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Old 09-03-2009, 11:02 AM   #146
Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Troy, MI
Posts: 11,005

Playstation 2
1 Player
Developer - Square Enix
Publisher - Square Enix

My Bias
-Final Fantasy 6 is my favorite in the series
-I love Final Fantasy Tactics

My Completion
-Main story completed
-32 Hunts completed

My Video Capture device that I use to grab screenshots does not do well with PS2 games.
FFXII, and future PS2 reviews actually look much better than I'm able to portray in screenshots.

Final Fantasy XII is set in the world of Ivalice, the same universe that Final Fantasy Tactics Advance was set in. The Viera/Bangaa world. After playing this series for years and each time starting all over again, it’s nice to finally be playing a game set in the same world as a previous game. I really enjoy the world of Ivalice and think the different races and setting are great.

As I will mention several times in this review, a lot of this game feels like a spiritual successor to the original Final Fantasy Tactics. The storyline is very similar in regards to the general themes and way it is told. Instead of the usual Final Fantasy story of a special hero/heroine who saves the world, it deals more with a nation at war and a group of pivotal characters who gets caught up in it all. The main protagonist Vaan, isn’t anything special, isn’t “the chosen one” and spends most of the game following around traveling with more important characters. I thought this was a very nice change of pace from previous Final Fantasy installments.

However the story also shares one of the downfalls of Final Fantasy Tactics in that it’s hard to follow. As I played through the game there were many times where I was unsure of what my goals were or what was going on. There are so many towns, characters and other countless names thrown out that I had a hard time following it. I can only tell you the name of one of the Judges in this game and can’t recall half the town names. This is a major downer for me because often times in RPG’s I am driven to play further because I am interested to see the story unfold, and when I don’t really know what’s going on or what my motivation is I become disconnected from the game. From what story I was able to understand it came off as simply average. It’s an entertaining ride, but isn’t nearly as compelling as what I’ve come to expect from the Final Fantasy series. Had the story been better this would have been a prime contender for my favorite Final Fantasy game.

I really enjoyed the characters in this game. Each one of them had a very memorable personality, different personal goals, and very believable. Penelo and Fran were definitely my favorites of the bunch. A lot of people tend to rave about Balthier in a “he’s so badass” fashion like they did about Auron in FFX, but I didn’t think he was THAT amazing. Balthier’s clever remarks and attitude did make me chuckle throughout though. Larsa, one of my favorite characters, was an NPC but I really loved the scenes with him in it. Whenever I think about Larsa I hear him saying "Manufactured Nethacite" in his thick english accent and it makes me laugh. I did not like the main antagonist very much because I wasn’t sure what he was trying to accomplish plus the end fight with him felt like a cop out.

Taking after Final Fantasy X’s lead, there are many voiced cut scenes throughout the game. They are choreographed amazingly well and combined with the fantastic voice acting it makes for some really entertaining scenes. I love how the voices are rooted strict in reality, meaning you will not find any high pitched cutesy anime voices here. Even Penelo, the peppiest of the female characters talks in a normal everyday voice.

The voicework and facial animations are fantastic

I thought the ending was pretty good. While I stated previously that I found it hard to fully grasp the storyline, at least the ending gives a nice sense of closure. It seems a little rushed but after watching it I felt satisfied I completed this game.

The visuals of Final Fantasy XII are the best I’ve ever seen on the PS2. Character faces look amazing and have animation that is very believable. Environments are large and detailed and the citys give off a grand feeling of busy-ness. The look of the cities combined with tons of NPC's hustling around is really something to behold. This is just a really great looking game.

In motion and on an actual TV this looks amazing

Some of the designs are hit and miss. I loved some of the monster designs for familiar foes like Bombs and Flans. Some of the characters have great designs, like my two favorites Penelo and Fran. I really liked Penelo’s one piece outfit with her huge thick-sock-esque leggings. However Ashe’s outfit I thought was atrocious. Her pink miniskirt did not flow well or look like it belonged in this game at all. Vaan also had a funky design because his face constantly looked dirty (not sure if this was intentional) and he has like a deformed 11 pack of abs.

Something else that really stuck out to me was the menu interface of this game. The way the main menu would simply blur whatever was on screen and overlay the menus on top of it looked really slick to me. The fonts and icons also really impressed me. It may seem silly to point this out but I felt it gave the game a really nice level of polish.

I am a whore for slick interfaces, hench why I change my review headers every other day :(

The games soundtrack was mostly composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto, the guy responsible for the Final Fantasy Tactics series and Vagrant Story. Without even looking it up I was able to tell from the opening scenes because the music is very reminiscent of his style. It’s done in the same orchestral style as his previous works.

Despite really loving some of the songs in this game I was disappointed in the overall sound track. There are some really good tracks in FFXII, but there are more forgettable tracks than there are memorable. None of the music is bad as in I didn’t enjoy listening to it, just didn’t fuel me or make an impression. Unfortunately as a whole not many tracks stand out which makes this one of the weaker final fantasy soundtracks. Yet the few that do stand out are absolutely amazing and had the entire soundtrack been like them it would be one of my favorites.

♪ Boss Battle

This song is possibly my favorite boss battle music from the series. It doesn’t start off strong but some of the highlights in the middle are amazing. I remember fighting bosses in the game with this in the background and suddenly thinking “holy crap this is epic”. The only complaint I have is that this track was sometimes subbed out for important story battles because it’s by far the best one.

♪ Rabanastre

This is the melody of the very first town in the game. Something about the way this melody is so soft and yet still definable. I also really enjoy how it is an extended track instead of a short loop.

♪ The Skycity of Bhujerba

I really like the instruments used in this theme. The flute or whatever wind instrument that plays the melody is really nice. On a related note, I can’t hear this theme and not instantly think “I’M CAPTIAN BASCH”.

Final Fantasy XII is a drastic turn for the series. The standard turn based battle system that the series has used since its conception has been done away with for the most part. Many players who are purists to the series did not like this change but I personally thought it was amazing. So amazing that I wish that sequential game in the series would build upon what FFXII did.

The new systems plays almost like a MMORPG. You walk around freely with the analog stick and can see all the monsters in a dungeon or field. There is no transition between battle and navigation anymore almost like an Action RPG (think Phantasy Star Online, Secret of Mana) only with the removal of the action element as you never directly control actions (like mapping an attack to button press). So for example to attack a monster you must first run over to it, select the attack command from the menu, and your character will start attacking.

So how can one player constantly maneuver and give actions to three different characters at a time? That’s where the gambit system comes in and the true beauty of this battle system starts to shine. The gambit system is almost like simple programming commands you can set on the characters to perform certain actions when certain conditions are met. So say in Final Fantasy games your normal strategy is to heal any character below 50% health with a potion. With the gambit system you can set a rule up to do this for you so that whenever a characters health gets that low, the assigned character will stop what they are doing and use a potion. After you set up a few of these gambits you then need to decide their order of importance. What the game will then do is run down the gambit list when you encounter enemies and the first time it finds a valid condition it will perform that gambit. The available gambit conditions throughout the game get more complex too, such as “If enemy weak to fire” or “If enemy HP is below 1000”. The system initially intimidated me and looked confusing but once I started using it I realized it was very simple.

This is my end game Gambit setup for Penelo

Many people do not like this system and complain that the game plays itself. That’s true, the game does play itself a lot but I personally loved it. To me the gambit system automates all the tasks of the previous games that have become tedious. This is the twelfth entry in this series and by now the strategies that are automatable are common sense. I don’t even have to think about basic concepts now, attack with physical characters, heal when health is low, and use water on fire enemies. These strategies never ever change and it becomes obnoxious to repeatedly select them from menus. And yet in situations where I need to take some drastic control and change my strategy, FFXII lets me intervene. I can’t explain what makes battles in the FF series fun, but after playing FFXII I can tell you it is not tediously giving commands. By the end of the game I had leveled/equipped my characters and set up gambits so well that like fellow forum member Drunken Savior, I beat the last boss without lifting a finger, and I had a blast doing it.

A great byproduct of this new battle system is that there are no longer random battles. As you travel across fields every enemy is visible and again, there is no transition into a separate battle mode. This means that if you really want to you can run around almost all a dungeons enemies and go straight to the end. Of course that would make your characters very under leveled and the game hard, but it’s nice not to be forced into battling like the previous games. This is a major plus in my book because I find lately I have less and less tolerance for random interrupts while trying to navigate a dungeon. I also love that this new battle system does not lock you out of your menu, meaning if you want to equip a new armor or learn a new spell in the middle of a boss battle you can.

This is seriously an amazing, fun, well thought out system.

In the same vein as Final Fantasy X, XII encourages you use all the characters. This means that for most of the game you have all six available characters in your party. If your current three die then the game will automatically switch out the others for you. I chose not to do this and simply leveled up three instead because it was easier. They turned out stronger this way because experience and funds were divided three ways instead of six.

The new skill system is the License board. Sort of like the sphere grid from FFX, the License board is a giant board filled with different skill icons. As you get points to spend on the board you can only learn skills next to the ones you already know, which creates branches throughout the board. Like most recent Final Fantasys, although characters come with some initial configuration, they are clean slates that can be shaped anyway you want. It reminds me of the job system in FFT because the way you controlled your characters development became your strategy for battle. Through the first half of the game I thought this was really awesome because it gave me control of how I wanted to raise my characters. However as I approached the end of the game my party had maxed out the board and became carbon copies of each other. I wish the board was a lot bigger so that characters would still end up unique.

This is what my board looked like towards the end of the game. Everyone ended up being the same.

The difficulty of this game is a lot harder than the typical entries in this series. There were many boss battles that had me scrambling to stay alive. Magick has a weird effect that I didn’t realize until late in the game, which is no two magick spells can go off at the same time. This means that if one character is casting Firaga on an enemy, nobody can cast a heal spell until that Firaga is finished. I ran into a few instances where a character would be ready and waiting to cast Cure while their target continually got beat up, all waiting on a spell to finish. At the end of the game I actually turned my Magick user into a physical attacker since its delay made her damage output really low.

I didn't cast too much of this as I got to the end

Along with the standard shops, there also exists a bazaar system. It’s like a roundabout way to craft your own items. Enemies will drop unusable loot that seems worthless, but if the right amounts are sold to the shopkeeper it will unlock new equipment/items for purchase in the bazaar. I think this is a great concept however the problem is that I had no idea what loot would unlock what. There are no in-game hints that indicate what different kinds of bazaar items would become available or how many if certain loot items I needed. Without any idea I was constantly referencing gamefaqs and the internet to find out, and if I have to do that then it’s a problem. My other problem and perhaps this is simply because I didn’t know, but it seemed any new equipment I unlocked in the bazaar was already outdated for my characters.

In perhaps one of the coolest ways to do side quests in the series yet, FFXII has the hunt system. Various towns have bulletin boards posted where different people request certain monsters to be hunted. Each hunt you accept requires you to talk to the person who issued it, which usually gives some back story. I had more fun doing some of these hunts than I did progressing through the main game. The biggest problem is that until you get the airship it is really troublesome to travel between towns and hunts have you traveling all over. This restricted me from doing most of the games hunts until I had the airship.

Fitting nicely in with the hunt system is the games bestiary. Every single monsters, character and location you encounter in the game shows up in this bestiary and has some history written up about them. For someone like me who enjoys reading up on lore this was a treat. I probably lost a good hour or more just reading about the origins and details of the monsters I encountered. This should be a standard feature in every Final Fantasy game.

Lasting Appeal
My total game time was 99 hours, and a good 40% of that was done doing hunts. I was pretty satisfied with the stories length and it felt just about right. Not too long and not too short.

Hunts add a ton of gameplay and are a lot more fun than standard RPG side quests. Even after the story is all but completed the available hunts, special items, and rare things to collect can keep the fun going.

Final Thoughts
This game feels very refreshing for multiple reasons. Tetsuya Nomura was not the character designer, Nobuo Uematsu was not the music composer, the story is very different and the battle system is completely reworked.

If the storyline was better and easier to follow this would be my new favorite Final Fantasy. I had that much fun with this game. I wish this game was the direction that all future Final Fantasy games would build from. I enjoyed the new battle system in XII more than I did any other entry in the series. Not only were battles not annoying when I traversed dungeons, I actually looked forward to them.

Final Fantasy fans should approach FFXII with an open mind because expecting it to fit into the traditional turn-based mold will only lead to disappointment. Embracing the Gambit system instead of fighting it is the key to enjoyment. This is one of the most amazing RPG's I have ever played and I reccomend it to anyone who likes the genre.
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