By Jeriaska . July 3, 2008 . 12:43pm
As with the previous title in the series, the spiritual successor to Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, subtitled "Grimoire of the Rift," finds a school-aged boy transported from a familiar earthbound existence to a magical setting of swords and sorcery. In contrast to The War of the Lions, Luso's tale is light on suspense and intrigue, emphasizing exploration of woodland battlefields and building a clan of diverse and amiable characters. The grimoire mentioned in the title refers to a moldy hardcover tome that the protagonist discovers in the basement library of his school while sent for cleaning duties as punishment for his record of tardiness in class. Eager to begin summer vacation, upon discovering the book he is teleported to the lush forests of Marsh Wood. So the story begins.
Luso upon falling through the rift and into the Ivalice is saved from being devoured by an enormous round cockatrice. Cid, a warrior of a clan named "Gully," comes to his aid by directing the boy to swear an oath of fealty to the judges: omnipresent knights who preside over the world's battles, these heavily armored entities enacts laws directing their conduct. Joining the clan, Luso soon finds himself robed in leather armor and a red beret, ready for battle.
Having been introduced to the threadbare plotline leading into the title's turn-based strategy gameplay, Luso is free to go about attaining skills for himself and his allies of the Clan Gully. Unencumbered by any signs of a looming race against the clock to defeat the forces of villainy, you are invited to enjoy hunting marks at a pace leisurely enough to be fit for summer break.
What then are the manner of skills that come with delving into battle? First of all, your party starts out with a handful of recruits, each of which is given a different job class to master. There is a moogle thief who can sneak up to the enemy and pilfer some gil, along with a black mage who can cast basic spells including ice, fire and thunder. Then there is a white mage to heal the party, an archer for ranged attacks, and a Bangaa warrior that deals a mean blow with his sword. If you prefer to have your Viera thieving and your humes casting cure, you can switch up the job assignments between battles.
Though these first allies are devoid of personalities, their variety of skills goes some way toward offering a sense of Ivalice's basic job functions. The demand for strategy is minimal in the early stages, in keeping with the cheerful mood of the game. You can get by using magic liberally, as mages regain their MP gradually during battles. Having one character to heal your injured party members and another to target enemies bunched close together with offensive spells will assure victory without fail. You can even have your thief meandering around, picking the pockets of the enemies and opening the treasure chests found here and there on the field.
Towns are located on the overhead map, installed with shops carrying items, weapons and armor. Choosing to enter saloons, freelance bounty hunting work can be found. Early on, the bartender will tell you of a group of bandits blocking the path on a major trade route, and that a flock of chocobos is being threatened by an encroaching pack of wolves. Completing these assignments will offer the party job points to acquire new skills, experience points for leveling up, and treasure from fallen enemies.
Your clan is invited to collect CP as well, but rest assured it stands for "clan points." These can be used to purchase trips to trials presided over by the judges, such as "find the winning barrel" or "defeat the enemies" in a set number of turns. Completing these trials raises the compatibility stats for your party so that new assignments are opened up.
For instance, at the saloon located at Wood Village, the bartender will tell you of a dragoon that has been targeted by a gang of Bangaas. To accept the "protect Kyrra" quest you will need at least 4 Negotiation in your clan talents. This makes the clan trial that raises Negotiation a prerequisite to the mission. Once you have the stats, you can pay a hundred gil to accept the quest, and then head off to Traveler's Wood on Targ Way. There, an exclamation point icon and the sounds of cheering will alert you to the proper location. Once the enemies have been defeated, the grateful dragoon will teach you the job skill that allows characters to wield spears and jump on enemies. In this way, much of the game's plotline unfolds through sidequests whose focus is on gaining new attributes for the Clan Gully.
Combat is initiated upon entering the battlefield, and the first thing you will notice is the spectral appearance of the armored judge, forbidding the use of certain attacks each time. As with Tactics Advance, when the judge decrees that you cannot use, say, fire spells in battle, having your mages break the rules will set off warning lights and you will be denied the bonus of special items upon victory. Also, any allies who fall during battle will not be able to be revived during the fight. Handicap your allies appropriately, however, and you will be rewarded with special items upon winning. The rules add another challenge to battles, though they are given no underlying rationale, like "no fireballs in areas with flammable foliage," for instance. Upon completion, new quest reports are magically detailed in the pages of the grimoire each time.
It is Cid's job to show Luso the ropes. He can be a valuable ally in that he starts out with a body slam attack that takes off a large amount of damage, while extracting some hitpoints from himself. While hunting marks, the clan encounters a silver-haired girl named Adelle. A powerful fighter and skilled thief, she casually announces that she will be joining your party as a guest in return for a cut of the spoils. No sooner has she started fighting, though, than the thief decides her fee will be three quarters of the bounty. Making off with the loot to purchase a new handbag, Luso and Cid realize that they have been had by "Adelle the Cat," a notorious double-crosser with a reputation for deceiving her allies and raking in a fortune in the process. Judging by Adelle's skill in battle, there seems little doubt that the treasure hunting clan will cross paths with her again.
Images courtesy of Square Enix.