|By Charlie Goodrich||Thursday, 10 May 2007|
I was skeptical at first when Final Fantasy XII came out. I was unsure about the new battle system. The Final Fantasy series has always used random enemy encounters as part of the battle system and I liked this system. Perhaps I got attached; after all, I did begin playing turn based RPGs in 1990 with the first Dragon Warrior title. FFXII did away with random encounters and introduced a new system where enemies appear with you on the world map. This new battle system revitalized the Final Fantasy series. It made the gaming experience flow better and was a good way to keep the series fresh. Square Enix did a marvelous job completing FFXII. This has become one of my top five Final Fantasies because it was innovative, fun, and artistically beautiful.
Not only is the battle system retooled for this latest installment in the long running series, but also way you develop your characters has been redone. Gone are the sphere grid and character classes. Welcome in the license board. For those people who played FF Tactics Advance on the GBA, the license concept should seem similar. The basic premise is that you have to acquire a license in order to use a particular kind of magic, equip certain types of armor or weapons, use a special skill, or equip a relic. It is similar to the sphere grid used in FFX and FFX-2 because everything is connected and to get from point A to point B one must purchase the licenses in between. You gain AP points from defeating enemies, and those points are used to purchase licenses from the board. It is one of the innovative features found in this game. The license system is nice because you can customize your characters anyway you want. You could turn the hulking big guy into a white mage and the small-framed girl into your tank. You are no longer stuck taking certain characters because they make the more balanced party. There is no negative to taking the characters you want. It is a nice feeling.
This leads us to the other big innovation, the battle system. Taking a page from Final Fantasy XI, FFXII makes for a smoother playing experience. By smoother I mean that a flashing screen leading into a turned based battle does not interrupt the gameplay. I really don’t mind the random encounters but they can get annoying when I am trying to explore a certain area. FFXII is great because if you are just exploring you can by pass enemies simply by running around them. Managing your three characters during combat is simple too. You can buy and find these little trinkets called gambits. Each gambit grants your characters a new strategy for combat. For example, there are gambits for attacking enemies who are almost going to die, attacking flying enemies first, using a certain type of spell to attack, healing when your HP gets to a certain percentage, and curing party members that get poisoned. It is a very easy system to use and works for the most part. You can choose the order of priority too. Each character can equip several gambits at a time so you can have one person take care of status aliments while another worries about restoring health. The only downside to the new battle system is that the larger than life boss battles are gone. Some enemies and bosses are larger but not like before. I think it has to due with the fact that in random enemy encounters there are fixed camera angles, which allow the boss to dwarf your characters. Other than that, being able to run around willy-nilly and choose who you attack is an awesome attribute of this game.
The art style and sound in FFXII are wonderfully done. The art is similar to Vagrant Story. The character design and backgrounds are similar because it combines a futuristic look with a medieval look. The characters have wonderful facial expressions and the cut-scenes are amazing. I was surprised that the PS2 could produce these beautiful graphics. The in-game graphics won’t win any awards but the cut-scenes are terrific. The sound and music in FFXII is up to par with any of the other FF titles. The game is filled with similar sounds and music to the FF series, but also contains new compositions that fit the game very well. Every song fits the mood of the situation and the setting to perfection. The voice acting is the best in this series as well as great compared to other RPGs that incorporate voice acting. Lines are delivered well and each voice brings out the individual in each character that could be lost by the lack of classes.
The only weakness (and it’s not even that weak) is the story. It is your classic rebels versus the empire archetype. Not very original but it still manages to become its own game. The uniqueness of the characters, the side quests, and the direction the story takes in the later parts of the game provide for a different experience. Despite the lack of originality, FFXII will hold your attention and make you want to press forward in the storyline.
Square Enix did a fantastic job with Final Fantasy XII. I encourage RPG fans and FF fans to check this game out and enjoy a great time. You can complete this game in about 40 hours if you complete just the main storyline. If you want to get all the espers (summons) and do all the side quests you will have to spend about 80-100 hours doing everything. There is a bit of a learning curve and you will die a few times but that is part of the fun. Give FFXII a try and find out if you agree with me, or decide if I am an idiot.