Review by ploder44444
A lot has been changed (for better and for worse)
Clock time: 96 hours 17 minutes
Game Status: Complete
Story 6/10 - ABOVE AVERAGE
FF XII is set in the world of Ivalice, pronounced ee-va-lis. There are three continents in the world, Ordalia, Valendia, and Kerwon. The plot focuses on the country of Dalmasca, which is inbetween two waring nations, Rozarria and Archadia. At the beginning the game the Arcadian empire take over poor little Dalamasca, the king is forced to surrender. However, before he can do so he is assassinated and the blame is put on own of his own knights, who is also blamed for the death of two other knights. The invasion by Archadia also interrupts the wedding of the Princess of Dalmasca and the Prince of a nearby nation. Later on in the game these events are explained to us in the context of higher powers being at work. There is more to it than this and I won't bore you as you can just go read the Wikipedia entry.
Now we come to the dialogue. The first thing you will notice is that someone at Square Enix has left their CAPS lock on as all the dialogue is in capitals! This may not seem like a big deal, but I found it more tiring to read text all in capitals and I found myself skipping it on the odd occasion. The next thing you will notice is that the dialogue is much more flowery and Lord of The Rings-ish than previous games. I have to say that it it didn't really do anything for me and made it a bit harder to understand the story in a wider context.
There are only 6 playable characters in this game (only 3 at a time can be used) whom you meet early on; the witty sky pirate Balthier, the impulsive wannabe sky pirate Vaan, the level headed Panelo, the stoic princess Ashe, the chiseled knight Bashe and the frigid-bunny eared-nature-worshipping feme of the forest Fran. I have to say that I didn't really warm to or feel any attachment to any of the characters. This is a major disappointment in a FF game for me. Maybe it was the lack of humour which has permeated earlier games that left me feeling cold or the much more subtle way of telling a story. The character development seems to have shifted from being egocentric (e.g soliloquy) to being viewed from the prism of political events. ie political events shape the characters and we are cast as the observers, being asked to question their motives but never really getting into their minds like with previous FF characters. That's not to say there is no character development though, it is just a lot more subtle and will inevitably disappoint fans of the earlier games.
As you can probably tell the story in FFXII is very political. This is a significant change from previous games which have had a much narrower premise of 'saving the world from unimaginable evil.' It is still here in FF XII, but it seems to have grown up a bit. Overall the story didn't grip or fill me with enthusiasm as previous FF games have done.
Graphics 8.5/10 - GREAT VERGING ON SUPERB
The first thing I notice is that this is the first decent PAL conversion of an FF game. Gone are those hideous black borders and slow down that we have had to put up with in Europe for so long. So for that I congratulate Square-Enix!
On first impressions FF XII's style seems like a mix between Star Wars and Vagrant Story which is no bad thing. As you would expect in an FF game the cut-scenes are fantastic, but I take that for granted in an FF game and it is the in-game rendering that is the most important aspect of the graphics for me. Unsurprisingly the
character/monster models in this game are very well done and are in the more realistically proportioned style seen in FF VIII. The locales also look great, although there are on occasion repetitive corridors. Another thing I noticed was that there are graphical changes to your characters for weapons and shields but not armour, which is a little disappointing.
The reason I didn't give this game above an 8.5 for graphics is that I have an aversion to aliasing (that shimmering effect around the edge of characters/environments that is symptomatic of the PS2's inability to perform anti-aliasing at the hardware level) This may not seem a big deal to some people, but I find it breaks the illusion of being immersed in another world if I can see straight lines pixellating and moving backwards and forwards like a set of stairs in an earthquake. Aliasing is extremely noticeable throughout the game, especially when the camera pans.
Sound 7/10 - GOOD
This is a tough area to judge as FFXII is a mixed bag in terms of sound. The sound effects of monsters is great. If a monster is a lot bigger than you they make a unnerving stomping sound that vibrates the ground! The sound of clanging weapons as you fight also sounds fantastic. The voice acting is also of much higher standard to previous FF games. However, where FFXII really falls down is the soundtrack. Apart from the crystal theme on the title screen there is not one memorable track that I will hum after I have turned off the game. I found this really disappointing as previous FF game soundtracks have been etched on my mind (10 years+ and I still hum FF VII's!)
Gameplay 8/10 - GREAT
Now we get down to the nitty gritty. For me FFXII felt more like a sequel to Vagrant story than an FF game. That is no bad thing as I loved that game. Random battles have finally gone and you get to walk around, see the monsters and choose whether to fight them. I would say that this marks the biggest change in an FF game. If you don't want to fight just hold hold R2 and scarper! You still have to wait for the action bar to fill up though so it isn't real time.
You will find that you need to adjust the camera a lot in this game since everything is rendered in ful 3D(right analogue stick) and this works reasonably well in most cases. However, you cannot invert the controls and there is a limited pan as you cannot have a zoomed out view that is also behind shoulder. This is hard to explain but when you zoom out the camera goes more above the characters head than letting you look into the distance. This can be annoying when trying to run away from enemies. Methinks it may be an attempt to mask a limited draw distance.
NPCs in this game are not given much spoken dialogue, which is a relief. You can't talk to everyone either, only those with little face emoticons above their heads. The the fact that the dialogue is written in capitals made it more painful for me to sit through conversations though.
Saving in this game is handled through save crystals. Blue ones restore HP/MP/status ailments and allow you to save. Orange ones do all that and allow you to teleport to previous orange crystals using teleport stones. This is a neat addition and saves a bit of time on backtracking. The airship makes a return, but far too late in the game imo to be useful. So your main modes of transport will be walking, orange save crystals and chocobos, which you can rent from towns from moogles. Chocobos allow you to not attract monster attention but are not so good because you have a timer before they disappear and get 3 boosts of running only.
I was really disappointed when I found out the the airship is uncontrollable yet again (as it has been since FFX) You just select where you want to go from a 2D world map and you are taken there immediately. That's no fun! I want to be able to fly on a 3D over-world map like in the FFs on the PS1 and SNES!
Although the areas are free roaming with no distinction between battles and journeying you are still essentially travelling between a series of inter-connecting screens divided by boundaries as in previous FFs. So you still have to wait for the next area to load. It's not as revolutionary as Soul Reaver for example, which loads the new areas as you play to provide an almost seamless experience. Another thing that bugged me was the walking in this game. You seem to be forever walking and backtracking. This can get on your nerves sometimes as you can't have access to a chocobo whenever you want so try to find orange save crystals for most of the game.
Another major change is that money is harder to come by. This is because monsters no longer drop gil. You can only make money by collecting their drops/stealing and selling the loot at a shop. Depending on which loot you sell new items will be synthesised in the bazaar for you to buy. Levelling up also appears to take a lot more effort and the game is on the whole a little bit more difficult than previous FF games (I would have preferred it to be harder though!)
In this game characters earn EXP as usual, but also one or two licence points per enemy. Licence points are used to unlock new magick,technicks(abilities not requiring MP),espers(summons) weapons, armour and accessories on a chess like licence board, only you still have to buy the actual ability in a shop as well as having the licence to use it. The licence board is the same for each character. The catch is that you can only unlock adjacent squares, so you only have an idea of what category of licence you are buying and not what it actually is unless one of your characters has previously unlocked it. This system won't be liked by those wanting characters to have a specific job as it will be inevitable that you will unlock licences you don't want in order to get to ones you do. Thus you end up having characters that are like 'blank slates' a-la FF VIII. I didn't like this at all as it further emphasises the poor quality of the character development.
There are many interesting weapons in this game from daggers, swords, short swords, great swords, axes & hammers, bows, poles, spears, guns, rods, maces, measures, katana swords and hand bombs. However, you never really need to use more than a couple per character and the nature of the licence board means that you will be in for a lot of grinding if you want to acquire the licence points to use them. Ultimate weapons are understated in this game. The developers seem to have had a perverse pleasure in making the best spear in the game almost impossible to acquire unless you are following an FAQ.
When targeting monsters/being targeted little lines will shoot out of you to indicate what is being targeted. Monster also have HP bars above their heads like an MMO as well as their stats that can be investigated if the 'Libra' command has being cast. This has the added benefit of showing any traps in the area. The game rewards you for repetitively killing the same enemies with better quality drops and eventually status buffs/healing.
As well as your magicks and technicks you have up to 3 quickenings per character, which are kind of like limit breaks but use up MP. These are acquired on the licence board like with everything else. Basically you just press the button displayed or if they are greyed out cycle using R2. Quickenings make your characters perform fantastic moves. It is non-interactive in the sense that they are psychadellic cutscenes like summons. Summons (espers) replace all but the summoner and follow you on the map battling enemies automatically. I didn't really feel the need to use espers or quickenings much in this game as your normal attacks are usually more effective in dealing damage in a shorter amount of time. The game also has a major flaw imo in that there appears to be a damage limit of 10,700. So that discourages you from trying to chain together quickenings.
Apart from the battle system there doesn't seem to be many innovations. You can now skip cutscenes and there is a large number of optional bosses which you can learn about by reading messages left on notice boards, but that's it really. Fighting optional bosses is fun, but having to walk so much to speak to the people who want you to kill them is very boring. It just feels like padding. There is only one minigame that I can remember playing (sprinting) so no chocobo racing or anything like that. The result is that this game lacks the FF sparkle that was appealing to me in previous games in the series. That's not to say it's a bad game, far from it. It is way above average and the battle system is fun. It just lacks that certain something that would make it a classic.
Would I like this game?
If you hated the random battles of previous FF games and don't care much for an enthralling story then you will undoubtedly enjoy FFXII very much. If you expect to get attached to the characters and their plight then stay away or rent as you will inevitably be disappointed by the above average but somewhat dull story.
Overall 7.5 - GOOD VERGING ON GREAT
A lot of changes have been made to the FF series by FFXII, some for better and others for worse. A way above average game, but lacks that certain sparkle in the character development and story. It is difficult to recommend this game as a classic to fans of the series.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Final Fantasy XII (EU, 02/23/07)
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