Review by Ilya1986
"Dear Squeenix, inane sidequests do NOT make up for a lacking story."
Final Fantasy...the best RPG franchise in history, the name synonymous with great quality that will take your emotions for a complete roller coaster and as the credits finally roll, you are left with this warm feeling of being told an epic story, complete with dazzling graphics, beautiful music, great voice acting, and everything that makes a videogame worth playing unless you're somebody that likes to see everything onscreen blow up for little to no reason whatsoever.
Well, just like human beings, even the Final Fantasy series has its screwups. Case in point, FFXII. I'll go from the good to the bad to the downright ugly.
Guys, come on, this is square-enix. Non issue here. They're gorgeous, end of story.
Frankly, I have to take my hat off to Squeenix this time for giving people so much to do. You can easily spend 90 hours on one playthrough in this game, visiting and revisiting locations, discovering new paths you've never seen before. The number of sidequests is simply mind-boggling, and if you want that 100% completion playthrough, I can tell you that you will not be putting this game down for a WHILE. The locations are varied and expansive, with many different paths and just so much of them to explore that you'll forget that several hours have passed while you were going just through two of like thirty different levels in the game.
But why not a 10 score? Well, simply put, because quite a bit of it is completely optional and has no impact on the story. "I saw a big monster, go kill it," quests are numerous indeed and show you places you've never gone before, but they do get repetitive.
I'm on the fence about this one. You can either love it, or hate it.
The gameplay is FAR different than any final fantasy that has ever come before. Instead of the random battle system that's been in every single final fantasy preceding this one ("Now Cloud, let's learn about random battles. Try taking a step. *steps* *screen swirl, etc... there's a hilarious newgrounds flick about this..."), you now see your encounters FAR ahead of time. And if you don't see them onscreen, your minimap radar WILL let you know they're there. Of course, it doesn't mean that you can just avoid all of them...(waitaminute, Vanishga...NM that), but it does mean you get a big heads up so that you're not with a party full of characters at 2% HP after some big battle when suddenly you're ambushed by a rabid tonberry riding a three-legged chocobo and raped by his knifestab-no-jutsu. On the other hand, some players might not like the fact that you're given such a heads-up about it that you might as well be invincible.
Next, the gambit system. If this, then that, with priorities. As Balthier says, vitality before violence. Depending on your skill with programming your characters, so long as mana lasts, your characters will play as you would yourself, except this time with computer-reaction-time speeds that cast and do exactly as you programmed them to right as the condition is met. For instance, if you wanted to heal when your character reached < 50%, by the time you notice that someone's really getting beat up, he might be in the red before you start casting the spell, meaning he's dead before it hits them. But the computer will start immediately as the condition is met, and voila, your character lives on!
And then there's the license board. Remember FFX's sphere grid? Well now, instead of just stat-ups and spells learned, you also have to invest points into being able to equip weapons and armor, and in addition to simply obtaining the license, you have to go and BUY said spell. Another analogy wold be diablo 2's skill tree, as by learning one license, you gain access to another, and you only are unable to unlock more squares on the license grid by killing more monsters.
And oh yes, the quickenings, how can I forget them? Simply put, these things are FFXII's equivalent of VII's limit breaks (OMNISLASH IS YOUR GOD, BOW TO IT), or FFX's overdrives (I'll just charge up my five aeons here...oh, is that a boss? Energy blast. Hellfire. Thor's hammer. Diamond dust. Still not dead? Megaflare. GG.), but this time, instead of requiring a separate meter, they simply take up all of your mana, but for a good portion of the game, if you're good with them, they literally take a boss from full health to zero without him getting to launch a single attack. Nifty, eh?
Now here's my take on things:
Frankly, I didn't like the system very much. Square-enix tried to make it somewhat realistic by allowing us to see the enemies beforehand rather than have a swirling screen turn into a random battle when we least expect it, and that was great, but on the other hand, what about the three party members I can't use? Where are they? In an extradimensional void that opens up during the cutscenes? Why don't they get any experience? And of course, with the fact that the battles aren't random, it means that you can't just hit the escape button and that big bad monster simply vanishes. If you try to run from some super beasty, it may just as well follow you all the way to the edge of another room, whacking you all the while! Or you can try to run from two monsters, only to run into two more with the previous two following, adding up to be potentially ganked by twice as many monsters as there are characters in your party! Oh, joy. You see, if there's one thing I'm a fan of, it's ambiguity. With random battles, the gamer can suspend disbelief and just accept the fact that in order for the battles to have any meaning whatsoever, that there have to exist random battles in order to level up your characters and provide you with items. And this time, that was taken a step further into realism by instead of monsters dropping items you can equip, they drop items you can sell at a bazaar to "unlock" some "secret" items. (Seriously, how the heck did I just steal a sword from a little groundhog the size of my foot?) However, while square-enix went into realism with seeing your encounters, it DIDN'T go completely into realism with the fact that you can only use three out of six characters at a time, and trust me, when every character has some sort of multitarget ability, I'd much rather appreciate SIX of those spells than having to use three, and then WAIT to cast the next round, all the while being beaten down by swarms of baddies!
Next, the gambit system: now while it has its advantages, it also sometimes becomes a complete micromanagement task. Turn this gambit on, turn that one off, and in the final boss battle, if you're using "all ally" spells, then the NPC ally that fights the boss with you is immune to all of these good buffs, leaving your characters trying to cast and recast while the final boss beats you down. Not that he really managed to do anything painful to me, but that's another issue. The gambits clearly are made to speed things up since everything is taking place in real time now rather than action=>attack=>target beasty, but it's not all it's hyped up to be.
Now here's where it just gets bad. The license board? Good idea in theory, literally the most horrible system I have EVER seen in an RPG. Ever. In theory, as in the manual, you send a character down one of those paths and have them specialize in a group of skills. One character might be a mage going to the upper left of the top license grid, one might be a passive fighter using a bunch of augments in the lower left of the top license grid, one might be a fighter with weapons and armor licenses from the bottom license grid, etc..., but here's the downer: by the end of the game, everyone has just about every relevant license. Literally, you can have all six characters using the same exact weapons and armor and casting the EXACT same spells. They literally become the same entity with a different model and voice set (which is NOT helped at all by the story, more on that)
Oh, and the quickenings? Good early, literally suicidal later as you do more damage with yor regular spells. Remember Omnislash? If you had ultima weapon with two master HP ups, that thing literally took down safer sephiroth if you dispelled his barrier. (Of course, being the cheeser I am, I just used W-summon KotR with mime =X). And don't even get me started on FFX's overdrives. If the boss wasn't dead after Yuna threw all of her aeons' overdrives at him, then your characters most certainly WOULD. Here? You can one-combo the bosses at the beginning, and then later on, they simply don't get any more damage at all. From the beginning to the end, for taking up YOUR ENTIRE MANA POOL OF BETWEEN ANYWHERE FROM 100 TO 600, they deal a measely 35000 with the BEST combo in the game, (that's about 500-600 mana from EACH of three characters) when with the right buffs and level 3 magics, you can deal that much damage in about twenty seconds and have a ton left over to spare. Yes, they're flashy, but after the elder dragon jungle boss, the cases that you should use them are few and FAR between. All I have to say is that Squeenix could have made these things FAR more useful. If they're going to drain your entire mana pool, they should at least do HALF of such a mana pool in terms of damage that you can get from regular spells instead.
And now we descend to the ugly. Still on the gameplay. The grinding in this game is staggering, simply to scrape up enough gil to equip your characters properly. There are some spells (that really, you don't want to have to go through the game without) that you can ONLY obtain after finishing like 30 mark hunts. About 60% through (right when you get that one good spell--it's called bubble), these things literally become harder than the final boss. And unlike Ruby and Emerald weapon, and those super monsters that are created from playing Pokemon in FFX at the beastie arena, these things are FAR more required in order to get gil, license points, and the like, or you will find yourself woefully underequipped.
Oh, and remember summons? They were good in VII (well, except for knights of the round which was just silly), these absolute gods of destruction in X (literally, my anima killed braska's final aeon in TWO HITS), so now in XII, in addition to being ridiculously hard to find (the optional ones, not the story ones), they have the power of, if not outdoing that of, the actual story bosses. Heck, the hardest ones make the final boss look like a wimp! But when you actually DO get them, they're not even worth it! Their mana costs are the same as of the quickenings--anywhere between one third to your entire mana pool, for some monster that replaces two of your characters in battle, and gets killed just as quickly. Oh joy.
For all of this "optional" stuff in FFXII to get, if you DON'T do it, prepare to play the most frustrating ff of your life, and if you DO do it, let's just say you spend 2-3x more time doing THEM, than you do playing through the STORY.
Okay, WHO THE HECK TIED UP NOBUO UEMATSU AND THREW HIM IN A CLOSET?! To be generous, the music is unimpressive and unmemorable. To be brutal, some tracks sound little better than the ghost house music from super mario world. I wouldn't be able to remember a tune out of this game even if you paid me. Heck, I remember tracks from games made in 1996 (Chrono Trigger, Seiken Densetsu 3) than I do from FFXII. And for a final fantasy game, come on...when you have such tracks as Liberi Fatali, Otherworld, Those Who Fight Further, and which final fantasy fan DOESN'T know of One Winged Angel, this is absolutely no excuse. Hell, for all the bashing X-2 received, if there's one thing I remember, it's that Yuna can sing better than any Britney-Needs-to-be-impaled-on-a-Spear(s), or Christina Hagilera. (Yes, I know that an American singer VAs her, but at least the lyrics are classy, at least Koda Kumi's). With FFXII, I don't know if the composer was going or a more ambient soundtrack, but whatever it was, IT WAS A POOR JOB FOR FINAL FANTASY. When I can't even remember ONE music track from this, and I can remember at least one from games that are rated inferior (air force delta strike vs. ace combat, legend of dragoon vs. FF7), or games I haven't even played (ace combat zero) this is a new low for Final Fantasy. I'm sorry, but it is.
A bad ripoff of star wars meets lord of the rings? Not even. At least there, we had characters with more than two pages of dialogue on a script for the whole game. Seriously, the only reason I DIDN'T put the game down can be summed up in one word: Balthier. Other than that, our "main character" Vaan just lost his brother (no this is not a spoiler, you know this from actually PLAYING as his brother in the little tutorial) and hates the evil empire, which might as have Darth Vader himself there (hell, the imperials even look like storm troopers!), for how little difference it has to Lucas's. Of course, the story doesn't even revolve around Vaan, but around Princess Ashe. And while she may LOOK like Yuna with blonde hairdye and a risque outfit, she neither evokes the sympathy that the FFX Yuna did, or the flag-waving fanboyism that Tifa Lockheart or X-2 Yuna or Rikku do. In fact, what I'm most disappointed about here is that Ashe, the centerpiece of the story, evokes NO emotion. She might as well be a robot. Power this. Revenge that. Nethicite this. Get kingdom back that. And while Balthier and Fran have quite a few enjoyable lines, they, and the other two characters (Basch and Penelo) have next to no development. Hell, Penelo, who was supposed to be Vaan's friend all through childhood (think of Tifa to Cloud), she has more dialogue narrating a two-minute ending than she does for the ENTIRE DURATION OF THE GAME.
To be concise, I don't know who was behind the story and writing this time around, but whoever it was, I wonder what the hell they were doing, because they surely weren't writing a good story. In fact, at the end of the game, I wanted to cry. Not because the ending was that sad like X's was that Square-Enix had to make a sequel just so the more emotionally touched didn't go and /wrists (a very under-rated sequel mind you), and nor was it so sweeteningly happy that you'd get diabetes from it (X-2), or uplifting as VII's. In fact, the ending made me want to cry because I felt like I just spent more than TWICE the time playing the game as I did X or VII and got ripped off by one of the lamest endings possible.
Face it, in an RPG, the selling point isn't constantly pressing X over and over again to swing your sword at a monster. It isn't inanely walking through endless dungeons or forests or wherever just for laughs and giggles. No. In an RPG, the point is to be TOLD A STORY. A story of suffering, truth, betrayal, justice, love, hate, of lords and ladies, assassins and bastards (actually I think George RR Martin sucks as an author...his characters never DO ANYTHING!), and all of those things that tie the game together. Hell, look at FFX. The premise of the story was ATROCIOUS. A 17 year old girl is going to go out and kill herself to try and destroy a giant blob of doom caused by all of the world's fecal matter suddenly growing sentient and combining itself in an all-destroying force! Fear the monster known as SH!T...I mean Sin. But yet, the story came together beautifully for what happened to the characters along the journey and how they were all affected by what events transpired. And although I STILL don't understand exactly why Sephiroth went nuts, I believe FFVII's immortality speaks for itself. Who can forget such scenes as Aeris getting absolutely SephirOWNED by the most iconic weapon in all of videogame history, or quite a few FFX scenes (Yuna dancing on the water, HA HA HA, the springs, ending?), scenes which were strong enough that they created a DEMAND for a sequel? But in FFXII, we're left wanting. Literally, NOTHING is memorable about the characters in that game.
In fact, I'll probably remember that Balthier was a smooth talker more than I'll remember Ashe's plight or about Vaan altogether.
Seriously, the story--the heart and soul of any good RPG just wasn't here. Whoever at Square decided that not having a love story in the game, or not having the main character be a chick magnet for at least two women (Tifa/Aeris, Rinoa/Selphie, Yuna/Rikku...heck, you can get Lulu to throw Tidus the ball for blitz ace, lol), should go and commit seppuku (I don't mean that). But in all seriousness, when all else fails, having a starry-sky talk between main male and main female ending with or without Ye Typical HugKissHOTTDIRTYSMEX is at least enough to keep the game going until the next big plot part.
Really, for the company who uncontestably destroys any other in the RPG department, what the hell happened here? Was this really made by the company that proved you could force more emotion from someone playing a videogame than you could from reading a book? It really didn't show.
Even though FFXII is very little compared to X and VII (I happen to favor X, others may favor VII), I think it is STILL worth a playthrough, as it IS a final fantasy, even if it IS lacking. Even though I will STILL have trouble believing that two females looking as similar as Yuna and Ashe could be so drastically different in quality for being centerpieces of their respective worlds, if nothing else, FFXII has made me appreciate the better final fantasies more yet, and giving me insight into just how much can go wrong with a game that can potentially do nothing of the sort.
Rent or buy? Neither. Borrow it from a friend. Not worth paying for -.-...
I just hope Squeenix doesn't screw XIII up like this...especially if I'm going to be shelling out $500+ for a PS3.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 02/01/07
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