Review by duffman13
"Some nostalgia, but a sad effort overall"
Let me preface this review with some facts about myself. I have been a gamer since I got my NES in 1989 and have loved RPGs since I got Dragon Warrior with my Nintendo Power subscription around 1991. I got into the Final Fantasy series with the first one, I scrounged cash together so I could afford a SNES so I could play FFII(IV) and FFIII(VI). PS2 gave me the opportunity to play all the RPGs that I had missed since I got an N64 instead of a PS1. I thought IV was a masterpiece, VI was the greatest game of all time, VII was excellent, VII didn't do it for me, IX was good, X was excellent, and X-2 was very good but misunderstood for its presentation.
I anxiously awaited FFXII for years, X-2 was just a holdover, though pretty good, and I would have nothing to do with XI because I like my games to have an ending. I preordered it and showed up anxiously at EB games to pick it up the Tuesday it came out. I rushed home, tore apart the packaging and slapped the disc in my PS2. I was awestruck. Some of the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen my PS2 render was on my screen. Even more importantly than that, after being almost nonexistent in the last 2 games, we got the hear THE PRELUDE!!! Following that, we move on to some sinister music, and explosions, followed by my favorite of all FF music, The Prologue, or Final Fantasy Main Theme, depending on which OST you look on the CD jacket of. This is the music that played as you crossed the bridge to the rest of the world in FFI, the music that played as you revived and were about to attack Zeromus in FFIV, and it has made numerous appearances in other FF games. After I had heard enough to add to my nostalgia, I hit start and began my game.
As I said when I put the game in the console, the opening sequence was some of the best I had ever seen my PS2 render, and the game start sequence with the war, the airship battle, the chocobos, it was all perfect looking. However, those were only FMV, and as we know FMV always looks awesome, even back as far as the opening of FFVIII. The rendered graphics are nothing to scoff at either though, and though they're not next-gen, they certainly give a great swan song for the PS2 as the PS3 is slated to come out in mere months. The amount of detail in towns, dungeons, airships, and everywhere else is impressive. The characters have lost the anime-style that they had since FFVII and moved to a much more realistic style, minus the fat-pig-lizard-people, dog-lizard-people, and Nordic-bunny-women races. The enemies look less like monsters and more like wild animals than they ever have in the past, making the whole game seem more realistic. The detail on everything can be seen as well as you want to with the movable camera, there are some giant turtle monsters and you can zoom in so close to see the scaly pattern on the underside of their feet. The only complaint I can even think of about the graphics it that Vaan's abs look boxy, but that is so minor next to the perfection of everything else I can overlook it.
I gave the sound a 4 only because the sound effects were good. Everything sounds like it should, but on this console I would expect the sound effects to be accurate, we're not on the SNES anymore. The voice acting was fairly good as well. Nobody's voice sounded out of place and they all put the necessary emotion into it. I identify my FF games as having outstanding music, and even the games I didn't care for much did something musically that was impressive. X-2 even had its moments between all of the J-Pop mixed in. The best music you will hear this entire game is right at the beginning, so if you want to hear Final Fantasy, never leave the title screen. Not to say the soundtrack is bad, it's just not a Final Fantasy soundtrack. It is a movie soundtrack. The music is repetitive, and understated, not really conveying the emotion that Uematsu did in every game he scored. There is not a single discernible character theme, and the background music just shifts between 4 or 5 themes depending on which area you enter. Gone are the days of Theme of Love (FFIV) or Forever Rachel (FFVI). Nothing chilled me like Sephiroth's theme Those Chosen by the Planet (FFVII). The ominous feelings of what you are doing as you climbed sacred Mount Gagazet in People of the North Pole (FFX) are not there. The soundtrack is only exciting during the airship battles and does not belong in a Final Fantasy game.
It seems like a good idea at first, discover the secret that will take down an empire,' the box says. We opened up in the middle of a war, we see a marriage, and then the king and his son both killed. The sense of foreboding and evil of this empire are planted. Then the game actually starts. We become this nobody street urchin Vaan who wants to be a sky pirate, and who's brother was killed in the war with this empire. The trouble is, you forget why Vaan is the main character after about 10 minutes of playing. You are eventually paired up with a blond girl in a unitard, Penelo. She is Vaan's friend and that's about it. Eventually when the story starts moving slightly and you're trying to rob some castle, you meet up with Balthier and Fran. Balthier is the only person in the entire story that is at all interesting and has any personality. He has a pretty good sense of justice and seeks excitement, but is not really connected to the story in any discernible way. Fran is just his sidekick, and other than telling us when there is Mist' around, which I guess is like FFX's pyreflies or FFVII's lifestream, she really does nothing and adds nothing to the story. Our last two characters are Basch and Ashe. Basch is a fallen knight who you believe to have killed the king and his son, and Ashe was the princess wed to the son. These are the only 2 people in your entire party that seem to have any sort of vested interest in the story of the game, and they do very little to make you remember that.
One thing to remember about this story is that it is not a character-driven story like so many Final Fantasies of the past. This story is about the politics of 2 empires and the small kingdom of Dalmasca that is caught in between it all. To make a comparison, it's like FFVI up until you wipe out vector and put Kefka in jail, except there is no Kefka villain until the very end, and you have no Terra, Locke, Celes, Edgar, Sabin, or Cyan to make getting there interesting. The story also revolves around this substance called Nethecite and some dark gods that put it on earth, and it kind of reminds me of Magicite but it's not explained nearly as well. The game plays out as you go from place to place with random cutscenes of what is going on behind the closed doors of the Archadian Empire.
Finally, the story is incredibly linear. You decide to go to a place, you go there, and then you get told you're going somewhere else. It is not as linear as FFX, since it allows for exploration and doesn't force you along a certain path, but it does because if you are not supposed to be somewhere yet, you walk into an area and the monsters immediately slaughter your party. The only real sidequest/minigame is monster hunting and it's rewards are paltry compared to going out of your way to deal with monsters that are optional.
There is so much different about this game than any FF I've played in the past. I understand it's like an MMORPG, but without the MMO part. The battle system is innovative, yet not. It is nice to see your enemies before you start fighting them, and you can avoid the ones you know are too powerful. That being said, stay the hell away from elementals. They can decimate your part in a matter of turns, and though they are normally docile if you do anything they don't like in their vicinity, they turn into death machines, when all you did was cast cure on yourself.
The gambit system streamlines combat and gets rid of having to push X all the time. This may seem good and makes leveling up a breeze, but it goes a bit over the top because I was able to beat the final boss without a single controller input thanks to my gambit setups. I like actually playing my games and utilizing real time strategy, but this combat system makes that near impossible to do without gambits.
Then you have your special moves, quickenings. They are like limit breaks or overdrives, but instead of having to fill a bar, you can do super-moves anytime you want, but at the expense of your entire MP bar. It makes them rather useless against bosses unless you can kill them straight off or stock lots of ethers, because then you are sitting with no healing abilities besides potions. You can summon Espers after a point in the game, but these are the most useless summons I have ever seen. You have to sit and wait for them to do a move that is worthwhile, and most of the time they mange to get themselves killed before they have a chance to use it. They are so much weaker when you can use them than they were to fight and acquire them, when you battle them they tend to easily decimate your party and are some of the most frustrating fights I ever partook in.
Finally we have the license grid, money system, and level up systems. Leveling up is a nice touch, I missed it in FFX, but here it makes its triumphant return. My only complaint is that it takes way too long. The money system is innovative, but frustrating as well. You don't get gil from defeating enemies, but loot instead. You sell this loot like animal pelts, etc to get gil. It is more realistic, but frustrating, as sometimes enemies do not drop anything, and other times they drop worthless things. The shops are also ridiculously overpriced which adds to the money system frustrations.
Finally we get to the license board. It allows you to customize your characters, but does so through a lengthy process. Say you buy a cool new spell or sword. You can't equip this sword or cast the spell until you have activated the square on the bard for that item. Enemies only give out 1-2 AP for the license board each, so getting to use a cool weapon takes forever, not to mention that you can't afford it to begin with. Finally the license board causes this game to fall into the category of too much customization. You can make every character exactly the same if you want. I had 2 meat tanks, 2 black mages, and 2 white mages, but I could just change who that is by switching their gambits from person to person. It is sad when everyone ends up the exact same and there is no reason to play one character over another.
This is not an average, because a 10 in graphics doe not mean anything nowadays, we expect a 10 from a game like this. I play final fantasy for the story, not the graphics. It feels like Square put so much time into making the game pretty they forgot about what makes it Final Fantasy. They added so much frustration into a game that need not be there, and strayed from the great stories that made them the pinnacle of RPG in my opinion. Anybody can have a bad guy, but you need to hate him and care about your good guys to really get into a story. This game had a forgettable cast, boring plot, and an anti-climactic and predictable ending. There was less character development in these 6 main characters than you had in 14 for FFVI. There were no powerful scenes like the wedding in FFX, the opera in FFVI, or Cloud finding himself in FFVII. There was no love story like Tidus/Yuna, no character turnaround like Golbez on the moon. I can replay IV, VI, VII, X and X-2 endlessly because of their stories and how they touch me. When this game ended, I turned it off and never picked it up again. I found it boring, and though I love FF and square, I feel like they really dropped the ball here.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 06/27/07
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