As the fourth Final Fantasy title to appear on a Nintendo system in nearly as many months, and with more on the horizon, nobody can accuse Square-Enix of dragging its feet when it comes to its best-loved franchise. Especially when they're all so varied, polished and enjoyable. Indeed, Square's strike rate has been pretty impressive of late and, happily, this trend continues with Grimoire Of The Rift.
The Final Fantasy faithful should know just what to expect here. Gorgeous visuals, deep strategy, dizzying menu screens, sky high production values and, yes, an absurdly long title. For the uninitiated though, this is the sequel to the GBA classic, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. In a similar vein to the Advance Wars and Fire Emblem series, it sees you managing a 'clan' of fighters as they skirmish their way through the world of Ivalice, a location that should be familiar with anybody who played through last year's excellent FFXII: Revenant Wings.
Out Of This World
You play as a mischievous young lad who gets sucked into the Final Fantasy universe while leafing through an old book (the grimoire of the title) in his school library while on detention. He lands smack in the middle of a scrap between a small band of fighters and a flock of giant murderous roosters. Naturally, you get called on to fight and, following victory, the warriors welcome you into their clan.
As it turns out, the only way to return home
is to fill in the empty pages of your journal with tales of derring-do. So, once you've named your clan it's off to the local pub in search of quests. Missions are posted on notice-boards in any of Ivalice's numerous drinking holes. Some quests advance the main thread of the story, some branch off into side missions, while others unlock items, abilities and new clan members. They all vary in difficulty and range from comically mundane (picking mushrooms while warding off malevolent fairies) to brutally frantic (going toe-to-toe with giant sand centipedes and their toothy minions).
Once you've chosen your quest and located the battle ground on the huge Ivalice map, you set about picking a team of fighters (usually a squad of six) from your clan, adjusting their equipment, assigning 'jobs' and deciding on their starting position. Fights take place on an isometric grid, with clan members moving a set number of places during their turn. All fighters have different abilities, depending on which job has been selected. Mages, for instance, can linger at the back and unleash magic attacks on enemies from a safe distance; thieves can steal foes' items, gunners can use firearms and fencers wade in wielding a razor sharp blade. Typically, your clan will level up as they fight, allowing you to take on tougher quests and unlock more of the map.
At first you'll be completely bewildered by the vast number of menus to navigate and customisation options to master. You'll have to figure out which races (there are seven: Hume, Moogle, Vierea, Nu Mou, Bangaa, Seeq and Gria) are best suited to which jobs and which weapons work with those jobs. There are special abilities too, as well as a huge number of items to utilise, all with different properties. You'll be making regular trips to the shop to pick up new kit, touting gear in the bazaar and scouring the battlefield for further goodies. Keeping track of what everything does and how it's best put to use is a massive headache.
Then on top of that, you have the option to dispatch clan members on their own unseen quests, you'll be vying with competing clans for control of territory in annual land auctions, embarking on clan trials to top up your 'clan talents' and running errands for all manner of side characters; all on top of forging ahead with the central mission. Oh, and don't forget that everything is time sensitive and you're expected to get to grips with the Ivalician calendar as well. Confused? Yes, so were we at first. There is very little signposting, other than brief 'rumours' posted on the pubs' noticeboards, and the tutorial levels are inadequate at best. You'll feel hopelessly adrift to begin with.