Review by LetumUniversal
A new Final Fantasy, a new slew of disappointments.
Final Fantasy XII.
It has been five years since the last "main" title in this series, which came as a disappointment to many (Final Fantasy X). So what exactly has come of all the wait? Nothing much more than another mediocre RPG.
It seems the majority of the time has been spent on the new battle system, which is the first addition I will tackle. At first it may seem alienating to most fans of the series. It plays much like .hack, wherein you control a party leader, and your other two party members go off and do stuff on their own. You can control their actions through a set of Gambits - or predetermined actions (for example, if an enemy is flying you may choose to hit it with Firaga). I was frustrated a few times throughout the game when characters did not act as I wanted them to (because obviously there's no gambit to make characters stop casting protective magic over and over until they're out of MP if there are no enemies nearby). Being the control freak that I am, this bothered me a bit, but overall the system was a refreshing change. Battles are a little faster paced, being able to storm through a dungeon taking out enemies without loading battle after battle.
In this new system lies the question - does it make the series easier or harder? Well, a bit of both. Early on you have the option of attacking much higher creatures, which many will inevitably attempt, and die for it. Many will soon find out what I'm talking about when they happen across the infamous Werewolves of Giza Plains. It is true that I saw many more Game Over screens at the beginning of this game than past RPGs. But strangely, it is the beginning of this game that is the most difficult. The actual boss encounters are among the many things I feel are unfinished in this game. In the first half, there are many unique and challenging encounters that seem like they were taken straight out of an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, such as Final Fantasy XII, which this game's combat system was modeled after). Most of these however, such as a large dragon who casts an effect that puts all status ailments on your party, along with an attack spell which is amplified if you do not cure these ailments, are only found relatively early on. Later bosses include enemies which have too few HP and special abilities and are just attack and heal affairs. Instead of needing a special strategy to defeat later bosses, you'll be able to go make a sandwich while you have some characters set up with attack gambits while others with healing ones.
Another part of this game which seems to take a page from the .hack book is the random treasure coffers. If you enter an area, there may or may not be certain treasure, and there may or may not be a useful item. For example, If you defeat an optional boss in the middle of the game, a secret area is revealed where you may enter to receive ... a potion. You may also receive a powerful sword, but you do not know this, because the treasure is randomized. It is like this all throughout the game, you may receive a powerful item or you may receive 4 gil. Also, all treasure respawns so you may effectively "farm" a powerful sword, getting one for all of your characters (which doesn't help the fact that they are all basically copies of one another). Call me old school, but this new system is not fun. I would much prefer the old static treasure chests set in static locations in their respective dungeons, with static treasure, which cannot be repeatedly obtained.
As in all Final Fantasies, there is a system in which your characters gain their unique powers. The License Board is this game's rendition of the Sphere Grid, although it seems the latter system was more thought through and refined. Like the sphere grid, you gain points and go along picking up extra HP and spells. Unlike the sphere grid, everyone starts in the same place, and it fills up much faster, quickly turning all characters into perfect carbon copies of one another. By the end of the game, you will have all augments (added physical power, less MP consumption), and all the spells and equipment you'll need. Yes, you need points to "buy" the weapons and armor you've already purchased. At first like many I thought this was a bad idea, but it really doesn't matter as you'll quickly have enough points to pick up any piece of equipment you come across. It is pointless to turn one character into a "white mage" who equips staves and casts cure spells, when you can just as easily take cure spells with all characters and equip heavy armor and giant two handed swords. In no time all your characters will be dealing massive physical damage along with casting the same spells as their team mates.
Speaking of spells, the MMORPG combat style makes many spells that are staples of the series much more powerful. It is easy to set up gambits to make your characters cast spells that double physical attack effectiveness, double magick power, double their max hit points, double their physical defense, and double their magick defense. And this is very possible as you'll be gaining MP as you strike and take damage. This possibly adds to the "easy mode" this game seems to enter midway through.
Tecknicks in this game are mostly, for lack of a better word, useless. They include a bunch of random unneeded abilities that you'll never see yourself actually using besides Steal, Charge, and possibly Telekenesis (it allows you to hit flying creatures with your physical attacks, but you can only obtain it at the very end of the game.
The finally, and maybe most important part of the board, are Quickenings. These are uber abilities that, once a player learns of their existence, allows them to inflict enormous amounts of damage on anything, at the expense of all of their MP. These abilities in my opinion are a little strange as they are on the edges of the board, however they are most powerful early on. Once I bought a few and saw how powerful they were, I raced to get them all, although as the license board (among most things) seems to have been thrown together quickly, meant that I had to get licenses for things like Genji Armor and magick/weapons that I wouldn't ever see until the end of the game. It is worth it however, as these abilties can take out half of a bosses' health, and are all but required for one or two of them.
Another part of this game that was taken from its MMORPG side, are the rare mobs. Mob itself is a MMORPG term which derives from mobile object. A rare mob is a rare, special, enemy. Still with me? So, the problem with incorporating these into a console game lies in the fact that they are much shorter than an online game. An online gamer may spend 1000 hours over a few months improving their character in a game that has no ending, while I don't think anyone has ever played a Final Fantasy for that long (hey, all my Final Fantasy VI runs may add up, who knows). So whereas it may worth my time spending 4 hours trying to get new armor online, spending 4 hours trying to do the same in a console game is pointless. I could have spent that time progressing the game to the point where I could buy that item in a store. I "camped" a rare mob in this game for an hour or so killing it a few times and it never dropped the Demon Mail that it could have. I have run into 8 or 9 of the 80 total rare mobs, and none of them ever gave me a rare item. When nearly all of these items are purchasable by the end of the game, this whole system falls flat on its face.
As far as graphics and sound goes, it just doesn't seem up to par for the next Final Fantasy title. The graphics are improved, yes, however, there has been a major upgrade in this category among all past Final Fantasies. Here, however, that is not the case. In a game of this caliber, you can take a still frame of just about any point in the game, and it will look absolutely amazing. However Final Fantasy XII, which plays like one endless dungeon crawls, shares the same bland dungeon design as many of these types of games. Many areas do not look all that unique or graphically stunning. There are moments in Final Fantasy X that look just as good or perhaps even better than moments in Final Fantasy XI and this is just unacceptable. The music, although pleasant, is not memorable in the least. This is, yet again, an area that seems rushed and not up to the caliber you would expect.
Technically speaking, the game's battle system is fun, however I'm left wondering if all other aspects of the game suffered because of it. A newly renovated battle system does not an amazing role playing game make. So now I will analyze the characterization and story of the game, which I personally feel is the most important part of these types of games.
As you play the game, there is one thing you'll notice about the story - it's not really there. The game drags along from one dungeon crawl to the next, as you unlock tiny snippets of a predictable story. There is nothing memorable in the beginning (or the middle, or really the end) that grabs your attention like you've come to expect from this series. The main character is like many recent main characters, he's young, brash, and says things that he really shouldn't say. Penelo is the nearly as annoying but at the same time somewhat lovable companion to Vaan, who has no relevance to the story and seems to just kinda come along out of boredom. The sky pirate Balthier is perhaps one of the more interesting characters, but un-charmingly arrogant and witty. Fran is his mysterious companion (who is the only non-human playable character, which raises the question, in a world based upon having a diverse racial population, why do five humans and one viera save the world?) to Balthier. Ashe is your typical "strong woman" character whose emotions get the better of her and struggles with making fairly straightforward decisions throughout the game. Finally Bashe is the tough soldier who has a vendetta with the Empire. The story (slowly) revolves around bringing down the empire, and that's about it. There aren't many plot twists, or super powerful demi-gods bent on the destruction of Ivalice. This is if you don't count the Occurian, who are the gods of the land, and although are the ones controlling the action in the game, suspiciously disappear at the end. It is essentially, a paint-by-number Final Fantasy story. It's hard not to describe it without spoiling the story, but there isn't much of a story to spoil. You are the resistance, you rise up to defeat the empire, and then the game ends. It is basically Final Fantasy VI if it stopped after you jailed Kefka. This is once again, something that feels rushed and completely unpolished.
Yes, it looks good; yes, it plays well. But the game fails to impress. Even if the battle system was a risk, the game yet feels too safe. It is also riddled with a myriad of content which just seems like it was thrown together in the final months of production. All I can do is hope that within five years, when the next Final Fantasy title drops, I will not once again be faced with mediocrity.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
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