Review by Tenshi No Shi
"Though different from those before, there's nothing final about this game."
What can I possibly say about my anticipation for the release of Final Fantasy XII that you couldn't surmise based on my love of the series- This was the must own RPG of 2006. After going through a number of delays (including an entire overhaul of the game engine and the director having a mental breakdown), Final Fantasy XII was released to eager Japanese gamers mid-March while North American fans had to wait for a late October launch. The fact that I only have a rudimentary grasp of the language didn't stop me from importing a copy posthaste, if for nothing else that to try and bungle my way though the game which I completely failed to do but instead enjoyed the beautiful $70 cutscense that I had purchased. So having had an actual taste of the game, my anticipation for it was even higher than it would have been under normal circumstances. Eagerly I awaited the midnight launch to get my hands on the long-before hand preordered collector's edition, my impatience building to a boil as I couldn't get down to the game store soon enough to start waiting in line...
Final Fantasy XII is set in Ivalice, the same world as the Final Fantasy Tactics series and Vagrant Story (not surprising since the director of those games also helmed this one). The story begins in the city of Dalmasca; a small providence bordered on each side by the two warring kingdoms of Rosarria and Archadia. Eventually, Archadia conquers Dalmasca (due to its strategic importance in the war against Rosarria) and occupies the city. Enter Vaan, a young thief eking out a living doing odd jobs and "liberating" Dalmasca treasures from the Archadian rulers and his best friend Penelo, who acts as a moral compass by trying her best to keep him out of trouble. It's during one of Vaan's liberation expeditions that he encounters a Sky Pirate by the name of Balthier and his partner Fran (who happens to be one of the lithe Viera). Through a series of misadventures, the three end up meeting Ashe, the former princess of Dalmasca who was believed to have committed suicide two years previous and now the leader of the resistance movement. Eventually the trio is captured, leading to another adventure involving their escape and an encounter with Basch (the man believed to have betrayed and murdered the king), Reks (Vaan's elder brother) and eventually Lamont (who seems to have some knowledge of the magical energies at work in the world). Though it takes some time getting to this point, once you bring all these people together, the story really takes off as they work to try and liberate Dalmasca from Archadian rule, while uncovering an even greater threat than anyone realized... Obviously Final Fantasy XII's plot is much more political than it is fantasy, but it's this very theme that keeps the story full of surprises and held my interest from beginning to end.
Only one word can describe Final Fantasy XII graphics- Wow. But since more than one word is needed to truly convey the sheer visual splendor of Final Fantasy XII, I am forced to put in to words what cannot been done justice through this medium. To sum it up; if a picture is worth a thousand words, then Final Fantasy XII is worth a billion. To sum up the summary; this game is freaking awesome! I am truly amazed at what Square Enix managed to pull off on the ageing Sony machine- beautifully detailed textures encompassing intricately placed polygons that almost breathe with a life all their own when set against the wondrous backdrop that is the gaming world of Ivalice. And the opening animation? Pure bliss. Square has far exceeded any of their previous efforts (save Advent Children, but that isn't really a fair comparison) with this intense spearhead in to their latest fantasy world with a CG movie that takes the intense action of Revenge of the Sith and marries it with the epicenes of Return of the King. It is a rare thing that I place such a heavy importance on the look of a game, but when a game on a dying system manages to exceed most of the stuff being put out on the next-generation replacements, I can't help but applaud such success.
Easily the one thing that stands out the most in my mind about the Final Fantasy series as a whole is the wonderfully rich and immersive soundtracks each game produces, and Final Fantasy XII only adds to this legacy. While music may not be a major factor in whether or not a game is successful, it surely doesn't hurt matters when the mood of a game can so easily be set by a well-crafted composition. Final Fantasy XII does this, enticing the player deep into the world of Ivalice with a soundtrack that weaves a story all its own while enhancing the gameplay experience. The audio effects, on the other hand, are pretty much your standard bag of tricks typical to a Square role-playing game; By no means bad, just similar to everything that has come before it. The voice acting is worth noting, especially since it's only been in recent years that Square has begun to implement voice-overs in their more prolific games. Perhaps a tad over the top, the actors nonetheless manage to nail the roles perfects, breathing an extra dimension of life into the characters of the game. Overall, the musical score steals the show here, but it's still a great effort all around.
Like previous Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy XII is a menu driven game, with battles taking place in real-time where you can assume control of any one of your three party members at any time (called the Active Dimension Battle). But unlike previous entries (save Final Fantasy XI Online), all enemies are present onscreen and actual battles take place right where you stand. That's right- no more battle transitions or random encounters. You can also "chain" together kills by attacking the same monster type several times in a row, thus obtaining helpful bonus items and status effects. Your progress is tracked through the Clan Primer, which shows you everything from monsters you've killed to your overall progress in the game. One of the new features of the game is the Gambit System; A method of pre-programming your characters to act or react to various battle situation. Though this does take away the control of the party from the player, setting up Gambits is quite rewarding when you realize you are essentially creating an A.I. for your characters. The Sphere Grid makes its return in the form of the License Board. This allows you to teach your characters all manner of spells, techniques and equipment use, thus allowing for a wide range of customization. The License Board is a bit limiting in that before you know which "path" to take on the board, you sometimes have to unlock things you don't necessarily want for that character. Limit Breaks also make a comeback, but this time they are called Quickenings and are learned through the License Board. Much like Final Fantasy XI's Skill Chain system, you can string together several Quickenings for massive damage (not to mention it makes for a satisfying battle experience). Taking a page out of Final Fantasy VI, summons in Final Fantasy XII are called Espers. Gone, however, are traditional summons, replaced by Zodiac Braves and Totema (from the Final Fantasy Tactics series) and what looks to be bosses from earlier titles in the series. You can no longer control these summons, but the summoner does remain an active part of the battle and you can heal your Espers to keep them in play longer. All in all, some rather radical changes to what one could call a "traditional" Final Fantasy game, but many of these changes have roots in past games.
Keeping a series fresh is hard enough, but when it's a well-respected RPG franchise that single-handedly revolutionized console RPGs, every aspect of any new addition to the lineage is bound to be scrutinized. That's what makes Final Fantasy XII so amazing- Somehow Square Enix has managed to design a RPG that somehow retains the unique identity of the series yet refine the core gameplay so it remains innovative. On a whole, the game can best be described as a cross between Final Fantasy XI (minus the online aspect) and Final Fantasy Tactics with just a pinch of Final Fantasy X thrown in for good measure. What that means is you get huge maps, enemies visible on the screen at all times, more cohesive team-based gameplay, a skill-based combo system, a rather lengthy list of side-jobs to complete, a world fans of some of Square's previous works are familiar with, and a grid-based leveling system. And while I miss my "traditional" summonings, calling these magically born astral-beasts Espers brings a tear to this old-schooler's eye.
There are some surprisingly cool bonuses in Final Fantasy XII- By meeting various in-game requirements, you can unlock figurines that you can place in your Sky Pirate's Den so that you are always reminded of the tasks you accomplished. Some are unlocked through simple tasks (like walking so many steps or killing a set number of monsters) while others appeal to the nature of the hardcore gamer (obtain every Esper or successful complete the entire hunt list). You can also open up new fishing spots by finishing certain tasks, which is nice if you need a change of scenery and new challenges. There is even a super-powerful weapon, called the Zodiac Spear, which requires a certain discipline in order to obtain. I won't say how to obtain this powerful relic, but I will say that not every treasure chest is worth opening...
Since I'm writing this review a little later that it would be useful to most people, the decision to purchase this game has probably long already been made. For those of you who got it, you probably enjoyed it as much as I did and are justified in you anticipation of this title. For the rest of you who decided to pass for whatever reason (not old-school enough, wasn't impressed with Final Fantasy X or XI, or have just plain given up on Square ever making a game that will live up to your childhood memories) should really reconsider this latest offering- Sure it does away with many traditional RPG standards, but the overall story, quality of game and the new gameplay features more than make Final Fantasy XII a plunge worth taking. Put your stigmatisms aside and let your inner-child out for one last fantasy.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 08/07/09, Updated 10/28/10
Game Release: Final Fantasy XII (Collector's Edition) (US, 10/31/06)
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