game. It's simplistic enough to just pick up and play and satisfying enough for most gamers to follow it through most of its alleged 400 mission course, although completionistas be warned that finding quests after about the 250 mark is honestly impossible without resorting to a walkthrough. I finished the main quest off at about that mark and was more than happy to not squeeze the last few dregs of gameplay from the cartridge. A flash of genius is almost always observed just as you're about to write the game off as tedious drivel, and everything is bolted together with the usual amount of Square Enix polish so that you're always just willing enough to go back for one more go.
With a game like FFTA2 it's not really about the why as the how, only it's a bit too simplistic and uninteresting to make a winning formula. There is a certain charm in its isometric glory, however, and a certain delight in progressively unlocking the various rewards that the game has to offer. Ultimately, FFTA2 is a solid yet unspectacular game that fails to live up to its full potential.