Review by Rainbow Despair

"Innovation does not necessarily equal fun"

After numerous delays and staff changes, Final Fantasy XII has been released. Final Fantasy XII is an innovative game, make no mistake about that. Unfortunately, it is also a prime example of how innovation does not necessarily equal fun.

Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way. Given Square's previous track record, it should come as no surprise to know that the production values for FFXII are exceptional. Although I'm not a big fan of the game's more realistic visual style (very similar to FFXI), preferring the more colorful cel-shaded approach seen in such games as Dragon Quest VIII and Rogue Galaxy, even I have to admit that FFXII has some of the best graphics of any PS2 game to date. The movie sequences, while not quite measuring up to Square's visual masterpiece, Final Fantasy: Advent Children, are still most impressive. The game's title screen features a beautiful medley of some of the most memorable songs from the series; unfortunately, the in-game music isn't quite up to this high standard. Nevertheless the music manages to provide an acceptable background to the player's quest.

Like many of the games in the series, FFXII features a world that is a mix between the old and the new. On the ground, heavily armored knights engage in hand to hand combat while above their heads fly massive futuristic airships. Despite the illogicality involved (why use swords when you've got death rays?), the setting is interesting. The actual plot involves a conquered kingdom and a deposed princess trying to reclaim her people. It's entertaining enough, although it doesn't quite reach the excellence of some of the other political intrigue RPGs out there (most noticeably the best of the Suikoden games).

If you like your RPGs long and involved, FFXII will not disappoint. Not only is the main quest of a respectable length, but the game also features a wealth of optional quests. Trying to find all of the hidden spells, obtain all of the summons, defeat all of the wanted monsters, and destroy all of the optional bosses will provide even the most seasoned of gamers with many hours of additional gameplay.

If you played the demo of FFXII that came with DQ8, you already know that the game has done away with random encounters. Instead, exploration and combat all take place using the same system. What this means in practical terms is that you could run up and start fighting a monster and have some nearby enemies join in the fight midway. It also means that the game has very reasonable loading times despite its visual excellence since there is no switching back and forth between exploration and combat screens every ten seconds.

However, if your only exposure to FFXII is the demo, you may not know about the gambit system. The gambit system is really just a fancy way of saying AI system. Rather than having the player select generic attitudes towards combat like aggressive or defensive, FFXII actually lets the player program his own character AI. The game will check through the various lines of code until it finds one that's appropriate. For example, an AI set-up used early in the game might look like this: #1 - Character with HP<50% = Cast Cure. #2 - Enemy = Attack. This would have the character automatically attack any nearby enemy unless one of your characters is down to under half of his Max HP in which case they would cast Cure on that character. The system starts out by limiting players to only 2 lines of code and a few possible triggers, but by the end of the game, a single character could easily have around a dozen lines of code and a wealth of possible options.

The problem with the Gambit system is that it's a wonderful system in the wrong sort of game. In an Action/RPG, it would be incredible as you could actually have allies that would do what you wanted them to instead of sitting around or wasting your items and MP whenever they felt like it. In the meantime, you would be busy having fun dodging attacks and otherwise tearing up everything that came into your path. Unfortunately, in a turn based RPG like FFXII, the system doesn't work as well. Since manually entering in commands for your characters is so clunky in this game (not helped by the fact that as soon as one character gains an ability, that ability shows up on everyone's menu regardless of whether or not they can actually use it), the player basically has two options: either they can set up good AI and just watch the computer fight their battles for them or they can try to manually control their characters and have battles take forever to finish. Both options are sleep inducing.

The real sad thing is that the problems with combat could have easily been avoided by simply giving the player the option to either customize their menus or being able to set various moves to different hot keys. Unfortunately, such options are not available and so the player is merely left with choosing which brand of boredom they'd like - the non interactive variety or the slow and clunky variety.

Character progress in the game relies on the license board. Basically, you've got a chessboard grid and you purchase spaces on this chessboard with LP that you gain from fighting monsters. Only squares that are adjacent to squares that the character has already purchased can be purchased. Each square offers its own advantages and abilities like being able to cast basic White Magic, equip certain types of swords, or reducing the cost of magic by 10%. The system itself is a good idea, but unfortunately it's poorly implemented. There is little to no difference between the amount of LP that various monsters give with the result that the game actually rewards you for killing easy enemies. Also, in order to take advantage of 85% of the squares on the board, you need to actually purchase the relevant equipment or ability from a store. This often leads to frustrating situations like where your character has enough LP to purchase Black Magic LVs 1-8 on the license grid and yet the stores that you have access to only sell the first 2-3 levels of Black Magic. Couple this with the fact that gaining LVs doesn't increase your stats much and the fact that monsters no longer drop gold and so if you want to make any money, you need to spend time in each battle stealing (reminiscent of Drawing spells in FFVIII although at least this time there's an AI system to make it less time consuming) and improving your characters becomes a painfully slow progress.

FFXII has many unique and original aspects that with a bit of fine-tuning could result in some truly exceptional games in the future. Unfortunately, as it is now, FFXII is a game that you either love or hate. If a slow pace and combat that feels more like a high school Computer Science class than traditional turn-based RPG combat don't bother you, then be sure to buy this game when it comes out. Everyone else should either stay far away or rent it beforehand to see if it's up your alley.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 05/03/06

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