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Review: Final Fantasy XII
Note: This is the eleventh of a multi-part series featuring reviews of Final Fantasy games. The author is not reviewing Final Fantasy XI as he has not played it.
The Final Fantasy That Plays Like a MMORPG
Final Fantasy XII is an interesting experience, its not like any Final Fantasy before it in terms of style, presentation or mechanics. Final Fantasy XII takes place in Ivalice, a land previously used in a couple of Final Fantasy Tactics games as well as Vagrant Story. With that connection, the game is filled with characters and races that were present in those earlier games, such as the lizard-like Bangaa and the Viera, who look basically like bunny girls.
Final Fantasy XII also attempts to deliver a gameplay system unlike any single player Final Fantasy before it, with several new core mechanics meant to fully make use of the new battle system. As a whole, it feels like you're playing an MMORPG version of Final Fantasy XII (I'd say Final Fantasy XI, but I haven't played that game so I don't really know), but as a single player controlling a single character and hopefully two others with you as you traverse the game's world.
The new mechanics and battle system make Final Fantasy XII a fun game to play, but your enjoyment of the game will greatly vary not just on these changes but whether or not you can sit through the game's unremarkable story.
One Large World
Similar to Final Fantasy X (and I'm guessing Final Fantasy XI), Final Fantasy XII does not have an overworld map like the first nine Final Fantasy games. Instead, each area is interconnected, and the player can travel between area to area, most areas filled with monsters and treasure. Save crystals in the game, the orange ones anyway, allow players to warp between any other orange save crystal the player has visited, eliminating the need for excessive travel (and party-controlled airships, at that).
There are basically two kinds of areas: towns and everything else. In towns, only the protagonist Vaan is controllable as you visit shops, enact side-quests and hunts, or talk to other NPCs. There is no battles to be had here unless they're scripted via a cutscene. In every other area, though, up to three characters that don't have to be Vaan are equipped and ready for battle as you start your trek through the area.
The game's world is very expansive, continually introducing you to new areas and dungeons up until the end, and several more areas are completely optional. There is a ton of land of explore in this game, if you're willing to do so.
Final Fantasy XII (PS2) on Amazon
I've made mention in my other Final Fantasy reviews that I'm not that big of fan of story in my video games to begin with, and Final Fantasy is no exception. Even so, I'll try to experience the story as best I can my time around each game I play. My first time through Final Fantasy XII, I could barely stay interested in the game's plot.
The plot starts off two years previous where an empire takes over two friendly nations. The princess of one, whose husband (the prince of the other) was killed during that takeover, attempts to reclaim her throne but not must prove her identity but also find a way to rid her nation of that empire's influence completely. There's more to it than that, but after awhile it just becomes very dull.
Further dragging things down are the use of both Vaan and Penelo. Vaan in particular was introduced as the game's primary protagonist instead of Basch (the captain framed for a murder), because Squaresoft realized games featuring "older" male protagonists sell poorly compared to games featuring characters such as, well, Vaan. However, Vaan and Penelo's impact in the overall story is very minimal and you can tell they were just late additions to the party.
The game is mainly about Basch, the princess Ashe and the two sky pirates Balthier and Fran. I think this "main character" confusion is another factor towards the overall drudgery of the game's story as the game is forced to show most of the action through Vaan's perspective. While Vaan does have some personal stake in this - his brother was killed by the man believed to be Basch - he is still perhaps the least involved protagonist in the series' history.
Thankfully, Final Fantasy XII allows you to skip these cutscenes to give you more time to play the meat that is its gameplay, which as I've mentioned is substantially different than in games past.
The New Battle System
Final Fantasy XII's battle system can be broken up into several new features. These include:
- No random battles, a first for a main line, single player Final Fantasy. Players can locate enemies in the field and choose to engage them if they wish, though often times in later dungeons enemies will pop out of nowhere and you'll be inclined to fight rather than deal with costly escape.
- Three characters can be on the field at once, but you can switch a total of six characters in and out of battle at will, including KOed characters. You can also choose to go with a single character for battle if you'd like.
- The player can only directly control one character for movement. Sure, you could assign commands to every character duing battle but that would be time consuming with this game's mechanics. Instead, Final Fantasy XII introduced the Gambit system, allowing you to assign tactics and commands to every character depending on the situation. While the number of "gambits" you can assign is limited at first, by the game's end you could formulate tactics for each character for nearly any situation.
- Quickenings are this game's versions of Limit Breaks, but can be used as long as the character has sufficient MP. During the animation of one, a player can have a second character chain another quickening together, and this chain can keep going as long as players have enough MP. The chains also allow you to replenish MP during the chain but this is not easy to come by.
- Summon monsters are back, referred to as Espers in this game. Players must defeat that Esper to use it in combat, and when the player does, the Esper fights alongside the party until either it or its summoner lose all HP, it runs out of "time" that it can stay in battle, or it uses its ultimate attack.
- Standard leveling up returns, but characters require the use of the License Board in order to not just learn new spells and abilities, but to also gain the option to use better equipment, higher-level quickenings (and extra MP caches to rattle off more quickenings per chain), and Espers (you can only slot one Esper per character, and its permanent so be careful!).
Combine all of these features, and it makes for an extremely fun, unique experience that no other Final Fantasy game before it has come close to doing. If you can take the time to master gambits, quickenings, and your license boards, you'll have a lot of fun playing this game.
Where to Play Final Fantasy XII (Outside of Japan)
Final Fantasy XII
Final Fantasy XII: International Zodiac Job System, which features a new license board among other changes, is a Japanese-only release so far.
Graphics (by PS2 standards)
Final Fantasy XII's plot, which I guess could also be described as "dry" is definitely not for everyone. Those used to the somewhat crazier schemes and characters of older Final Fantasy games probably will not be too fond of this game's story. Of course, there will be people who love Final Fantasy XII's story and premise, and if it's their cup of tea, then great. I don't think that's the case for most people, however.
Regardless, Final Fantasy XII has a strong, solid core of gameplay that more than makes up for the poor narrative. With so many options on how to fight, and so many places to explore, Final Fantasy XII has tons to offer for your gameplay experience and is definitely worth playing through once just for that experience. Even if your feelings are mixed towards the game's numerous gameplay changes, I still think a lot of fun can be had once you get used to the mechanics and you'll have tons of fun with this unique game.