If you asked a bunch of RPG fans what franchises they'd like to see come back from the dead, you'd get a lot of answers, because there's nothing RPG fans like more than making lists of games they enjoyed when they were younger.
Granted, there are also a lot of dead RPGs. Gaming's past is littered with the corpses of series that have been ignored over the past few years, and the point of all those list-making exercises is often to evoke nostalgia-tinged reactions like "Oh wow, what ever happened to that?"
For your consideration, a list of names:
- Breath of Fire
What ever happened to them? It's been a long time since we've seen any games in those dormant franchises, and for many, the chances of a satisfying comeback are about the same as the chances of me writing this column every week.
By the way, I was on vacation for a while — which is why I've been neglecting you, my lovely Random Encounters readers — and last week I had the lovely opportunity to fly from Sydney to Los Angeles to New York City. See, you can't just get a flight from Australia to JFK, presumably because they need to stop and refuel along the way. So you travel ~15 hours on one flight, sizing up your fellow passengers to figure out who you'd eat first if you crashed on the island from LOST, and then you have a layover in LAX, which is basically the beta test of airports. Then you fly ~5 hours across the country, amusing yourself by watching the flight map for funny city names like Hooker Corner, Indiana, because you are twelve years old. Eventually you decide to rummage through your case of portable games, and you stumble upon an RPG that hooks you all over again.
It's time we talk about Final Fantasy Tactics. Ah, Final Fantasy Tactics. Released in 1998 by the entity once called Square, FFT became so iconic and popular that its creator Yasumi Matsuno just raised over $US300,000 in two days because he wants to make a spiritual successor. Between the addictive grid-based combat system and the betrayal-stuffed Game of Thrones-ish story, FFT was a masterpiece, straight up.
Then, in 2003, Square released Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, a game about a guy who ruins his best friend's fantasy. It was kind of OK if a serious step down from the Pantheon-level of quality that was FFT, and it's more a curious relic than any sort of landmark achievement in strategy gaming.
Five years later, enter Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift, a game with a dumb title and an equally dumb premise — school kid gets detention; finds magical book; teleports into fantasy world where he is suddenly an expert fighter and monster hunter. This is why you should never judge a video game by its name and premise.
Leave it to a 20-hour flight to give you a newfound appreciation for an old DS game. FFTA2, like its predecessors, is a strategy game in which you control a small team of fighters and use them to fight battles on tile-based maps. You can customise your characters' jobs and equipment, then send them out on some 300 quests that range from the mundane (go stop this gang of robbers!) to the absurd (kill some monsters so an elite group of Curious Food Tasters can see how delicious they are).
It's a wonderful game. Let's break down why:
1) The classes are smart and balanced — which is something of a rarity in strategy games. Even the legendary FFT had its fair share of absurd characters, like the overpowered Ninja and Calculator jobs and the walking cheat code they named Orlandu. In FFTA2, we've got a ton of classes with a ton of different abilities, and you'll want to play around with all of them — the samurai-esque Parivir, the gun-slinging Flintlock, the still-rockin' Black Mage, etc. Square Enix has been iterating on the job system for decades now, and they've gotten quite good at making classes you'll want to play.
2) The ability system is brilliant — because it's just so unusual. In every city there's a store called the bazaar, where you can trade in your random loot not for equipment, but for the ability to purchase equipment from now on. As you go through the game and accumulate more random loot from questing and battling, you can bring it all to the bazaar and trade it in for more powerful stuff.
All this equipment is the only way to teach your characters new abilities, so as you progress through this system, you start getting that giddy "oh cool, I can do this now" jolt of adrenaline every time you see the gold orb indicating that you can get a new weapon or piece of armour. There's nothing quite like it.
3) The quests are nice and short — which makes FFTA2 an easy game to pick up and play for just a session or two at once. This is a welcome change from the usual trend of Everything Must Be Full Of Long Cut-Scenes And Melodrama.
4) There's no permanent death — and while permadeath works well in the context of more serious games like FFT and Fire Emblem, this is a lighter, breezier experience. You won't find epic melodrama or massive warfare in FFTA2 — just a bunch of dudes and gals who like to go on quests and play around with different classes. It's still difficult, but it's not punishing.
FFTA2 is great, and often under-looked, and worth checking out if you haven't played it yet. Sadly, like many Japanese series, Final Fantasy Tactics has been relegated to the mobile/social dump. The phone game FFT S never even made it out of Japan.
FFTA2 is a game that deserves a sequel. A real sequel. Final Fantasy Tactics A3D: Doomed Destiny Demons, or something like that. I dunno, I'm not the guy who writes Square Enix's titles. That must be a fun job, though. Square Enix Ridiculous Title Writer. I bet he has fun.
Random Encounters is a weekly column dedicated to all things JRPG.