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Review – Final Fantasy XII

Chris says:

I took my time getting through Final Fantasy XII, and I’d like to think my view of it is relatively balanced. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there is both good and bad in several aspects of the game. The good, however, tends to outweigh the bad and this is my favorite Final Fantasy game in several years.

One of the bad parts is the main character, Vaan. He looks like a girl, wears a vest that is cursory at best and, despite being the main character, plays only a minor role in much of the game. His most memorable moment is probably when he is claiming to be somebody else. Thankfully, he is not as whiny as previous Final Fantasy leads have been. Also, many of the other characters are more memorable, and the game does not force you to have Vaan in your party except very early on.

The detailing on her cod piece is exceptional.

The high points of the plot are also quite derivative; there is an exiled princess who is symbolic leader of a rebellion, a mercenary and his non-human partner, a ruthless empire… However, this gives the game a rich background, and many of the sub-plots are more interesting and original. It’s been said that this game is more similar to Tactics than other Final Fantasy games plotwise, and it certainly has more intrigue, politics, and larger-scale conflict than most Final Fantasy games.

If you played Final Fantasy X, the License Grid will probably look familiar. It’s a pair of rectanguloid boards used to gain abilities or proficiency in the use of items. You spend license points to activate squares, and can activate any square adjacent to one you have activated. While it’s interesting at first, before too long the License Grid becomes an engine by which every character is almost identical. There is limited specialization early on, but not nearly enough to keep the system interesting until the end.

A change that players will either love or hate is the new battle system. It’s real-time with the ability to pause at any point to give orders. If you’ve tried the original .hack series, you know what to expect; FFXII is by comparison more refined. Despite a few bugs, I have enjoyed the new system. It makes battling enemies faster in general, and this seamlessness actually makes it feel like you are wandering through the wilderness.

This brings me to another major innovation. Both fields and towns are more spacious, realistic-looking and crowded than I have ever seen in a Final Fantasy. It’s a double-edged sword — the world is more immersive, but it can take forever to move places, even with the teleport system. This becomes an even larger problem when many of the sidequests force you to wander through a wide area looking for a monster or for switches to open up a new area, and really takes away a lot of the motivation to do the sidequests.

If this isn’t Kingdom Hearts 3, how’d I end up smack in the middle of a Disney parade?

On a brighter note, this Final Fantasy has one of the best translations I’ve seen so far. Characters often use almost Shakespearean grammar, which gives the game a unique feel and complements some of the medieval themes (which are sometimes contradictory to the technological themes).

Finally, music in the game is one complaint that is nearly universal. As you may know, Nobuo Uematsu was not significantly involved. The new composer’s work is much more ambient than Uematsu’s work; as a result, the only really memorable themes are arranged versions of songs from older Final Fantasy games, which are actually used quite a bit.

As much as I try to point out the flaws in the game, though, keep in mind this is only forewarning; if you think many of these will annoy you, you may want to rent the game before you consider buying it. I still think it’s a great game. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite PS2 RPG, but it was an interesting departure from a classic formula. Square-Enix is still willing to do some innovation with one of their oldest series, and I think that’s good news.
Aaron says:

Having spent a solid number of weeks completing Final Fantasy XII, there’s one thing that seems to me the most notable feature of the game — there are constantly a billion things to do. When you complete almost any plot objective, a number of small side-quests called “hunts” become available, and you can choose to seek out and kill a monster to obtain various prizes. And beyond that, there are heaps of optional areas and bosses you can take on.

After a while of exploring these extras, however, I noticed that it felt like they were the bulk of the game, rather than all of the plot-related stuff that I needed to go through. It seemed like I was actually taking a break from the side-quests to go through the story, rather than the other way around. But is this a bad thing? After all, getting all of the summons and best equipment and all that isn’t required.

Her armor may appear useless, but it will protect her from a strategicaly aimed blow to her anus.

Well, I really don’t know. I got pretty tired of it, and I was frustrated that although I wanted to take on all the extra stuff, it just got tedious after a while. And if you’re not going to do all of the pointless extra stuff, why do any of it if it doesn’t directly affect your main game? If you’re dead-set on being an absolute completionist, this game will drag you through hell.

There is one thing from these side-quests that did affect my game: as a result of all the levels I gained on these little jaunts, my characters were all unusually strong. Excluding enemies outside of the main storyline, I almost never had trouble with any boss in the game. Matter of fact, when I started fighting a boss in the final dungeon, my friends wanted to go somewhere, so without pausing I put the controller down, went to the bathroom and got ready. By the time I got back, the boss was nearly dead, no sweat. Hmm.

Maybe Final Fantasy games should start making a greater distinction between the end of the game and the extra content, in the same way Dragon Quest does: make the juiciest stuff only available after you’ve beaten the final boss, so that the game doesn’t end in an anti-climatically easy battle.

Do you find it fun to enter specific commands and watch as your characters act them out? Most RPG fans do, and so do I. Now, would you enjoy setting up those commands ahead of time and watching as your character do them all automatically? Well… I found it fun for a while, yes. But for me, the system sort of ran out of steam around 65 hours into the game. That hasn’t happened for me with other Final Fantasies, perhaps because they’re usually over by 65 hours. Realizing that I didn’t want to put maybe twenty more hours into fighting optional monsters, I got my affairs in order and beat the game with about 72 hours logged.

Even so, there must be something to a game’s credit if you can play it for 65 hours before getting tired of it. It was, all in all, very fun to play for those 65 hours. But I think that the battle system is going to need more punch in future iterations, such as some kind of limited interactivity. At least make it a game where the random encounters, and sometimes even the bosses, involve more than waggling the joystick around for a while before putting the controller down to use the bathroom.

“If you survive this sword being dropped on your head, you become a knight.”

Some of the more general things have already been covered, but I’ll touch on them briefly. The graphics are fantastic for the PS2; just don’t look too closely at anyone’s arms and you’re good to go. The music is usually pleasant, but it kind of slides off of you. The voice acting and writing are exemplary. The plot is fine, even if too many names are thrown around sometimes — it’s the typical fight-the-empire, save-the-world kind of story, but what do you expect? If you have to run all around the world and fight the strongest monsters to have ever lived, it had better be for something pretty damn important.

Horatio says:

When I watched the impressively dramatic opening of this Final Fantasy, I was highly anxious to see how the plot would unfold. The opening scenes offered a spectacular (if somewhat technologically nonsensical) combination of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars (and what, I ask, would be hotter than Viera on Ewok sex, right? Yeah, you know I’m right).

But as time wore on, I quickly realized what could have been a tale of grand political intrigue and aspirations quickly boiled down into a simple story of “bad guy stole my homeland, lets go kill him.” In the game’s defense, individual characters underwent greater transformation and had more nuances than previous FF games. However, this was often delivered in a piecemeal sense, as if you were watching Vaan’s chapter, than Balthier’s, etc. etc, with each transformation ultimately having little impact on the overall “go win back the country from the bad guy” plot arc.

The end of the game delivers some exciting plot twists, but in many ways it feels too little too late. To make a literary analogy, a game can make a great fantasy story, but we’re not a point yet where we can market a game as a bildungsroman. Vaan was never going to be Holden Caulfield. So, let’s go back to focusing on a plot where the bad guy changes every five minutes and we really don’t know what the fuck is going on until we hit the end of the fourth disc.

Only a progressive company like Square would include a lesbian wedding in their game.

Finally, there’s the gameplay. I fucking love the gambit system. Anyone capable of self-reflection will realize that if you play RPG’s, you have to be just a little bit OCD. There’s nothing inherently fun about grinding except the thrill of watching your stats grow and maybe the occasional phat lewt. If we gamers were born a generation earlier, we’d probably have spent our time perpetually setting up and knocking over rows and rows of dominoes, or scattering marbles over the floor just so we could pick them all up and scatter them again.

This certainly does not mean, however, that simply because we take a perverse pleasure in mundanely building our characters that developers should not work to expedite this process and make it easier. I love grinding, but I sure as hell did not like having to tap X over and over again to make it through every damn random encounter. Gambits make the boring part of RPG’s much more manageable. At the same time, assuming you aren’t too overleveled, you still have to think out strategies for each part.

And don’t even get me started on the magic bug: whenever a lot of enemies are on the screen, the game seems to lag in a way that physical attacks are often processed ahead of magical spells somewhat regardless of input order. Of course, when you are up against a mob of monsters… magic is the best way to hit them all at once. Finally, I don’t know what fucker at Square thought “you know what would be a genius way to extend replay value? *Randomizing* the contents of every goddamn treasure chest, so that even after you spend hours of time to get to the treasure chest that should contain some of the best equipment available to you at a given point in the game, you only have a 10% chance of getting it. That way they have to reload, or run back out and do it again.” Rest assured, I will find and kill this man or woman.

The game’s standout achievement are its sidequests, as mentioned by the other reviewers. They are fun, incredibly challenging, and offer some of the best stories of the game. I didn’t beat the game until I was 75 hours in because there was just so much to do throughout the game, a welcome change from those games that just lump in everything extra at the very end.

Overall, despite what may have come off as a negative sounding review, FFXII is a great game. This is mainly because the battle system makes it much more fun to play than most RPG’s, and it lasts a damn long time. While the story could have been better, there’s enough great dialogue and character to keep you going. I feel like other reviewers (not on this site) criticized all the wrong things. The “drastic” changes to gameplay were the best parts, what was a let down was the overall finish of the game, the lack of polish and luster that one expects out of a member of such a great series.

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17 years ago

I’m still only 25 hours in, and have recently started playing again on "xmas break" (ie, this week).  I couldn’t agree more with the above reviews, they tackle all of the main issues.  I do like the Gambit system, but I feel it is undermined by forcing you to discover the settings: if you’re going to let us program our characters, give us full functionality instead of "unlocking" it.  Another issue I have is the variety of weapons in the game not being explained in the game itself.  The attack/defense components of each weapon type vary (some are computer by strength, others speed, others magic attack power, etc), but you’ll need either thorough research on your own in game (or a visit to gamefaqs) to figure this out.  Also, I am falling into sidequest syndrome, I am spending about 3 hours on hunts for every one I spend pushing the plot forward.  But despite all this– a very good FF.  I do wonder about the lack of polish, though, given how long it was delayed.  Hopefully SquareEnix will get everything right on FF13.  Including it coming with a $300 coupon for the PS3.