Date: 2007 April 29 17:17
Posted by Azure
We suspect if you haven't got this already those of you with Playstation 2 or even dare we say it PS3s will probably be thinking about buying FFXII. So we decided someone (i.e. me) ought to review it, I know it was released in the UK a while ago now, but this being Final Fantasy hours of levelling up and Chocobo riding were required before I felt confident giving a proper review.
Final Fantasy XII
Published by: Square Enix
The game opens with the invasion of the Kingdom of Dalmasca by the Archadian Empire. In a desperate bid to help his people the King of Dalmasca agrees to sign a treaty with the Archadians, before he can complete it though he is murdered, as a result his daughter the Princess Ashe commits suicide. Years later and Dalmasca is under occupation by the Archadians, a young boy named Vaan struggles by on his own as his last remaining family member his brother died the night the King died.
If you've played any amount of RPGs you've probably met someone like FFXII's Vaan before, he's an orphan and he dreams of becoming an air pirate. Unlike many other RPGs though Vaan doesn't totally dominate things, he simply acts as the players eyes and ears as they explore the land of Ivalice. The plot is complex and much more political than recent Final Fantasy's like FFX, which means it feels strongly like an epic Western fantasy novel . Vaan is soon joined by whole range of characters from Penello his long time friend to Balthier the air pirate. The characters all have strong personalities, which develop brilliantly as the story goes on. In fact the characterisation is one of the best things about the game, aided by the extremely high quality voice acting.
A lot of thought has gone into the voices, there are a large number of cut scenes in the game all of which are fully voiced- bad voice acting could have killed the atmosphere in a heartbeat but thankfully Square Enix have gone to a lot of effort to get it right.
The biggest gamble in this title is the change in the battle system which works as a hybrid of an MMORPG and the traditional menus. Battles are fought real time, and a characters actions an be selected from a menu by pressing X during the action. Once an action is selected the player will wait for his action gauge to fill up before attacking much like the real-time turned base of FFX. Of course being Final Fantasy you're likely to be playing with more than one character at once. Thankfully you don't have to switch between them all the time, each character can be controlled via AI. The way they act can be customised with the "Gambit" system so that you can instruct characters to "heal each other when their health is less than 40%". Additional instructions or Gambits can be purchased throughout the game, clever use of the gambits can be a life saver during boss fights or set pieces. For example setting characters to auto-attack is a bad idea during a set piece that encourages you to sneak. It all takes a while to get used to but once you do, it works amazingly well.
This being a Final Fantasy game, the player isn't totally free of the accursed levelling up. This time things are made at least a little more interesting by the licence system. At it's core the licence system is based on FFX's sphere grid, though thankfully instead of having to hunt out various spheres you simply acquire licence points as you destroy enemies. These points can be used to across each board unlocking abilities as you go. It's worth pointing out you also have to acquire the licences for any equipment you want to use. This does include weapon types so you can effectively shift the characters class as you play.
By far the biggest improvement in this game is it's size. Ivalice is massive and thankfully the player isn't limited to tiny 'exterior corridors', the landscape is open to be explored on foot and later on Choccobo. It's perfectly possible to abandon the main storyline for a while and have a wander around, in fact there are a number of sub quests that encourage exploration. One major set of sub quests are the hunts, bounty missions that are posted on notice boards by various town members. The marks from these missions are relatively high level monsters, and usually lurk in previously completed areas. The trouble is they require so much power to beat that the items you acquire when the mission is complete seem fairly low level in comparison. Luckily completing these missions unlock extra items in the bazaar section of the item shops. Taking the time to complete the sub missions creates a real sense of achievement, meaning that the heavy and complex plot can be broken up somewhat dependant on taste. The detail of this game is amazing, to the extent that even the menu hides a number of treasures from the extensive bestiary to the "sky pirates den" a cute retro looking area which fills up with trophies as you play.
The graphics really show off what the Playstation 2 can do, after all we're well into the consoles elder years and Square Enix have had plenty of time to learn their way around it. The music is also predictably good, though lacks the individuality of some of the previous games.
If it has a fault it's that the game is so detailed, it takes an absolute age to get into the story and unlock some of the more special abilities. I was starting to believe the new battle system had totally irradiated any kind of special move before I managed to actually unlock some. Sadly though once a the limit break equivalent (quickenings) are activated on the licence board for a particular character, the corresponding square for each other others is taken away. So you can't find a quickening on the board and teach the same one to each, you'll have to work hard and level up to find them all, and then be smart about diving them up equally. As previously mentioned there's a lot of levelling up to do.
The dungeons in this game are also surprisingly enjoyable, and will often keep you playing for 'just a little while longer', they are about the right length and the save points are well spaced. In fact when the player saves during a big dungeon or set piece the game reminds them they won't be able to leave until it's over and recommends saving to a new slot – sage advice. The action is broken up a bit during these segments by a number of set pieces which might see you sneaking around, or escaping pursuit at break neck speed.
Despite my reservations about the battle system Final Fantasy XII is superb work, living up to the series good name. It's richly detailed and encourages the player to really loose themselves.
It's one draw back is that its incredibly time intensive, hours of time are required to progress even a little way which means it requires patience. Final Fantasy XII is a top class RPG and comes highly recommended.
(This review was conducted on a PS2. If you own a PS3 I suggest you check compatibility before buying).