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The 2006 PS2 Role-Playing video game

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Not a Fantasy for Everyone

  • Mar 5, 2009
  • by
The Final Fantasy series has, over the years, become paramount in the video game industry.  It is a series everyone knows and that almost everyone identifies with.  With Final Fantasy X, the series saw a change.  That change became very well known when Final Fantasy XI went online.  Now Final Fantasy XII adds to the series stepping outside of its roots.  This isn't your typical Final Fantasy.

For years, Hironobu Sakaguchi has been the producer for the series.  Since forming Mistwalker, he hasn't had a hand in Final Fantasy for quite some time.  He has since left the series in the hands of Yatsumi Matsuno who is the famed designer of Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story and the Final Fantasy Tactics Advance games.  These are all classic Square titles, but they have themselves reserved for what could best be described as cult followers.  They have an audience, but it isn't for everyone, even some of the most hardcore Final Fantasy fans.  This means not everyone is going to like Final Fantasy XII, and there are some good reasons why, that don't all concern the changes.

Final Fantasy XII, much like many of Matsuno's games, takes place in the fictional world of Ivaclice, and centers on the small country of Dalmasca, which is the next battlefield in the war between Rozaria and the Archadian Empire.  The Empire has moved their way into Dalmasca and has forced them to stand up and fight, just after the Princess Ashe has gotten married.  Her beloved tries to lead the Dalmascans into battle, only to fall.  Soon, the entire kingdom falls as the King is murdered and Ashe supposedly takes her own life. 

The story picks up years later with Vaan, who is an orphan who lost his family through the pleague, and his brother Reks to the King's assassin.  He wants freedom for Dalmasca and will go through a lot to get it.  Even if it means sneaking into a very exclusive dinner to steal from them.  Which he attempts, but things don't go as planned, and this is where the adventure truly begins.  Vaan will run into several different characters, including Balthier and Fran, a set of Sky Pirates, the Princess of Dalmasca presumed dead, Captain Basch who has been accused of the King's assassination, and he'll bring along his best frine Penelo for the ride.

The story seems rewarding.  It's expertly produced, it is incredibly well written and deals with a lot of political and philisophical intrique.  Unfortunately, it doesn't take center stage.  It gets off to a fantastic start and introduces us to some fascinating characters and political insight, but the story then becomes a giant fetch quest.  It's still there, but in very small sips.  That's sad because in the end it's a very rewarding story.  There's just not enough of it.  Along those lines, the characters, while interesting and likable, are never truly developed.  We don't learn much about them, and as the game progresses you wonder why some are even with you in the first place.  Despite sticking us in the role of Vaan, for example, it is clearly not his story.  Penelo is just a girl (sort of like Vaan's kid sister) who is just there for the ride.  The other four have staying power, but we learn so little about them it's hard to care for the story as a whole.

Perhaps the most stark change to Final Fantasy with XII is the gameplay.  Instead of active time battles or control turn based, you have Active Time Dimension.  It plays a lot like a MMORPG.  All your enemies are out in the open, all you need to do is approach them.  There are a lot of open land environments as well.  The battle system can seem complex at first but it's fairly simple.  You select a command and watch as your characters perform it in real time.  With one character this is pretty simple, but what about when you've got a party of three?  Final Fantasy XII has the solution in the gambit system.  Gambits are the actions you assign characters to do so that you don't have to perform them yourself.  It's a complicated system that takes time to get used to.  Each character has gambit slots, and in those gambit slots you'll put the actions you want them to perform.  The order in which you put these actions is important.  The action in the number one slot takes precedent over the one in the number two slot and so on.  It can actually become quite strict if you give it the chance.  For example, you can set a character use a specific item on any character afflicted with the status.  You can set it up so that after a skirmish with enemies someone automatically heals everyone else.  It's easy to play around with.  And once you get the hang of it, you'll come up with interesting ways to play.

The downside to the gambit system is simply that you can set them for everyone, including the character you are controlling.  Essentially, the battle can become simply you moving around the left analog stick.  Once you grasp it, it becomes easy to take advantage of and Final Fantasy XII becomes a relatively easy game.  It's interesting, but battling will eventually become repetative because at some point it doesn't require much involvement from the player. 

Gambits isn't the only complexity that the game holds.  There is also a license board which every character can traverse.  As you battle you'll also gain license points in addition to experience points.  License points are used on the license grid to unlock and use certain abilities, such as magick spells, skills such as stealing.  But it goes much deeper.  You'll also need the proper license to equip different kinds of weapon, armor and accessories.  You can't use a broadsword until you have the license that lets you do so.  It's similar to Final Fantasy X's sphere grid, only less interesting.  You'll find yourself sometimes grinding for license points just so you can use the next powerful weapon.  Beyond that, however, every character has the same license grid.  Every character can learn all the same spells, skills, abilities and equip all the same weapons.  Eventually every character, should you decide to cover the entire license grid, is the same.  The only thing which may make you choose to use one character over another are the game's quickenings.

Quickenings are learned through the license board and are similar to limit breaks.  You can expend Mist Points to use them.  They're very powerful skills that, the further you get the stronger they can become.  You can also form quickening chains with other characters, which usually end in another very powerful attack when the chain is over.  These attacks are unusually powerful and make even the hardest of battle a lot easier.  With this exception, you won't find yourself using a wide variety of characters.

All this may make it seem like Final Fantasy XII isn't worth much as a game.  In fact, from a certain standpoint it sounds boring.  There's limited story, the gameplay is hampered slightly by too much "sameness" in every character.  But at least the game gives you many ways to mix things up.  You just have to be willing to do a lot of that stuff yourself.  So the game is open to a lot of ways to play, provided you want to play it differently.  There are also several sidequests to undertake.  A hunting quest which last for virtually the entire game, several optional dungeons and bosses to find.  Final Fantasy XII can easily keep you busy for over 100 hours.  The main story itself can be completed in 30-40 hours, but it's nice to have all these side expenditures.

Visually, Final Fantasy XII is stunning.  The production values are amazing.  Ivalice has never been more alive.  The character models are spectacular, the art direction is also beautiful.  Running through some of the cities is amazing, just looking at how populated they are with people.  The load times are also kept to a minimum.  The areas are rather large, but you won't hae to worry about it taking too long to load those areas.  But since there are no random battles you can also roam without being interrupted to your hearts content.  The games FMVs are truly cinematic in scope.  Square-Enix has never been shy about fantastic graphics, and Final Fantasy XII is easily one of the best looking PS2 games you can find on the market.

Musically, Final Fantasy XII is a mixed bag.  The overall score, composed by veteran composer Hitoshi Sakimoto (responsible for the music in Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story and the recently released Valkyria Chronicles) is overall good.  The score has jumped to being something much more epic.  Series fans might miss Nobuo Uematsu, but most of will be pleased with the score.  On the other hand, some tunes just aren't as memorable.  Boss battle themes and certain places of interest make some great music, but other dungeons and moments aren't going to have you humming tunes.  The music fits the cinematic sequences incredibly well, however.  The voice acting is some of the best the series has seen, taking a huge leap forward.  The dialog is well written, the emotion is there.  It's overall got a nice presentation.  Unfortantely, you don't get to bask in enough of it because there's so much of the game that isn't devoted to story at all.

Final Fantasy XII is an amazing game overall, but not one that will please all the Final Fantasy fans.  Some of the changes are radical, the approach in story telling isn't as good and the characters don't have much that makes them stand out.  Yet it's a strangely fun game to play provided the shift in direction Final Fantasy has taken doesn't bother you too much.  But as I mentioned earlier, it isn't for everyone, even if you're a Final Fantasy fan.

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More Final Fantasy XII [PS2] reviews
Quick Tip by . February 22, 2011
posted in Siliconera Bounce
l liked the style and generally games that take place in Ivalice, but with the exception of Balthier I disliked most of the cast, didn't like the battle system. Couldn't continue, never finished it.
Quick Tip by . February 21, 2011
posted in Siliconera Bounce
Some interesting play controls and a good story focused on politics and not so much on a silly romance. Good game and was one of the best looking PS2 games.
review by . August 21, 2009
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This is the approach that many game franchises take. Sure, they’ll make a few changes here and there, but the core game stays the same. Final Fantasy is at the top of that list. Despite producing a slew of quality RPGs, one can’t help but feel a bit of deja vu when playing a new Final Fantasy game. Nevertheless, changing one of the most popular video game series in the world is an extremely risky move. Luckily, Final Fantasy XII keeps all …
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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About this video game


Final Fantasy is a single-player role-playing game released in 2006 by Square Enix for the PlayStation 2.  The twelfth in the series introduced new elements into the game such as, battles occurring without transitions to a separate screens and a system that controls character actions automatically.  The game takes place in Ivalice, where the surrounding kingdoms face the invasion from the empire of Archadia, and the kingdom of Dalmasca is caught in these conflicts.  One Dalmascan, Vaan joins Princess Ashe to fight against the Archadian Empire. 

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ESRB: Teen
Number of Players: 1 Player
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Console: PS2
Genre: RPG
Release Date: October 31, 2006
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