Review by Computerbug8

"A fair score I bestoweth upon this software...er, I mean, this game's okay"

Final Fantasy XII (FFXII) is a game that was in development for a long time and constantly underwent hardships, and, as a result, the game got pushed back over and over until the hardcore fans who first heard about it were forced to wait nearly half a decade before they were finally able to play it. Now, luckily for me, I wasn't one of those hardcore fans, and the reason why I say "luckily" is because I would be disappointed if I had to wait that whole amount of time and ended up with this as the final product. (Because seriously, what's worse than waiting nearly half a decade for something and being disappointed by it?)

Don't get me wrong, FFXII isn't a bad game at all. But does it live up to the name "Final Fantasy" and meet the steep expectations that it was expected to fulfill? Well...

STORY

The game starts off talking about a power hungry empire named Archades that's trying to conquer the kingdom of Dalmasca. At the same time, in Dalmasca, the princess, Ashe, is getting married to a foreign man named Rasler as part of a convenience marriage to arrange mutual peace between the two countries. But in addition to it being a convenience marriage, the two were truly in love with each other. That is, until something horrible happens to Rasler.

At the same time, Dalmasca is on its last leg as it struggles to defend itself from Archades' opposing forces. You're introduced to a young man named Reks, a 17 year-old soldier in Dalmasca's army who's under the command of a captain named Basch. You're told that the king of Dalmasca is going to surrender Dalmasca over to Archades, and you instantly go on a mission to stop him from surrendering. Unfortunately for you, the mission doesn't go so well...

The story promptly picks up two years later, and you're introduced to a street rat named Vaan who's now the age Reks was, and he's with his friend and fellow street-rat Penelo. He's just hanging through the streets or Rabanastre and running errands for some merchants until he finds out that the new consul of Dalmasca and the emperor of Archades is stopping by to make a speech to the Dalmascans, and Vaan really doesn't seem too fond of this new emperor. The story unfolds from there...

Whenever I play a Final Fantasy game, whether it be something originally for the NES to a PS2 game, I've always been impressed by the story. Sadly, this is not the case here. The story to FFXII is about as flat as you can get. Now, I usually try to be a bit forgiving on the plots to games, but in order for me to do that, doesn't there normally have to be...um...oh, I don't know...a plot??? Seriously, the story to this game seems nonexistent for most of the game. For about the first 80 to 85% of FFXII, it seems mostly like you're just going through all the dungeons just for the sheer heck of it. The main reason you're going is to look for weapons that are supposed to turn the tide of war, but seriously, you can't run a 45 hour game on that alone.

Now, during the last two or three hours of the game, the story gets a lot better and I found myself waiting anxiously to find out what happened next. But even then, the story isn't too incredible, and it's not worth the 40 or so hours you put into the game beforehand.

But enough about the story, I'm moving on to the characters now. The characters, sadly, aren't much better than the story. The main character Vaan shows little to no development, and his friend, Penelo, doesn't even belong in the game to begin with. Honestly, I couldn't think of one useful thing she added to the plot. Either way, both characters are pretty flat and show little development.

And to make it worse, the villains aren't a heck of a lot better. The main villains in this game are the "Judges", who are high ranked Archadians in suits or armor who sound like asthmatics in desperate need of an inhaler. None of them (with the exception of one...sort of) really show too much development or personality either, and the main villain...heck, the main villain isn't even really bad.

I've never really gotten attached to too many FF characters out of the other games I've played in the series, but FFXII is probably the one where I felt the weakest attachment. The only ones who are slightly interesting and show any development are Balthier and Fran. As if the lack of interest in characters wasn't enough, the lack in plot and its pacing make it all the worse. If you want an epic experience that FF games are known for, then this game will probably disappoint.

I'll say this right now: the story was the worst part of the game, so with the worst stuff out of the way, we can now move on to where the game shines a bit more brightly.

GAMEPLAY

I'll start off with the basic parts, which is simply going through the cities and dungeons. This part is pretty basic. Controlling one character on screen in towns, you can go around and interact with a surprisingly large amount of people, and it actually feels like you're in the middle of a town or city sometimes.

But really, who cares about that? If you've heard about FFXII, then you probably know all about the controversy of its new...

BATTLE SYSTEM

The battle system is REALLY all over the place. First things first, the battles are no longer random, which is a huge difference right off the bat. What's even more so, navigating through the battle menus are incredibly easy to understand.

Before you even get into a fight with an enemy, you can see them on screen, so if you don't want to fight, you can simply hold down the "Flee" button and steer clear of the battle. But if you DO get into a fight, then it's not difficult at all to control. To start a fight, you simply get close enough to an enemy and go into the battle menu. From there, choose to attack the foe. If there's more than one, you simply scroll over the enemies until you're targeting the one you want to attack. It's really quite simple, which is a good thing.

There can be three characters from your party fighting at once, and there can be a fourth character battling if someone is accompanying the group. You can control your characters all individually by telling them to attack or use magic (Oh, I'm sorry..."macick"), or using an item to help out. But FFXII puts in a new feature: Gambits.

Gambits are commands and priorities that can be equipped to any combination of your characters to be used in the heat of battle. Some of these gambits include automatically healing an ally who's health is lower than 60% (or a few other percentages), attacking the nearest enemy, attacking the enemy the party leader is attacking, or other basic ones. But it gets more specific than that later on. As you get more gambits, your characters can have more specific tasks, such as targeting an enemy that has a weakness to a certain element, attacking using specific magick, or using magicks that will add helpful status effects to your party members or removing helpful status effects from enemies.

Because of the Gambits, you can give each character unique priorities and commands, and if you equip gambits to everyone, you can go over to an enemy and just drop the controller and watch your party characters take care of the battles themselves.

So, remember how in older Final Fantasy games, if you wanted to go through a dungeon, you'd have a bit of a hard time with it because of all the random encounters you had to go through? And once you got into a fight, you'd see some flashy animation on screen that would take you to the battle, then you'd have to wait your turn to attack. Then you'd wait to see your enemy attack. Then the process would just repeat until you won. From there you'd your characters do some victory dance, and then you'd be taking to a screen that told you how much Gil you made off the fight, how much experience you gained and any items you got from the fight. As you're probably aware, that can be quite a time consuming experience. Luckily, with FFXII, that whole process is taken away; here, you just go up to an enemy, hack at it when your bar gets filled, and repeat until the enemy is dead and you can continue. It REALLY cuts a lot of the time, which is a good thing.

And remember how in just about every single other RPG when you had about 8 characters, but only three or four could fight at once, and when those three or four died, you automatically lost? Well, in FFXII, your reserve members can fight too, should your front line characters ever get all worn down. And you don't even have to wait for one of your characters to be knocked out before switching a healthier character in; you can remove one character from the party and replace it with a reserve character any time you want during a fight. (Except for when the character you want to remove isn't being targeted at the moment)

And just when you're all tired out from fighting, if you find a save crystal (the save points in this game) and you run over and touch it, your party is automatically healed fully, saving you a trip back to down and several items. (Much like FFX)

So, the battles sound pretty good, yeah? Well, they're better than older FF games, I'll tell you that much. However, they still have problems. First of all, the fights REALLY get repetitive after just a short while. While it's a good thing they cut down on time, most of the time you're in dungeons you'll just see your characters performing the same moves on the same enemies over and over again, and suddenly the battles don't become very involving at all. As a result, you're reduced to simply sitting there and watching the same battles over and over again. Not surprisingly, this gets boring. VERY boring. To make it more annoying, since you don't enter a battle screen, any monster on screen can come and attack you at any time, so if you're already fighting a monster, three more can show up and quickly overwhelm you.

And believe it or not, despite the fact you can go anywhere you want in the fight, this really is nothing more than a turn based game with the ability to run around freely while fighting. The reason being is that you still have to wait for the attack or magic bar to fill up, and as soon as you attack, it empties and you have to wait for it again. The same goes for your enemies. The only difference is that the fights go faster now, which is still a good thing.

Also worth mentioning is that you no longer get Gil (the currency, if you are unfamiliar with the series) from killing random enemies. Now, whenever you want to make money, you'll have to kill an enemy that has something of value (such as fur, or claws, or carries magic stones or anything like that) and pick it up from the enemy and then sell it to a merchant to make money.

New to the FF series after killing enemies are license points, which ties into the level-up system of the game. Like FFX's sphere grid, you level up by opening spaces on the "License Board" where you have abilities, gambit slots, and personal character upgrades like increases in HP, MP, battle speed, attack power, defense, and other basic things like that. That would have been fine, but the game pushes the License Points a bit too far. Now, whenever you want to buy equipment (like weapons or armor) you have to make sure you have its spot unlocked on the license board. So in addition to powering up your character, you'll also need to balance License Points in order to make sure your characters can have the best armor and weapons equipped that they possibly can.

This may seem like a good thing, but what it really boils down to is the ability to make all your characters almost exact replicas of each other when it comes to fighting. Remember how in early FF games each character would have a specific job, whether it by a black mage, white mage, warrior, or something of the sort, and each job bared its own responsibilities? Well, thanks to the license board, that is no longer needed. Now, if you want to, you can make all of your characters hard hitters, but at the same time, if you buy healing magick spells and unlock its spot on the license board, you can turn all your fighters into people who can deal a load of damage and be able to heal themselves if the situation called for it. Because of this, it renders just about every single separate "job" opportunity mostly obsolete. You can easily make it through this game with just warriors as long as you give them the spells they need to heal themselves and each other. (This also takes a fair amount of strategy out, but still leaves enough in)

And of course, this game has summons as well. Unfortunately, the classic summons like Bahamut, Shiva and Ifrit are gone (and instead are only mentioned as the names of ships). Instead, you get some new summons that are called "Espers", and trust me, they're pretty worthless. There were only about two occasions when an Esper came in useful, both during boss battles.

Speaking of boss battles, allow me to go into those for a little while here. Most of the boss battles in FFXII are completely random and have little to no impact on the plot. While a lot of other RPGs do this, FFXII seems to make a habit out of it. A lot of times a boss enemy will come out of absolutely nowhere, and it'll happen to the extent where you'll be groaning to yourself, "Great, another one?". The boss battles aren't really too hard, but they do get tedious and annoying, especially later on when any difficulty comes from status effects that just about every single boss can inflict on your characters.

Okay, there's my rant on battles. The fights in this game start off fun and new, but later on they just get tedious and repetitive to the extent where they're not too much fun anymore. It's a shame, really, but at least the fights move along a lot faster.

GRAPHICS

All right, now onto the game's best feature: the graphics. I honestly don't think I've EVER seen this much detail in a video game's graphics. Everything about them are simply incredible. The character models are lifelike and all have unique characteristics about them, and the flow of the action in the cutscenes is great.

And the backgrounds and environments are very beautiful as well. Everything has so much detail, you can't help but think how much work the developers must have put into this. There are several CG sequences throughout the game that look absolutely incredible, and like with FFX, I sometimes had to remind myself that I was playing a game and not watching a movie.

While I'm talking about animation, I might as well mention the animations and graphics in battle. Needless to say, the graphics and animations carry over in that area, too. The characters all have unique animations and they look very realistic and smooth. And the even more incredible part is that the animations for each character change with the weapons you equip. The attention to detail never ceases to amaze me. And the spells and summons look incredible, too.

The cutscenes, even the ones without the CG effects look amazing, and it all carries over into battles. The detail is awe-inspiring and the graphics overall do a great job of taking you into the world of FFXII. I came into this game with high expectations for graphics, and I was still amazed.

SOUND

Now, onto the music in this game. Sadly, the music isn't up to par with other FF games. In fact, the music is pretty forgettable for the most part, with the exception of a few town themes and a few battle themes. (Need I mention that there's no battle music for regular fights? I won't hold that against the game, but I thought I should mention it anyway) The boss battle music is pretty disappointing for the most part, as is a lot of the other music.

The voice acting is pretty much the same. While the characters all have voices that fit their characters, there's very little emotion in most of the voices, which only made it harder to get attached to them.

I won't go too far into the sound, but I will say that it's pretty disappointing. Not only is the music less memorable than I expected it to be, but the annoying voice acting from some characters only made it worse. But luckily for FFXII, sound isn't what makes or breaks a game.

LENGTH

A standard playthrough of FFXII should last you around 40 to 45 hours. But if you like the game by the end and you want it to go on longer, then there are plenty of things you can do to add on to the time. You can go on scavenger hunts for monsters, or you can fight some optional Espers that you can summon, a lot of which are enemies from older FF games. (You're looking mighty different in 3D graphics, Zeromus)

Still, despite the sidequests, 40 to 45 hours is a pretty good length for an RPG. It's not a short amount of time, so you get your money's value out of it fairly well. But on the other hand, it's not annoyingly long to the extent where you just want it to end. It finds a very happy medium, this game does.

PROS

+ Incredible graphics
+ Faster battles
+ Decent length
+ Plenty of sidequests
+ Well-done animations
+ Amazing attention-to-detail

CONS

- Story is very weak for the most part
- Most of the time, you forget the story's even there
- Flat characters with little development
- Fights get repetitive
- Frequent and annoying boss battles
- Balancing license points gets annoying
- Summons aren't too useful
- Not the best music

CLOSING NOTES

FFXII is a clear example of a game you can love in once second and grow tired of the next. The story is undoubtedly the worst part. Not only is its pacing off, but you don't even get a lot of it until the very end. And the fact it's told with a bunch of dry and underdeveloped characters and villains doesn't help. And while the battles go much faster and with much less effort than before, they can still get boring pretty fast, especially later on in the game. It's not too pleasant either that when you're going through dungeons or towns that the music isn't memorable. However, the shining part about this game is truly in its graphics. I don't think I've ever seen a game with as much attention put into the graphics and animations as this. In fact, the graphics are so good, it helped the score a little bit from being strictly mediocre, or worse.

Overall, FFXII is a fun experience. If you're a fan of RPGs, I recommend it. However, if you're a fan of the epic stories that other FF games have come to offer, then you'll probably be disappointed by this one. And with the characters and music being less than stellar (especially when compared with other FF games), the game's strongest point is unfortunately with the graphics and animation. Still, this is a fun game to play. It's just not everything it could have been.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 05/21/07, Updated 06/20/08

Game Release: Final Fantasy XII (US, 10/31/06)


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