Review by CyberEarth

"Woefully Lacking - Rent First"

Alright, here it is in a nutshell:
Rent first, THEN buy.

I'll preface my categories by saying this: Had this game been any other title but Final Fantasy, I think it would have been perceived differently. Had it been called Legend of Old Kingdoms, people would have liked it, people would have hated it, but nowhere near the polarization that has been experienced because of it's name. I think a lot of reviewers end up being biased because of the name (either for or against). I've seen highly scored ratings that seem unjustified, and lowly scored ones just as trite. But as with any review, you should take what is written as a guideline, and pull what nuggets appeal to you. If after reading a few reviews, you can't find any nuggets that are appealing, maybe the game isn't for you, even if people score it a perfect 100%.

This game is REVOLUTIONARY for a console game. But alas, I don't give points for that, and I extend my comparisons outside the console and into it's proper genre - the MMO. My comparisons draw from the best of both worlds - the story and graphical elementals of a finely-tuned console game, and the battle elements and lush environments of an MMO. FFXII is trying to be the best of both worlds, and I feel it suffers because of it.

Here's my breakdown.

Graphics 8/10
The graphics are pretty much tried and true FF style since FF VII. Fantasy elemental with technological flare. A lot of the characters are gorgeous to look at, and some of them aren't. You'll most likely be annoyed at the main character's box-like appearance of muscles (especially around the abs/chest), and his weird looking face (strange dark spots under his eyes). When I first saw his face, it made me think of Michael Jackson. You will, however, see expressions on face as they speak, finely detailed musculature of the mouth/eyes/cheeks working in concert. Unfortunately, there's just not much emotion to the story.

The anime feel is gone. If you enjoyed that in other FF games (I-VII, X), you will be disappointed. This feels more like FFVIII. While there are bright, vibrant colors in areas, and magic/effects are nicely colored, the characters and enemies often seem drab and plain.

The environments are lavish, but individual textures can get grainy up close. Not only that, some textures look like a 4-year old drew them (a lot of the mossy textures are like that). The FMVs are, as always, top-notch.

One problem I did have was that armor didn't change the appearance of your character. Their weapons would change, but the characters always LOOKED the same. If I get a fiery armor of dragon wrath, I want to SEE a fiery armor of dragon wrath. Another problem I had was the relative plainness of the weapons. Even the "ultimate" or best weapons had a rather plain looking facade. The Zodiac Spear for instance, looked simply like a metal pole with a pointy end. Attack animations seem lackluster, too. Each character possessing only 2-3 animations per weapon class (while there are many weapon classes, each class only has very limited weapons available). So if you were to envision a character only using one weapon, you might not see an upgrade for quite a while (unless using swords, there's 20 in-game). In a real-time game, I expect multiple types and styles of fighting. Use different techniques, rather than just overhead slash, overhead slash, overhead slash. That's fine in turn-based RPGs, but this is supposed to be revolutionary.

Story 3/10
The story (many describe it as boring) relates to political intrigue rather than inter-personal relationships. Rather than an overarching nemesis, the plot takes you through the motivations of countries and individuals of power. If this if your thing, you might dig it. If not, you'll find it bland.

Expect next to zero character development. If you hear something mentioned about character motivations, expect it to be forgotten shortly. Vaan, the main character has a strong motivation to become a sky pirate and steal from his oppressors. After mentioning sky pirate and airships a few times, this is quickly forgotten. And looting from his oppressors soon becomes forgotten, too. Penelo... seems to have absolutely no purpose. She seems to make an occasional comment from time to time that has little bearing other than to make Penelo converse with other characters.

Music/Sound 6/10
The music is easily forgettable. In fact, in the 100+ hours I spend doing the side quests and playing the game through, I can't recall a single piece of music in my head (save for the title theme). I can still recall music from other FF games though (battle, world music, cave music, town music, ect). The sound effects were decent, but didn't mesh well with the music and environment. In a turn-based game, you expect to hear sounds that make you think you're playing a game. You push a button, BAM! You hear the swooping sword, or clanging metal. In a real-time game, I expect to hear sounds to immerse me in the environment. The sound effects didn't do that. Just a constant reminder you're playing a game, and because you aren't in direct control of your allies (they'll act according to your orders), it's a constant reminder.

As for the voice acting... it's a mixed bag. A lot of the characters sound like they are whispering loudly (there's an under toning hiss in their voices), especially the main character. Their accents don't mesh with each other, but I suppose that can be explained by the regionally diverse characters. Why then do the OTHER characters found in the same region sound differently as well? It's a minor point, granted, and easily overlooked. Many movies share the same fate of the accents. The whispering, however, will get on your nerves.

Gameplay 6/10
The gameplay is substantially different than any other FF game. Not only can you see enemies far away on the map, you can avoid them entirely if you so choose. The game-play is entirely real-time now. A lot of people claim it's "turn-based" without the turns, but this is in fact, false. Sure, your character might take exactly 2.0 seconds to swing, and your enemy might take 2.3 seconds, and if given a battle diagram, it breaks down into turns, but where this theory fails is the time required to use items, reposition, cast magic, human delay, ect. Real-time actions to have real-time consequences that you can't always recover from. If you've played any MMO, you'll be familiar with the battle system. So... where's the innovation that's to be expected with an FF game? If you've played an MMO, you'll probably find the gameplay here boring. There's no team to talk with, just yourself. I find this "defining" feature of FFXII a bit overused and stale as I've played a few MMO's extensively. To those new to the genre, it will be a refreshing change from traditional turn-based systems. Quirky and different, but refreshing.

Attacks are timed based on weapon. You can speed it up slightly by increasing your SPD stat (although barely noticeable) or by acquiring licenses (up to ~30% increase). Magic/skill attacks are charged then released on the same system. Charging time depends on magic level, with generally the upper-echelon spells requiring more casting time. Items are instant, but have an action-cooldown after usage. The problem I have lies within the system itself: the game favors melee attacks as magic and skill-based attacks usually play an animation that hinders their effectiveness over time.

MP (magic points) will regenerate as you move around, attack enemies, and suffer damage. In combat, this generally means you should take control of your healing character or magic damage character. You can force movement and not lose any attacking time to regen up magic, whereas the AI will generally remain somewhat static and regenerate little. Another blow to the effectiveness of magic. You can also move while charging a spell, but once the spell animation beings, you'll be immobilized until it finishes. The AI will simply stand still during the charge time as well.

Expect to keep 2 of your party members controlled by the AI nearly 90% of the game (you can set up the AI to be EXTREMELY specific though). The environment is decently open-ended with some minor restrictions due to plot. The problem is, the environment is literally an environment. Expect to explore around A LOT. If you get lost easily, this will frustrate you as enemies tend to respawn. There is no auto-run feature, so you end up holding your analog stick in the UP position a lot. Especially due to the nature of the user-programmed AI, you can literally hold UP on the analog stick and walk around (using camera rotates) and progress. If you so desired, you can even program all 3 of your characters with AI and simply move around while they fight.

Bosses don't seem like a challenge. Often-times, you'll fight a boss out of nowhere, seemingly. Bosses are often disjointed from the story, and are simply there to provoke a fight for the fight's sake. For instance, the very first boss you fight in the game (the flaming horse) seems to just come from nowhere, and return to nowhere without much of an explanation other than "oh, he haunts this place". Your mission in that example wasn't to fight the boss, but to merely escape. You "magically" bump into him right near the exit. What's worse is there's no real mention of him (I think an obscure NPC that you aren't required to converse with mentions something haunting the zone), and you're NOT EVEN IN A FIRE INFESTED AREA.

Much of the gameplay involves find object A, bring object A to place B, explore around, fight a boss, speak to an elder, go to location C, repeat. It's typical RPG-like scenarios. To compare: FFX had location plot points, this one generally has object plot points. I found the location oriented plot points more fluid, as it gave an overall feeling of a journey. This feels more like a grind and errand run.

Most enemies drop zero cash. Your primary source of income will be stealing and/or chaining (defeating one enemy to the exclusion of others in sequence). Chaining can be difficult, especially for enemies that have a low spawn rate and killing an enemy of a different species resets your chain. This is another major factor in that grinding feeling while playing.

Minigames are basically non-existent here. If you enjoyed those in past FF games, you'll be disappointed. What IS available are hunting missions. Unless you use a guide, you'll spend A LOT of hours simply searching for the "minibosses" to fight. You'll have to find exactly where they spawn (in that massive environment I mentioned) as well as the conditions under which they spawn (some only spawn if you kill x amount of creature y, or only if the moon is blue and in the house of Aries). If you don't come prepared, or aren't quick on your toes in adapting strategy, expect to die and realign your strategy (read: automation processes via the AI system). For instance, if you take up a hunt to kill a miniboss that affects your party with doom (you might not know this ahead of time), you'll have to fight and either re-align your AI to compensate for the ability while fighting (you can do this via menus, but it could be too late mid-fight to save your attempt), or die/run away and re-try him after adjusting. Many of the fights in the game are like this. Many of the hunts have you back-track to previously cleared areas (remember they are MASSIVE areas).

The characters are FULLY customizable. Aside from their individual animations from "limit-break" like abilities, each character can fulfill any role you want. Unfortunately, as a side effect to this, the characters pretty much share the same stats. This essentially means that they are clone troopers of each other with different models. To me, it's a mixed blessing, but I miss having defined characters.

Replay 1/10
There's really nothing to replay in this game. Once you've beaten it and finished the Hunting mini-game, it's over. Ya, you can replay the game using different characters, but in reality, they're pretty much clone troopers. You fully customize each character, so a mage-type in one game could be your warrior-type in another, but when you look at the overall picture, you still have a warrior type and a mage type. The other thing hindering the replay-ability is the grinding feel you go through as you play. If it weren't for the droning feeling of plodding along for scant amounts of storyline, it might be worth playing again to catch conversations (like the previously mentioned obscure NPC) that you may have missed.

Overall 4.9
Some people might find this review harsh, but it's the truth of the game as seen from my eyes. I didn't find anything about it particularly astounding (as previous iterations of Final Fantasy games have left me) or ground-breaking. The customizable AI was it's best feature, yet it almost ruins the game. The AI feature presents itself as a blessing in disguise, as playing without it is nearly impossible, yet playing with it automates so much of the gameplay, you feel disjointed from the universe.

It's a decent game. I had a medium amount of fun playing it. I even stopped playing half-way through, and ended up finishing it a month down the line. I have never stopped playing an FF game mid-way through like that. I won't play it again, and it only comes moderately recommended. There are other games available (and continuing to emerge) on the PS2 that I'd recommend over this one, even to a die-hard RPG fan. I DON'T recommend this if you've played an MMO before, or are playing one now. The story and character elements are too weak to even suggest spending your time on it instead of an actual MMO. FFXII tries to be two things at once, and ends up being mediocre at both.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 04/30/07

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