Review by CeidwadyrArfau

"The 'Marmite' of RPGs-divides opinion like nothing else! (except Marmite, of course, d'oh)"

The 'Marmite' of RPGs-divides opinion like nothing else! (except Marmite, of course, d'oh)

As I settled down to the opening hours of FFXII (having bought it on the very date of its UK release, naturally) I was full of optimism for what looked to be another fine game in the series which had defined my teenage years.

The opening FMV scene, as usual, set the tone perfectly-the depiction of a parade through the colourful streets of the City of Rabanastre, celebrating a royal wedding, being in stark contrast to the dark portrayal of the death of the young prince in battle, the suicide of the princess and the subsequent surrender to the empire to the east.

This was followed by the traditional tutorial which gives newcomers to the genre an idea of how everything works. Of course, as a veteran of several previous FF games, surely there was nothing I could learn from this, right? Well no, actually. FFXII takes everything you thought you knew about the Final Fantasy series, and turns it on its head.

Gone are the days of looking at your surroundings from a fixed angle-thanks to the long-overdue implementation of an adjustable camera, you can now practically step into the world of Ivalice and gaze at the wonders of its beauty from nearly any angle or height. Peer up at the night sky over Nalbina Fortress or down at the beautiful paving stones in Rabanastre, the choice is yours. And with the game's breathtaking graphics which take the series to whole new level in terms of detail, with small nuances such as a moogle NPC scratching its nose or an Imperial Soldier turning his head to keep a beady eye on his watch being the norm, as well as some stunning backgrounds and terrain, you will likely spend a lot of time just sitting back and admiring the view.

This new feature certainly takes some getting used to, however, so you will invariably find yourself confused when you first play the game. Fortunately, the game deals with this issue well by retaining the minimap from FFX and FFX-2, and the adjustable camera is most certainly a positive rather than a negative, once you acclimatise to it.

The next thing that is completely revolutionised from previous titles in the series is the combat system. Rather than randomly engaging enemies that apparently appear as if from nowhere as in the past, what you are now faced with is a fully seamless field/battle screen where you are free to engage (and avoid!) enemies under your own power. Again, just as with the adjustable camera, this has its pros and cons, and takes time to get used to. The main pro is that what you see is what you get, so you can avoid fighting more dangerous foes, assuming you stay out of their way. Additionally, some foes will keep to themselves in this manner, and won't attack you. Unless, that is, you give them a reason to. And different foes react to different things-some to sight, others to the working of your spells, and others still to a character's status.

One downside to this system is that you may only fully control one character at a time-the other members of your entourage fulfil your wishes through a combination of direct and indirect commands. Most of the time, you'll need to rely on indirect commands. Square introduces the Gambit system to help you do just this. Gambits work in the manner of condition-based formulas with a 'Yes' or 'No' answer. For example, you may wish to have Vaan use both his physical attack and Cure magick without having to give him a seperate command each time. By being able to set up to 12 individual commands and being able to prioritise them, the Gambit system gives you a reasonable level of control over what your party members do. Unfortunately, due to the bizzare, rather unnecessary prerequisite of 'buying' Gambits, you will find yourself frustrated at being unable, for example, to tell Vaan to cast Fire on an enemy weak against Fire until late in the game. The restriction of your gambitry is one of a number of small flaws in FFXII's gameplay that ultimately stop it from being as fulfilling as it should.

The game's system of learning abilities is reformed as per usual, with the end product being the Licence Board. This works somewhat like the Sphere Grid from FFX-do some fighting, earn some points, spend them on new abilities. In principle, it's a good idea. In practice, Square have managed to make it fundamentally flawed. One major problem is that the Licence Board is far too small for even an average grinder, meaning all your characters will ultimately be the same featureless drones by the end of the game, unless you purposely hold back on spending your excess points. And it's not like this would have been a particularly difficult flaw to solve-the board could either have been made larger by adding more licences, or the existing licences could have been made more expensive.

The other major issue is that it's so horrendously open to abuse due to the game's method of awarding LP. No distinction is made, in LP terms, between killing a Lv 1 Cactite in the Dalmasca Estersand and killing a Lv 50 Chimera Brain in the Pharos Lighthouse-each will yield 1 LP per kill. Ask yourself which method is faster if you want to obtain LP quickly-it's a no-brainer really. The same is true for nearly all the game's enemies-a handful will yield 2 LP while bosses yield more-but it's still an utterly broken system.

Those issues aside, however, the gameplay is generally a joy to behold. The actual battles are just about as fun as it gets, introducing special attacks called Quickenings in place of the Limit Breaks, Overdrives and Desperation Attacks of previous titles. The really cool part about this aspect is that you can chain together your party's Quickenings for unreal damage. Chaining enough of them will get bonus attacks called Concurrences which are just the icing on the cake. Although you won't get to use them when you first start the game, they are well worth the wait and can finish off even the most stubborn bosses.

Also, status conoisseurs will be pleased to hear that there are a whole host of new status effects, both positive and negative, to wield on your party or against foes. And, for once, your foes (even bosses) will NOT automatically be immune to every single on of them. Hooray. This means that even those who generally shun status magic may wish to give them a try here. The bad news is that enemies use statuses a lot too, which can really make even normal battles a challenge.

Speaking of the level of difficulty, well, there's another aspect that's clearly been targeted towards veterans of the series. Even normal foes are quite capable of tearing your characters to ribbons if you give them the chance. This can be very frustrating for beginners and even for experienced gamers can mean having to do some levelling up from time to time to stay ahead of the game, which can mean straying from the main plot-another minor irritation. However, those disappointed by the difficulty levels of FFX and FFX-2 will not be disappointed here. There are some very challenging bosses, and if that's not enough, the game's main sidequest, mark hunting, will more than account for even the most hardcore of grinders, and it has enough depth to add at least another 50-60 hours to your game time.

The game's sound output is another entirely different proposition to FF games of yore. Nobuo Uematsu's style of simple, catchy tunes is replaced by the more epic style of Hitoshi Sakimoto. Some of the tunes are thrillers-unfortunately, most are fillers. Whilst the soundtrack is hardly terrible, the new style doesn't capture the imagination like the old classics, and many will no doubt find this aspect of FFXII to be a weakness. Fortunately, the music is complemented by an excellent cast of voice actors. All the main characters have distinct and interesting voices and the acting is of the highest quality, rarely failing to hit the spot.

So, I hear you ask, what about the plot and characters? Well, in this regard, FFXII totally divides opinion, because as with a lot of other stuff in the game, it is very, very different from its predecessors. Those expecting a 'save the world' type scenario, huge revelations, an epic plot and a tyrannous villain, with the story revolving around the main characters, will be rather disappointed. None of the above are present in FFXII. Several of the main characters are simply observers, including the main character Vaan. The plot mostly focuses instead on the actions of others, primarily the actions of the game's main villains, the Imperials.

The fact that there are very few earth-shattering events in the game means that the characters do not develop to the extent of those in previous games. Their outlooks by and large remain the same throughout the game, although the relationships between certain characters develop-however, in some cases, such as Penelo and Basch, there is little to no relationship at all.

Another thing to note is that there is much less dialogue in FFXII than in previous games, with the focus not being on character development, this does not impede the story too much, but what it does mean is that you will spend large chunks of the game simply wandering through dungeons or fields with large intervals between progression of the story.

The thing is, though, in terms of the plot, there are no real glaring omissions from FFXII that you could really point a finger at and say 'that's a weakness'. It simply comes down to personal preference. The game's ending leaves a few question marks over the fate of some characters, but just as many will like being able to speculate as will loathe not knowing for sure. All in all though, it ties up all the loose ends nicely and when you do eventually complete it, leaves you feeling satisfied.

To sum up, while it is just not the kind of game that will suck you in and keep you playing for days on end, it is an intriguing tale that will keep you coming back for more, albeit in bite-sized chunks of one dungeon at a time. Yes, for some (myself included), it will disappoint. However, for others, it will delight, and there can be no question that, a few small quibbles aside, what it does, it does very, very well.

My take-Graphics 10/10 Gameplay 8/10 Sound 7/10 Plot & Characters 7/10 Lifespan 9/10

Overall 8/10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 08/03/07

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