The term ‘isekai’ is common among manga and anime: it’s when the story is centered around a seemingly unprepared protagonist who is transported to a whole new world where adventures ensue. In videogames, such a concept is very common as well nowadays, with games such as Square Enix’s own Forspoken, and it’s the center drive of the now classic Game Boy Advance title Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, which turns 20 today.
Developed by Square Product Development Division 4 under director Yuichi Murasaw and producer Yasumi Matsuno, with art by Tactics Ogre’s Akihiko Yoshida among a few others, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is a spin-off to the PlayStation game from 1997.
The game stars four children: Marche, Mewt, Ritz and Doned, who live in a world apparently much like our own, in a small town called St. Ivalice. After discovering an old tome, the group is transported to actual Ivalice, a realm where magic is a real thing and dangers all around.
Once the intro is done with, the attention shifts to Marche, the character we get to control and guide through a series of misadventures as he’s forced to learn how to fight and try to find a way back home.
Funnily enough, much of the combat in the game plays out like the snowball fights Marche and his friends engage in as Final Fantasy Tactics Advance opens up, and it’s a cute juxtaposition with the otherwise very serious themes presented once they arrive in Ivalice.
Like the original Final Fantasy Tactics, gameplay in Tactics Advance is presented on a grid field in three dimensions, and combat takes place whenever a character comes in contact with another, or as is the case with ranged units such as archers, once they are in range to attack.
Undoubtedly, Final Fantasy Tactics took inspiration with Tactics Ogre, but it evened out some edges that made the latter such an undertaking, making for a very fast game to play through. Advance moves in a similarly brisk pace, especially so as a portable game. The mission-to-mission structure is especially good for the format.
Even today, replaying Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for this anniversary article, I was floored with just how playable the game still is, even more so than even Square Enix’s re-release of Tactics Ogre, released last year. Knowing that everything moves at such a brisk pace and leaves no fluff is the most refreshing aspect of the game as a whole.
Granted, there’s plenty of content to deal with and a whole lot of it is hidden behind layers of gameplay that once unpeeled, can be quite challenging to partake. Side missions are like that, often requiring that you grind out levels before daring to engage and fail altogether.
Thanks to these, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is a game that can be played for weeks or even months and still provide fresh challenges whenever a new mission pops up. Given its portable nature, it’s to be expected, even more so considering the company’s output during that time.
The core idea behind this game was so well received that it eventually got a follow-up on the Nintendo DS, Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift, which is also nearing its 20th anniversary, and we will definitely talk about it then since it’s also an amazing game.
If you have yet to play Tactics Advance, do yourself a favor and try to find a copy of it, or if you’re lucky enough, maybe you even bought it on the Wii U virtual console back when that was still active.
As it stands, it’s one of the most unique off-shoots of Final Fantasy that’s still as amazing as it was in 2003 now. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is an incredible game on its own rights that has aged brilliantly, making it worth playing today, 20 years later.