There’s been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the dominance of sequels and licensed names in video games. The reluctance of publishers to put out games with interesting but risky new ideas instead of tired retreads of the same old same old, in the view of these gaming Cassandras, is stifling the games industry and leading us down a dead-end path to irrelevance and another mid-80s-style crash.

While the dominance of sequels in the market is distressing, I have to admit that there is a certain pleasure to be gained from seeing an already-great game evolve and improve, and that’s exactly what Square Enix has done with Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.

The job and ability system — the core of the game — is considerably richer than in the Playstation iteration of Final Fantasy Tactics. Those who’ve played Final Fantasy IX will be very familiar with the way abilities work: they’re “learned” by equipping certain pieces of equipment, and are “mastered” (meaning that you can use the ability even without the equipment on) after wearing that equipment for a period of time. Abilities are tied not only to equipment, but to jobs, and jobs are tied to the five different species of playable character, so that only Moogles can be Gunners, and only Bangaa can be Dragoons. In addition, the delicious-but-cheap Calculator job has been eliminated, replaced by more interesting (if less destructive) jobs like Juggler and Illusionist. People who enjoyed going through the first game with a party of super-powered characters will be disappointed, but those who prefer going into battle with a balanced team of players will find the new system more enjoyable.

Battles themselves have been streamlined, as well. There are no moves that require charge-up time in FFTA, so Time Magic will only affect turn order. Also, the completely inscrutable Zodiac system has been scrapped, meaning that players have some chance of understanding what’s happening in a battle without studying a hundred-page manual. The main twist in battles now is the system of laws that’s in effect. In each battle, certain actions are penalized, while others are encouraged. At first, it’s a minor nuisance, but as the game progresses, laws become more onerous, forbidding things like healing or normal attacks. The law system feels a little tacked on, as if the developers suddenly panicked over having too straightforward a battle system, but laws end up playing a pretty important part in the game’s main story.

Unlike the first Tactics game, with its convoluted story delivered in indecipherable Engrish, FFTA actually has a story that the player can keep up with, and is nicely translated. The main character, Marche, actually exhibits some — get this — development as he progresses from a weak, confused boy trying to find his way in a fantasy world to a hardened, sarcastic warrior on a quest to affect serious change that same world. The great thing is that if you don’t care about the main storyline, you can spend your time going on myriad side missions that you sign on for at the local pub. Some missions will advance the plot, but most of them just give your party an opportunity to level up and obtain PHAT LEWT, making FFTA an all-too-effective time sink that can be played just about anywhere. It sounds like Square Enix has started to figure out that purely linear progression is a less-than-ideal method of advancing a game’s plot, as they’re apparently going with similar mission-based arrangements in the upcoming FFX-2 and FF: Crystal Chronicles.

Despite all these improvements on the formula, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is still, at the end of the day, just another sequel, and that’s probably bad for the art of gaming. But when your party goes in and gangs up on a couple of Malboros, and you master a couple more skills, it’s pretty hard to care.