For me, at least, this game really opened my eyes to one of the best periods in gaming. The GBA had a period in time where we saw multiple killer, must have releases. FFTA, Advance Wars, Metroid Fusion, multiple Castlevania titles, Golden Sun, multiple Pokemon titles. A link to the past saw a release alongside four swords. Alongside the backlit SP, this was an incredible time to be a gamer. Somehow, though, FFTA managed to stand out against all of these releases.
We had seen FFT go before on the PS1, which sadly did not see a full release here in the UK, and whilst it had good reviews, in the FF community it was considered gold. This game had incredible depth, even more so than desired considering people's ability to break the game with one Mathematician. Now though, there was a GBA released on it's way. Everyone immediately considered that this would be a port of the PS1 game, and whilst the SRPG style remained, this was much closer to a Tactics Ogre game, but with FF classes and lore rolled in - and this, it turned out, was no bad thing.
Upon firing the game up you're greeted by a short introductory battle, which shows you the basic system, then you're thrown into an alien world, given the ability to manage a clan, and the freedom to take missions. These missions took the form of differing goals and requirements, but essentially boiled down to going to a location and battling bad guys until you win. Sometimes you have to kill a boss, other times you're required to simply destroy all units. Missions would have rewards and many times these rewards became requirements to open up further missions. Law's were introduced into battles to add a further layer of strategy. Black magic could be banned due to a law in battle, so you were forced to work around this, and whilst that sounds like a restricting mechanic - it opened your eyes to the great collection of moves available on other classes.
It is important to note that less than a third of this game was required in order to complete the storyline. You could, if you wished, simply fly through the game with minimal grinding. Some party formation is required, like taking black mages to certain competition missions, but other than these requirements you could take on each story battle and do fairly well. However, the real meat is to be found elsewhere.
Side missions could be taken at any point, with the completion of these leveling not only your units but your clan. Each member of your clan could choose a class and learn abilities from items equipped, which in turn gains access to further classes. Certain items gained from high difficulty missions, or achieving certain clan levels, gave access to very powerful spells. The game turned from a story driven game, to a mission based hunt for items and levels, every time you powered it up.
The quest for new missions, secret characters and powerful items became all encompassing. This was no longer a game with a storyline, which was at best generic rpg fare, it became a quest to better yourself and your clan in any way possible. Hours would slide by as days gave way to Tactics days, which were infinitely more enjoyable. Do yourselves a favor, if you have not already, find a way to play this game again, it is so worth it.