Wednesday, July 29, 2009

murakami and japan

Haruki Murakami interview in 3 AM Magazine:

Two sharply contrasting portraits of a global Japan flashed simultaneously around the world last month, like one of those live, split-screen broadcasts of two different TV reporters stationed in distant countries. On one screen, viewers watched in morbid fascination as a narcotized and nearly comatose Japanese finance minister named Shoichi Nakagawa slurred his way through a press conference at the meeting of the G7 finance ministers and central bank governors in Rome. Two days later, when news broke that Japan’s economy had just suffered its worst contraction in 35 years, and that Nakagawa’s boss, Prime Minister Taro Aso, himself suffering severe contractions in popularity, had yet to demand Nakagawa’s resignation, the emerging picture of a dangerously dysfunctional government overseeing the world’s second-largest economy was as painful as it was embarrassing.

But on the other screen, viewers saw a Japanese man of Nakagawa’s generation standing firm behind a podium in Israel, accepting that nation’s highest literary award, and delivering a speech in eloquent, deeply felt English. He spoke about his vocation as a novelist (”telling skillful lies…to reveal the truth”) and his opposition to any and all wars, his empathy with the weak and the dissident and his passion for the uniqueness of the human soul. Spoken with power and clarity, not to mention clear-eyed sobriety, this man’s words blended the personal with the political and the metaphorical with the logical to make an eloquent argument for individual freedom and justice.

“We must not allow The System to exploit us,” he finally said, referring to the military, industrial and political forces arrayed against the human spirit. “The System did not make us: We made The System.”

The second man, of course, was Japan’s premier contemporary author and literary translator, Haruki Murakami.

Much, much more here

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

on the amen break

A very interesting documentary on the Amen Break which deals with issues such as the corporatization of music, intellectual property rights, and the history of techno music.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

from equity to will - update

See the first post, where the original question is asked, here

What is the primary motivation for equity in contracts in the first place? A contract specifies an exchange of property rights, so unequal exchange is simply not under this criterion. If unequal exchange does take place, it is probably because one party was forced, or deceived, or in some other way coerced into making the decision to trade. Thus it is assumed that to uphold individual freedom, one must prescribe to equality in exchange.

Notice that in theory, this fits perfectly well with the neoclassical model of market exchange. According to that model, individuals trade commodities/property rights until they reach a point where their marginal rates of substitution among the different commodities/property rights equalize. In labor markets, the worker gets paid for precisely how much they contribute to production -- wage equals marginal revenue product.

The reason I make this connection is because it is a central part of the story of the change in conception in contracts from equity to will in the beginning of the 19th century. My friend who is currently a law student at Wayne State University in Michigan offers a practical perspective: discussions in her classes on contracts and employment law observed that it would be too difficult for the courts to determine the just price, since there are so many variables influencing the value of a good. The answer is to leave it up to the free bargaining of the individuals involved in the exchange. In other words, the law assumes the employee and employer have freely bargained over the wage paid. She goes on to mention that a few times during the discussions in her courses the point was raised that in situations where jobs are abundant workers may have less bargaining power relative to situations where jobs are scarce, but no conclusion was reached regarding this issue.

This calls to mind the neoclassical concept of full employment. It seems that the law is assuming the same thing that Keynes attacked the classicals for assuming in their analyses of the Great Depression. If everyone who wants a job currently has one, and everyone who is out of a job is looking so that unemployment is only a temporary, disequilibrium phenomenon, then we can see how the above point concerning job scarcity and bargaining power has no relevance. Why? because job scarcity is defined as "exceeding full employment" so obviously some contract bargains will not be fulfilled, and job abundance is defined as "under full employment" so it's a simple search - and - match problem, not one of fundamental inequality in bargaining. Thus, my friend's class' "problem" is not an issue in the classical/neoclassical view of contract.

It is really interesting how many nuances exist in this theory of historical development. Another related point is the subjective vs. objective notions of value in neoclassical economics. It is contradictory to assert two notions at the same time, but that is exactly what the neoclassicals who work on law and economics do. Let me explain: neoclassical economic theory tells us that with the behavioral assumptions of self-interest and utility maximization brings marginal rates of substitution into equality, giving us the "just price" (justice here in the sense of equal, voluntary exchange). Thus, the just price is derived from objective principles and with the formalization of those principles, we can even come up with a "number" that it will equal. But the courts justify a will theory of contract partly based on the idea that value is subjective so that only individuals can arrive at the just price. What allows them to make this seemingly paradoxical argument, asserting two different conceptions of value at the same time? The answer lies in the space in which individuals interact, the market:

"In a market, goods came to be thought of as fungible; the function of contracts correspondingly shifted from that of simply transferring title to a specific item to that of ensuring an expected return." (161)

Now that we have resolved this paradox between neoclassical economic thoery and the liberal view of law, and realize the fundamental basis upon which the solution to that paradox rests (markets in all commodities guaranteed by their fungibility), we move toward establishing a basis for the equity to will transition. First, can we find conceptions of equity in early contract law? Horwitz' aim in The Transformation of American Law, 1780-1860 is to identify several strands of this view which extend into the 19th century. A South Carolina Chancellor in 1817 argued "it would be a great mishief to the community, and a reproach to the justice of the country" if unequal contracts could not be analyzed by the courts for the source of that inequality. Simialr sentiments were expressed in New York.

Another example is in how the courts dealt with the question of equity in terms of judicial process -- they left it up to the community to decide. Horwitz cites several cases in the late 18th century where the value of damage claims brought forward were decided by the jury who were assumed to arrive at an amount which preserved equity. This example is in the same vein as the customary price doctrine. One interesting quote comes from John Adams and Samuel Quincy (1765): "the Price for Boarding and Schooling is as much settled in the Country, as it is in the Town for a Yard of Cloth, or a Day's Work by a Carpenter" (172). And in addition to these legal formulations of equity conceptions, social historians of early American history have found ideologies of Americans from rural regions and artisans from cities such as New York and Philadelphia who share a similar view.

It suffices to say that the shift toward a will conception of contract was accompanied by the rise of the market economy, and this relationship assumed a variety of forms. In commodity markets, councils of merchants were increasingly aalled upon to decide on matters of future payment in contracts. In a landmark case from 1790, a stock owned by person A was borrowed by person B at a specific time and price. When it came time for person A to recover the value of the borrowed stock, the stock's value had risen substantially. The issue was whether person B should have to pay person A the market amount, or the amount the original transaction was for (the original amount agreed to). The court ruled for person A of the stock, which is a textbook example of the new market conception of the legal system and specifically, contract law.

(A similar example can be found in Hamilton's financial proposal, shortly after the Revolution. People who had bought bonds to fund the war with Britain found their notes substantially depreciated by the 1780s and sold them off, some of them to wealthy speculators. Hamilton's plan was to pay off the debt at substantially higher value than the one which the original purchasers of the debt (mostly soldiers) had sold them for. While Hamilton's plan passed eventually, it did not pass without several classes of protestors speaking against the plan including William Manning in his Key of Liberty.)

So, the central story is one of markets, and the importance of markets was emphasized in terms of 1. commodification (fungibility) of the property right and 2. market values.

contra radin

"Guilty of Saving Lives" by Daniel Akst (via marginalrevolution)

This piece in the Atlantic is very much in the spirit against Radin's Contested Commodities, which was reviewed a while back.

His analogy to prohibition is off if we see body parts and beer as in a fundamentally different class of objects. His language is also strong at times, implying at one point that the issue is a simply yes or no: "It quotes a medical ethicist at my own alma mater arguing that it's better for people to die than buy organs" (where the quote really makes no explicit reference to him saying he think it's better for people to die than buy organs).

But at other times, he makes good points that are difficult to defend. For example, how do we wrestle with this point aside from saying that we need to abolish our entire conception of markets in society? Perhaps that is indeed what we need to do, but it's a much larger problem than simply reforming our democratic society in the spirit of Radin's criteria:

The unearned piety of those who condemn these transactions strikes me as outrageous. If someone has the right to abort her own fetus, why does she not have the right to sell her own kidney?

Of course, you can make the same argument for prostitution or wage labor. The problem is, how do we constructively debate with people who take this view?

Friday, July 24, 2009

exploring the kafkaesque

"An Alienation Artist: Kafka and His Critics"

The conclusion: people still don't know what Kafka was all about, or who he even was...

Monday, July 20, 2009

understanding the law as one of many expressions of social values and norms

Below is a roundup of links on law (and institutions more generally) and economics, and how important the "rules of the economic" game are to analysis of any situation. It was mainly set off by a recent reading of two very interesting news articles found on BoingBoing and 3QuarksDaily respectively. The third is more of a fun piece that I recently recalled reading first over a year ago (and which I actually used in a presentation on U.S. contract law last summer).

"Colorado passes law to allow rainwater harvesting"

"Should nature be able to take you to court?"

"What's traffic in Hanoi and St. Petersburg got to do with institutional reform?"

What struck me about article 2 was how the problem is framed. Basically, it is argued we currently have a problem with exploitation of the environment because the environment does not have a "say" in how we use it. If we give it a "say", we provide it with the agency necessary to reduce its exploitation through the threat of legal action against the exploiting parties. Nature is given a freedom it previously did not enjoy and the result is a balancing of the scales, so to speak.

When one frames the problem in this way, one is assuming the law to be naturally fair, specifically with regard to market transactions. For an example that draws on an instrumentalist view of law, in the U.S. while both the employer and the employee have inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, this fact has not precluded the former from being exploitative of the latter. Alterations of political rights aside, the relationship between humans and the environment is an economic one that operates according to a different set of rules according to the economic system.

In article 1, a few of the comments make an interesting distinction between two competing conceptions of land use. Generally in the eastern U.S., rainwater is seen as part of common property and cannot be artificially diverted or collected. In the western U.S., "first use" is more prevalent, so since this house caught the water, they are fully entitled to it. In terms of the political economy of the issue, the policy of the eastern U.S. makes more sense. So, I think the Colorado law is unjust to the fact that everyone should share in the rainwater. A main problem with my view is the inevitable excess demand that will either result in driving up the price (leading to welfare issues) or simple exclusion of some groups from water entirely. But, there are welfare issues associated with the alternative model as well: "first use" requires an absolutist stance on private property that is not without its own logical consistencies.

Article 3 has some nice youtube videos that call into question the importance (or lack thereof) in establishing formal legal constraints, and how societies often are able to solve problems such as traffic congestion in other ways. It relates back to themes already touched upon in this blog, such as the myth of the tragedy of the commons ( and humanitarian alternatives to the libertarian model of society (

Overall, some very useful articles for understanding how the rules of the game affect society. Enjoy!

UPDATE: One more link! Here, in this very interesting video Paul Romer (of new growth theory fame) asks the question: can we form rules of technological competition in markets that factors out the traditional Schumpeterian "destruction" part of "creative destruction"?

Friday, July 17, 2009

keynes through the eyes of his biographers, as told by skidelsky

Skidelsky, who wrote a 3-volume biography of Keynes, summarizes previous biographies here (from marginal revolution):

What I gained from reading this is that each biography "specializes" in some aspect of Keynes or his thought, so from reading all of them you get a good overall view of what Keynes should be known for (relative to what he is "known" for in modern macroeconomic theory and political science).

Harrod actually knew Keynes, so he is able to discuss Keynes' character where others can only infer.

Davidson emphasizes uncertainty which is central to Keynes' thought. Unfortunately, Keynesian uncertainty was formalized in modern macro as a stochastic process with mathematically simple properties where Keynes viewed it differently. Essentially, according to Keynes, state control of investment is necessary to align the interests of investors (in stock and bond markets, for example, who watch the ups and downs of stock prices and risk on an hourly, sometimes minute-by-minute basis) with managers (who must plan more for the long-term outlook of a company); otherwise short-term interests of investors will create a highly volatile market for investment. Since investment drives jobs which drives income which is a central indicator of the health of an economy, we need to maintain stability of investment behavior.

Minsky provided a very thorough analysis of how Keynes discussed financial institutions (he provided a model of Keynes' argument concerning financial institutions in the General Theory and updated it to include the various "financial innovations" of post-WWII) and also emphasized uncertainty.

Walsh's biography seems most interesting to me. He focuses on Keynes' views on investment and his activity in financial markets. While I'm quite familiar with Keynes' observations and arguments from the General Theory concerning the financial sector, it would be interesting to hear more about his successes and failures, and his own thoughts on financial institutions.

Near the end, Skidelsky speaks a bit more about Keynes' place in the history of economic thought, and the current state of modern macroeconomic theory. Overall, a very interesting article. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

the best battle theme from a game

Here comes this blog's first multimedia installment. I was recently thinking about epic battle themes in videogames and realized the category is sorely lacking. It's funny, because battles are generally a central part of games, so you'd think the music to accompany them would at least be, well, bearable. That's much harder to come by than you may think, but if I were to award one track with the title "best battle theme from a game", it would be Laguna's battle theme from Final Fantasy 8. I've posted the highest quality version I could find on youtube, so enjoy! And please, post your own votes if you think I'm really off here!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

radin, contested commodities: the trouble with trade in sex, children, body parts, and other things

What's wrong with universal commodification in society? In her book Contested Commodities, Margaret J. Radin provides a philosophical answer, appealing to sentiments expressed by a wide array of social scientists who reject the libertarian program of Becker and company that aims to frame every interaction in society -- from sex to work -- in terms of a market exchange.

Radin places herself in a rather more difficult position than the universal commodifiers she aims to attack because, as she identifies at the outset, she is arguing against a framework which asserts that any situation is capable of being modeled as a market exchange as long as the model's assumptions are explicitly stated and its conclusions are logically consistent. To argue against this view is to appeal to some inner sense of "personhood" she claims we all have but which, precisely because it is an inner "sense" and appeals to notions of morality, is difficult to formalize itself. This difficulty in formalization, in turn, makes it harder to argue with the neoclassicals (as she terms them), who conceive of their arguments entirely in formal language. One can sense the underlying frustration here:

What language, what conceptual scheme could I use to prove this to someone who reasons in universal market rhetoric? Can I use market rhetoric to show its own incompleteness? Perhaps a partial way of doing that is to point out conceptual instabilities such as those mentioned above. The notion that I could use market rhetoric to show its own incompleteness in a more complete (more algorithmic?) way seems to involve the contradiction of admitting that market rhetoric is the master paradigm while trying to use it to deny that very thing. On the other hand, any other discourse I use (incommensurability of value, for example) will immediately be "translated" by the [neoclassical] economist into market rhetoric. She will say my stubborn committment to incommensurability means I value it very highly so that it would "cost" me a lot to give it up, and therefore I'm willing to "trade off" certain other things against it, and so forth. (121)

Radin does ultimately succeed at presenting a coherent theoretical response to the neoclassical model using this criterion of "personhood", but some of her conclusions (that we need a carefully regulated market of body parts, etc.) seem out of tune with the historical or practical aspects of capitalist markets. The result, for me, is a weak theory but with good potential. For example, she supports a policy response to prostitution where it is legalized but where contracts defining exchanges should not be enforced. According to her, the policy accomplishes two goals: it brings a legal means of subsistence to poor women who choose become prostitutes, and (through keeping the contracts unenforceable) it prevents sex (in theory) from being completely commodified. The problem is that in theory, this seems perfectly understandable because you need private property plus enforceable contracts to obtain the liberarian vision of society. But completely enforceable contracts are hardly the norm even in capitalist institutions and this does not preclude power relationships. Furthermore, in some ways, capitalist institutions are actually able to expand due to the lax nature of enforceability. The result is a wider proliferation of markets that turns on deeper commodification in society -- exactly the opposite of what Radin intends with her theory.

Radin would respond to my argument by saying that we cannot take agency out of the social theory: we can't argue that the social system will inevitably turn all of us into complete commodifiers. Radin's model of the individual is radical to the neoclassical economist because in it, individuals are postulated to have an inherent sense of doing a "respectable job" at work, where we take pride in what we do. So, each individual agent, while under the winds of a capitalist social system, will be swayed toward commodification but is ultimately able to defy it due to his own understanding of what it means to be a "person", in Radin's sense of the phrase.

My rebuttal to this response is that the worker is still working towards satisfying the demands of the market. The ultimate goal is therefore to make the woman (in this particular example) or the participant (in general) a part of the market economy, and subject to all of the inherent power relationships that go with it, whether directly through the relationship with her customers, or indirectly through her participation in a society that is full of economic inequality and the social consequences of it. The fact is, as Radin notes, the public and private spheres cannot be separated. So, the private freedoms associated with a free market methodology interact with the social system that is predicated on political regulation (control) of the distribution of wealth.

Even if we admit that a duality may exist between our market and nonmarket understandings of work, Radin's assertion of this "careful" type of regulation is not practical. An example of the impracticality is the labor market in early 19th century U.S. history. Here we saw a general movement away from strict enforcement of contracts toward one that made the contracts between capital and labor as easily breakable as they were originally formed. For example, early court decisions (in the beginning of the 19th century) required workers to specifically perform the full length of their time of service (typically a year or more) and if they broke the contract before the time of completion they could not recover compensation for the work they did complete. Over time there was a gradual shift toward workers being able to leave the employment relationship (or for capital to terminate it) at will.

Thus, the employment relationship became less about specific enforcement of the terms of the labor contract and more about keeping a flexible labor market operational. This meant control over the general supply of labor, or alternative means of coercion in the capital-labor relationship (see Steinfeld's work on this): either through technical change (textiles in the mid 19th century and other industries somewhat laater), efficiency wages (Ford's 5 dollar day), welfare state policies, or other legal means of control. The result is while labor contracts may not have been enforced, this did not lead to decommodification. In many ways, it further entrenched the market economy in society and led to a belief that capital and labor can exist harmoniously, where I would at least question whether such a harmonious relationship can never exist.

Nevertheless, Radin's argument is interesting and in other cases, I think she makes some excellent points. For example, she has been known to argue in the past for rent control based on the idea that it supports stability of one's environment in a way that promotes personal development (I'm looking for some editorials on this; stay tuned). Such a fresh and interesting perspective on how personhood can relate to governmental regulation is one which we could use more of in discussions of policy today which tend to speak only in terms of market rhetoric, the "costs" and "benefits" of various policies as measured by market value.

A very interesting book overall, and I would recommend it to those who want to see a well-tested argument against the classic liberal view of society if it were not for a few weakspots with regard to the applications of her criteria of personhood.

Monday, July 13, 2009

most wanted sequels to videogames

"Famitsu Readers Vote for Most Wanted Sequels"

While I empathize with those on this list in a lot of cases (for me: Okami, Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, Ogre Battle: Knight of Lodis), I find that if you talk to anyone who votes on this list about these games, you end up touching a very sensitive nerve and wish you'd never brought the subject up...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

from equity to will

I posed the following question to a friend of mine, who is currently in law school. From a practical standpoint I got some good answers from her and from a theoretical standpoint I found some great explanations from a few books I'm reading. Before I post a summary of the answers I received, take a shot at how you would answer the question, because it's really not that hard or complex to grasp the intuition behind it. Check back in a few days for an update, but feel free to leave your answer in the comments section!

The classical (read: Aristotelian) notion of contract (and the one applied in early U.S. history of the 17th and 18th centuries) has equity at the centerpoint of consideration. If person A entered into what was seen as an unequal (in value) contract with person B, person A was justified to sue for the difference. After the Revolution and as we moved into the 19th century, the freedom of the parties to enter or leave the contract became more and more important. It was less of a concern whether A entered into an unequal contract with B, and more of a concern whether A was forced into performance of the contract explicitly by B.

What drove the courts to change their understanding of contract from a primary consideration of equity to one of will?

Stay tuned for the answer...

schumpeteresque intro to econ 362

Economic history can be studied from a variety of perspectives. Much of the difference in these perspectives is derived from the wide spectrum of ways in which economists define "economy". While individuals and market behavior have played a central role in the development of the U.S. economy, analyzing only these aspects will give us an incomplete history. This is true for two reasons. First, the market mechanism has not always succeeded in promoting social welfare in the way in which utilitarian classical and neoclassical economists and other liberal philosophers have argued it would. Second, the success of the market mechanism has often relied on regulation by law and aid from the state.

Thus, the concept of “autonomous market forces” is a myth. It is a myth considering the state of things now, and it is a myth considering the state of things in 1800. This is not to make a blanket argument against the market mechanism; it is only to shed light on the historical nature of all market processes, and to point out that in order for a market to be properly functioning in the capitalist ideal you first need a lot of outside help. Therefore, a central focus of the syllabus will be how the market interacted with these historical forces and institutions, and examining both the successes and failures of these interactions: when and where did the market methdology triumph? When and where is state enforcement/history still a central part of the institution?

Friday, July 10, 2009

writers and their crazy lives

July 4th's Writer's Almanac had a nice story of Joyce and his marriage, which is highly recommended and can be listened to here:

Highlights include:

On Nora's decision to leave Ireland with him: "The fact that you can choose to stand beside me in this way in my hazardous life fills me with great pride and joy."

"Nora, for her part, complained that Joyce knew nothing of women. She was utterly apathetic to his writing, and remarked to an admirer of his soon after Ulysses was published: 'I've always told him he should give up writing and take up singing.'"

A somewhat unrelated link, but still in the vein of writers and their interesting lives: did you know Hemingway might have been a Soviet spy in Cuba?

My favorite paragraph:

Although there is no evidence that Hemingway did any actual work for the KGB, his brushes with the clandestine world were apparently intoxicating. He remained infatuated with espionage for the next several years. Upon returning to Cuba, he organized a crew of his drinking and fishing pals and former Spanish Civil War veterans to spy on pro-German elements on the island, even obtaining some funds from the American ambassador to pay for the operation. Later derisively named “the Crook Factory” by Gellhorn, this motley crew outfitted a fishing boat with light weapons and trawled offshore looking for U-boats. While it afforded the writer an opportunity to indulge in fantasies that he was a secret operative, J. Edgar Hoover (then supervising American intelligence in Central and South America) was not impressed, telling subordinates that Hemingway was “the last man, in my estimation, to be used in any such capacity.”
(Emphasis mine)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

update and review of final fantasy tactics a2 (ds)

I decided to take a week's break from the blog, partly to catch up on some reading but also to sneak in some freetime over the long July 4th weekend. As is usually the case with these breaks from work/writing, I have a lot to say now and what seems like not enough time or space to say it all.

-for Econ 362 I've outlined some general readings/course notes up through the American Revolution

-I've done some independent theorizing of history (which I will subject you all to)

-finished the book I referenced in a previous post titled Contested Commodities by Margaret J. Radin

-finished Final Fantasy Tactics A2 and started Chrono Trigger (DS)

-did some "odds and ends" reading for my comp

I think I'll begin with my review of Final Fantasy Tactics A2

Review of Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift

5 July 2009

Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift is a strategy role playing game (SRPG) for the Nintendo DS. Like its predecessors (Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for the Gameboy Advance and the original Final Fantasy Tactics for the Playstation), it is a turn-based SRPG in the tradition of the highly-acclaimed Ogre Battle Series for the Super Nintendo. Indeed, many of the same basic elements from these earlier games are retained in FFTA2, such as positional attack advantages, elemental effects on the battlefield, and of course, job classes as the centerpiece of strategy.

At the same time, FFTA2 does diverge from the earlier games, and ultimately these differences are enough that one can most easily compare it to Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (FFTA). For example, much of the battlefield elements of strategy which gave the Ogre Battle and the original Final Fantasy Tactics their depth are “glossed over” in this installment. As a result, FFTA2 is generally quite easy to jump into and doesn’t get very challenging thereafter. However, where the developers may have chosen not to stress these elements of strategy, the game does shine in other (arguably more important) areas, such as depth of customization. Indeed, this is a very significant strength of the game and is the main reason I give it an 8/10.

Given the depth of customization, this game requires you to spend a fair amount of time simply managing your team: navigating through shops and pubs, and utilizing the menus. So, my review is broken up into five parts: graphics, gameplay (battlefield), gameplay (team management), story, replay value.

Graphics: 8/10

I’ve never been a fan of judging a game based on its graphics, unless there is something particularly beautiful or something detracts from the experience of the game. Neither is true in FFTA2, the graphics are on par with your standard color 2D game.

Gameplay (battlefield): 6/10

As I mentioned in the introduction, the tradition which FFTA2 draws from is very deep. Taking Final Fantasy Tactics (FFT) as an example (a game which came out in 1998), the gameplay on the battlefield in that game was very diverse and offered a fair share of challenges. There were traps the player could fall into by stepping on a particular square, the battlefield environments contained many elements of strategy (such as cornering your opponent or using height advantages or having certain squares in which the player was essentially “stuck”, unable to perform any actions). These environmental effects have largely been glossed over in FFTA2: the battlefield itself still holds its fare share of traps at times, but height advantages, for example, are not nearly as emphasized as they could have been. Other aspects of battle including using the environment in creative ways to “trap” your opponent are no longer as important. Another point, which may seem small to some gamers, is the striking lack of realism at times: archers have no problems shooting arrows over large height distances or through characters (contrary to the Ogre Battle games where archery required strategic use of both distance and angle). There are other examples of this flavor of criticism which pervade the game and which may turn off hardcore SRPGers.

In terms of difficulty, this is also another negative point for the game. Most quests are very easy to complete and require (at most) a moderate level of strategic reasoning. Sometimes, in fact, you can blindly enter a battle and have no problems defeating a mark. Not good. Not good at all, especially for a strategy game. I will admit that I only completed 190 of 300 main quests (still a very significant achievement), so I wasn’t able to fully explore the challenges of the game, but I did put in enough gameplay hours to be confident in saying that the game is not very difficult. On the positive side, the AI is an improvement over the first FFTA for the Gameboy Advance.

Another weak “plus” I would give to the battlefield gameplay is the interesting array of monsters and enemies you face. I felt that, although the game was pretty easy (even playing on “Hard” mode), I was constantly facing new enemies and new sets of enemies that did require me at times to think a little bit about the team I was going up against. That was a very refreshing part of the game and definitely something I enjoyed.

The final aspect of gameplay which I will touch upon is the law system. The law system works fine as it is in the game, and adds an extra layer of strategy. For example, you may be required by law not to use fire-based attacks in a battle. If you uphold the law, you gain the benefits of a clan privilege (something like “power up” or “experience up”), whilst if you break it, you lose those benefits and are not allowed to revive KO’d party members. Thus, there is a strong incentive within the game to uphold the law. An additional incentive comes from post-battle character development: upholding the law will also result in being rewarded some materials, items or weapons.

I think the law system is one of the ways in which the game was indeed a challenge, which is not saying much about this aspect. Unfortunately, the implications for breaking the law are not very serious: for one, the items you obtain for upholding the law are not that important. In addition, the in-game penalty was never very severe for me, and while this may have been due to the high level of my character development, I’m not completely convinced. So, even this part of the game, which may be seen as a “positive”, is more like a “weak positive”.

Gameplay (team management): 9.5/10

SRPGs come in a variety of forms. Most, however, will stress some class- or job-based system for customizing your characters and team, and this is a central part of FFTA2 as well. Where FFTA2 sets itself apart from other SRPGs, however, is in the depth of the customization available to the player. There are 56 jobs in total spanning 7 races (types of characters that define the domain of jobs available to them). Each job has a collection of abilities to master that are obtained from the weapon, armor, and accessory the character equips. Characters learn abilities through AP points from completing quests, and you gain new items to learn the abilities from completing quests as well. You can also obtain new items from synthesizing materials (also gained from completing quests) in the Bazaar. So, the more quests you complete the more items you get. The result of all of this is an amazing array of possible teams, varying by race, job, ability setup, and equipment setup. It’s really dazzling the amount of choices available to crafting a team. So, once you do craft that “perfect team”, it is extremely rewarding to go through the quests, testing your team out on the battlefield, and going back to refine it as weaknesses and strengths are exposed. This is definitely the best part about the game.

Completing quests, clan trials, and auctions are the means by which your team grows (quests being the most important). Unfortunately, as I said above the difficulty level is not very high. So, once you do craft that perfect team, you may not be able to push it to its limits (which can be seen as both good and bad). The quests usually involve some underlying story, which in some cases is more interesting than the main story in the game! But, since I’m devoting a section to the story below, I will refrain from commenting on the story at this point.

The clan trials, along with auctions, are two additional ways in which you can develop your team. Both are mildly entertaining at first, but they again suffer the challenge problem. This is especially true for auctions: once you get first in a set of auctions and play through them each one or two times, you get prizes which make subsequent auctions (for which you can receive rare materials, weapons, and armor) very easy. Thus, since getting the items is easy, getting abilities becomes easy, and overall, your team management becomes easier than it has to be.

Overall, team management is central to the game, and it is a part which the developers did very well with. So, I rate it 9.5/10 because of its strong points in depth and length, while a minor weakpoint being the overall weakness of some jobs and lack of challenge.

Story: 7/10

The main story is nothing to be impressed by. A boy gets involved in some adventures in a new world, becomes tangled up in some affair within that world. There are no broad themes of love or politics, but simply a “lesson learned” for the boy type of story. This may come as a big turn-off for SRPG fans because they are used to good stories: FFTA2’s predecessors, more specifically the Ogre Battle series and the original FFT for the Playstation, were excellent in this regard. Unfortunately, FFTA2 just does not deliver in this department.

Why, then, would I still give it a 7? For two reasons: first, the story doesn’t try to be good: it’s not like the writers tried to integrate love, intrigue, politics, etc. and then failed. Arguably, this could have turned out a lot worse. There’s nothing more intolerable for me than a story filled with clichés. Second, I’ll admit that the stories underlying some of the quests were interesting in their own regard. Some of the quests have multiple subsequent quests which build on the original story, and some of these are genuinely interesting: involving a man seeking revenge for the death of his wife, or a clan with some connections to your own which you will end up exploring. This definitely adds “spice” in a much-needed area: with over 300 quests (and only around 25-30 of them making up the main story), things do occasionally get tedious, so a good story to follow every now and then is really helpful.

Replay Value: 9/10

For the above reasons given in the gameplay (management) section, this game has remarkable replay value for an SRPG. While the story may not be entertaining enough to warrant a second run-through, once you beat the game you can still go back and complete quests. So, there’s always that elusive 300-quest mark to hit, and you may want to either refine your team after you beat the game to continue on, or restart the game with a specific team setup in mind. And, as I hinted at above, things may become challenging once you approach 300, so this gives even more of a reason to try things out a second time from scratch, after you’ve tried out the different classes and find a setup that suits you best.

So, in conclusion: you should definitely get this game if you’re interested in SRPGs. While the story and challenge may be subpar relative to the SRPG genre, that is more than made up for by the depth of the customizability and the amount of gameplay time you will experience.

Overall: 8/10