Best Games - Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
The resolution of the gameboy advance screen is 240 x 160. That isn’t a lot of space. In the english version, a single font character is about six pixels tall by four pixels wide. That is extremely efficient for a font, but it also means that you can’t put pages of text on the screen. There just isn’t enough room for all of it. That’s why the menu system for Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is amazing.
I just finished looking at some old reviews of the game. Time capsule takes from the early 2000s. There were a lot of people praising the game, but the menu system was either not mentioned or maligned. I think a lot of people just didn’t know what they had on their hands. Or, in their hands.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is part of a long-ish series of strategy rpg game put out by Square. It is charming as hell, and mostly joyful. The art takes beautiful advantage of all 240x160 pixels of a Gameboy Advance screen. Subtle touches make the character designs and landscapes appear more detailed than they actually are.
The story, though slow to get going, is interesting and nuanced for a game like this.
The missions are fun and work like a multilayered puzzle, where you can sway the constraints and advantages in your favor even before your first attack.
Strategy games like this live and die on their interfaces. There is usually a lot of complicated machinery and statistics that the player needs to be aware of at all times, and 240x160 pixels is just not enough room to display it all. Rather than attempting that, the devs of FFTA decided to tuck all the relevant menus and UI away under a few button clicks.
I think this is what reviewers were complaining about. They would have rather had all information visible at all times. That would never have been possible on such a small screen. Instead, they made every relevant menu one click away.
Now this might sound obvious, or simplistic. Every PC game has pop out menus. Most PC apps have pop out menus. They are context aware so that only the stuff you truly need at the moment is available. You would think that game menus would be exactly the same. Except they aren’t, and back in 2003 on a handheld system, they super weren’t. Menus would commonly be stored in subscreens where you had to press the start or select button first, and then navigate around to what you were looking for. Or you would press ‘Attack’ and all of the relevant attack menus would become available.
FFTA uses true, context aware menus. For everything. No feature of the game is more than two or three button presses away. And as soon as you get used to navigating it, you can just fly around those menus. And that is where the interactivity of a strategy game lives. A series of menus and button presses.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is one of the best games, and it’s not because of the story or the art or the music or even the complex but satisfying strategy. It’s because they did menus so very, very well.