Review by Menji
"The gameplay is the best of any Final Fantasy, too bad the story couldn't follow suit"
It's been several years since a true Final Fantasy has hit the market, and now after the long wait (and numerous delays) Final Fantasy XII graces the world with its magnificent gameplay and spectacular atmosphere. But it's not just that, the way the series is advancing and improving is truly great. And it's really set the bar for the RPG game of what you need to have in and what should and shouldn't be there.
Straight off the bat, there is huge improvement over Final Fantasy X. The Final Fantasy series originally was an open-ended area to explore and was greatly reduced to one path you followed during the course of FFX. The creators of XII realized this and have acted in the best way possible. Every area has numerous routes and hills to traverse as you make your way across the world of Ivalice. The other enormous change you'll see is that removal of the random battles and the way battles occur. This time around, the new battle system is near flawless. There are a few ways to approach every battle. Instead of standing around taking turns, your party members can move around the battlefield although you can only physically control one character on the screen but you can still give commands to all of them.
The way a battle works is as follows, prior to a fight you will have to assort a group of up to three members who can fight and the occasional guest member who'll help you out on their own. While you're controlling one of you members you have every option available to you and upon selecting one and the recipient a short bar will fill up before it will be executed. Now this inevitably has moments when all the characters and enemies engaging each other are just standing there like idiots but it has to be expected. As for the other characters that you have partial control of, you can either input commands for them or give them preset commands under the new gambit system. This system is really quite extraordinary because you can set them up with little if then commands that can accommodate almost any situation. For example, if you wanted you wanted your allies to use Cure when any of your members has less than 60% of their hit points, you can set it as one of your limited gambits. However, if you wanted them to use Cura if it drops below 50% then you place that above or below the other command to give priority to one or the other. It's really quite easy once you learn how to work it, and you even have to set it to attack your enemies or else your characters won't attack at all unless you manually tell them too.
There are really only a few problems with the Gambit system that you really wouldn't think about. When selecting how you want an ally to attack, you will most likely pick between having them attack any visible monster or the one you are attacking. This creates two dilemmas; having them on attack any visible monster causes them to run after each and every monster that you may or may not want to engage. However, if you set it to attack party leader's target then they won't attack anything until you do and if it's a weak enemy that you can defeat easily they'll waste time charging up to attack when they could be charging on some other enemy. All in all, the Gambit system is near perfection and it's even possible to set it so every member can fight by himself or herself.
Magic spells and techniques are another story. Instead of learning a spell on a sphere grid or through some kind of stone you first have to purchase the spell at a shop and then you must purchase it again using your license points. The way they have you obtain spells, technique, and the ability to equip weapons and armor are all done on this thing known as a license board. After killing a monster, you will gain a certain amount of license points. Once you have obtained a set amount for a specific spell or weapon, you can purchase it on your grid. Once it's available on the grid, you can then equip that specific weapon, armor, or spell if you have it. There are also other bonuses that add another gambit slot or increase the potency of an item.
Final Fantasy has always been known for its deep story and godly music scores. This however, is FFXII's weakpoint. This doesn't mean the story is bad or even average, it's actually quite good. But compared to the others, it doesn't stand toe-to-toe. As our story opens, Ashe and Lord Rassler are to be wed in the royal city of Rabanastre. Upon completing the ceremony, Basch enters with news that Nabudis has fallen to the empire. Foreseeing that Rabanastre and the empire of Dalmasca are next in line, Lord Rassler and Basch set out to the front lines. There is already a grueling battle going on there and after a long battle, Rassler is pierced through the chest with an arrow and Basch brings him back to safety. However, it is to late, Rassler is dead and the Archadian Empire presents a truce offering. The King agrees and secretly heads to sign it. However, a few soldiers became aware of this information and decided to act. The game itself starts out with a you controlling a young man named Reks as he and a group of knights penetrate the castle in order to stop the king from signing the peace treaty. You can think of this time as a tutorial to get to know the game. You'll learn all the basic commands to play the game and eventually will reach the throne room. Reks, unfortunately was the last to enter the room and he found all his allies and the enemy slain across the floor with the king dead not to far from him. And then Basch enters, killing you, he announces that the king was a traitor to his country and needed to be eliminated. Reks, with his last minute of life, breathes the word Vaan.
And that's when the real story starts, you start as Vaan in the now empire controlled area of Dalmasca. As you continue the game you will gain a total of six permanent party members and a few guest members. You'll be glad to know that none of them are annoying or whiny. Yes, some or not as cool as the others and yes there will be some spots of annoyance, but for the majority it's pretty nice. As the story progresses, however, you'll get an odd sense of déjà vu. The story bears and awfully similar atmosphere of Star Wars. Just about every little movie they show makes you feel like you're watching Star Wars and you'll definitely see a lot of similarities.
The music, of most Final Fantasys is music to the ears. There are only a few memorable songs in XII and they aren't that elite. I will say, that the music fits the surroundings just about perfect so you don't get messed up when some jazz music is playing in the desert. My personal favorites are found when fighting a boss and in Lowtown. Speaking of bosses, they're handled a little differently. A health bar appears at the top of the screen and upon beating a boss you'll get to the see the rare fanfare music play while your characters just stand there looking badass. Since there's no longer an after battle menu where you collect gold and experience, enemies will drop certain items that you have to collect and then sell them to a merchant to gain any gil. It finally brings and end to the question, Why do monsters carry gil?
Fans will be pleased to know that the stereotypical Final Fantasy elements are in the game. Chocobos are available although upon purchasing one you're given a set time limit to how long you can ride. Cid makes his appearances as a mechanic, and all the airships are named after classic summons. Summons in this game take the Final Fantasy VI name of espers and upon equipping them to one member, you can summon it and have it fight at your side.
If you've happened to play either Final Fantasy Tactics or Final Fantasy Tactics Advance you'll recognize the world of Ivalice and all it's inhabitants from the reptilian Banga to the long eared Viera. You'll also be aware of the clan setting where you gain points and ranks from completing marks and defeating enemies. Throughout the world, people post marks that you can read and meet with them to settle a contract. Once you rid the fiend they wanted rid, you will gain a hefty reward.
As with any Final Fantasy, you expect the graphics to be spectacular. They are by no means, the best but they are astounding. The colors that are used don't make it too bright or dark it's perfectly in the middle. All the cutscenes are absolutely gorgeous, although, not that often you do experience some ugly shots. The world is filled with many areas that never seem alike, there is a desert, a city in the clouds, a tropical amazon, and numerous cities that borrow from ancient architecture and design.
There is one last thing I just have to mention. Games that are too easy are easily attacked on for being easy. The same goes for a game that is too hard. Final Fantasy games are never that hard but provide a small challenge. Final Fantasy XII provides a perfect challenge for anyone. It's actually a tough game at points but nothing that is overwhelming.
The game itself is pretty long, you could probably rush through it in 30-40 hours but in the same sense could spend 100-200 hours looking for everything. It's a great experience that you'll definitely want to play over again. I strongly recommend it for anyone who wants to get into an RPG as it's easy to pick up. Being a strong Final Fantasy fan, I simply loved it and it has some truly amazing gameplay.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/13/06, Updated 04/20/09
Game Release: Final Fantasy XII (US, 10/31/06)
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