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Joystiq presents

DS Fanboy Review: Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift

If you have a taste for strategy gaming at all and are looking for a way to spend the entire summer, then Square Enix's latest, Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift is not only a game with a very long title, but it might just be the answer to all your handheld gaming needs.

But length and depth aren't the only measure of a game. For some the latest Tactics may be a great way to while away the month(s), but others will find the paper-thin story and the hand-holding approach a turn-off. In a field of excellent Square Enix titles, Grimoire of the Rift isn't exactly a stand-out, but mediocre Square Enix still tends to be pretty good in the long run.

If you take nothing else away from Grimoire of the Rift, at least remember this: writing in library books can be mildly dangerous and perhaps incredibly exciting. As a PSA, the concept fails, and the actual story of the SRPG isn't much more effective. Our Hero, Luso Clemens, is an impish young gamer (there are multiple references to gaming in the beginning) finds himself in detention in the school library on the last day of term. While waiting for his instructor, he flips through an old book and ends up face-to-face with a cockatrice in Ivalice. What a surprise!

If you're looking for a game with a story, Grimoire of the Rift isn't the one you're looking for. But that isn't so out of the ordinary for tactical RPGs, nor for Tactics games in particular. What's important here is the world and the gameplay, and despite weaknesses, Grimoire delivers the necessary goods.

Upon Luso's appearance in Ivalice, he's taken in by Cid (good ol' Cid!) and swears into the Gully clan. That's all that's necessary to kick off the action. From these humble beginnings, you'll take on maintaining the clan, recruiting new members, handling job assignments, setting abilities, and handling loot. Things aren't quite as open as they initially appear, however; while the game features more than fifty jobs, you've got to earn them by doing quests, filling prerequisites, and then in order to learn certain abilities, you've got to have the right equipment. Building up your allies to your preferred specs can be a long and tedious process.

But there are hundreds of quests to help you along in that, and combat is varied and rarely tedious, if pretty easy. Veterans may want to go in for hard mode immediately, else Grimoire may offer a simplistic experience, but Hard can be, well, hard. For those who've played Tactics Advance, there are some changes this time around. For instance, the system that features judges assigning rules to battles is still around, but now, if you break the law, you're gently penalized with the loss of clan privileges (bonuses) and the ability to revive the fallen, as well as losing the law bonus (yay bonus) you get for staying within the rules. That makes things a little less annoying, but the judge system could still use some work.

Really, this review could go on for thousands of words, and there's no way to cover even a fragment of the depth here. Grimoire of the Rift is a little odd. It's newbie-friendly but hellaciously long and at times, with the bazaar system, the items, and clan management, extremely complicated, but it's not a difficult curve. The presentation is stunning, despite the complete lack of a compelling story. The controls and camera are flawed to the point of frustration at times, but the game is goal-oriented, addictive, and never too onerous, so those things can be overlooked.

If you're in the camp that is vehemently pro-Tactics and anti-Tactics Advance, there's nothing here that will change your mind. But if what you want is a single player experience that's packed with goals you'll be happily chasing for a long time to come, Grimoire of the Rift is a good choice. It's better than Tactics Advance, and if you're new to these Final Fantasy games, it's easy to get into.

Visuals: Grimoire may look a bit bland in some of the screens, but the reality is a glossy, detailed marvel. There are so many attractive little touches that you'll spend a lot of time just checking everything out -- and there's a lot to seel.

Sound: Great adventuring music that'll keep you going as the hours roll by, including some songs series fans will recognize. Heaphones recommended.

Story: Boy enters book. Book leads to world. Boy decides it might be keen to get back eventually, but is quite happy spending some quality time kicking ass and grinding levels first.

Controls: Touchscreen control is a bit lacking, particularly in comparison to some other strategy games on the system. The poor camera contributes to some of the issues here, as it just becomes impossible to find a unit in a crowd with the stylus.

Difficulty: Grimoire rarely presents a real challenge, particularly if you're a strategy person, but that doesn't mean it won't take you forever to get through everything on offer here. What the game lacks in punishment, it makes up in length.

Final verdict: 8.5/10 -- The sheer size of Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift could make up for a lot of problems. Luckily, Grimoire doesn't really have problems -- just a few bits that could have been better. It's huge, it plays well, it looks and sounds great. All that's missing is the spark of good characters or story, and that's not much to lose in an SRPG.

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