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Final Fantasy A2 Tactics: Grimoire of the Rift (Square Enix, 2008)
I wrote in the review for FF - 4 Heroes of Light review that I'd gotten A2 at the same time, for 950 yen, and that I wasn't going to play it right away because I'm burned out on tactical rpgs. Well, I had some free time when I was having trouble getting Norton anti-virus reactivated on my laptop, and I figured that I might as well break the game out (since I'd already read all of the manga in the apartment). After a few hours, I remembered exactly WHY I'd gotten burned out, and put the game back in the holder case.
A2 is part of the Ivalice universe. It's a turn-based tactical game that consists of 400 missions. I have no idea how many of the missions are tied directly to the story, and they're not numbered in the walkthroughs I've looked at. 100 of the missions are random encounters, and the rest are optional side quests. The map is broken up into areas, which each have mission locations, and one town. The towns only consist of a pub and a shop. Meaning that there's nowhere to wander around to talk to NPCs directly, and you can't direct your party to go anywhere else if you're not on a mission. The pubs have the mission control center (where you can try to get a new mission, or cancel one you're on) and the rumor mill. The shops let you buy and sell equipment, and enter the "bazaar" (more on this in a minute). When you ask for a mission, it usually costs money, assuming you meet the requirements for it - such as paying cash, but also only if you have certain monster drops in inventory, or specific party mixes. The optional missions also have time requirements, and if you don't take one fast enough, it becomes unavailable for a certain number of "days." If you do accept a mission, you need to go to the main map and look for the spot with an exclamation mark (it's impossible to miss). If you press "x" on that spot, you go directly into battle. (You can save your game at anytime from the main menu when on the map.)
(Party make-up screen, and a view of one area on the map. The town is at the upper right of the area, the "!" marks a mission location, and the blue up-arrow at the left of the area connects to the next area of the world map.)
The battles have fixed requirements (keep an NPC alive for "n" number of turns; defeat all enemies; etc.) There's also a Judge that imposes "laws" on your party (no water-based magic or affiliated weapons; nothing that uses MP; you need to have certain job types in your party; etc.) The game is based around the idea of "clans." Your clan is made up of whoever joins your party (you start with 6 members, but you can recruit up to 24 or so), and you can unlock various clan specials that take effect during the mission, such as pluses to strength or magic, or a 10% boost to experience gained, but only one bonus per mission. If you break the "law" for that mission, you lose the clan bonus, all experience for the party, and whatever rewards the Judge would have given you at the end. I'd gotten up to level 8 with the party, and had never lost a battle. But there were a number of times where I'd violated the "law" because I couldn't figure out exactly what it was. Once, the law was "nothing that uses MP." I was doing fine until one of the monsters hit my main character with Confusion, and he then pulled out some kind of monster drop item that buffed the entire party, burning MP everywhere and causing the Judge to rush forward to punish the clan. Yeah, I turned off the game at that point. You really need the Judge rewards at the end because they include rare drops, and better weapons and armor.
Now, about the bazaar system. When it unlocks, fairly early in the game, you get a chart that lists various things that have S, or A through D ranks for them. If you have enough monster drop items to unlock something, there will be an orange circle intersecting that thing and rank. If you select that orange circle, you're prompted to pick one gem, one bone fragment and one organic from your inventory. If those three things can be used together, they unlock the specific piece of equipment identified for that bazaar list thing and rank, such as a dagger with some action specials attached to it, armor or accessories. Now, this just makes that piece of equipment available in the store. You still have to pay money to buy it.
(Inside the pub in one town. The options are: Free Paper (news stories), Take a Quest, Give up a Quest, Clan Trial, and listen to rumors. The clan trial is a special fight mission that can unlock new bonuses if you're strong enough.)
On a side note, you can choose to change jobs for each of your characters, such as a black or white mage, a thief, a warrior, etc. Each job type has abilities it can perform, and it can only use weapons, armor and accessories associated with that job (mages use staves and robes; warriors use broadswords and heavy plate armor; etc.) Which gets expensive if you want to equip your primary party with the best weapons and armor for their current jobs. And, since this is a tactical game, you can't simply run around on the map to fight monsters whenever you want to for leveling up or gaining the more rare drops.
The story: Your main character (whatever name you choose for him) is a school student in Tokyo. You get asked three questions (what are you going to do during summer vacation, what are your goals, etc.) and each question has three answers (play with my friends, play video games, study, learn a new language, get my warrior up to level 99). Then your teacher holds you back at the end of the day, saying that you need to take remedial classes because your grades are so bad. He tells you to report to the library, but when you get there, the teacher is absent. There's a magical book on the desk, and when you read it, you're teleported to Ivalice, arriving right in the middle of a battle between a group of hunters and their target - a monster bird plus minions. You quickly turn into a soldier, join that hunter clan, and fight the big bird. When you're through with that, you join that clan, and they promise to help you get back to Earth. Not a lot of plot, actually. Also, depending on how you answered the three questions, you get a small bonus to one of your stats.
(Battle map. The top screen shows the law (a ban on certain actions), the clan ability (bonus to experience) and the order of who gets to attack next. The bottom screen shows the party here (the enemy is off-screen), and the command menu. The next one to act is Arurisu. She can move, attack or defend. That is, you can move, then attack or defend; defend only; or attack and then move. Each character has a movement stat, and attacks depend on what actions you enabled in advance, plus the stuff associated with your weapon, armor or job class. But you can only have 3 things in your action menu, such as use item, swing, and cast magic. If you're next to a treasure chest, a fourth action is enabled - open chest.)
Overall, it's not a great game, and I'm surprised to see it as part of the Final Fantasy franchise. The character artwork is mainly flat 2D drawings during the conversation parts, there's no voice acting and the music is ignorable. I didn't see any cut scenes, and the maps look like something from a board game. The background artwork is good, while the monster designs are lifted from other FF games. As I keep saying, I'm not a fan of tactical rpgs, and A2 is just so S-L-O-W. It can take 10-15 minutes to finish one mission, even if you don't violate a law and have to start over again. With 400 missions, I'm not seeing a lot reason to wade through it all. Having the laws for each mission is one of the reasons things get so dragged out. Not being able to use MP (magic) really slowed that one mission down excessively. I've got better things to do, and now that my PC is working correctly again, I'm going to do them. This game goes back into the case.