Final Fantasy XII
Reviewed by Minna Kim Mazza
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2007-01-16 PS2 MMO T (Teen) Square-Enix

I was hoping that Final Fantasy XII would be one of the first releases on the Playstation 3 system. Of course, now that I haven't been able to procure a PS3 yet, I'm more grateful that FFXII was released on the PS2. I still can't wait until I see an FF game on PS3, which is perhaps why I was not terribly overwhelmed by FFXII, yet there were still enough changes to the game to keep things interesting.

However, is change such a good thing? For those of us used to running around in the world and randomly encountering enemies, turn-based battles, and the victory dance, maybe not. This FF game has a very different combat system, which is complex if you think too much about it, and frustrating when it doesn't go the way you want it to. Also gone are the random encounters. This part of the gameplay feels a lot like FFXI Online, where you can actually see the monsters running around in your world. Sometimes you can run around them, but sometimes you can't due to a larger aggressive monster range. The game takes on a more realistic feel with these encounters, but I do miss that victory dance!

The graphics are not a huge improvement over FFX, though I noticed more shading in character faces. The world gets a lot of influence from FFXI more than FFX, with rich earth tones and more realistic settings, even though the world of Ivalice is more technology-friendly than Spira ever was. And of course there is a definite difference between cinematic graphics vs. in-game graphics. Perhaps the PS3 version will be seamless this way? We'll just have to wait and see. Voice-acting is much better in this installment, as well as how the look of the subtitles (which I recommend turning on, since turning them off leaves you just a blank black bar at the bottom where they would normally go anyway).

In the beginning of the game, you get a bit of a history lesson, which is interesting and very well done, yet you start to feel a bit antsy because you want to get to play the game itself! And then when you do start playing, you're a newbie soldier named Rex, who doesn't end up being in the rest of the game at all (hint: he's Vaan's brother). However you do get to try out the new combat system, but only the basics because you're a single character and not a full party of three. I liked the real time and space feel of combat, but I'm not sure if I can get used to the weird blue and red lines that show targeting of allies vs. enemies. It's like everyone has laser beams equipped to their heads, or something.

The storyline unfolds as one of the better ones of the FF series. The main characters in the game are Vaan and Ashe, who really remind me a bit too much of Tidus and Yuna, in both looks and personalities. Penelo is Vaan's little spunky friend, Basch is the older, more experienced soldier? I guess FF wasn't going to break away from its character formula! They all live in a time of conflict, where their home realm of Dalmasca is being taken over by the Archadian Empire. If I had paid attention to the history lesson in the beginning, I'd remember the name of the other empire to the south that the Archadians are marching towards, mowing down Dalmasca and another little realm in between the two.

As you finally are free to run around the city of Rabanastre as Vaan in present time, you'll be introduced to other aspects of gameplay, like the social interactions, buying things from shops, navigating maps, etc. At first you're running errands, but eventually one of those errands lets you venture out into the world and into your first battles as Vaan. One major "mini-game" has you getting involved with a clan, and hunting specific monsters for valuable prizes and gil. As you hunt more monsters successfully, your clan rank goes up and you'll have more access to items in the clan store in the bazaar area of the city. Also, any monster you defeat gets listed in your "clan primer" which has vital stats and descriptions of every monster you encounter, kind of like a little monster journal.

Another interesting twist to character improvement is the license board. It's similar in overall concept to the sphere grid in FFX. You obtain license points when defeating monsters, and spend them on the license board, which looks like a big checkerboard. Not only do you train abilities and spells, but also equipment that you can wear. The license board has six major areas that correspond to different types of licenses, with starting points in each. Every character starts with the same board, and their abilities will depend on where you concentrate their license points. Getting a license ability in a particular area will begin to unlock more abilities that are adjacent on the board. So the more you obtain in one area, the more powerful the abilities. What is interesting is that none of your characters really starts with a particular focus, so you can actually make your characters however you want. You can have Ashe be a swordfighter, and Vaan a healer. Vastly different than the set characters in FFX!

Once you get into party battle, it's time to explore the Gambit system, where you assign various actions to each character in order to automate their actions. This can be really fun for some people, and really annoying to the FF traditionalists. For the latter group, you can definitely turn off the Gambits, but if you find yourself doing the same actions over and over again, why not give it a try? I highly recommend using the "wait" mode in battle at first, so that there is a pause when you choose an action for a character. Sure you lose a bit of that reality factor, but makes learning the system a whole lot simpler. Another interesting thing is that if you select "Attack" for your character to attack the enemy, you don't have to input it again, and the character will keep attacking until you change his/her command. That was probably one of the harder things to get used to not doing. Of course it doesn't hurt to keep re-selecting "Attack," but you could be using that time for more valuable actions!

Overall, FFXII doesn't disappoint, unless of course you were expecting more out of it like I was. On the other hand, FF games are by far one of the best fantasy RPG series on console, and has established itself as that, so expectations will continue to be high even though it's still far better than most. Then again, I'm still looking forward to the next FF on the new consoles, so perhaps that's dampened my enthusiasm for this game.