Review by ryliru

"Another Worthy Entry in the Final Fantasy Series"

Upon hearing that Final Fantasy Twelve was going to implement an entirely new battle system I was immediately taken aback. No more random encounters? How could a game call itself Final Fantasy and leave out one of the major characteristics, for better or worse, that had stayed consistent throughout its existence? After playing the game, though, it became equally apparent that change was good, and the outcome was better than I could ever have imagined.

Final Fantasy Twelve follows the same high quality as its predecessors in the areas of enemy intelligence and side quests. Where it blazes through a new path is the battle system. No longer will your characters stand in neat lines, waiting their turns and politely attacking one at a time. With the realistic edge of the modernized fighting arrangement, a seemingly interminable yet entertaining list of side quests, enemies that now, more than ever, appear to think for themselves, “Hunts” to gain money and license points, and a mysterious way of “levelling up” called the License Board, Final Fantasy Twelve exemplifies what a great game should be.

So, you understand by now that random encounters are gone, but what then has usurped the position? Imagine a much more believable approach to battle where enemies literally wander their habitats, where they stay in herds or fend for themselves, and in some cases attack each other. Upon sighting of an enemy and gaining a close proximity, the game switches effortlessly into battle mode. Regular exploration through dangerous terrain uses the same screen as that of battle, the only difference is the appearance of the ATB gauge and drawing of weapons. Enemies are classified into two fields. The first are innocuous opponents that will not attack unless provoked, and the other consists of aggressive enemies that will devour on sight. After the fight has been initiated it comes time for the activation of commands. By pressing “x”, a menu appears very similar to the previous Final Fantasy games. (Note that it can be set whether or not the battle freezes or continues when the command menu is called.) Once your choice is input an orange ATB gauge begins to fill. Once full, the deed is executed. Unlike random encounters it is very possible that you and the enemy will attack at the same time. Also, there is a chance that everyone in your party will complete their commands at once. This allows for both quicker gameplay and more lifelike battle. Another surprise comes from the fact that monsters no longer drop gold, for the most part at least. This comes from finding loot on the opponents and selling that for currency.

Melee weapons in Final Fantasy twelve haven't changed much. Each has its own abilities and statistics, and some are imbued with added powers. Each weapon draws its damage from a certain character skill. Swords, for example, deal with strength, while more mage oriented weapons may deal damage conducive to magic skill. Axes and hammers are a new addition. These weapons have the capability to deal massive damage, but at the same time may deliver next to none. They embody the "luck of the draw" magics used in other FF games. Ranged weapons as well have been reinvented. Bows, crossbows, bombs, and guns can be equipped within the game. They are usually used against flying creatures in light of their increased accuracy, though guns seem to lack the needed power later in the story.

Items that are familiar with the series are still around. Potions still restore health, phoenix downs can revive the dead, and antidotes sap out the poison. Magics will return as well. Black powers like fire and ice return, ultima seems to be absent and replaced by an extremely devastating attack titled Scathe, and white magics follow suite. Something new does arrive with the Arcane class of magic. Final Fantasy games have dealt with magic very differently over the years. Final Fantasy VII used MP where VIII treated magic more like items; each player had a stock that he/she could replenish as they saw fit. XII remains with the use of MP, but it is twisted around a bit by the “limit break” of Final Fantasy Twelve. Quickenings.

Quickenings are fairly powerful attacks that each member of the party can learn. A lone character can learn a maximum of three quickenings from the License Board, explained in the next paragraph, and use them during battle. There are three levels of quickenings. Level one requires a full MP bar to use. Once a level two quickening has been learned the character's MP is doubled. A line is then drawn to separate the bar into halves. A full bar is needed to use the level two quickening, a half to cast the level one. Finally, after level three is acquired, the caster gains yet another bar added to their MP gauge. Therefore, to cast level three the bar must be full, to cast level two he/she must have two thirds, and so on. The system of casting the attacks works something like this. The quickening is initiated by a player and the screen shifts to a cosmic looking realm. On the bottom right hand corner of the screen there lies the names of the players in the current party that have available quickening attacks. If any are highlighted, meaning they have enough MP to cast them, you must press the appropriate button to begin that particular attack. If none are highlighted R2 must be pressed to shuffle the names. After doing this a character might get the opportunity to “Mist Charge”. After pushing that button that player's MP will be fully recovered and is able to cast their quickenings. This can be used for another purpose as well. If you would rather have a character leave the quickening with a full MP bar, simply deny to use the quickening attack for that character and his charged gauge will remain full after the attack. The system isn't as confusing as it sounds, and is an enjoyable substitute for limit breaks.

Experience, I'm afraid, is no more. The license board is filled with with squares and resembles a checker board. The board resembles Final Fantasy X's level gaining system somewhat. By defeating enemies license points are awarded to all participating characters. Most opponents give one license point, but some rarer enemies drop considerably more. These points can then be used to unlock squares on the board. Each square teaches the player a different skill. Whether it be magic, techniques, skill bonuses, or the ability to equip new armor/accessories/weapons, the license board requires a pre-determined plan. Also, be warned that a player will not learn a skill just by unlocking it. They must both learn it AND purchase it or obtain it from somewhere else. Any character can, from the start of the game, go in any direction they want. If you prefer your players to all use greatswords and heavy armor, you can go right ahead. If you want magic and staves, have a good time. This inundation of free roam and choice gives this Final Fantasy a new and needed breath of fresh air.

Summons are back. Thirteen Espers, the term for the summoned beasts, lie within the world of Ivalice. By defeating them in battle their squares open up on the license board. By spending points to unlock them, any character can acquire the ability to summon them into battle. One segment of the MP bar must be full in order to use these allies. Once that has been accomplished, they fight along side the summoner. Any other party members momentarily vanish from the field. A very interesting note is that the summoner can use his/her magics to heal or augment their creature. The Esper stays in battle until one of three outcomes is completed. They run out of health, their time runs dry, or they perform their final attack. Each Esper has a different final power, and each one is triggered by a different set of standards that must be completed. For example, one Esper requires the summoner to be in stone status to cast its finishing move. The Espers are a great way to quicken some battles, and also make up a good deal of the side quests in Final Fantasy XII.

To say that there are more than a few side quests in Final Fantasy XII would be a grievous understatement. From difficult optional bosses, extremely challenging and elaborate mazes of puzzles and enemies, to obtainable Espers, the side quests are abundant. Everywhere you go in the game, it is advisable to speak to everyone in the hopes that they will divulge a hint to a quest or similar side mission. And let's not forget the hunts! Remember how most of the last console Final Fantasy had a way of passing time? Card games, a Golden Saucer, Blitzball? This particular Final Fantasy takes a more violent approach. By becoming a member of the Hunting Club of the first city in the game, you get the ability to hunt terror inflicting monsters around the world. By searching down petitioners and accepting their plights, you can take down the enemies that have threatened their existence. This is a great way to get powerful items and money, especially in a game where money is so hard to come by. Not to mention that it's just a great time waster and a fair deal of fun.

In a Final Fantasy game, let alone any game now that we have such high ability for presentation, graphics should be up to par and far past. It doesn't matter whether you're traversing the open field, searching towns, or watching the games plethora of in game cutscenes, there will be nothing to disappoint you here.

The open field is perhaps the most important part of the graphical nature of a Final Fantasy with a battle system that takes place on the same screen. There are so many great scenes in this game. There are dry and arid plains that change drastically during the wet season, snow covered mountains, and deserts that run into veritable seas of sand. Weather effects are masterfully created and blend in perfectly with the environments they are meant to represent. Also, they appear randomly, which aids the life resembling attitude of much of the game. Realism never hoped to look so good. Towns are just as well designed. They sprawl in every which direction and have countless vistas that overlook sections of the cities that are very regularly eye catching. It's just a pleasure to explore a city when you don't have to keep thinking how poorly designed it is.

Cutscenes. Perfect. That's really all there is. The only problem that comes around is that the games graphics are just so good that it is hard at times to differentiate from the actual game and the cutscenes. Still, they both look so wonderful you'll find yourself putting the controller down and just enjoying the movie that's playing out in front of you.

A trend has arisen in Final Fantasy games to have effeminate, spiky blonde haired main characters. Alas, the path continues. Vaan is a thief street urchin that desires only to become a sky pirate, but he keeps up his annoying personality far too long and I found myself losing interest in using him as a character in battle. A little ways into the game you have the option of playing with any set of characters you want. Don't like him? Her? Don't use them if you don't want to. Still, it's becoming tiresome to have the same main characters... especially when they are as frustrating as this one. In spite of that, the other players are really well designed and are a pleasure to have in a party together.

Final Fantasy XII's story is much more politically driven than previous games. There really isn't much of a main character romantic plot, and quite frankly that's okay with me. The major conflicts of the story revolve around power hungry nations and age old rivalries. As it seems the case in many instances of life, each side believes that their actions are for the cause of good. The politically driven plot is inundated with so many twists and turns you won't be surprised to find your jaw dropping with the epic conclusion. Just what you'd expect, in quality if not characteristics.

The replay value is phenomenally large. Not only are there just too many side quests to mention, but there is a dearth of boring parts in the story. With such a well constructed game, especially one with such a sizeable past behind it, there isn't much of a need to worry about never picking the disc up again. There will be a time shortly after your completion that you want to see what's happening with your old friends again. There is so much to keep you occupied, and so much to truly enjoy, that you won't ever regret paying the price tag to take this amazing game home with you. Go and get it. It's worth it.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 12/26/06

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