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Phil Larsen
22 Feb, 2007

Final Fantasy XII Review

PS2 Review | A fantasy becoming a reality - the Australian review of the latest chapter in a role-playing legacy.
Final Fantasy XII is here. It’s been a long time in the making, and we Australians suffered a bit of a delay as the English version crossed the oceans to arrive on our sandy beaches. It’s one of those times when, after waiting for so long for a game, a quietly epic and emotional experience can be had by simply opening the box. Well, that’s perhaps a bit of an overstatement for some, but there’s no denying Final Fantasy has had a bigger impact on the RPG world than any other series in history. Therefore, it’s no regular day when a brand-new, completely original addition to the most revered name in gaming hits the shelves. Forget next-gen for now, this is Final Fantasy XII – a PlayStation 2 game, the likes of which we have never seen before.

Given that Final Fantasy games extend for dozens of hours, it’s critical to feature an engrossing storyline to keep the pace and gameplay fresh, even as the game clock ticks over and over. FFXII has no shortage of narrative progression, and presents the story well in what may be the most cinematic game ever made. No expenses are spared in sweeping, flowing camera angles and heroic speeches; all flagship scenes are also tied together with smaller character interaction. The title character is Vaan, yet another rogue-ish bad boy with a heart of gold. While this may seem clichéd at first, Vaan is always presented as extremely young and never tries to control every situation (unlike Final Fantasy whipping boy Tidus), and often takes cues from the older warriors on hand – namely Basch and Balthier. Princess Ashe of Dalmasca, Vaan’s young friend Penelo, and Balthier’s partner in crime Fran, round out the wealth of female companions, propelling the story to incredible depth. One of the greatest accolades for which FFXII can be recognised is the amazing character development. This is one of the best casts ever assembled for a video game and, though perhaps a brazen prediction, Balthier and Fran will go down in history as one of the greatest duos of modern narrative storytelling.

A peaceful beginning marks the sharp downward spiral into anarchy.

A peaceful beginning marks the sharp downward spiral into anarchy.
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The evil Archadian Empire is hell-bent on total domination of Ivalice, the fictional world presented in older Square titles Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story. After an introductory assassination attempt culminating with Basch being labeled as a traitor, Ashe faked her own death to remain inconspicuous after her fiancee’s death in the Arcadian/Dalmascan War. Two years pass, and Ashe makes a violent return to the Royal City of Rabanastre, heart of Dalmasca. Young Vaan stumbles upon Bathier and Fran during a botched theft, and all six characters eventually band together to uncover the plans of the Empire and a mysterious, charismatic new Dalmascan leader, Vayne Solidor. Final Fantasy XII is a story of incredible complexity, and it’s important to never miss one second of the crucial cutscenes. One may argue that the story is far too erratic and much too difficult to follow – which is a completely valid point. However, when unraveled, it’s impossible to ignore the astonishing details and nuances Square has crafted to ensure an enthralling story for all RPG veterans.

Character progression is handled in two very separate ways. Firstly, defeated enemies net your active party experience points, as well as License points. Experience points level up your characters in the traditional sense, and increase statistics accordingly. The License points accumulate for each character, and in turn are used to customise weapons, abilities – and pretty much everything else. The development of unique characters (a “well-balanced” party, per se) rests solely on the fact that you cannot unlock every License immediately. The License Board is a grid, filled with squares that represent a magic, weapon, ability, quickening, esper or statistical/battle augment. Weapons, armour and magic are purchased in stores (or occasionally dropped by enemies), and once the item has been purchased, and the correct License unlocked, the character can use it.

The License Board is the same for every character – and when compared to FFX’s Sphere Grid, is a tiny customisation system. This is mostly due to the fact that the Sphere Grid also handled every single upgrade. The main problem is that License points are fairly easy to obtain, and it isn’t uncommon to have thousands in stock – unused simply because you haven’t reached the point in the game where the higher level weapons and magicks are available for purchase. This leads to most characters being fairly equal in strength, and no real deliberation over who should be the theoretical white mage or warrior is needed. It’s a decent system that works, even if it is a bit uninspired. But where do all these upgrades come into effect? In battle, of course.

Cities are huge, bustling centres of activity.

Cities are huge, bustling centres of activity.
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Abandoning the classic random battle system, enemies are now found roaming free among the wilds. They will attack if you approach too closely – but most of the time, killing every monster should be high on the agenda. The similarities to MMORPG combat are really too abundant to disregard, even though FFXII rarely feels like such a game. Six party members can be interchanged at any time, so it’s important to develop characters as equally as possible – two strong parties are better than one. While many may claim FFXII features a real time battle system, this isn’t exactly the case. Abilities are executed using a traditional selection menu or via the Gambit system, and every ability still requires a short time gauge to be filled. It’s certainly faster and more flowing, but forget about actually attacking and moving yourself (though you can circle about independently), as in a true real time combat engine.

The Gambit system is the most ambitious attempt ever to create a new approach to Final Fantasy combat. As a crushing disappointment, it will be nothing more than an inconvenient and completely useless system to many players. The idea of Gambits is this: your players can all be pre-set with battle commands based on a number of variables. For example, the simplest selection could be equipping the “Attack” command in conjunction with “nearest visible foe”. Like everything else, you buy Gambits in stores, and once purchased and equipped, the “Attack/nearest visible foe” Gambit will kick in. Simply walk up to a foe and your character will begin attacking, and continue to do so until somebody drops dead. Equip three characters with the same Gambit, and you have a complete battling party, controllable entirely with one thumb. One more step – add a “Cure” Gambit – which could be “Cure” combined with “Any ally with <50% HP”. So, as soon as a party member starts taking a beating in battle, an ally will be on hand to automatically use Cure – provided the Gambit has been purchased, the magick has been purchased, and the relevant License for the magick unlocked. Three steps for one command.

Here’s when the Gambit system succeeds – while running around in circles, “grinding” your character levels, and collecting dropped items for cash. You’ll want to grind often, as bosses hit hard, and the Gambits make battling mindless enemies a pain-free and hands-off affair. Equip most party members with Cure and Attack, and you’re good to go. Here’s where the Gambit system fails. A hypothetical question – who would honestly be able to predict if “Target any enemy with MP <30%” is more appropriate for battle than “Target any enemy with MP <20%”? There are Gambits available for almost every situation imaginable, and you’re relegated to purchasing them all, one by one. The system then expects the player to combine hundreds of Gambits and commands together, and attempt to come up with a perfect combination for a completely automated team of flawless battle prowess. It just doesn’t work that way. Gambits eliminate all sense of urgency and interactivity to battling. Instead of fighting battles and determining strategies in the heat of the moment as one would in a regular turn-based system, you must slog around in the menus for very long periods of time, trying to fight your battles before they’ve even happened. Setting up Gambits, acquiring Licenses and equipping available items to characters takes an extremely long amount of time – more so than in any other Final Fantasy game, and more so than actually fighting the battles in real time. If character micromanagement and poring over minute statistical details is not your idea of fun, Gambits will turn you away quick-smart.

Combat can be viewed at any angle.

Combat can be viewed at any angle.
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More often than not, the new dungeons you enter won’t turn out quite as you originally anticipated, and because of this all the previous customisation goes down the drain in an instant. Enemies hitting harder than you thought they would, or someone strong against a particular element or status effect? Goodbye Gambits. Of course, you can always jump back in and re-organise the Gambits around, but wouldn’t it be easier (and more fun) to just fight the battles yourself, rather than trying to figure out what might happen, and assign actions accordingly? Not once does the Gambit system present itself as being under complete control of the situation – it seems you’re always jumping in to lend a hand, because a certain character won’t use a particular item or magick at the precisely desired time. As Gambits are set as priorities, if two commands – for example, heal status element and cast Shell on an ally – are needed at the same time, whichever takes priority on the Gambit list will be the one used. This may not be what you really want for the situation at that particular moment, and you’ll have to halt the command by selecting a different one manually. It’s frustrating for all but the most pedantic of gamers.

One final note – Gambits are completely optional. You will love the ease and convenience while grinding; it becomes so easy a toddler could play. Hell, pay your little sister five bucks to walk around in a circle for an hour, come back after a frosty cold beer and a lengthy session in the hammock, and voila! Hands-free character progression! The real test of Gambits comes when you approach a boss. Unless you want to fight the boss many times to work out attack patterns, HP and abilities in order to assign what seems to be a halfway decent Gambit combo, just shut the Gambits off and work your dexterous magic. Combat even pauses if X is pressed (real-time menu navigation is also optional), so you’re free to take all the time you need to use the abilities to want, on the people you want, at the perfect time. Square has officially stated that the Gambit system is indeed optional for those who like to utilise a hands-on approach, and this is extremely admirable on their part. Not all eggs are in one basket, so players who wish to select commands just as they have always done in Final Fantasy are fully capable of doing so.

It’s hard to meet any self-respecting gamer who doesn’t consider Final Fantasy VI through X a bit of a pushover. They weren’t the most difficult of games, and while FFXII doesn’t require nearly as much effort as some old-school installments, there’s still a bit of challenge to be had. Combat flows very well, and possibly due to the MMORPG influences, you’ll need to do quite a bit of roaming and pillaging to get your characters up to speed. Bosses in particular are the nasty offenders – they hit hard, fast, and won’t quiver in the face of danger. Most bosses also seem to have a rather annoying ability which causes pretty much every statistic to increase significantly near the end of the battle – meaning ten minutes of hard work may go down the drain after some big dragon decides to start hitting three times as fast and four times harder. Not to mention his defence increases, so your once brutal slashes are now pinpricks.

Stronger enemies dot the sprawling areas of weaker foes.

Stronger enemies dot the sprawling areas of weaker foes.
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The best way to deal with challenging opponents is by using the new Limit Break system. Final Fantasy games usually provide some sort of individual character attacks, designed to deal huge damage when the battle conditions are just right. FFXII uses a Quickening system, where the secret to success is chaining attacks. When a character has a full MP bar, they can consume the entire stock to deliver a Quickening, which is usually an impressive light show of magic culminating in an explosion. It’s a shame that weapon-specific acrobatics and attacks aren’t really included – but given that every character can theoretically equip every weapon, it’s tough to develop animations accordingly. When more than one character has their MP ready to go, the team can use Quickenings in succession, with damage dealt based on the combo length. A time bar quickly depletes, so you’ll only have a few seconds to select the next attack, or perform a Mist Charge – which fills an ally’s MP bar right to the top again. Pull off a nicely timed combination of Quickenings while simultaneously keeping those MP levels topped up, and you have a recipe for extreme damage – which is often the best way to dispatch the aforementioned brutal bosses.

The scale of FFXII is so immense, so grandiose, it often overwhelms one with options. This hits home particularly hard around the fifteen-hour mark, after which your party returns home from an epic journey culminating in the demise of a defected comrade. The handy map system gives no vague details about where to go next, but you can easily turn in the opposite direction and discover new (and deadly) secret areas and creatures. It’s easily the most open-ended of any Final Fantasy game, and while the true single-player master of “anywhere, anytime” must be awarded to something like Oblivion, FFXII strikes a good balance between linear, story-based JRPG gaming and free-roaming playability.

If one did decide to go off on a tangent and abandon the story, there are a myriad of quests ready to welcome you. The main timesink is the hunting activity, venturing out among the fields to target and destroy a certain nuisance monster. Essentially, you can pick up hunting contracts from town noticeboards or by speaking to certain characters, and once the Mark has been defeated, you are free to reap the rewards. The Mark contracts are plentiful and extremely difficult – you may trek out to the last known location of the enemy, only to find out thousands upon thousands of Quickening and Esper damage isn’t doing any good. Still, strategy is always the key, and if you have chosen to conquer the Gambit system, hunting will be a lengthy project indeed. A note on Espers - these are the FFXII equivalent of Summons, with the name derived from FFVI. These can be obtained and subsequently assigned to one character only. Espers consume an entire MP bar to aid the linked character in battle for a short time as a larger, stronger party member.

A team fit to save the world.

A team fit to save the world.
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FFXII can’t be granted any kind of technical superiority in the visual department, if only due to the limitations of the PS2 hardware. What can be said without question is that the location design and artwork are extraordinarily impressive, among the absolute best found in any game on any console. All the areas are connected via clear and easy to follow maps, and while the scope of the game doesn’t traverse an entire planet as previous installments would, it also doesn’t fall in to the trap of presenting extremely basic 3D environments. FFX literally had players walking in a straight line towards the goal, but FFXII allows exploration in any direction from the main hub, the Royal City of Rabanastre. The vast, open environments are an amazing sight to behold, and despite being interspersed with loading times, rival the impressive views seen in other epic titles such as Shadow of the Colossus or Oblivion. It’s impossible not to stand in awe above the clouds at the Temple upon Mount Bur-Omicase, below the ground in the deadly Tomb of Raithwall, or intertwined with the rocky, ominous caverns of the Mosphoran Highwaste.

The Final Fantasy series has always been a showcase for some of the most amazing music ever created, typically composed by series legend Nobuo Uematsu. This time around, the composition has been handled by Hitoshi Sakimoto, and ultimately doesn’t quite live up to the high standards of the series. The melodies are slightly more repetitive, and not quite as memorable – which is a negative exponent on some of the massive environments one needs to trek through, and depending on the player’s desire for exploration, this could take hours. The overall quality is still great, but the lack of any real showstoppers drags the audio experience slightly below par. The signature track, Kiss Me Good-Bye, was indeed composed by Uematsu and performed by female prodigy Angela Aki, and is an excellent addition to the Final Fantasy repertoire of superior and memorable love songs.

Above all else, FFXII must be considered as a project. It isn’t an RPG to be taken lightly, and requires far more work and patience than any Final Fantasy from the last decade. You’ll find yourself studying, thinking about and analysing nuances of the seemingly limitless content contained within the massive adventure. It’s certainly a fresh approach to the series, but this is coupled with an equally vast gameplay and combat system requiring the utmost care and precision to develop fully – with or without Gambits. If venturing in with concentration and determination, there’s every chance you’ll walk away after 60 hours with something truly special locked away on the console that’s fading into obsoletion; a swansong of epic and timeless proportions. Others who can’t enjoy the micromanagement and pressure from the game to learn everything as quickly as possible may leave long before completion with a bitter aftertaste. It’s the first instance where being a previous Final Fantasy player will have zero bearing on your enjoyment and experience. You have been warned. It’s a risky venture, but the payoff is unreal.
The Score
By anticipating Final Fantasy XII as the greatest RPG ever made, there may be many harsh instances of disappointment. If you feel up to the massive challenge of appreciating this radical RPG, Final Fantasy XII will astound and mesmerise the heart and soul.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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18 Comments
7 years ago
Pretty much agree with your scores across the board. Is a great game, but I didn't enjoy this as much as FFX. 8.5 is what I would have given it also. I found the gambit system to be limiting as you often get gambits along the way which are useless. Not till later part of the game you start getting decent collection of useful gambits. But really liked the lack of random enemies.

The graphics while great for the PS2 (no slowdown baby!) still reak of jaggies and looked low res. Personally I don't like the 'layer of pale' they have added to the game also. The characters all look ill coloured.

Also didn't like the compressed audio they used for the in-game cut scenes (understandable though). You can really tell the difference when a CG movie starts.
7 years ago
^The low res look comes from Square deciding to compromise polygon count for textures and lighting.

This game doesn't seem to be as loved as FFX which I think is the greatest FF so far (FFIV and FFVI are great but the experience is limited by the technology).

Seeing as I recently finished FFX and am still soaking it all in, I'm going to put this one off for a while.

*goes and searches for the elusive FFX-2*
7 years ago
Sound: 8.0

I disapointed now, FF is usuualy noted for its great soundtrack.
7 years ago
Don't be upset just have a look at this review icon_smile.gif

http://au.ps2.ign.com/articles/741/741991p4.html

It's really not that bad
7 years ago
Great review Phil. I'll set aside a few hours this weekend to read it properly icon_lol.gif
7 years ago
I picked this up with the phone book sized limited edition strategy guide today (along with okami). I have started to play the entire series from the start, so it will be a while before I get up to this one.

I am currently on final fantasy I on PS1 and tactics advance on DS, better lift my game so I can get into this one.
7 years ago
Marka wrote
Sound: 8.0

I disapointed now, FF is usuualy noted for its great soundtrack.
If you like Final FantasyTatics you'll love FFXII soundtrack.
7 years ago
Boo. It deserves at least a 9, it shites all over 7 8 and 10 (9 is still my favourite).
7 years ago
I agree. I'd have given this game a 9.0 - 9.5 due to me finding it leaps and bounds better than FFX. The menu depth was not even an issue with me, and I found the gambit system very deep and rewarding - setting up complex gambits takes a lot of the tedium out of issuing the same commands over and over again, while still maintaining a level of tactical control as battles play out.

On the other hand, I didn't find the sound or storyline particularly special, but the presentation was impeccable. Definately the best Final Fantasy game I've played.
7 years ago
9.5 without a question. It's reinvigorated gaming for me, after everything had started becoming stale and boring. Just like VIII started it all for me, XII saves me.
7 years ago
Yeah i would have to agree ign gave it the right score 9.5 . Seriously this game is so good icon_smile.gif
7 years ago
I don't agree with the gameplay gripes, you complain about gambits but then applaud that they're optional, so you could just turn them off? Personally I found that they were nothing but good, saving time when you needed it, so you can leave melee guys bashing away and control just the magicians when needed.

Overall this beats FFX in every way and should be worth about 0.5 more icon_smile.gif
7 years ago
Any news if the PAL version offers any late game extras like the Dark Aeons in FFX? That would make all the waiting completely worthwhile.
7 years ago
narutofanx10 wrote
Yeah i would have to agree ign gave it the right score 9.5 . Seriously this game is so good icon_smile.gif
There's only one problem, the narration is horrible. I agree best FF on current gen to date.
7 years ago
I'm only 5 hours in to FFXII so far but thoroughly enjoying. Random battles bug me so glad to see them replaced.

The voice acting is OK but quite hollow sounding. Don't you think two of the blokes sound like Russel Crowe? And the Archadian New Zealanders.
7 years ago
Nice review Phil. Nice to see the word 'obsoletion'. I don't think I've seen it used since the writings of Keats.

Looking forward to a few hours of FFXII over the weekend.
7 years ago
I still can't believe this got only 8.5.

Beaten by Gears of War too.
7 years ago
i am shocked. i trully am shocked
whats with you palgn??
i mean 8.5!!!
thats crazy
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| More
  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  23/02/2007 (Withdrawn)
Standard Retail Price:
  $99.95 AU
Publisher:
  UBI Soft
Genre:
  RPG
Year Made:
  2007

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