One title in Gamedom which represents a clear delineation between RPGs players is Final Fantasy. People either love it or hate it. Next, you have the debate which rages within the ranks of those who love the series, myself included-which is your favorite? Who is your favorite main character? Mine is Final Fantasy VI, and Kain..respectively-many whippersnappers I talk to love FFVII. FFVII holds the dubious title of being the first Final Fantasy game I didn’t finish. Blasphemy? Not really, I simply lost interest midway through disc 2. Same with FFXIII- FFIX was to me an improvement over the previous two, however, it still didn’t combine story and gameplay enough to make me want to finish it. FFX changed all that…the Sphere Grid system worried me at first, however soon it became second nature-and I was hooked by the characters, story, gameplay..etc. Where am I going with this?
Square has always attempted to give us something different with each Final Fantasy game-and FFXII is certainly no exception. The screenshots which were doled out ever so slowly by Squeenix whetted my appetite for more-and concerned me a bit. The design was incredible, environments sumptuous, pure candy for the eye. The main character however, looked more like Neve Campbell than-Neve Campbell. Would this drive me crazy? Would I be able to take him seriously as a strong male lead? Being the type of player who prefers a manly man for a lead, such as Auron, this could be an issue. Would he grow on me so that I could overlook his fruityliciousness, as I did with Tidus? Being a fan of turn based action (I’m an old school RPGer-I like to have time to decide my next move-) would I hate the new battle system? I eagerly anticipated the demo packaged with Dragon Quest 8, and loved it, making me anticipate the game all the more.
On with the review-.
I’ll start by saying this game is MASSIVE. If I attempted to hit every point and describe, in detail, every facet of this game, my review would be a small novel. So I’ll hit key points I think are of interest to newcomers and fans of RPGs and the FF series alike and attempt to do this game justice in 1200 words or less.
FFXII begins with what no one does better than Squeenix, CG. A beautiful royal wedding takes place amidst political upheaval, however, being FF..we know all of this gratuitous beauty and happiness ain’t gonna last long. And it doesn’t. Not to ruin any moment of the game for you, things soon go from bad to worse. We are then introduced to our protagonist, the much maligned in the press Vaan. I should mention that he looks more manly in the CG. He earns money running errands on the side for a nearly unintelligible merchant whose name escapes me.
Not to ruin story-.in usual RPG style, events lead Vaan to meet other characters who pop in and out of the party, and progress the story.
The characters, designed by Akihiko Yoshida of Vagrant Story and FF Tactics fame, are well done and what you would expect. Allow me to get this out of the way-..Yes Yes, we know, Vaan looks a bit girly to some people-well as I said before-he looks more manly in the CG. An hour or so into the game, and after hearing Vaan’s voice, and the fact he is not angst riddled or whiny-endeared his character to me. The “party” characters that Vaan meets are for the most part not stifled by RPG stereotype syndrome. Not once did I feel experience déjÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â vu, the characters were imbued with such personality and distinct design that they were interesting in their own right, not simply as someone for Vaan to drag along. The voice acting is top quality as well, with Balthier’s and Fran’s are outstanding. With so much taking place on the screen, so many NPCs, it’s incredible that the PS2 can pull this off without a hitch.
The score, composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto, who also worked on Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy Tactics, is lovely and fitting to the moods and environments of the game. Unfortunately there wasn’t as song which screamed “must have” which would drive me to buy the soundtrack., which has been the case with other FF games I’ve played.
On to the battle system-Change is good. Meaning No Random Battles. I won’t miss being ambushed by the random encounter staple “whoosh” sound every 10 seconds. Encounters take place in what’s now described as MMORPG style..you see the enemies running about and you have the option to run or to fight. When entering the fight, the player controls where the leader is in relation to the enemy, and will perform the action selected when the wait meter is full. You can also choose for action to continue while you are perusing the menu, or, if you’re like me, you choose the wait option so that you can take your sweet time deciding. The player controls one character in the battle (the Leader) and is supported by two other characters. This would’ve been horrible if the AI were dumb as doornails..I’m happy to say this isn’t the case. In fact, the AI system is one of the most customizable of any RPG to date. This is accomplished by the new “Gambit” system, which is essentially a command given to a player. For Example, Fran can be told to Heal an ally if their hit points drop below a certain point, however to keep attacking if not healing.
Gambits can be used for offense or defense, and you start out with a small amount. Other, more effective Gambits can be obtained throughout the game. Visually the battle system was a bit confusing at first, perhaps because the tutorial took place in a confined space, and small spaces are where FFXII’s battle system can be confusing. A colored arc will appear once the leader is within range of a targeted enemy, making a visual link between the leader and the enemy, which changes from red to blue depending upon if you are the targeter or the targetee. In fields, or dungeons with open spaces, this works incredibly well. However, as I mentioned above, in a hallway or other small space, it can be confusing, as the camera is not always placed in the optimal position and the arcs are very close together. Very minor complaint as this isn’t a problem very often.
Need Better Equipment? A New Better Weapon? Well, friends, you’re gonna need a License. FFXII’s answer to upgrading weapons, armor and magic is a License Based System. The only thing to have made this more bothersome would be to have Vaan wait in line at the DMV for the license. This is where I think change does not equal progress, and that a Sphere Grid type system should’ve been retained. Using this type of system for magic upgrades and attacks would’ve made more sense. Requiring it for simple attack and defense improvements makes it an annoyance.
Think of it as a chessboard-every character starts on the same space. You gain LP through battles, the LP can then be spent by moving spaces on the board. You can unlock various weapons, armor, and magic by “purchasing” the block-then this opens several adjacent upgrades which can be purchased, lather, rinse, repeat. What I found buggy is that you not only have to unlock it, you have to go buy it. And it’s not always available for purchase-you’ll have to really pay attention to the Magic available before you blow LP on a spell which isn’t for sale yet. I also didn’t think the amount of LP gained in battles was consistent.. While not making much sense, I suppose it can be considered a good thing as you can get a relatively good amount of LP from weaklings. The upside of the License system is that, out of the chute, you can point a character in any direction..as opposed the the Sphere Grid, which started each character in a different place dependent upon their alignment. With FFXII, you have complete freedom as to the customization of your characters. Summon beasts such as Ifrit are available-.however, they are part of a large subquest and can only be learned by one character-so choose wisely.
Another MMORPG touch is, and a good one I think, it the option for Clan missions. Vaan can join the Clan, and complete missions for fame and profit. This provides a welcome break for those who wish to depart from the main storyline from time to time.
In closing, Squeenix once again delivers a grand adventure, with the main quest being at least 60 hours. In a genre which many think has become redundant and stale, FFXII stands out with a unique battle system, endearing characters, and a beautifully crafted, well presented story.
The great reviews you’ve read are not the product of a flaming fanboyist lovefest..FFXII deserves the praise. It’s really that good, and succeeds at what I think has made the series so popular, which is to immerse the player in the world of the game. And in the case of FFXII and Ivalice-it’s a nice place to visit.