"Does Final Fantasy XII mark the new direction in which Final Fantasy is heading? Or is it merely a stick in the sand?"

There was a lot of hope for Final Fantasy XII. This is mostly because with the exception of Final Fantasy X, the Final Fantasy series has overall been a failure this generation. FFX-2, FFTA and FF:CC are absolute jokes compared to the rest of the series. Needless to say, Final Fantasy XII ended up being a very good game despite being quite different from other Final Fantasy games. Seeing as how Final Fantasy XII was released at the very end of the PS2, it's more than likely going to be an “under the radar” type of game like Final Fantasy IX. But perhaps that isn't such a bad thing.

Final Fantasy XII doesn't really have a true defining main character like say FFVII or FFVIII. However, I really can't say it's an ensemble cast like Final Fantasy XII. The character you start off with is the most girly looking guy to date – Vaan. When walking around in towns and whatnot, Vaan is the character you have to control. In dungeons and in fields that's another story. Vaan is an orphan along with his friend Penelo who is like a sister to him. Both of these characters are kinda pointless but Vaan serves as the “eyes” for the whole story involving Ashe and the rest of the characters. Ashe is a princess who has lost everything and is now part of a resistance faction. You see, Ashe's homeland Dalmasca, was taken over by the ruthless Archadian Empire. There's also Balthier and Fran who are sky pirates looking for treasure. The last character is Basche, who is the older more wise character who needs to reclaim his honor. This group will embark on a quest and meet friends and foes along the way. The storyline to Final Fantasy XII is quite different from the rest of the series. Final Fantasy XII has a more realistic, political tone to it. Although when there are bunny girls and giant dragons, being realistic may not be the best term. But the storyline is quite political. Really, I liked this new type of storyline. It was fresh and it had it's benefits. For starters, there is no romance in this game. This shouldn't be a problem because Final Fantasy usually does romance quite badly. However, there is a downside to both the storyline and characters. The story is quite hollow, there often isn't much plot movement. This isn't to say I despised the story but it really started off with a bang and there wasn't another bang until the very end of the game. The story was slow at times and looking back, there really wasn't a very big sense of urgency that you get in other Final Fantasy games. So I suppose this reiterates my previous sentiment on how different the story is. Some people may prefer the storyline being so intricate and arguably convoluted. Personally, I would have liked to see a deeper story. Unfortunately, another thing that bugged me were the shallow characters. There was development in each of them except for Penelo because Penelo sucks and nobody likes Penelo. Still, there was not a whole lo of character interaction. I guess I'll compare it to the other PS2 FF, FFX. FFX had a lot of character interaction and while it was pretty ridiculous at times, it was still there. I can't say I felt like there was enough character drive in this game. I would have liked to learn a lot more about these characters. A lot was told about Ashe and that's about it. I was slightly disappointed.

Now onto the major aspect of Final Fantasy XII – the game play. I guess I'll start off with the most controversial aspect, the whole gambit system. It would be best to note that the battle system isn't turn based like traditional RPGs. Rather, it's similar to KOTOR and FFXI. You have control of one of the six characters and the other characters need to have gambits set up so you can control them. At a time, there is only 3 characters (with sometimes the occasional guest) in play but if your first team of 3 were to be wiped out, then you can simply switch to your reserve team. This is awesome; it allows the whole party a chance to fight before a Game Over. But gambits have two aspects to them. The first is the target and the second is the action. You have to actually purchase gambits but the target can be anything from the enemy with the lowest HP to the ally whose HP is under 30%. This allows for intricate customization of your characters. The last part is of course the action which is basically an spell or item you are able to use. So some possible gambit combinations could be the target being Ally with 30% HP or less and the action could be cure magic. Or the target could be Self: Blind and the action could be Esuna. Easy how that works. Actually, I never got too involved with the gambit system in my play through of this game. I of course had the basics but being the control freak I am, I usually just preferred manually taking control of the character. The gambit system is a very good system though to control the computer. My only complaint is that you have to buy the gambits. That just seems kind of dumb.

Now onto the license grid. The license system is overall a failure. Basically, the license grid is a watered-down sphere grid from Final Fantasy X. In Final Fantasy X every character had their own portion of the sphere grid and even at the end of the game the characters were all different. The license grid is the exact same for every character. While it is true you can make your characters go different ways, that ultimately doesn't matter at the end because about halfway though the game the characters are all pretty much the same with the exception of the weapons. Like with the sphere grid, you have to earn license points in battle in addition to experience points and then use it to unlock certain panels. These panels can give you stat augmentation, let you learn spells like Cure and fire and give you the ability to add more gambits. There is also a rather stupid side to this too. You see, you also have license the equipment you buy. Let's say you buy a nice powerful sword and a sturdy piece of armor from the shop. You can't actually equip them until you have the proper license for them. This was just stupid and I don't understand the logic process behind doing this.

Remember Bahamut, Shiva and Ifrit? Gone. Instead there is a whole new batch of summons in this game. At first I hated this but then I was fine with it. There is nothing wrong with trying something fresh just as long as these don't become the regular summons in future FF games. Summons (Or rater, espers) are actually pretty worthless in this game. When you summon an esper, it's just the summoner and the esper. The espers die quickly and their ultimate attacks usually aren't that impressive (the exception being the final esper). One thing that is impressive though is quickenings. Quicenings are like the limit breaks of this game and there is up to 3 that each character can get. Doing a quickening takes all the MP but when you use them, you go to another screen where you have to shuffle and quickly activate the other character's quickenings via by pressing the correct button. If you do a correct combination of level 1,2 and 3 quickenings, you will ale to release a devastating attack that does incredible damage. Quickenings are kind of the cheap way out of a boss battle but since this game is difficult, it becomes necessary at times.

This is quite possibly the most graphically impressive game I've played. Of course, I'd expect no less from Square. The graphics and the world in general are truly impressive. The soundtrack to this game is still good despite not being composed by Nobuo Uematsu. Still, it really isn't as legendary as Nobuo's music. It was disappointing but the soundtrack was still good with some good themes like “Esper Battle” and “Desperate Fight.” Let's not forget the legendary remix of “Clash on the Big Bridge” either. This game is also probably the most difficult Final Fantasy I've played. I can see many people getting frustrated with this game to be perfectly honest. Still, it's far from impossible and I still beat it without getting stuck in one place for too long. Part of the difficulty could be blamed on the fact that this game is unfamiliar with the rest of the FF series. But a game with some good difficulty is always welcome, especially for a series that is usually easy.

Storyline/Characters: 7/10
Game Play: 7/10
Graphics: 10/10
Soundtrack: 8/10
Difficulty: 9/10

Overall: 41/50 = 82% = 8

There is a lot to with this game. For example, there are many hunts you can do. These were kind of fun and always had good rewards too. The world of Ivalice is huge but fortunately there was teleport crystals scattered all throughout the world. Doing most of the hunts and the main storyline, I clocked over 70 hours on this gamer. That's a lot and there is still more hunts and sidequests to do beyond that. Overall, I can't say this is close to the best Final Fantasy because there was a lot of flaws and disappointments. Still, it's a great game and I'd recommend it to other Final Fantasy fans. This game is very different but change isn't always bad.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 11/27/06, Updated 11/30/06

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