Final Fantasy XII - Reader Review  

License and registration, please!
by omegabyte

Medium to Hard
60 to 80 hours


Rating definitions 

   Sitting in front of me is a pull-out from a Japanese magazine advertising Final Fantasy XII. On the opposite side of the page is a similar ad for Tales of Symphonia, a game released almost two years ago! So to say that Final Fantasy XII has been a long time coming is a bit of an understatement. However, it was well worth the wait, because Final Fantasy XII is a work of art, and dare I say, the best Final Fantasy yet!

   The twelfth installment of this long-running series returns to the world of Ivalice, previously seen in Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. If there were ever a world that incorporated everything that makes Final Fantasy what it is, Ivalice would be it. Here in Ivalice, knights ride armor-clad chocobos, humes live among a myriad of other races including the ever-adorable moogles, and Judges rule with an iron fist. Kingdoms rise and fall, airships fill the skies, and adventure is to be found just about everywhere. Enter Vaan, a street rat in the city of Rabanastre, formerly of the Dalmascan Kingdom but now under occupation by the Archadian Empire. Vaan's brother was killed during the war two years previously, and now he dreams of flying free as a sky pirate, and getting revenge on the empire that took everything he held dear. One day he decides to infiltrate the castle and pilfer back a bit of Dalmascan property, and in the events that are to follow, is thrust into the company of a pair of sky pirates, the presumed-dead princess of Dalmasca, and the man who murdered his brother and King. An unlikely group of heroes as any Final Fantasy would offer, who are none-the-less destined to save the world.

Combat can get pretty chaotic, but don't lose your cool! Combat can get pretty chaotic, but don't lose your cool!

   Final Fantasy XII sports a brand new combat system, which takes place entirely in real time, right in the dungeon. Gone are the screen-shattering encounters, replaced instead by seamless combat that is both fun and intense. However, that isn't to say that Final Fantasy's trademark turn-based combat has disappeared entirely. The battle menu still exists, and can be opened at any time by pressing 'X', and orders can be issued to any character. However, turns as we know them are no longer present, replaced instead by the charge gauge, which must fill up completely before an action is performed. You can give a character a command at any time and they will stop whatever they're doing to perform it. So that begs the question of what your party is doing the rest of the time. Well, that's where the Gambit system comes into play.

   Gambits are essentially an incredibly versatile artificial intelligence system. They allow you to combine certain events, such as "ally: hp < 50%" or "foe: party leader's target", with skills and commands - anything from "attack" to "phoenix down". Whenever these events occur, the actions specified are automatically carried out, which allows you to automate mundane abilities like healing and buffing and focus on the enemies rather than your own skin. Each character starts out with two or three gambit slots, but can gain as many as twelve as the game progresses. While some players may be turned off by the idea of putting control of their party in the hands of the computer, they can always be turned off, and any direct commands given through the battle menu will always override any gambits you have set. However, most players will find the option a welcome breather from the stresses of real-time combat, and because of their design, allow the player to give as much or as little control to the computer as they see fit. It generally takes more attacks to down your basic enemies than it does in previous Final Fantasy games, so being able to automate the fight helps to speed things up greatly. The result of these new systems is that combat is a lot more fast-paced than previous installments of the series, and better still, grinding for levels and for items generally feels more fun and less of a chore. The speed and automation also make the combat feel a bit less like traditional turn-based combat and more tactical in nature, as choosing your targets and positioning yourself appropriately play a large role in successful battles.

   While the gambit system generally handles the rigors of combat, leveling up and learning new skills is handled with another new system, the License Board. As anyone who has played the Final Fantasy Tactics games knows, Ivalice is a world of laws, and one of those laws is that you need a license - for everything! Every piece of armor, every weapon, every trinket, every technick and magick, all of them have a corresponding license on the License Board that you need to activate before you're allowed to use it. However, every character's license board is the same, which means that all your characters, no how they start out, are truly blank slates. Every piece of equipment can be learned by every character, and similarly so can every technick and magick. Every license you purchase (using the LP you gain from defeating enemies) for a character opens up the adjacent licenses on the boards, and as you move outwards, you can customize your characters by teaching them whatever you see fit. However, just because you have the license to use something doesn't mean you actually have the item in question. Technicks, magicks, and equipment all need to be purchased from shops with your gil before you can start using them, which is acquired by selling the loot dropped by monsters.

Do you have a license for that sword you just found? Do you have a license for that sword you just found?

   In addition to equipment and skills, the License Board also has augmentation licenses that passively improve your characters, as well as Quickening and Esper licenses. Quickenings are Final Fantasy XII's version of Limit Breaks, except that they also have the added effect of doubling and even tripling your mana pool. Each character can learn three Quickenings, and each Quickening requires a corresponding number of mana bars to use. The Quickenings themselves are not terribly powerful on their own, but they can be linked together with your party membersí quickenings to create powerful combo attacks that can potentially do massive damage. Espers are summonable beasts that will fight in place of your party for a short time, but you must first defeat them in combat for their licenses to appear on the board.

   Visually, Ivalice is gorgeous, pushing the Playstation 2 as far as it can go, with almost no noticeable performance problems. There are occasional loading times to deal with, but they rarely last more than a few seconds. The audio is also excellent, featuring a superb voice cast reading from an amazingly well-translated script, and a score that mixes old Final Fantasy traditions with new, highly orchestral themes.

   The game's strongest point, however, has to be the enormous complexity of the world itself, providing hours and hours of content beyond the main story. Montblanc from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance makes an appearance as the head of Clan Centurio, a hunting club that tracks down and kills monsters for clients all over the world. There are forty-five of these hunts available throughout the game, their levels staggered so that you can complete them as you go, and each one can be considered an optional boss. On top of that, there are eight bonus Espers you can fight and unlock, eighty rare monsters that drop special, above-average treasure, four whole zones that are completely independent of the main story, dozens of hidden areas in zones you do visit with more powerful monsters, tons of side quests and mini-games, and the "Bazaar" system, which gives you access to unique and discounted items provided you sell shops the right treasure.

   Final Fantasy XII is a lot harder than previous games in the series, though most of the difficulty can be eliminated simply by spending some time leveling up or upgrading your equipment. However, beyond the main story, there are optional bosses with as much as fifty-million health points, which will be a challenge to even the most stalwart adventurer. The main story can theoretically be completed in about forty hours, but because of the amazing number of side quests and optional bosses, the average player is more likely to spend sixty to eighty hours just playing through the main storyline, and even more should they choose to go beyond that. Square-Enix certainly kept us waiting a long time, but the end result as worth it. Final Fantasy XII is fun, memorable, and quite possibly the greatest game they have ever made.

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