It’s been over three years since the release of a new “Final Fantasy” title. A combination of technical difficulties and a mental breakdown of the original director had continuously pushed “Final Fantasy XIIs release date far beyond what fans could have dreaded. However, Square-Enix hasn’t let their loyal audience down. When I first saw a trailer for “FFXII” I told myself that it would be trademark title in the series, and I was right.
The thing to keep in mind about “FFXII” is that the game doesn’t do anything revolutionary per se, but it gets everything right that Square-Enix has set out to accomplish thus far. It’s like Square-Enix looked backed on every “Final Fantasy” series and plucked out the best parts.
The first aspect you’ll notice is the graphics. “Final Fantasy” has always been known for its beautiful visuals and “FFXII” is no different. If I didn’t know better and you were to tell me that “FFXII” was a Playstation 3 game, I’d believe you. The graphics are just that great. It’s come to the point that the in-game cut scenes are just as breathtaking as the CGI scenes.
One of my favorite parts of “FFXII” is the battle system. No longer do enemies randomly drag you into a battle sequence. Rather they walk freely on the map. Though one character is designated the parry leader, you can either command the moves of your characters by using a menu or set up Gambits: preselected orders that your party members will carry out flawlessly. Honestly, I was a bit skeptical at first to put the fate of my characters in the hands of my party healer’s AI, but my fears were quickly put to rest. Square-Enix went into great depth creating the Gambit system and it works perfectly.
Of course, there’s the License system to discuss. This has to be one of my favorite ways to customize characters in any “Final Fantasy” game, next to the Materia system of “FFVII”. Spending points on the License Board, you obtain abilities to use magic, weapons, armor and so on. In this way, you can make your characters whatever you desire, from a paladin that uses healing magic and swords, to an archer who uses ranged weapons and status altering abilities. The possibilities are endless. About six of my friends own this game and I’ve compared my characters to theirs. In every case, all of ours have been distinctly different. That just shows me Square-Enix truly got the customization features right.
Finally, “FFXII” did a great job of sucking me into the story and giving me a sense of adventure. For me, “FFX” completely lacked this quality, and I would drag myself through the story. But in “FFXII”, I can get into the story and the whole world of Ivalice, for many reasons: expansive landscapes, memorable and likable characters, a twisting and turning plot, and excellent voice-acting. Ah, the voice-acting. “FFX’s” voice acting was like listening to a middle school play. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against middle school plays. They’re just not known for their depth of emotion and sense of reality in the dialogue. My movie-savvy friends have remarked that some of the characters, including Basch and Balthier, give truly award winning performances. And I whole heartily agree.
“Final Fantasy XII” is the pinnacle of Square-Enix’s work up to this point. I’m looking forward to seeing where they go from here.
The Bottom Line: 10/10
As someone who has played every game in the “Final Fantasy” series, including the ones that are boring and pointless, and others that are so rare they’re too expensive to buy nowadays, I will start by saying this: “Final Fantasy XII” restored my confidence in the franchise.
“Final Fantasy XII” excels in so many ways and sharpens so many things that have never been done quite right in series history, that it’s truly a landmark title, in a way that only “FFI,” “FFVI” and “FFVII” have been before this. The graphics are amazing, from the incredibly lavish, detailed maps, to the inspired character designs. The sound retains its usual outstanding quality, and it has one aspect I never would have imagined from a “Final Fantasy” game: good voice acting. Yes, it may throw you off at first that the Archadian Empire is populated entirely by the British, but the acting is so well done that I actually look forward to hearing certain characters talk and seeing how different kinds of creatures will speak.
The gameplay has taken another step up from its predecessors, combining action RPG elements into the usual “Final Fantasy” combat mix and giving the player unprecedented control over character development. If the sphere grid in “FFX” left you scratching your head, fear not: the new system takes its cues from both X and XI to create a very streamlined leveling system, based on “License Points.” These points, acquired more slowly than regular experience, allow you to acquire skills spread out across a vast “License Board.” By spending points on one tile, you acquire a skill and the opportunity to access adjoining tiles. It may seem simple, but it leads to a huge variety of playing styles. My main character is a white / green / time mage combo, and I’m having a ball.
I also have to hand it to Square-Enix for recreating the sense of adventure that RPGs are supposed to have. In computer gaming, it’s perhaps easier for designers to create a vast, sparsely populated map and call it a day. Not so in “Final Fantasy XII.” Even the first city and first two hunting grounds are so large, with so many things to discover, that you really get a sense of size and scope. A mini-map with highlighted enemies, treasures and objectives keeps you from getting lost, but doesn’t diminish the experience. Though, I find myself thinking it would be even more satisfying without one.
This leads to another great innovation for Square-Enix: Challenge, something that’s been sorely lacking from “Final Fantasy” outside of optional bosses and quests. I have never died so often in a “Final Fantasy” game. Even though it’s an annoyance, I appreciate what the company is doing to make its titles just as much about gaming as they are about plot and character. I like to solo, which makes things more dangerous, but it is fun.
It’s hard to impress me. There are details of the plot that seem derivative, and when you scratch the surface, the combat system is very similar to those in older installments. However, the franchise has turned a corner. With something like this, the company can finally, finally, leave its hit-or-miss years behind. Maybe.
Let’s hope they do this well with “FFXIII.”
The Bottom Line: 9.5/10