Review by FFGuru89

"A flawed classy title, arguably one of the last big commercial games for the PS2"

I have to start with declaring my intentions for this review. First of all, may I state here and now that I am not the type of person to basically waffle on and on about how great a game is simply because of its popularity or how good it looks… I'm not that shallow and I don't like to hang on the coattails of the majority of fanboys whatsoever. If I take offence to something, I refuse to keep a secret of it. Hence no 10/10 just if I'm a fan of the series. I'd like to think that I give an in-depth overview of a game, and as such evaluate using the following criteria: Story, Graphics, Gameplay, Controls, Music and Replay Value/Longevity. Regards the game I have to admit I like it. There are quite a few good aspects that over time I hope SE refines to truly make a great effort out of a game that they are used in. I think it's arguable that XII is an indicator of a franchise in transition: using features not previously seen, gauging a reaction and using said reaction to lead the games in a new direction. It's being billed as the last big game of the PlayStation 2, and I can understand why.

Story: 6/10
In the game you play a boy named Vaan; an orphan of the conflict of two years previous between his hometown Rabanastre, a lynchpin of the Dalmascan Empire, and the encroaching empire of Archades who strip the nation of its sovereignty and forces its loyalty to their country. With Vaan, you recruit Penelo, his childhood friend and fellow orphan to the cause. Over the course you also meet some interesting and mysterious characters who join the fold, such as Balthier, a dashing (British accents in games always deserve the word) Sky Pirate who also with fellow thief Fran, an Elvaan-type creature from a race known as the Viera, pilot an Airship known as the Strahl. Add to that the leader of the Rabanastran resistance, the dethroned Dalmascan Princess Ashe, and a disgraced yet heroic military captain Basch and you have one of the most Motley Crue rag-tag bunches assembled in a Final Fantasy game to date. It also leads to some interesting story and character progression as you lead the party members each to their own eventual plot endings.

However, that's about it; the story is limited to empire building and eventual destruction. The villains of the story get little time on-screen and their reasons for taking over the world (yawn) are left vague and rather undeveloped. The story reaches its natural end after about 35hrs of gameplay and is very reminiscent of FFVIII in that the game is clearly focused on the battle system, graphics and gameplay. It's arguable that it's hard-to-follow too, as you go from place to place it's hard to be really sure of its relevance in game; whether it's a member of the Archadian Empire, a Dalmascan ally or whether it's a filler town that they often use just a re-grouping point between places (the route to Archades being a good example) I also didn't like the re-manufacturing of Magicite and the crystal structure as seen in FFXI – it stinks of unoriginality and shows a lack of forward-thinking. Surely it can't have been that hard to come up with a new concept?

Graphics: 9/10

The major plus point of the game as far as I'm concerned. The game is beautiful, there's no denying it. It's a gigantic world and I do commend them for managing to create as many available places to explore in the game and yet not skimping on graphical design or gameplay. The budget must have been huge for this particular department and the majority of it is well spent.

The character and city design is superb as always – an aspect of the franchise that has appealed to most who play the game, the characters and city infrastructures always seem to represent the period of time they're set in. For example, the FFX and FFX-2 games have little in the means of time difference, and yet due to the changes in culture between the two the main protagonists of the games appear different in style and dress, as do the difference in some cities as they become more Machina-integrated. As is the case here, the fusion of archaic and modern is represented in the architecture of the cities and the people. Archades for example is shown to be an enlightened cultural capitol, a bastion for technology and entertainment. It contrasts rather easily with the oppressed Rabanastre, which although looks rather similar in construct, the fact it is merely a controlled state shows through in the attitudes of the people, and the way they look. It's a graphical masterstroke, conveying different attitudes and feelings simply by altering a look. The only reason I couldn't give it a 10, is that although the game does look graphically fantastic, it's flawed in that many of the animations and cutscenes borrow the same graphical engine that is seen in so many Final Fantasy games, and it doesn't look too different from FFX, a whole four years its senior. However, FFX was a graphically stunning game and as a result so is this.

Gameplay: 7/10

It's a new start regarding gameplay at least for most aspects. A radical overhaul of the battle system is most notable, replacing the notorious (and synonymous with Final Fantasy games at least) random battle system and replacing it with a more open-ended pick-your-own-fights method, more commonly seen in games like Chrono Trigger, a seriously underrated classic (and a Squaresoft game at that), and its predecessor FFXI. In fact, a large proportion of the battle system is completely derivative of FFXI; the ability to choose your own opponents, the fact they randomly re-appear after a certain length of time (or ‘pop; in MMORPG terms) and finally the lack of cash dropped after a defeat (in FFXI it's usually only certain humanoid-type creatures such as Goblins that can drop Gil and it's usually a small amount, in here the same system applies). No, much the same as FFXI a farming system is used, where creatures drop ‘Loot' which you collect independent from the rest of your items which is to be sold at shops for cash. Selling these items unlocks ‘Bazaar' goods, which are usually equipment or items which are hard to obtain for a price. Some items such as the particularly strong swords and greatswords can only be purchased here, and it's only after the right set of loot has been sold to the shop. It's a great concept if a little unoriginal and well adapted from a multiplayer to a single-player experience. It also ensures that even the loot which has no impact on Bazaar item production generates some bonus cash too.

Another major feature of gameplay which influences the battle system somewhat is the ‘Gambit' system; an idea that your characters act out specific commands as if a Macro system is employed: i.e. if say Vaan has only 39HP out of 100 left, a Gambit may be used to heal him if his HP is less that 40% of the total, so a potion or curative spell would be used in this instance. The other unique feature of this is that for the majority of Gambits available, you can set them to do mostly anything: cast the spell ‘Haste' on yourself whenever the magic runs out just as long as you have enough MP to cast it and it ensures you almost always have a ‘Hasted' character. However, it's not an easy system to get to grips with whatsoever, and new players of the game and the genre will struggle with this immensely from the outset. Master it however, and you can create a near-invincible party, of which they have a remedy for almost any situation that the game can put forward.

The License System is a new invention that attributes the gaining of skills through killing monsters. For every monster killed the party gains points which can be spent on the board to gain new weapons, stats, spells etc. However, to counter-affect the relative easiness of this system, you have to buy the skill, weapon or spell to use it: i.e. you may have bought the License for the ‘Cure' spell but you have to purchase the spell itself from the Magic Shops to use it. It does bear a striking similarity to the Sphere Grid from FFX however, through the use of gaining skills from using items on a grid, and even though the format is different, the outcome is largely the same.

The Mark Hunting side-quest is perhaps the best new addition of the game in my humble opinion, as it enables the player to hunt monsters which are not too dissimilar to the ‘Notorious Monsters' of FFXI, in that the death of them usually leads to wealth or better items. It works in that a notice for the hunting of a creature is displayed on a noticeboard, you then take up the bill, speak to the person who wishes you to slay the creature, you slay it and receive your bounty. It's essentially the role of a bounty hunter, and it's quite a fun little side-quest which can provide extra Gil and better equipment

What you may have noticed by now is that there are a lot of additions to the gameplay and this is my reasoning to give it 7/10: there's just too much. Much in the way FFX did it overplays its hand somewhat, and tries to do too much. Completing the side-quests for Hunting and Espers can push the game over 80/100hrs + and the majority of players will probably find this just too taxing.

Controls: 8/10

The control system doesn't often vary much from game to game, but they've changed it for the better. The constricting camera-angles of FFX and X-2 make way for a more fluent 360-degree flexible camera used by the Right-Analog stick. This is necessary so that battles can be avoided and so that you can see what's chasing you! Add unto that a largely similar control scheme to other FF's and you have a fine user-friendly apparatus. The only flaw I could notice is the use of pressing buttons during battle to open doors, pick up items etc. For example, late in the game you have to pick up items known as ‘Black Orbs' which monsters drop. Unlike loot which can merely be run over to attain, the ‘X' button has to be pressed. It sounds easy enough but if you're attacking something it can be hard to position your leader correctly to pick them up, and they don't stay in their spot for long. Losing them can become a common problem and they are very important.

Music 7/10

The music itself is a bit of a letdown for an FF: they usually produce games with music at an incredibly high standard, but in this case it's not brilliant. However some of the music is good, and there is heavy influence from the Baroque period. Why should I mention this? Mainly because the game derives a lot of it's graphical and storyline influence apparently from enlightenment theories and ideals, and it's noticeable how the music impacts upon this, however for some places in-game the right ambience is just not created. They use the same musical formula as they have done in the previous games: establish a catchy motif, extend it and create variations of it. It's likeable if predictable and it's a winning formula in itself (take Star Wars as an example: the Imperial March is used throughout, variations on a common theme). The voice-acting is ok: some of the voices seem very artificial but the eccentric performances of Cid and Balthier are enough to carry it through.

Replay Value/Longevity: 4/10

If you manage to conquer everything in one play-through, this may be one of the only FF's in which you don't replay it. It just doesn't have the same difficulty level as some of the others, and it just doesn't have the same level of addictiveness. FFX for example has a staggering replay value, finishing the Sphere Grid and conquering the Dark Aeons provides a healthy challenge and the story is far more developed. This is lacking in any real depth, a title which will provide a sense of accomplishment when completed but no real rush to pick it up and play it again.

Summary:

This game feels a bit rushed, as if SE felt they had to get it published before sales of PS2 games wound down with the launch of the next ‘next-generation' consoles. And it's a shame because it really could have been up there with the now legendary status of FFVII, it really could have. But a lack of depth regarding storyline, a lack of true originality might leave it nestling on the pile of ‘great yet not classic' RPG titles. And it's not really fair, it's still a great game that just about anyone can pick up and play without too much hassle and get a pleasurable experience from. Just don't expect to pick it up again and again.

I hope I provide a reasonable review for a good game.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 06/25/07


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