Final Fantasy VI Advance

Before the reissuing of the early Final Fantasy games (not to mention the widespread availability of Japanese anime), we might have opened a review like this with fantastical stories of purple-winged cats and flying casinos, imagining our readers sitting wide-eyed and open-mouthed as they gawped in anticipation at such wonders arriving from the East.

As it is, you're probably just wondering if the cats (Moogles, if we're being canonical) are any use in the turn-based battles you've all come to expect from publisher Square's role-playing classics.

The answer, incidentally, is yes. They dance.

Still, if you're now feeling a little lost, let us fill you in. Final Fantasy VI Advance is a conversion (with some added extras) of the 1994 SNES game that wooed a generation.

Working on the solid formula that has powered the best-selling series of adventure RPGs, a band of disparate heroes is brought together and tasked with saving the world.

Final Fantasy VI Advance's cast is huge, with more than a dozen main characters, ranging from a womanising king to a guilt-ridden treasure hunter, an orphaned artist and a dream-chasing gambler – all available to join your quest of operatic proportions to defeat the Gestahlian Empire. Thanks to its reviving of Magitek technology, the latter is plotting to unleash a power that almost destroyed the planet a millennium ago (the swine).

Espers – the magical creatures that supply this power – are central to the game, providing your intrepid band with spells, bonuses and powerful summons to use in battle.

And it's battling that will take up most of your time. Whether you're on route in trains, knocking about castles or staking out opera houses, random encounters trigger the screen to swish into an arena, in which the four characters you've chosen to be your battle group take turns to fight or cast spells at the weird opponents who line up against them.

As you'd expect from Final Fantasy, you get customise your group with more experience points, cash (aka gil), and various items (each character can equip two special Relics, which provide enhanced abilities) as you progress. But no matter how prepared you are, the game can spring the occasional challenge – the plot's twisting and branching means those characters you'd put to one side are suddenly the ones you require to save the day.

Thankfully, these surprises are usually well-placed and not too frustrating, although you might have a few close calls.

Keep an eye on your environment, and you should be well prepared. The entire world is littered with secrets, from healing potions hidden in clocks to entire villages for you to discover. The game is more extensive than other GBA conversions too, luring you to explore amazing places such as the kingdom of Figaro, which is ruled from a castle that dives underground.

It's these imaginative plot strands – taking you through rebellions, ghost trains, deserted islands, and even a beefed up romance between main characters Celes Chere and Locke Cole – that carry the game.

But the most refreshing thing about Final Fantasy VI is its welcoming nature to gamers who've not cast a spell or drawn a sword before. The difficulty level doesn't climb too fast, and the added-in Quick Save function, which lets you suspend the game anywhere in the world and resume it later, makes it less of a slog and more of an enjoyable journey than other RPGs.

It's certainly a far cry from the sharp-edged, jumbled job system of Final Fantasy V or the rough-and-tumble plot objectives of Final Fantasy IV. There's no job system to micromanage, and no unexpectedly super-powered monsters. The plot guides the gameplay from the very beginning, instead of the other way around.

Indeed, for many fans of the series the original SNES Final Fantasy VI is held to be the best Square has produced, and the polish and cheeky sense of humour has carried through well to this handheld version.

For a game already boasting 30 hours of gameplay, extras here such as the bestiary, the continuous battling Soul Shrine area, a music player, and the Dragon's Den – a dungeon sporting some of the game's most powerful monsters – make for an impressively deep experience, as well as providing a weighty challenge for those who want to play on past the end credits.

If you've ever wondered what all the Final Fantasy fuss was about, this is the game to try. Perfecting the relationship between story, character and player, as well as having been treated to a neat new translation, Final Fantasy VI Advance is everything you could hope for in a handheld re-release. And that's the sort of magical Eastern import we'd like to see more of.

Final Fantasy VI Advance

The best of the three GBA re-issues, Final Fantasy VI Advance is a timeless dollop of role-playing adventure gaming