Review by Osafune2
"A good game, but would've worked better outside the FF franchise."
A revised review, I felt I didn't outline the points that, on retrospect, really annoy me and 9/10 is far too generous.
Completely changing the tried and tested formula of a classic gaming icon is always a risky business, especially with the massive hype and expectation that surrounds the release of every Final Fantasy game. It's like arming Mario with a Grenade Launcher and several rounds; potentially cool but largely unthinkable. I normally stick by the motto of If it ain't broke, don't fix it but it is important to remember that in the case of Final Fantasy XII, they weren't trying to fix anything, they were merely experimenting and trying something new. You cannot deny that Square-Enix's flagship series needed some refreshing, we can't have the random, turn-based battles forever can we? If no one ever experimented, we'd be stuck with generic first-person shooters, oh wait, we are if you own an Xbox 360.
Final Fantasy XII takes place in the world of Ivalice, previously seen in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, though I am not sure whether it is the exact same world. It does feature the same species and races so I think we can assume that it is some variation on the FFTA world. At the start of the game you are subject to an absolutely spectacular FMV sequence detailing the marriage of Princess Ashe and Prince Rasler and the battle between two Kingdoms. Prince Rasler has to go to war to defend his people and is slain in battle, leaving Princess Ashe to grieve and eventually take her own life, you then take control at Nalbina fortress where a young recruit named Recks goes into battle alongside his renowned Captain Basch Fon Ronsenburg, however, it would seem that Basch suddenly betrays King Raminas of Dalmasca and kills him, which leads to the eventual surrender of Dalmasca and the rise of the Archadian Empire.
You play as Vaan, a young street orphan, which is a slight cliché I know, he goes to the Royal palace to steal something of great worth whereupon he is captured and he gets involved in with two Sky pirates, Balthier; a well spoken, James Bond-esque character and Fran, a Viera warrior. As Vaan makes his escape he eventually meets the believed-to-be-dead Captain Basch and a woman named Amalia with an uncanny resemblance to the deceased Princess Ashe. That is a basic start to the story, of which I do not wish to spoil further. It is, an at times confusing, political drama at first, but it eventually does change as you'd expect with a Final Fantasy game. The story is reasonable, but in my opinion, it isn't as good as past stories, also, the characters don't have the same appeal and I didn't share the same bond with them as I did in say, Final Fantasy VII.
As mentioned previously, the game mechanics have changed drastically. The first thing you notice is that there are no fixed view points which is nice, you have a fully rotate-able camera which you can zoom in and out, this really helps in exploration as in past games, particularly with the pre-rendered environments, it could get difficult to spot treasure chests as well as exits, there are no such problems in this game. The most controversial change is the battle system, instead of random battles and turn based combat, the enemies roam the landscape and there is a seamless transition into battle where the characters merely draw their weapons. The exclusion of random battles is a real blessing for exploration as battles are easy to avoid if injured. You still choose commands from menus however; it works a little like a cross between Knights of the Old Republic on Xbox and Chrono Trigger on the SNES. You select Attack and your party leader will attack over and over until you choose another command, this means that the other party members are controlled by AI. This does not sound appealing at all, but that is why there are Gambits.
Gambits are effectively orders that you can give to other party members and set a priority for them, for example, you can have other characters heal any ally with less than 50% HP or attack the enemies that are ganging up on the weakest party member etc, this is a useful system and is crucial in surviving the games tougher battles. You also prioritise them, and it is fundamental to have the healing Gambits at the top. You can purchase different Gambit targets and effects at shops or find them in chests throughout the game.
The problem with this system is that it doesn't really feel like Final Fantasy, it feels too much like an offline MMORPG, but it is fairly enjoyable. As useful as Gambits are, they simply do not compare to having full control over all your characters, this system worked fine for FFIX as other humans controlled your fellow party members, but it doesn't work quite well and I would rather have full control. I think the old ATB and turn-based systems were so much better.
Now you know about the brand new battle system, what of the character development side of things? While there is still the standard levelling up, there is also the License Board, which is similar to Final Fantasy X's sphere grid. Basically, in order to use certain items, weapons and equipment or Magicks, you have to buy them on the License Board using License Points or LP, obtained along with experience points when enemies are defeated. The northern part of the board focuses on magic and other related abilities and the southern board focuses on combat with Licenses for various pieces of equipment available. This is fantastic and negates the over powering that can occur in previous games, also, you can have different characters specialise with different weapons or have a bit of everything as it were. Also available on the License Board are Quickenings, which are super attacks, used in battle by your characters, and Espers, which can only be licensed by one character after you have defeated the Esper in combat. Espers by the way are summons for the uninitiated and they act like they did in FFX, becoming an active part of the party, though they are completely controlled by AI.
The gameplay does score reasonably well, and some people will absolutely love it and I must take that into account. When I played older FF games after this, I was overwhelmed with how much more I enjoyed the gameplay mechanics of those games. I think the MMO system shouldn't be implemented into offline games and it is too much of a change, this game would've been better did it not have the Final Fantasy tag; it would've worked better as a different game altogether.
Graphically this game is more than competent, especially with the FMV sequences. Though of course, FMV is not restricted by the PS2 hardware, merely stored on the disc but they are still amazing and you can really see the experience that SE learned when making Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. Many of the animations in the FMV sequences look motion captured and I would say they are on par with some animated movies. The opening sequence is simply breath taking, airships swirl around overhead as a battle rages in the city and you can see a multitude of soldiers all battling each other, easily the best FMV in Final Fantasy to date. The in game graphics seem to sacrifice polygon count when compared to Final Fantasy X, I actually think the character models were much better in FFX and FFX-2. The textures are allegedly much smoother, but it has been a while since I played FFX so I cannot really pass judgement. This isn't to say the graphics are bad, not at all; they are simply excellent for the PS2. The characters are meticulously animated, as are the NPCs, there has been a lot of care invested in making the world seem as real as possible. The city of Rabanastre really seems alive, a bit like Mos Eisley space port from Star Wars with the strange species of Bangaa and Seeq roaming the streets, top marks for design and creativeness.
Sound and music is another subject of controversy with FFXII, because, shock horror, Nobuo Uematsu isn't scoring the game. Instead, Hitoshi Sakimoto, of Vagrant Story fame, takes the helm. He does do a good job, the songs are good and they definitely work and you cannot find much to fault with his score. But the fact remains that it simply isn't as memorable as Nobuo Uematsu, of whom I am a massive fan. There aren't really the classics in this game that really stick out when you play it and make you stop and think Damn this is cool! There were many moments with Uematsu, I remember gasping with awe when I first fought Trance Kuja in FFIX, absolutely stunning music to that battle, and there are many others. It would be wrong of me to deduct marks for the score because it isn't Nobuo Uematsu, as Sakimoto did a top job, just not in the same league in my humble opinion.
As for sound effects, well, they are my least favourite things to review as what can you say really? I mean, they are all good and do the job, they sound like they are supposed to, but when do you ever play a game and go Damn that sword swing sounds awesome! With the exception of the Dwarf's Axe in Golden Axe, which is the greatest video game sound effect ever, by the way.
Replay value? Well, there is a whole lot to do, you have a clan similar to FFTA and you can choose Hunts or Marks from inns and taverns and then go and hunt down the beast for a reward, there are many of these to do and they are all fun. Also, I really doubt you are going to get everything on your first play though unless you use a walkthrough, and can you really rest and leave a Final Fantasy game that you have squeezed 100% out of? I could, with this game to be honest.
Final Fantasy XII is undoubtedly a good game, though not without several flaws. The storyline is a political drama and not personal enough, there isn't enough about the characters and I simply couldn't get attached to them, there are no Aeris moments as it were, I simply couldn't care if any of the characters were killed. In old games the characters were fantastic and I really cared for them, in this FF, while good, the quality isn't up to scratch. The gameplay, while reasonably well executed, is not for me and in my opinion, does not suit FF. However, many detractors of the old FF games will absolutely love the new system, there is nothing wrong with the character development aspect, but the battle system is a bit of a let down and would be better suited to an online game.
Replay Value 8/10
Final Score 7/10
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 08/19/07, Updated 08/24/07
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