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Old 12-08-2006, 07:27 AM   #93
Drunken Savior
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Final Fantasy XII (2006 - PS2)


*Cover above is for the Collector's Edition package*
Released 03/16/06 (JP), 10/31/06 (Regular and Collector's Edition - NA)

Director: Hiroshi Minagawa and Hiroyuki Ito
Producer: Akitoshi Kawazu and Youichi Wada
Music: Hitoshi Sakimoto, Nobuo Uematsu (Main theme and Composer of "Kiss Me Goodbye," the main song of FFXII)
Story and Concept: Yasumi Matsuno


Graphics: A-
Sound: A
Story: B
Gameplay: B

Overall Score:
B


The face of Final Fantasy sure did change after the release of the Playsation's Final Fantasy VII in 1997 (Yes, it's been neary a decade people). Final Fantasy games went from being a cult game to a serious platform seller, capable of destroying the competition (see N64). However, has the Final Fantasy series become a victim of its own success? I'd say yes. Since VII, each game has not really strayed from its 'roots.' And by 'roots' I don't mean the series 'roots,' but the 'roots' that made Squaresoft millions in revenue.

But FFXII does something that I, personally, did not see comming. FFXII strays from the mold. There is no singlemost main character, dispite the story being told mostly through Vann's perspective, there is no sappy love story, there is no emo main character, there is no loud obnxious anime girl, and lastly, there are no random battles.

Every game that takes a gamble deserves a solid look. And this is one game that does, indeed, take a huge risk in a series that has become complacent with its own success.

Besides, the Collector's Edition package is the nicest package to ever be bestowed upon a videogame.



A (poor) screenshot of the opening montage

Story
It all starts with a marriage, an invasion, a betryal, and a suicide. Princess Ashe of Dalmasca marries Prince Rasler of Nabradia. Then the Archadian Empire invades Dalmasca. Then a prominent soldier, Basch, betrays Dalmasca by assassinating their King. During the invasion, Prince Rasler is killed and in responce, we learn that Princess Ashe has taken her own life. Now Dalmasca is under Archadian rule, a rule upheld by the Judges.

Confused yet? Well, you will find out that Ashe is not dead, Basch is not a traitor, and that Rasler, too, may still be alive... (I do not consider these spoilers since you learn of them in the first hour of gameplay. Don't worry, this review will be spoiler free.)

The main story arc is Vann, a street urchin, who runs into sky pirate, Balthier, and his 'accomplice'(take it as you will), Fran during a heist. The three run into a resistance led by someone who calls herself Amalia, but looks an awful lot like Princess Ashe. Hmm. You will soon find out that Ashe is, indeed, not dead, but alive, living underground to aid the resistance in hopes of a free, independant Dalmasca.

While Ashe's struggle to regain control of Dalmasca is the central story, the game really does not have any single most character. Sure, Ashe's plight directs the character's adgenda. But no single character has an overwhelming ammout of scenes or lines. Ergo, the 'main character' is the entire cast, whom you meet in the very beginning. Yup, your entire cast is formed within the first five hour of the game. But don't worry, you will have around 5 non-playable guests who join your team of three.

As the story continues, you'll find yourself a pawn in a chess game between two nations. And Ashe must make a very noble, perhaps humbling, decision.

The main themes of the story are: Revenge v Justice, Comming of Age (for Ashe and Vann), redemption (Basch), and ultimately the horrors of war and the lust for power.

Personally, I found the story to be refreshing. If you have ever played any of the Final Fantasy Tactics team's games, you know they heavily revolve around the idea of religion, the supernatural, and the relationship between the gods and the people. FFXII is no different. The storyline is very mature and works well with the art style (very mediterranian). The end of the game, I feel, is very weak. With a slow moving storyline, you begin to have lots of expectations, lots of build up. FFXII's storyline could have used a more elaborate ending, and perhaps even a longer ending to tie up the story and let us feel like we really did just complete a 50 hour epic. When I finished the game, there was literally a "oh ****, it's over?" feeling.

B


Balthier, the sky pirate. One of the best characters to ever grace a Final Fantasy game.

Graphics
Final Fantasy games always look nice. From a technical standpoint, they are some of the best games. A literal benchmark for the graphical capabilities for any system. Be if in game or CG, Final Fantasy games are not shabby by any means. So to argue the graphics in Final Fantasy is to argue the art direction.

I mean, this is a Final Fantasy game, not a Knight of the Old Republic screwup. Square remembers to dot their 'i's and cross their 't's, unlike Bioware and Obsidian. (Sorry Bioware and Obsidian fans! Write to them and bitch, not to me. Nothing will get done bitching about this to me)

The art direction of Final Fantasy XII is very much in vein of a European look. Gone is the cyberpunk look that has dominated Final Fantasy ever since Tetsuya Nomura took the reigns of art direction away from Yoshitaka Amano in FFVII. While I liked Nomura's art, the decision to Akihiko Yoshida helped to shed the notion that FFXII is just another Final Fantasy game pretaining to the same formula that guarantees success but doesn't stray from the money-making 'roots.'

So why not an A+? Well, some of the levels are, frankly, uninsiping. Airships suffer from what I have heard as "Halo-itis," or just a cut and paste of the same looking hallways. You'd think we'd see more of a kickass airship than just the bloody common hallways?

Then there comes the enemies. I didn't dock Chrono Trigger any points because of the physical data limitation of a cartridge. But c'mon boys, this is over 10 years since we began just simply switching the colors of enemies to denote a newer, stronger, enemy. It's sad that we can't have whole new enemies. After playing (quite extensively I feel. I plugged over 70 hours into this game) Final Fantasy XII, I felt like every other enemy were those damn dogs with tentacles, or a wolf. Not to say that the original designs aren't cool, but I personally hate it when we get recycled character models (today we say models, back then we said sprites) near the end of the game. It's an RPG cliche that I want gone!

A-


Final Fantasy XII's Licence Board
(Gameplay Photo)

Sound
Again, Square strays from the formula. Hitoshi Sakimoto relieves Final Fantasy legend, Composer Nobuo Uematsu as the main composer. Uematsu still has the main(opening) theme and game song, "Kiss Me Good-Bye" to his credit, but everything else is Sakimoto, baby! And what a change it is.

I remember reading the review for FFXII in the November issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly. In said issue, on page 126, it says "Odd Inspiration Source: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace." At the time, I had no fucking clue that they were eluding to. I really see WEAK parallels to the storyline of FFXII and Episode I. However, the music parallels are quite evidant. Sakimoto takes a clue from Mark Griskey (Knights of the Old Republic composer) and creates a very subtle score. Granted, this is not a game where you will hum the themes. The background score is in the background, it hardly overwhelms, and it fits the moods very well.

As for the voice acting. Very, very well done. If only another, certain, Nintendo epic could take a cue from this game. All the characters have their own solid 'voice,' their own opinion shaped by their words. Vann isn't whiney, he has a curious mature tone, kind of like Luke Skywalker. Balthier is suave and has a certain Clark Gable aspect to his voice. Kinda like Qui-Go, ok enough with the Star Wars references. Balthier is the leading man, as he claims to be. Ashe is substandard, but by all means, this is not a negative note. The drawback of not having a single main character is that you don't feel you get 'enough' from each character. Kinda like Princess...well, y'know.

A


No more random battles, pick a fight like the bully you always were!
(Gameplay Photo)

Gameplay
Quote:
Originally Posted by My Chrono Trigger Review
To this day, I am amazed that more RPG do not follow Chrono Trigger's example. Where you are on the map is where you fight. There is no instantaneous WIPE to a battle screen. You either run into an enemy or you are attacked, the characters move into position on the screen, the menubar pops up, and the fight begins! It's more fast paced than the Final Fantasies of the time.
Yes, I did write the review of Chrono Trigger days before I picked up FFXII. I did not know that FFXII features no random battles and has a battle system similar to CTs. As you can see in the image above, each character has a line (blue for your allies, red for your enemies. With exceptions for magic, techniks, et cetera. This helps you keep track of who is attacking whom. Since you are no longer lined up like the British fleet of the late 1700's, battles can become very chaotic. The battles are fast paced, with narry a time to break the action (You can set the game up to stop the action while you program commands or let the fight continue as you micromanage.

The designs did not intend for you to play each character independantly in battles, so they create a GAMBIT chain of commands:


The Gambit Screen
(Gameplay Photo)

Each character has their own Gambit screen. The above screen is Penelo's. Instead of trying to explain the entire system, just think of it as a chain of commands:

1. First, Penelo will use a Phoenix Down on anyone who is knocked out. A very wise choice for a first action. If no one is knocked out, Penelo will then...
2. Cast Poisona on anyone who is poisoned. If no one is poisoned, then Penelo will...
3. Cast Cure on any allies who have less than 70% of their total health. If everyone is above 70% health then...
4. Penelo will attack any flying creatures with Aero. And lastly,
5. If there are no flying creatures, Penelo will simply attack the nearest enemy.

The GAMBIT system is a double edged blade. Penny Arcade equates the Gambit system as the videogame playing itself, or masterbating. I think this is a fair, and funny, conclusion to draw. I will admit that once I perfected the use of the Gambit system, I was able to let my characters just beat up on enemies as I guide them from enemy to enemy. For every status effect (Blind, Sap, Disease, Poison) I had a response. And my magic was so powerful by the end that I was reving my character to 100% life and curing them at 40% up to 100%! Hell, let me say something that will anger some people right now:

I did not push a single button during the last boss fight. I defeated the last boss only using my GAMBIT set up

Of course, you can turn the Gambits off. But I don't see the point, as you would just do what you should have programmed your Gambits to do in the first place.

So there you go, Gambits are a nice crutch, but by the end of the game, you can essentially let your game just play with itself.

The last bit of gameplay discussion comes in the form of XP (Experience Points) and LPs (Licence Points). I assume you know what XP is, but in case you are a new to RPGs, XP basicly determines your characters stats. Licence Points are new and exclusive to FFXII, though I bet the idea has been around in many other games. Look at the Licence Board image above. Each square represents either a set of weapons, a set of armors, a skill, a stat bonus, a set of spells, or either a Quickening (think a less powerful Limit Break) or Esper (Summon). As you 'spend' your points (you gain 1-3 per enemy battle), you open up more boxes ajacent (not diagonally) to the box you just 'purchased.' Use your entire roster to open up sectors you are not aware of and you can create some pretty fucking strong characters. Indeed, without a strong knowledge of the board, I was not able to construct a team that could defeat the last boss using only my Gambit commands.

One major gripe I have is that you most likely will use only 3-4 characters in your team. Why? Because you don't get any XP for characters you do not use. And each character stats out relitvely the same. So you will probably just pick three characters you like (I chose Vann, Balthier, and Ashe) and max them as fast as possible, leaving the remainders in the dark (My Fran was a level 9 when my team was hovering around 50s). BUT, the reserve do gain LPs. So use their LPs to experiment with the Licence Board!

B


It is indeed a time to celebrate

Final Thoughts....
If you think a 'B' is a subpar grade, think about this: FFVI and FFVII would probably get A's from me. VIII - X would get between D's and C+. I think a 'B' shows that this gamble from Squaresoft paid off. It broke away from many of the cliche's that made Final Fantasy a joke to those who, essentially, were there from the beginning.

Final Fantasy XII is a phenominal, solid, role playing game with a very deep, provoking story. What more could you ask for? Square did not have to take such a gamble. Final Fantasy sells on name brand alone. So I applaud Square for taking such a bold step and I feel my review is more than just a review of Final Fantasy XII, it is a review on the Final Fantasy series as a whole: Where it has been, where it is now, and where I hope it will go. Though I shouldn't get my hopes up, because the old team is back on board for Final Fantasy XIII. I will give them a solid look, but right now, I feel that the Final Fantasy series should be in the hands of the Final Fantasy XII team for at least a couple more games.


Yeah, you know I'd have to add this comic.
From Penny Arcade
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Games I'm hyped for
The Last of Us Part 2, RE2 Remake, The Last Night

Current Platforms:
PC (Zen9 5950x, 64GB, RTX 3090), PS5

Last edited by Drunken Savior; 12-08-2006 at 07:34 AM.
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