Final Fantasy XII Review

I admit it: I haven’t been a big fan of the Final Fantasy series lately. I enjoyed Final Fantasy 7 (although I still think it’s given too much praise by many gamers), and I liked Final Fantasy X enough to beat it. But neither game made me go, "Wow, this is incredible" — so it was with trepidation that I began playing Final Fantasy XII, which was already being hailed as the best game in years, even before its release. With that background in mind, you can understand that it’s very big when I say that the hype was justified, and that Final Fantasy XII is the greatest RPG I’ve played since Chrono Trigger.

Part of this comes from the fact that Square-Enix realized it was time to change the formula in the newest Final Fantasy installment. Unlike previous games, the battles are no longer handled in a strictly turn-based format. Instead, you’ll be able to issue commands to your characters in real-time fighting, making fights much more hectic and adrenaline-pumping. The only problem is, at times the fights will still feel turn-based; you’re just able to run around before it’s your turn to attack again.

Of course, you’re able to ease the transition to the new formula by turning on the Wait option-which pauses the fight whenever you enter the battle menu-and by using Gambits. Gambits act as a script for your NPC-controlled party members to act out (or yourself, if you’re so inclined). You’re able to set routines for the characters, ranging from when to heal, to whom they should attack primarily. The biggest frustration I had with this system was that-at times-it’s difficult to make characters do exactly what you want, and you’ll have to constantly change the Gambit as you enter the more difficult areas. For example, some enemies require you to be healed once you drop to around 60% of your HP, while others will hit you for so little you can wait it out. The Gambit system is a very nice addition to the new battle formula, but it really can be time consuming if you want to optimize your strategy for different opponents.

Where this Final Fantasy truly shines, however, is in the plot department. One of my biggest gripes with the past few iterations of the series is the fact the stories revolved around a young man who happened to be destined for great things, and in the process saved the world (or something similar). In FFXII, that’s not the case. Taking the world of Ivalice from the Tactics games, the story (at its broadest level) revolves around a war between two kingdoms.

The first cutscene of the game brings you right into the action. Right off the bat, you’re given a large view of a city straight from Tactics. Crowds cheering, confetti flying, bands playing-it’s obvious it’s a celebration. Seconds later, that’s proven to be true, as what appears to be a bride and groom ride down the street towards the palace. They’re wed, and all seems to be starting off rather heartfelt. But things quickly turn sour.

The Archadian Empire has been attacking its neighbors for quite a while, and the next victim to fall to them is the previously neutral kingdom of Dalmasca-the same kingdom in which the princess was just married. Her new husband takes off with Dalmasca’s army, and after a battle scene straight from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, it’s obvious Dalmasca is doomed, as the Dalmascan force is decimated-including the princess’ new husband.

The King of Dalmasca, knowing that his nation is on the brink of destruction, travels to meet with the Archadians to sign a peace treaty. However, someone from Dalmasca is not too pleased with the king’s "defeatist attitude," and on the eve of the King of Dalmasca signing a treaty with Archadia he is assassinated. Grieving over the loss of her husband and father, the princess takes her own life.

From there, you’re quickly taken back to the Dalmascan city in which the joyous celebration took place. Specifically, you’re taken straight to Vaan, a young man who lost his family to the war. Living off of odd-jobs and thieving, Vaan is one of the many displeased with the Archadian occupation of Dalmasca. How displeased is he? Enough to decide he wants to break into the palace on the day the new Archadian Consul takes over, in order to take back the palace’s treasures for his people. As you can imagine, it doesn’t quite work out as the headstrong lad wants, and things quickly escalate from there.

This may not sound like the beginnings to an epic story, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly things change. Only a few hours in, it’s obvious that the story will end up more enthralling than any previous Final Fantasy title-part of that is due to the characters. Unlike the past, there’s no single character heralded as a savior-all of them have their own valid reasons and points for doing what they do, and none truly have special powers above the rest. (This is further driven home in the fact any character can learn any skills from the get-go.) The fact that you get all of the main characters so early in the game only furthers the epic feeling, as each one has a backstory fleshed out enough to make them a main character in almost any other RPG. From urchins to sky pirates, a wide variety of backgrounds will ensure that there’s never a dull moment plot-wise.

To go along with the characters, the voice acting in FFXII is incredible. In most recent RPGs, many gamers don’t bother listening to the voices and instead just read the text and move on. In FFXII, however, Square-Enix did such a great job in casting that the game truly shines when you listen to the speech, rather than read it. As mentioned earlier, with the epic plot and scenery, the game seems more like a modern sci-fi/fantasy film than a Final Fantasy video game-and in many regards, that’s a good thing.

Visually, the game is also incredible. Pushing the limits of the PS2, you’ll find some breathtaking scenes in the normal environments of the game. At times, however, it seems they tried to bite off more than they can chew, as some areas just look odd in comparison to others, as they aren’t nearly as detailed. There are also times when character models seem to look a little ragged around the edges, but all in all the graphics are top-notch and the CG is some of the best I’ve seen yet-next-gen included.

There’s really only a few gripes I have with Final Fantasy XII. The first is the camera. While the camera is fully controllable, the developers decided not to give the gamer a choice when it comes to inverted controls, and it can take a while to orient yourself. If you’re playing other titles while playing FFXII, expect to constantly move the camera the wrong direction. Most of the time this doesn’t matter, but in a few key instances moving the camera can block your view of the battle, and cause your death. The second problem I have is that no matter how they changed the battle system, in essence it’s still turn-based. Because of this, it feels more like an experiment done to gauge reactions rather than a true innovation to the series. Don’t get me wrong: the new Gambit system and real-time control during battles are incredible. But they could have done so much more to change it even further.

Lastly, the dungeon layout isn’t very inspired. In several dungeons, there will be so many different ways to go, that you may end up dying by the time you finally find the real way out. But that’s not the biggest problem, as some gamers will welcome the added challenge. The biggest problem is that the dungeons all feel very similar. Unlike other recent RPGs, it doesn’t feel very different to be travelling through the desert, through the sewer, or in a basement. The only difference is the monsters, which can also cause problems, as many times you’ll find an enemy off to the side in a dungeon or explorable area which you have no chance to kill. These will often one-hit KO you, and if you haven’t saved recently, tough luck. I understand adding some risk to exploring, but it’s just frustrating having an entire area of level 2 monsters, and then a random high-level mob.

In the end, Final Fantasy XII lives up to its own hype. As the last Final Fantasy of the current-gen, it delivers as the best of the bunch. An epic story, incredible characters, slightly-innovated battle system and some of the best graphics seen on the PS2 add up for an incredible journey any RPG fan shouldn’t miss out on. Thanks to the tremendous job Square-Enix did with this title, for the first time in years I’m looking forward to the next Final Fantasy installment.


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Author: Brendon Lindsey View all posts by

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