Final Fantasy XII - Staff Review  

An Almost Perfect Fantasy
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

50-100 Hours


Rating definitions 

   Final Fantasy XII for the PlayStation 2 is a game riddled with drama both inside and out. Not only does the tale of Vaan and company make for an interesting story, but so does the game's development. With countless delays, the producer having a breakdown and being dismissed mid-development, extremely high Japanese praises, and a lukewarm reception of the NA demo, Final Fantasy XII raised much debate long before the game was even released. While it is far from perfect, it does have many redeeming aspects: a pleasing soundtrack, wonderful voice acting, and some of the most detailed graphics on the PlayStation 2. Love it or hate it, this latest installment in the Final Fantasy series has a lot going for it.

   Final Fantasy XII takes place in Ivalice, the same world that has been used in Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. The name is not where the similarities end as the game features a cameo from a certain Moogle from FFTA as well as all of the races. Featured as the main character is Vaan. He's a young man who is caught up in a war that involves characters much grander than himself, and he plays that part well. The story, however, does not focus around Vaan. The narrative gives a great deal of screen time to Ashe, the princess whose kingdom is being occupied; Basch, the knight branded as a traitor; and Balthier, the dashing sky pirate. Vaan, along with his friend Penelo, and Balthier's cohort, Fran, almost take backseat to the other, more predominant characters. Thankfully, nowhere is it written in stone that the main character has to play the largest part in order to have a successful story. He doesn't play the stereo-typical role of a youth that rises from nothing to become the leader of some grand resistance. Vaan simply takes his place as a character fighting for revenge alongside other more qualified leaders.

   On the surface the story of Final Fantasy XII is rather straightforward. There is a world at war, and the only hope of ending the war lies with a small group of adventurers. While the adventure feels complete, the path from beginning to end does feel rushed at some points, like certain aspects of the story that could have extended out to as much as ten or fifteen minute were instead covered in two. The whole of the story is there, but the game is a little light on backstory and not every character is as developed as like they could have been. The cast of characters is very likeable, so most gamers would have easily enjoyed more enlightenment into each character's past. Aside from that, Final Fantasy XII's political workings and intricacies might scare some gamers, but other might find it a fresh change of pace from the typical "save the world" settings of prior titles.

Gray is sexy Hot gray-on-gray action.

   Combat in Final Fantasy XII has taken a drastic change toward a more action-based battle system. But even with this departure from classic turn-based combat, the game still retains the feel of a Final Fantasy title. Random battles are gone. Combat now takes place in real-time with three playable characters at a time. At certain points, a fourth guest character will assist the party, but will not be controllable. Party members can be swapped out at any time during play unless currently engaged in a command. Gamers are able to see all enemies on-screen and can either attack or avoid them as they wish. That interaction goes both ways as enemies can also see the characters. Enemies with a red health bar above them are aggressive and will attack the player upon sight. Most enemies with a green bar will only attack if first engaged by the player, but there are some exceptions to this rule like magic detecting creatures. This brings a new level of realism to the game, because characters could be battling two enemies one minute and the next more could join against the party. Such dynamic combat seems chaotic, but is made easier to manage thanks to the gambit system.

   The gambit system is a set of automated commands available to each character. The player will customize and prioritize these actions depending upon their preference. The setting of gambits can be tricky and even detrimental if ordered improperly. For instance, if the player wanted a character to automatically steal from enemies, gambits could be customized to have the character steal from the enemy that the leader is attacking. The problem in this case is that the character will continuously attempt to steal from the leader's target even if nothing else can be stolen. A quick fix to this gambit would be to change the gambit priorities to have the character steal from an enemy with 100% HP. This would have the character stealing upon encountering any enemy with full health, but once the enemy has dropped below 100% the character would be free to act on the next command in the gambit order. One issue that could come up in this case is that the character would try to steal from any enemy with 100% HP. This would sometimes lead to the character venturing off towards enemies that the player doesn't really intend to fight. The gambit system is not perfect and does not allow for complete customization, but it helps for performing repetitive tasks, such as curing, in situations that might otherwise be overwhelming.

   Final Fantasy XII's interface and menus allow for simple user interaction. Along with gambits, the game also offers two different options for combat, Wait Mode and Active Mode. When operating under Wait Mode, the game will pause when the player brings up the battle menu whereas Active Mode allows all actions to continue during the selection process. Active Mode leaves much less room for mistakes due to combat being rather fast-paced. Battle speed can be adjusted to allow actions to proceed more quickly or slowly. This is a nice balance since some gamers might be able to handle quicker combat than others. Combat menus are all easy to sort through, allowing for all commands to be given manually. Commands given in such a manner will override gambits, so this is the easiest way to stop a character from performing an undesired command.

Awesome. The definition of awesome.

   Outside of battle the license board and the equipment selection menus are key interactive features. The license board brings a new twist to character customization by not only giving stat bonuses, but also requiring the purchase of abilities such as being able to use magic spells, equip specific weapons and armor, or to use certain techniques referred to as Technicks. Initially, this can be very frustrating due to the fact that even though the player might have obtained a certain weapon or magic spell, characters are unable to use it until they have purchased the proper license. Points required to purchase licenses are gained in combat and are limited early in the game. Later in the game, license points become so much more prevalent that characters will have more than they need. Partially due to license requirement, equipment selection can be one of the more awkward processes in the game. When purchasing weapons or armor and equipping it, players are not always shown all of the stats that will be affected by the change in equipment. This can be frustrating having to manually check stat changes.

   Final Fantasy XII is one of the most detailed games to come out on the PlayStation 2 and contains some very impressive cutscenes. In the opening moments of the game the player is treated to a long cinematic intro that tells a good bit of backstory about some of the game's characters. Character models are smooth with fluid movements and varying expressions. Also a bright spot are the beautifully detailed locations such as the sandy beaches of Phon Coast and eerie forest Feywood. Everything graphically about this game is impressive.

   The voice acting of Final Fantasy XII is another high point and features high quality American and British actors. From Balthier's debonair speech to Fran's mysterious accent, the acting itself is amazing and very natural. But less than stellar is the quality of the sound recording. At times it sounds like the actors were in a tunnel when recording their lines. It does not deter too much from the acting, but it is noticeable. Complimenting every aspect of the game is the soundtrack. Hitoshi Sakimoto brings a soundtrack that stands out quite well when placed within its proper setting of the game. Though the soundtrack doesn't feature many extremely memorable tracks, each piece is fitting of the area it is played in or the event in which it is featured. Slightly less fitting is Nobuo Uematsu's ending theme, "Kiss Me Good-Bye." While lyrically beautiful, the song does not seem as appropriate within the setting of the game as most of Sakimoto's tracks.

Rotten. Rotten to the core.

   Taking a classic series like that of Final Fantasy and making it brand new again was a difficult and controversial task, but it was pulled off nicely with Final Fantasy XII. In terms of gameplay, not only is the game unlike any other in the series, but its unique style of combat and character development is more original than many other RPGs on the market. Final Fantasy XII also gives gamers much more than just a linear game. Gamers can easily take time out to explore the large world of Ivalice at almost any point in the game. On top of that, powerful creatures known as Marks can be hunted for in-game prestige and rewards. The story's focus toward political dealings and conquest is atypical of the vast majority of RPGs.

   Final Fantasy XII has its ups and down. The game has many technical aspects going for it, from excellent voice acting to wonderful cinematics, but it also has its flaws. It has a plot that seems best described as full of potential, because as good as the story is, it could have been better. The gameplay will not please everyone, but for those that do enjoy it, they will find themselves playing for hours. Whether just following the adventures of Vaan and his friends throughout Ivalice or hunting deadly Marks, Final Fantasy XII has something for everyone.

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