It wasn't that long ago that things were going so well. With just one member of the opposing clan left against the three on your team, wrapping up this mission seemed to be straightforward enough. Then he took out your mighty Bangaa warrior and is now causing your sword guy plenty of trouble on account of the fact he returns attacks. The most sensible option would be for your archer to take him out, but she was over on the other side of the battlefield (having defeated that fella with the magic) when this started. It won't take long to get there but you got impatient and decided on a risky strategy of slashing at the opposition and hoping to get a critical blow in.
It hasn't worked. A slashing blade reduced his health, but the return attack dropped your sword wielder to his knees. Now it's the enemy's go and he opts to run away and take a health-restoring potion. The way he moves makes it difficult to catch-up, but when your bow-lady reaches the foot of the cliff, you have an idea. Instead of following the path to join your clan mate, why not go the other side for ye olde pincer movement? It takes a few more moves, but once you are in position he struggles to cope with two attackers and is soon defeated. Embarrassment averted, you head of to the shop to buy some potions of your own; they'll come in handy for the next battle.
Having skipped the fifth generation systems, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance was one of the first games to arrive when the franchise returned to Nintendo hardware. This tactical RPG is now available on Wii U, minus its multiplayer aspects as is par for the course with Game Boy Advance Virtual Console releases. Once unlocked owners of the original cart could use a link cable to take part in some multiplayer missions and trade items and clan members. Luckily there is plenty of single player content to keep you occupied with hundreds of missions in the game.
Initially you are just given control of Marche, a school pupil in the snowy town of St. Ivalice. After taking some school friends to see a strange book his brother has picked up, Marche finds himself transported to a desert world called… St. Ivalice. Strange. This world is unlike his own, with swords and sorcery and monstrous creatures roaming the lands. There are multiple races here including Moogles, and the whole thing is very similar to that Final Fantasy game he and his friends like. Something odd is going on here and finding out what will involve joining a clan and partaking in many, many battles.
There's a lot to take on board with the combat, but the game does a good job of introducing you to key details as they are slowly introduced. You begin with a snowball fight in the "real" world that covers the very basics, and then you get a proper taste of combat shortly after arriving in the Final Fantasy-like reality. Combat in the game is viewed from an isometric perspective, with you and your opposition taking turns to move the members of your team around the screen. Each member can move a limited amount of squares, you must be next to an enemy to perform a sword or claw attack, but projectile and magic attacks understandably have a greater range. After you've finished moving a character (and/or getting them to attack) you choose a direction for them to face; this is important as attacks from the side or from behind inflict more damage. Much thought must be given as you move around and try to predict how the opposition will move too. Often thinking several moves ahead it can feel like a game of chess – albeit a game of chess where some of the pieces can summon lightning bolts.
Something to consider when battling away are the laws that are in effect. Each battle has laws (e.g. no fire attacks, no ganging up) and a judge will sit and watch the proceedings making sure they are not broken. Not sticking to the rules will raise the hackles of the judge and lead to the offender being issued either a yellow card with a fine or a red card and imprisonment. If after the battle you are desperate for the help of a jailed clan mate, you can visit the jail and bail them out.
Missions can be found at pubs in each town and once you've picked one you wander over to the location on the map and engage in battle. More locations are added throughout the game and you will visit each multiple times during the course of your adventure, levelling your team up as you go. Initially you can just have a battle and move on to the next one, but you will soon need to start buying new weapons, armour and items to help your clan out, using the reward money from successful missions. Clan members can learn new abilities during play and you can if you wish change their jobs if you feel you are in need of a particular ability. It's a good idea to have a mix of talents in your party to cover the varied opposition you will come up against; an archer is good for attacking someone who returns attacks, but a mage is good for blasting a foe that blocks arrows. As well as taking your clan off to battle there are also a number of "dispatch missions" where you send a single member off to tackle the problem. Some of these require a certain item (or a certain job type) and you do not witness the events, your chosen warrior simply returns after a few days and tells you how it went; days pass as you move about the map.
The game is well presented, despite some basic animation on the sprites. Apart from flowing water there's also little in the way of scenic animation, but there's a lot of variety on screen with a number of locations (woods, mountains, towns, volcanoes) and a lot of different things within those locations. Different types of wood, grass and discoloured stone can be found alongside a variety of opposition. As well as five different races (with different looks for the various job types) there's also a number of viscous monsters such as blob creatures, insect-like attackers and dragon-type nasties too. Blown up on a TV screen it can look messy with everything blending together, but luckily the standard GBA screen smoothing option is available which works very well and helps separate sprites from the backgrounds. There are three screen modes available; one tailored for the original GBA hardware, one for the GBA SP and a TV mode (originally) for the benefit of GameCube owners playing via the Game Boy Player. TV mode has a noticeably more subdued colour palette, but all work well and it'll be a matter of preference for the individual player. Should you regret your choice you can always change it from the menu.
Alongside some very effective sound effects is some very catchy music. Upbeat adventurous tunes sit alongside mysterious and intense tracks. Moods change but the music always compliments the visuals and the bouncy piece that plays upon completing a mission (with the text bouncing onto the screen) works particularly well.
After about five or six hours of play "Clan Wars" break out which makes for even more battles as opposing clans roam the map ,and should your paths cross a fight ensues. This can get very repetitive, but it is a good way of levelling your clan up. Later on you'll also find yourself battling powerful "Totemas" and be introduced to special cards that nullify laws that may be in effect. At some points you'll also find yourself in lawless lands where judges stay away and anyone who loses all their health points stays dead. As you progress through the game your clan grows with new people asking to join, but you can also dismiss others if, for example, you're fed up of them repeatedly failing seemingly simple dispatch missions. As more options and items become available it can be easy to forget what does what, but usually a tap of the Select button will provide an explanation.
There are some spikes in difficulty and the Totemas can be particularly tricky; one battle is seemingly straightforward until your clan members start turning on each other. Any battle can be lost, but assuming you stock up on your potions, equip the best items and have a few high-levelled characters, you can make things a lot easier for yourself. Once you've put a decent clan together the game can actually be a bit too easy - that's not to say there won't be plenty of close fights, but think carefully about your battle plan and you will be victorious.
As a game with battling, followed by more battling, followed by a visit to somewhere to investigate something that ultimately leads to some battling, this is a game that could feel very samey. That's true to some extent, but luckily the range of enemies, different terrain and laws that are in effect do a good job of keeping the action interesting and even after a long battle you may find yourself thinking 'just one more'. Also maintaining interest is the story that unfolds as you play; you'll bump into your friends along the way and they aren't necessarily keen to return home.
One final note: the ability to take screenshots (a usual Wii U feature) has been disabled for this release, both via Miiverse and Image Share (and similar online services). Whilst technically there is Miiverse support (the icon takes you to the Miiverse community) you cannot post screenshots, so if you have a question about something you'll just have to draw a picture.
Levelling up your clan, finding the best weapons and trying to out think the enemy leads to a lot of enjoyable battling, with enough variables in location, laws and opponent abilities to prevent gameplay (for the most part) from becoming too repetitive. If you think things through, have powerful clan members and plenty of items, battles can get easy but they remain entertaining. There are a few other minor faults (it can be tricky to find what you are looking for amongst the many menu screens) but with hundreds of missions Final Fantasy Tactics Advance will keep you busy for a long time.