Review by IrenicApollyon

" If you speak and read Japanese, buy this game now."

Squaresoft made a huge gamble back in the NES era by creating Final Fantasy. What they were hoping for was a game that could save their company. What gamers got was a game which single-handedly changed RPGs and -- dare I say it? -- video games forever. Now, almost twenty years after the original Final Fantasy captured gamers' hearts in Japan, Square-Enix has released the twelfth installment in the series earlier this year. Blending spectacular visuals with some of the best voice acting you'll ever hear, Square-Enix has succeeded in creating one of the most engrossing console role-playing games to date.

With the history of Final Fantasy, it doesn't have to be said that Final Fantasy XII is going to have one of the most enthralling plots out there. Square-Enix definitely does deliver, this time bringing a much more mature theme with a tale full of intrigue and drama. The fantastic script and the overall presentation make this game play more like a fully-interactive film than ever attained in a video game before.

Final Fantasy XII starts off happy. Lord Rasler and Princess Ashe have just married and the beautiful city of Dalmasca is seeing an age of peace and calm that seems neverending. The happiness is soon lost and the action begins when Dalmasca is invaded by their neighboring nation, Archadia. In one of the most gorgeous intros I've ever seen in a video game, Dalmasca fights a losing battle and Lord Rasler is killed on the field by a bowman. A dark veil enshrouds Dalmasca, and the continent of Ivalice, in chaos.

The gamer plays as Vaan, an orphan living in the streets of an Archadian-occupied Dalmasca. Vaan dreams of buying an airship and becoming a sky pirate, where he can reign over the skies and be free of Archadian oppression. Though his dream seems unreachable, a door to his goal opens when he discovers rumours of a secret treasure hidden deep within the Dalmascan palace. Unknown to him, as he steals the treasure there are other parties witin the castle unseen by the palace guards, and when he leaves the castle he is immediately caught in the middle of an all-out brawl between Archadian guards and a rebel faction. Unwillingly, Vaan is dragged into an increasingly violent political conflict.

The entire tale is told in fantastic film fashion, placing a good mix of cutscenes and FMVs to keep the story going while not bogging the player down with too much talking. The cutscenes are so well done, and graciously sparingly placed, that when they come up they are a real treat. Square-Enix has gotten very good with cutscenes, the cutscenes in Final Fantasy XII boast some fantastic animation and, to my surprise, excellent facial expression. None of the strange vibrations you saw in Final Fantasy X. You'll see in one of the very first cutscenes what I mean when a Dalmascan soldier is stabbed by his superior. The look of surprise on his face. Good stuff.

Graphically the game does not disappoint. It's clear to see from the very first moment you see the in-game engine at work that they are really pushing the Playstation 2's processor. Character textures are fantastic, though I did have some gripes with Vaan's abs, and animation is spot-on. The cities are amazing. They are absolutely immense and filled with life, with people walking around and having conversations. Dalmasca is one helluva large kingdom, needing eight different screens to travel from one end to the other.

Final Fantasy XII also succeeds in the audio department, truly outdoing themselves once again with this one. First of all, the music. Though definitely no Final Fantasy VIII, the music is absolutely fitting for whatever the situation calls for. The music that plays in the city of Dalmasca is perfect and during cutscenes the volume rises and falls as the action picks up and slows down. The voice acting in Final Fantasy XII, however, is where the audio really shines. The Japanese vocal casting is so fittingly excellent. Vaan's personality just comes to life with this fantastic vocal track, really making the game that much more real. I hope that when they localize it for its US release the localization team can equal what Square-Enix has done with their Japanese voice track. I'm always tentative to say "perfect" so I'll just say that the audio in Final Fantasy XII is the closest to perfect as you'll find yet.

Some of you may be surprised with the direction the development team has taken with the battle system in FFXII. Unlike previous Final Fantasy titles where a random battle causes the screen to switch to a battle sequence and you take turns battling, the fighting takes place on the field. This eliminates random battles entirely as you'll be able to see what monsters are coming from a good distance away. Combining this kind of on-field battling with the ATB system (you can't perform actions unless your ATB gauge is filled), some of you may find this rather disappointing. Later on, though, when you can take advantage of the "Gambit" battle system, you'll come to appreciate just how intuitive this new battle system is. The Gambit system is similar to if-and-then sequences that some of you may be familiar with. Basically, it goes as such: if *this happens*, then *this happens*. You fill in the blanks with cards that you can buy at stores. With this, you can automatically set members of your party to perform actions when certain conditions are filled, such as performing "barrier" as soon as a battle begins, or using potions when a party member's life is below 50%. Something else that may surprise you is the money system. In FFXII, earning gil isn't going to be as easy as in previous installments in the series. Monsters only drop items or nothing at all. This means if you're out of cash you can't just go outside and beat monsters up for gil, but rather you'll have to work or search around in treasure chests for it. Though this is more realistic (I mean, I wouldn't think monsters carry money around), it definitely makes buying new weapons and armor harder. Since monsters don't drop weapons and armor anymore, making your uber character is a much longer and time-consuming process. This may or may not be a good thing, depending on how much time you have, but it doesn't really take too much away from the game. Boss battles don't rely as much on brute strength as it does on the new Gambit system so strategy fans rejoice.

If you like long games, expect to spend a good 40+ hours on this title. And, except for the hours you'll probably put aside for leveling up, all of it will drip of fantastic production. Final Fantasy XII does have a few flaws, though they are easily overcome (and many of them disappear) given enough time. The new battle system seems like a terrible decision, but with the new Gambit system you'll come to appreciate it more and more. Final Fantasy XII is fantastic graphically, the audio is exactly as it should be for a game of this caliber, and the excellent story and lovably honest protagonist should endear this game to fans and newcomers alike. If you speak and read Japanese, buy this game now. Otherwise, wait until this October and get the title in English. Let's just pray that they can deliver the vocal talent to match the Japanese track. A-plus man.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 05/21/06

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