Monday, August 6, 2007

Final Fantasy XII

Genre: Role Playing Game
Platform: Playstation 2
2006 Square Enix
Screenshots with permission from RPGFan.

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Amazon Product Description:
Two years after the fall of Dalmasca, the citizens are without guidance and direction. In the capital city of Rabanastre, the denizens gather and await the introduction of Archadia's new consul. To Vaan, a young man living on the streets of Rabanastre, the Empire is a hated enemy who took the life of his brother, the only family he had left. In an effort to exact revenge, Vaan hatches a plot to break into the palace and steal from the occupying imperials. There, he gets more than he bargained for as he runs into Princess Ashe, the sole surviving heir to the Dalmascan throne. Together, the two will embark on an incredible journey through Ivalice, tracing the mysteries behind the Archadian Empire's invasion. The choices they make will determine the very fate of the world. License board gives the player the ability to customize each character's skills and abilities.
  1. Completely new voiced cut-scenes added for the North American release
  2. Gorgeous CG cinematics and cut-scenes in Dolby Pro Logic II combined with real-time graphics rivaling those of next-generation titles
  3. Shocking plot twists take players on an unforgettable journey
  4. Active Dimension Battle (ADB) system enables players to move seamlessly between exploration and combat
  5. Highly customizable Gambit system allows complete control over character AI during battles

Short of being a great game... >>> by skysenshi (08.05.2007)
48 million years and centuries later, I've stopped procrastinating and sat down to write my comments about the last Final Fantasy installation. There is much to write as this is probably the most innovative Final Fantasies to date when it comes to gameplay. But first things first...

Story and Characters

If you're one of the old timers who have played Final Fantasy Tactics in the 90s, you're probably familiar with Ivalice. This is the setting in that game then and is the setting for this game now. Final Fantasy XII, however, concentrates on the war between the empires of Archadia and Rozzaria. The introductory full motion video starts off with a festive wedding in Rabanastre, with a young princess bride beaming at her dashing groom. The celebration is short-lived, as Rabanastre is besieged by invaders and the capital eventually falls. Two years later a group of Rabanastran rebels go underground and try to reclaim the glory that was once theirs.

Your party leader is Vaan, a little thief who steals from Archadian soldiers patrolling Rabanastre. He is supported by his girlfriend Penelo, the strong-willed Princess Ashe, the hot and incorrigible sky pirate Balthier and his exquisitely exotic bunny-girl partner Fran, and the devoted knight Basch. This is where my beef comes in. Vaan is a useless hero. In fact, you can remove him from the game and it will not affect the story at all. If you observe well enough, you'd notice that everything here revolves around the Princess Ashe and her quest to restore her kingdom. Which is why, despite her bland personality, she leads my main team. Everyone else, except for Vaan, is interesting. In fact, his dead brother is far more interesting than he ever will be. So you can probably understand my exasperation when my Princess Ashe finished all the sidequests and the grateful people would thank the "lad" for solving the cases.

Other scenes to look forward to are Balthier and Fran's exchanges, which are laced with subtle sarcasm and charged with a lot of chemistry. And I must really say this: Balthier is one hot pirate. That British gentry accent (not cockney, which is more common to 18th century sailors) makes everything about him first anyway.

Storywise, nothing here is of epic proportions. I don't consider that a bad thing. I had grown rather bored of the usual save-the-world themes that are running rampant in multimedia storytelling. The game leaves a lot of loose ends, though, so you can tell that the essence of the plot relies heavily on the characters' personalities.

I love the gambit system. It allows you to set who your party leader is while the rest of your team can be configured to do a series of actions by themselves. If you know how to work this, you can actually fall asleep and set your party's AI on auto-leveling mode. The license board is another matter. A lot of gamers felt that it's stupid to need a license in order to wear a certain accessory, armor, or weapon. I think it's needed for game balancing. What I did not like about it is the fact that there's very little room for specialization. I ended up with a lot of license points to spare while completing all of the characters' boards. And since I am not one to consult a walkthrough on my first run, I had little Penelo be my guinea pig in discovering areas in the board.

Limit breaks here are called Quickenings and can be accessed when your MP reaches a certain level. Quickenings can be chained, if you press the right combintion of buttons in split seconds. They also have levels. The most difficult Quickenings, which would be at level 3, require quicker reflexes as the time to input the correct combination grows shorter.

I have no complaints about the monetary system, like a lot of gamers do. I mean, yes, the monsters do not drop money or gil, which is the currency for all FF games. It makes sense. Have you ever heard of a wild animal who waltzes around with a pouch full of money? Besides, this makes some of the skills, like Steal, a necessity.

I encountered a gameplay problem in my first seven hours. I felt like I was playing an MMORPG without the social interaction. Every time I finish a stage or before I enter a new dungeon, I always wind up leveling. For instance, I just finished this area called Feywood. Then I nearly get beaten to a pulp by the next boss (my second Quickening came up short). While barely surviving that, you'd think the next minor minions would be easy? Nope. Four mini-boss like monsters nearly tore my characters into pieces. Except, they're not really mini-bosses. They were regular monsers! The fact that I have never seen the "Game Over" screen is something I can thank luck for. All that hacking, slashing and moving through the license boards get old after 50 hours. Unfortunately, the real meat of the game covers only 10 hours out of that.

Despite the welcome gameplay innovations, I didn't feel the urge to perfect this game. I haven't had the urge to perfect a Final Fantasy game since VII and VIII. Funny, but I never had this problem with any of the Suikoden series, not even the unpopular Suikoden IV.

As usual, the visuals were fantastic! Though you won't see the old summons Shiva, Ifrit and Bahamut, among others, the Espers that replaced them are equally as stunning. Unfortunately, I find them pretty useless as they can be killed easily and your characters' HPs tend to get higher than the Espers' in the later levels. Nevertheless, aside from the FMVs, these dutifully rendered aides are worth watching out for.

Sounds are another matter. This is probably the only Final Fantasy installment that had the most disappointing roster of tracks. First because a lot of dungeons, cities, and fields employ the same background music. Second because they can lull you to sleep. I found myself wanting to doze off an hour after turning my PS2 on.

Final Fantasy XII is a good game. The basics for a good game are there: challenging gameplay, an intriguing cast of characters, and lovely visuals. All it actually needs is a little tweaking here and there and you can get a great game in your hands. Despite all its flaws, I recommend this game for those who are looking for ways to relax. Or at least, to tide you over till the next Suikoden or Persona game comes out.

DIFFICULTY: Moderate - Difficult
RATINGS: Gameplay 8; Battle 9; Story 7; Visuals 10; Characters 9; Sounds 7; Replay Value 6

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