The Final Fantasy Tactics series mixed the RPG elements of the originals together with turn-based strategic combat and created a whole new gaming experience for Final Fantasy fans. After a successful reincarnation on the GBA the Tactics series found its way to the DS. It was the first time I was able to play a FF Tactics game, so I made sure not to miss the chance.
The Tactics series is rather notorious for its vastness, something which is difficult to fully grasp for those who've never played the game yet. You often see a completion time of 120 hours advertised, but somehow that doesn't really sink in until you're actually playing the game. Believe me, those numbers aren't made up simply for marketing purposes. Tactics A2 is a massive game with a huge amount of quests, side-quests and lots of timing spent on developing your characters. In the end it took me 118 hours to finish, leaving only a few unlisted side-quests untouched.
And still, the actual storyline game is pretty limited. From the 400 missions in total, only 25 are immediately related to the continuation of the story. Of course it will be quite impossible to finish the game playing only those 25 missions, but I guess it wouldn't be too hard to complete the game with only half of the quests completed. The other missions are either unlisted or appear as side-quests. There's a nice little mission board giving you a good overview of all mission with their respective status and specifics. Apart from all that, there's a three-part tower mission, each part lasting a good hour to finish.
Equally vast is the job/weapon system, which will eat up a lot of your time. Each of your characters is of a certain species, allowing to progress in certain jobs. Some jobs are unlocked through missions, other by mastering a certain amount of skills. These skills are learned by equipping swords or armor. To make things more complex, armor and weaponry can't be simply bought in stores, but should be assembled using materials (loot). These materials are gained during missions and should be assembled in shops. It's a cool system, though it introduces an aspect of luck as the game won't show you what you are assembling until you have agreed to process it. In the end, you never really know how a certain weapon will help your characters, taking away an extra level of strategy.
Visually the game is very pleasing, though from what I've seen of the GBA version its really only an extension on its predecessor. The designs haven't changed a lot, though some detail was added to the sprites. The style is bold and colorful, most of the effects look gorgeous and slick. The sound is a little less appealing and felt like the only weaker part of the game. Not that it was bad, but again I failed to keep it on at all times.
You play with a team of 24 characters max, some who can't be refused, others you can hire along the way. Keeping all these character occupied with learning skills and advancing jobs is quite a task, but lots of fun to do. Until very late in the game you'll still be looking for loot and you'll still encounter new abilities to play around with, keeping the fights entertaining and fun.
The game itself is not too hard, only the start knows a rather steep difficulty curve. Once you have a series of strong skills and buffs you won't be too bothered by most missions. An extra level of difficulty was added in the form of a judge. He lays down rules which you need to follow in order to gain extra loot and to be able to revive your characters during battle. If you break the law, you lose the extras and characters can't be revived. Only a few missions require you to follow the law, but certainly in the beginning of the game the extra loot is crucial to your success. Some laws are a bit far-fetched and not all laws can be controlled, but it's a fun addition to the game.
Finally there is an interesting auction system allowing you to win extra weapons and to gain control over areas. This control will give you discounts in shop and taverns and will trigger some unlisted battles with local clans. Further variation is added by making some missions only available in certain months. This all adds to the vastness of the game. Funny thing is that even though there is so much to do, the game never overloads you with information or options. It all grows naturally and flows like a dream.
While playing the game I never felt bored, I never felt like taking a break and I never felt lost. Even though it took a good 115 hours to complete I never got bored of the mechanics or the gameplay. The game isn't too difficult and even slides down to fairly easy near the end, but that's only if you opt to complete all the missions in the game. It's been a long time since I've been this immersed in a game and it's the first time a game kept my busy for such a long stretch of time. Definite recommend for fans of the series, although people who've played the earlier installments might recognize a whole lot more than I did.