Moogle Hi, I'm a moogle! I'm adorable, and I enjoy music, good cooking, and putting my life in severe jeopardy with little to no provocation! Moogles do not fear death: we court her, like a lover.

I recently finished Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2. On the whole I think the first FFTA was superior: Too many of the new jobs are bland and/or redundant, the law system has become less onerous to manage but markedly less interesting, and the characters are not as likable. More importantly, the story is the most paint-by-numbers affair that I've ever seen in an RPG; It's like the developers (I hesitate to use the word "writers") sat down and wrote down a list of things that you usually see in RPG stories and made sure that they ticked all of the necessary boxes, but made no effort whatsoever to infuse any amount of spirit or charm into the game. In fact, after having experienced the story of FFTA2, I may have to re-evaluate other games that I've criticized on account of having generic stories: I don't think I truly knew what a generic story was until I played this game.

It's like when you want Honey Nut Cheerios, and your Mom comes back from the store with generic store brand "toasted oats" and tries to convince you that it's just as good as Honey Nut Cheerios. It's like, she couldn't even be bothered to get the generic equivalent of Honey Nut Cheerios, she got regular toasted oats. It's just insulting that anyone could think that you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Anyway, there's inoffensively unoriginal, and then there's supermarket-store brand generic, and now I know the difference.

Elementalist A Viera Elementalist. Whatever qualms I might have with the game, the character art is gorgeous. I hope the next installment of this series abandons pudgy, minimalist character sprites in favor of Vanillaware-style illustrative sprites. If they make a game that looks like that, as far as I'm concerned the story could come out of a magnetic poetry set. With half the magnets missing.

Sometimes handheld RPGs in particular do better without stories. I just played the first hour of Etrian Odyssey yesterday, and was thrilled to discover that the game doesn't even put up the pretense of having a story: You get to an area with a mysterious dungeon, you create a few characters (whom you can name whatever you want, since there are no pre-existing characters because, oh yeah, there's NO STORY), and then some nice people suggest that you might like to explore the local dungeon. It's wonderful. In the first FFTA the story could be a bit intrusive, especially when you just wanted to experiment with building personalized units and you didn't really care about Mewt and Ritz and their childhood demons and whatnot, but it was actually a story that had a purpose. FFTA uses the old cliche of the characters transported into a fantasy world, but instead of giving you a morally unambiguous endorsement of the real world and the power of friendship (otherwise known as 'copping out'), Marche's friends have good reasons for wanting to stay in their fantasyland-- well, Doned does anyway. I really have no idea what was going on with Ritz' hair. Anyway, though the dialogue and plot twists never blew you away, it did provide some genuine, if limited, food for thought and added some resonance to the world of the game. The story in the sequel failed to even justify it's existence.

All that said, I did quite enjoy the game. The writers who were apparently forbidden from working on the primary narrative were allowed to develop the missions, and among the 400 possible missions there are a few gems. While the strategic potential of the law system has been reduced to a shadow of what it was, the simplified system does remove some of the tedium that plagued the original game at times. The units are a little more balanced, which means you don't have to feel like an idiot for using a unit that you like when you should be using a team of assassins and paladins. The two new races, Seeq and Gria, have some of the most interesting jobs and somehow manage to not be redundant in the already overcrowded world of Ivalice; the Gria in particular are a blast to play with. Finally, the loot system is like a gift from Square-Enix to obsessive gamers, and as a card-carrying RPG item collect-a-holic, I approve of this development. The card has a very shiny treasure chest on it, by the way.

Gria The Gria are female creatures with dragonesque wings who tend towards physical jobs. Powerful tanks that can fly? I'll take five, thanks.

But enough talk about story and gameplay and other trifles of that nature, and onto something that must be mentioned in relation to FFTA2: Suicide. This game has a ton of protect missions, which would have been fun were it not for the fact that the average guest NPC in FFTA2 seems to have a higher chance of attempting suicide than a bipolar Scandinavian with terminal cancer. Characters will attack enemies five times their level and be killed by the counter-attack, walk into a phalanx of enemy units with no weapons other than a small dirge (or possibly a musical instrument), do nothing that could possibly interpreted as trying to win the battle they are taking part in, and generally act as though they place no value on their own lives. My personal favorite incidence of this was when Penelo, armed with a flimsy wand, physically attacked a fighter, who then countered with a critical hit (300 damage), the resulting knockback from the crit pushed her off a cliff (200 damage), and the panel where she landed contained a trap with pop-up spikes (200 damage). Not only was she determined to kill herself, but the game intervened with the laws of probability to ensure that she succeeded. I would have been more impressed by Penelo's going out with a bang were it not for the fact that I failed the mission due to factors completely beyond my control.

Granted, if I was stuck with Vaan I might have suicidal tendencies too, but that was ridiculous.

On another mission, my one Viera Red Mage was tasked with protecting 5 Moogles, all of whom had jobs best suited for use in a circus environment, and their approach to the battle was more like interpretive dance than combat-- all they did was get as far away from my protective Viera as possible and perform random abilities clearly intended for the amusement of small children, while the opposing army cheerfully pummeled them to death.

Ultimately, what I have learned from the epidemic of FFTA2 character masochism is this: If you want to put tons of protect missions in your video game, great. But you'd better make damned sure that the AI doesn't absolutely suck.