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Retrospective: Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

An imperfect but still worthy tactical RPG

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Belated sequels are a tricky thing to get right. Make too many changes and you risk alienating the fanbase, but make too few and you're ignoring years of design and technological advancement. It's a tightrope Final Fantasy Tactics Advance walked valiantly, but as game forums webwide will loudly tell you, Square Enix didn't quite pull it off.

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Despite boasting the involvement of resident genius Yasumi Matsuno - he oversaw the original FF Tactics, plus Vagrant Story and FFXII - the game and its sequel are often regarded as the black sheep of the series. Their first 'mistake' was the eye-scorchingly bright colour scheme, which, coupled with the younger characters and lighter tone, gave the impression this was Final Fantasy Tactics Babyz.

Their second 'mistake' was the Law system, an additional layer to the already complex battle system that rewarded you for obeying random laws, read out by a judge at the start of each turn-based scrap. While the Law system was flawed, its goal was to engender a more creative approach, and kept you from falling back on the same tactics time and again. The bright and cheery aesthetic, meanwhile, disguised a pathos-laden plot that resembled The Neverending Story, of all things. Long story short: a group of miserable real-world kids get sucked into a magic fantasy book. OK, so Advance's story was a far cry from the political machinations of the original, but at least it featured dialogue that hadn't been totally mangled into incoherence by the US translation team.

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However, the main reason Advance is still worth a play today is that it's a damn fine tactical RPG, building on the depth of the original Tactics with additional jobs and races, plus a compelling 'ability link' mechanic nicked wholesale from FFIX. Like the kids at the heart of the story, it was all too easy to get sucked into Ivalice, before emerging in a daze many hours later. Black sheep or no, fans of turn-based fantasy should be kicking themselves if they haven't given it a shot.

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