Review by WADark

Reviewed: 06/07/07

A wholly shameful experience that destroys Final Fantasy's core beauty

As a huge fan of Final Fantasy, I was greatly anticipating this release. Final Fantasy X was such an amazing experience, and while XI was a bit disappointing, my anxiety carried over to XII. While the game was fun and interesting at the beginning, an utterly broken game play system makes this game a pain just to play.

1. Audio (6/10)

The sound effects in this game are pretty good. However, there is something…off about the voices. The voice acting itself is great. Characters voices sound pretty much like you would expect them to. The problem I found is that there is an odd, fuzzy quality about the voice tracks. It’s hard to explain really, but there is something about the audio quality when the characters are speaking that is rather annoying.

2. Graphics (10/10)

Graphics are the shining gem of Final Fantasy XII. Simply put, this game looks absolutely beautiful. The CG sequences are expertly done and make this game quite possibly the greatest looking game on the Play Station 2. Even in non-CG sections of the game, the amount of detail put into every thing is incredible. Every character is perfectly detailed while the environments are absolutely stunning.

3. Game play (1/10)

To be honest, it was tough to even give the game play of Final Fantasy XII that one point. There is simply so much broken about this game that I find it difficult to even pick up a controller. Maybe they could’ve spent less time on the graphics and more on making a game that actually plays well.

First of all, they did away with the random encounters and separate battle scenes a la Final Fantasy XI. While this works in a situation where you only control one character, trying to control three fundamentally breaks the battle system in XII. There is simply too much control required in the game to make the battle system work. In boss battles where there is a lot of damage being dealt and status effects thrown around often, you need to be able to control all three characters. There are two ways of doing this. A) Put the game on wait mode so it pauses whenever you’re in a menu and manually control each character; this method is agonizingly slow. B) Use the gambit system, which is broken in and of itself.

The gambit system is the answer to having to manually control each character in a real-time situation. It allows you to set conditions and reactions for each character. For instance, you can set a certain character to cast Cure if any party member’s health falls below a certain percentage. While a decent theory on paper, it breaks down in practice. First of all, you have a maximum of about ten or so gambit slots, most of which you have to purchase off the license board (a whole other story) before they are available. This becomes a problem when you try and have one character do all your healing. You simply don’t have enough gambit slots to set up all the healing and status-curing gambits you need, thus forcing you to manually control characters anyway. Also, the system is too cut and dry to be effective. You can have it set up for a character to cast cure if any party member falls below, say, 20% health. But what if your healer is running low on MP? Sure you could say “If MP<20% use Ether” but early on, Ethers are hard to come by. Charging is a technick that helps to recover MP but it either restores MP if it hits or reduces MP to 0 if it misses. Basically, the gambit system is an attempt at allowing the player to create an AI, but only on the dumbest of levels, which serves to annoy more than help.

The license board is another flaw. It simply gives the player a little too much freedom when it comes to character progression. It forces a player to think very analytically about balancing your armor, magick, and stat increases. It forces a player to think more than I, personally, want to about the technical side of the game.
The character progression, as well, needs some major work. Acquiring new weapons and armor is tedious at best. Since you must first save up license points to “learn” to wear that item, then you have to save up money to buy the item itself, this leads to constant, long “grinding” sessions where you’ll simply run in circles for hours acquiring LP and Loot (enemies no longer drop money, they drop trash items that you must return to a vendor and sell to make money).

Balance is another glaring problem with XII. Some boss battles are mind-numbingly easy, while others are infuriatingly difficult. This is made even more frustrating by an odd inconsistent Quickening system. Characters can unlock Quickenings on their license board and then use them like the Overdrive from X or the Limit Breaks from VII. The problem here is that they draw from your MP to use. The inconsistency in boss battles makes this game a constant exercise in trial and error. For example, you may reach a boss and use a Quickening chain to one shot him. This, basically, lulls you into a sense of security. Then, when you reach the next boss and use your Quickening, the special ability may do damage equal to less than half of the boss’s HP, even if you did an identical Quickening chain. Now, since Quickenings deplete MP, you’re stuck with an overpowered boss and no MP with which to heal or cast spells. Game Over.

4. Story (8/10)

The story, though it is a bit of a departure from Final Fantasy tradition, is still intriguing and interesting (too bad its lost in the awful gameplay).

First, you will notice that many familiar elements to the Final Fantasy franchise are gone. Gone is the gruff, southern-accented Cid, replaced by not one, but two characters bearing his name, only one of which seems even remotely similar, but that’s a heck of a stretch. Gone also are some of the most beloved summons. Bahamut, Shiva, Ifrit, and many others have had their names attached to airships, while the summons, now called Espers, have an entirely new set of names.

Another obvious change in the story type is that the world is one that is much more technologically advanced than before. Whereas in previous games an airship was a rare sight, this game contains hundreds ranging in size from small, personal fighters, to large capital ships. And on board these ships you may run into laser grids that will sound alarms and many other technological advancements that have rarely, if ever, been seen in a Final Fantasy game before.

Also departing a bit from tradition is the theme of the story. Basically, it’s a much more political story this time around. Usually, Final Fantasy games find an entire land besieged by some super powerful monster or person (Sephiroth, Sin, etc.) who basically forces their way through obstacles. XII pits you against an enemy that is much more cunning, sneaky, and underhanded. This time around, the story is full of a lot more betrayal and backstabbing (sometimes literally) than ever before.

However, even though XII departs from many beloved traditions of the Final Fantasy series, the story and world are still very interesting and intriguing. Hey, at least they brought back chocobos.

5. Replay Value (4/10)

The term replay value assumes of course that you have the patience to get through the game the first time. However, if you do and want to see more, this game keeps with the Final Fantasy tradition of a great amount of side quests. Unfortunately, you better buy the strategy guide because many of the side quests are hard to find and greatly time sensitive in that they can only done during a specific time in the story, and those times can be quite limited.

Most of the side quests do little for character advancement in any way. Mostly, they are simply another means by which to get money and items. And, being rather boring, most of the side quests won’t hold your attention very long. The Hunts are an especially tedious task That require you to accept a “bounty hunt” from bulletin boards in various inns throughout the world, travel to the person who posted the bounty, find and kill their “mark,” then return for your reward. While it’s a fun concept, Square Enix made the brilliant decision to locate the bulletin boards, “quest givers,” and marks in seemingly random and spread out places, making each mark an exercise in travel. And even when you get to the monster, they are, just like bosses, either so simple you feel ashamed of beating on such a defenseless creature, or so difficult you get mad enough to hurl your controller at a passing train.

Basically, the horrid game play keeps you from even completing the main story without some serious effort, and thus keeps you away from the majority of side quests since they don’t begin until the latter stages of the game.

6. Overall (3/10)

Though I normally average the various scores I give each section to attain my final score, the average here came about to be about 6, which is frankly more than I am willing to give this game. The visuals are great, the story is great, the audio is (mostly) great, but none of these things can make up for a broken game play. I feel ashamed of myself because I pride myself on putting a game’s story before all else. Typically, I can overlook even some of the most glaring game play flaws in order to enjoy a great story (the Shenmue series for example), but no matter how hard I try, its just too much of a chore picking up the controller and playing Final Fantasy XII. A thoroughly broken battle system, a lame attempt to allow players to “program” the AI themselves, and a leveling system that altogether gives more freedom than I want; all of these come together to make XII one of the most shameful iteration of the series. In an attempt to create something new to bring to the table, Square Enix essentially destroyed everything that made Final Fantasy great for going on two decades. And that’s something that no graphics advancement or story can fix. Here’s to hoping Final Fantasy XIII will fix things…but I’m not holding my breath.

Rent or buy?

Definitely rent this game first, you may enjoy it, you may not. However, its worth the 5 bucks just to be sure you don’t waste 50 on a game that you’ll hate.

Rating:   1.5 - Bad

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