Final Fantasy XII - Reader Review  

Overhyped? Yes. Disappointing? No.
by Tommy Moo

100 hours +


Rating definitions 

   Squaresoft certainly has an interesting vision. They were in a position to churn out Final Fantasy X clones ad nauseum with their profits secure indefinitely. For reasons unimaginable, rather than exploring unique gameplay models through peripheral franchises while maintaining the Final Fantasy name as the flagship of turn-based console RPG combat, they have risked that fans of the series will embrace these changes within the series itself. (The cynic, perhaps, can imagine a reason: calling this exact title “Vagrant Story 2,” which is a far more apt name, might have cut sales in half.) Final Fantasy XII brings many a fresh idea to the table, provides an engaging battle system and gorgeous graphics, and yet somehow the whole ends up being less than the sum of its parts.

   If you aren’t aware that this title has scrapped the staple active-time battle system for something more akin to an MMORPG, then you probably aren’t a person who reads this website anyway. Yes, the death of random encounters is welcome to just about everyone. Directly interacting with foes on the same screen used to travel to point B or solve puzzles cuts down immensely on frustration. Annoyed by the umpeenth bat? Just run right past it. No need to even sit through any load time. Weapons and armor are brilliantly balanced with techniques and spells. You can equip every person in your party with a powerful sword if you choose, but once you see your Cure spell restoring 250 HP a pop, you’ll probably want to give at least one party member a rod or staff. Initially magic is too pricey to be used for anything other than emergency healing, but the acquiring of special skills called Mist Quickenings via the License Board (a less restrictive take on FFX’s Sphere Grid) doubles and eventually triples each character’s max MP.

Every man wishes he were Balthier. Every man wishes he were Balthier.

   The liberty of the License Board renders FFXII’s characters less specialized than in any game since FFVIII. Through the first half of the game you might favor, for example, black magic and magic augmenting licenses for Fran. If you have a comical desire to turn the brusque Basch into a white mage while giving the dainty Penelo a giant freaking claymore to weild, well, more power to you. You’ll still want to teach everyone white magic and give each character a basic set of skills and a small range of equipment to choose from, leading to a kind of mush of slightly specialized red mages.. By the second half of the game license points are in abundance, and one can’t help but teach every spell, technique, and augment ability to all six party members. At that point equipment selection is all that distinguishes anyone from anyone else.

   Menus are a snap to navigate. Battle speed can be attuned to the player’s taste. Battles can be set to continue at full pace or pause while commands are input, or switched between the two as the difficulty of the current battle demands. Gambits are a hierarchy of player-controlled AI gradually made accessible throughout the game. For the most part this system of controlling the three party members allowed on screen at once is very streamlined and effective. It will cause some frustration, however, as gambits such as Character HP < 10% : Drain will be executed even on undead monsters, killing your party member. Your characters are slaves to their gambits, and exhibit no common sense in ignoring them when appropriate. Another example is that a mage will continually attempt to heal with magic an injured character with reflect status, bouncing spell after spell onto the enemy. The only remedy is to create a boggling cluster of gambits that can’t help but fall short in situations unaccounted for. This is when the player is forced to step in and take control manually, which is very difficult to remain on top of without setting the battle mode to Wait.

   The music is, in a word, atmospheric, which is a step down for the series. Music in a Final Fantasy game is supposed to define the setting, not blend in with it. While the composition and sound quality of each track is excellent, you will immediately forget every song as soon as you switch the power off. Quirky series trademarks, such as character theme songs, are also conspicuously absent, though how any composer could be expected to prepare theme songs for these characters makes this understandable.

I mist you like craaaaaaaaazy… I mist you like craaaaaaaaazy…

   The single greatest flop of Final Fantasy XII is, in this reviewer’s opinion, one of its most critically celebrated features. The plot is incorrigible and uninspiring. The party is populated with insipid wanderers with no backstory, no personal growth throughout the game, and, with the exception of Balthier, not even a remarkable personality. Guests and even NPCs met on the streets often have more development than permanent party members receive. There are zero plot twists; the one objective that will take you through the entire game is introduced before leaving the first city. While some people grew tired of Final Fantasy X’s sap, the lack of anything approaching a love story here really hampers any emotional attachment to the characters. The entirety of the story consists of this group going up against that army. What’s more, what little plot there is is broken up by such long spats of slogging for gil and experience and killing optional bosses for necessary equipment upgrades, it is easy to lose track of where the party is even supposed to go next. Don’t attempt to play this game with the subtitles off for a more “cinematic experience.” If you miss one word of a cutscene, you’ll be consulting the internet for help.

   Another thing: this game is hard. I’m talking teeth-grinding-knuckle-cracking-stab-me-in-the-eyeball hard. So little gil is received from most loot dropped by enemies that twenty minutes of watching your gambits mindlessly slaughter frogs and wolves just might allow you to purchase a single piece of equipment or maybe the Cura spell. Nearly every optional mark hunt assigned to the team is a monster that will cut you in half in a matter of seconds, and only yield after a war of attrition when the party returns five levels later. These battles aren’t really optional, as they are the only effective way of earning money, and often the only way period of obtaining superior weapons, ammunition, armor, and accessories not yet available from shops. Summoning epsers is rarely helpful and never worth the MP it costs, and effectively using “Mist Quickenings” (the poor man’s limit break) is an enterprise rife with luck rather than skill and careful planning. When the dust clears you will have spent over 100 hours defeating the last boss and bringing to justice all of the games marks, of which approximately 60 will have been spent watching your gambits kill frogs and wolves.

   If nothing else, FFXII offers the opportunity to enjoy the feel of an online RPG without having to share your experience with obnoxious users. While it makes a few allusions to previous installments of the series, at heart it is closer in spirit, aesthetics, and sound to Vagrant Story. I judge it a harsh 3.5 because I have the highest expectations for this series. Here’s hoping that Final Fantasy XIII will incorporate the best aspects of each of its predecessors. I see no reason that having an open, nonlinear world without random encounters need be incompatible with developed characters, distinguished in battle and engaging in their interactions one with another.

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