Reviews: Final Fantasy XII
Great but Different
Final Fantasy 12 is my favorite of the series and one of the few I've finished completely. That said, it also discarded several of the tropes that made the franchise so popular in order to try out different ideas. First off - the battle system isn't the turn based, shifting style of previous entries. All enemies are visible on the world map and you can use gambits (sort of an if-then sorting algorithm) to simplify to where you don't have to press a single button as you progress. For some this can be seen as cheating but it can be manually controlled for those who want to. Gil isn't won through battle but collected by selling loot. It's very similar, if not exactly the same as your standard MMORPG. Luckily, you don't really need gil as you progress so this isn't a big issue outside of a few situations. The plot itself is good but very different, again, from other titles. 12 is in some ways a deconstruction and send up of one of the series' favorite references - Star Wars - and the basic theme is free will versus fate and what to do with a magical superpower against an evil empire. Except the evil empire turns out to have decent people too, and the fate has led every time to a Golden Age whereas going by future Ivalice games, free will isn't all that it's cracked up to be. It's ballsy in some respects to show both good and bad and not take a position on whether your characters made the right choice or not and I applaud this game alone for keeping a fairly complex grey area without feeling forced. What I like most though, is that the game never seems to run low on things to do. Aside from the central plot, there are plenty of areas to explore, plenty of monsters(boss, rare games, hunting marks, you name it it's there) to fight and you are given relative freedom to choose where to go and what to focus on. There are also small side-quests hidden throughout. The downside? If you like standard Final Fantasy games, this probably won't appeal to you. There is a lot of political intrigue and most of the main characters aside from Asche and Balthier don't really get fleshed out as well as they could be. The summons are almost not worth going after beyond bragging rights and aren't even that useful. Limit breaks are also sub-par and unnecessary. The graphics are good and clean and the music is nice too.
FFXII's story at potential, but it falls flat on execution. The beginning is veyr fast paced, and does well in getting your party together, but soon after you've assembled your party the plot falls apart and you spend the rest of the game tracking through endless dungeons fighting plot-irrelavent monsters while the plot happens elsewhere. It's only very near the end that the plot starts moving again, and it leads to several plot threads either left hanging or being tied up unsatisfactorily. Many of the more interesting characters are either dropped off near the beginning (Ondore, Vossler) or only picked up at the end (Reddas, Cid, Gabranth). And the six members of your party don't make up for that. The viewpoint character, Vaan, had potential just because of his relationship with Basch, but that's dropped and he's relegated to comic relief. Basch seems like an interesting character but that is soon squandered by the 'Evil Twin did it' reveal and his past with Gabranth is only barely explored. Ashe, the main character, is annoying as hell and never develops as a character, despite the plot revolving around her. Balthier is the best character just by virtue of his permantently snarky attitude, but his character arc only turns up near the end and, although it contains some of the best cutscenes of the game, is wasted. His partner, Fran, is a decent character but by virtue of her character arc often seems tacked on. And Penelo? She might as well not have been in the game by how much effect she had on the plot. She literally had more lines in her epilouge voiceover than in the actual game. FFXII's plot is about events, not characters. You spend most of the game trying to find shards of 'Nethicite' to fight the empire. This might have worked in early Final Fantasies, but it doesn't now. Most of the areas in Ivalice are beautiful but irrelevant, and the plot isn't nearly long or complex enough to hold a game of this length, so it is padded out by endless fighting. The plot is by no means bad. It has a lot of potential, regarding the war and the Occuria, but the war only comes up at the end (you don't even go to Rozzaria) and the main 'twist' is only mentioned near the end and not expanded on. All in all, good concept, terrible execution.
I got into console gaming because of Final Fantasy, so I really wanted to like this game. ...Yeah. First off, Your Mileage May Vary. My cousin described FF 12's gameplay as being his favorite of the franchise, not just for the MMORPG aspects but because of the return to do-it-yourself exploration. Fair enough. But that feature doesn't interest me. And whose idea was it to control a real-time system with menus? It's like trying to drive your car using your Bookmarks menu. Quickening Chains were cool, and I absolutely love the Gambit system; everything else is bad. Give me the Tales Series any day, or even Star Ocean. Some on this wiki like the fact that the story is diffuse and subtle; fair enough. I don't; I need things sledgehammered before I get them. There's a scene right before the final string of bosses where the party laughs together over all the group bonding experiences they've shared. I found this a Wall Banger because they haven't shared any. Six Static Characters chortling about Character Development that never happened? Sorry, not buying it. I also found the score underwhelming, which to me was disappointing as I got into Final Fantasy because of Nobuo Uematsu. I had problems with the Point Build System. There are players who enjoy making identically-invincible characters; I prefer an interdependent party of specialists. But LP are so plentiful, there's no reason not to just max out your builds. "Sure, everybody can learn everything." (Or teach themselves anything, such as Full-Life. ...In the middle of a battle. ...The final battle. Did I ever tell you how I came Back From The Brink by exploiting a loophole in the License system?) Oh, and, why so many 'A' vowels in Player Character names? The only escapee was Penelo. (And I, being an immature fucktard, always called her Peenelo.) I haven't played Final Fantasy XIII (no console), though I've heard good things about its battle system. All I can say is that I hope so. Squeenix's track record with real-time controls is dismal. Combine that with indifferent music, poor character development and Vaan's painted-on abs, and in FF 12 we have a game that has none of the reasons why I play Final Fantasy.
The battle system is one of the best in the series, making random battles far less annoying and miles less boring. However, this is let down by the lack of individuality in the characters abilities. Every character can use every weapon/armour/magick/technick in the game, which looks interesting at first but very quickly leads to same-y, boring ability sets. On the subject of abilities, the License Board system is the most annoying, bureacratic and timewasting method of ability improvement in the series. Not only do you have to buy all your equipment and magic twice (once on the LP board and once in the shop), but you are forced to buy irrelevant licences befroe you can get the one you want. Summons and Limit Breaks make a return as Espers and Quickenings, but by the end of the game become rather pointless. Espers work similar to Aeons in X, and unlike in X the summoner stays on field as well, but they are distinctly unuseful in that they do little more damage than a normal character and their special attack (used when they are either HP Critical or their timer runs out, although some bonus Espers have different requirements for use) is not nearly as powerful as the Aeon Overdrives in X. Quickenings are abilities that need a full MP bar to use, and each character has three seperate Quickenings. Every time a new Quickening is bought from the License board a new MP bar is added to the character so their MP is increased which is a plus. The special feature of Quickenings in this game is that they can be chained- depending on the number of characters with available Quickenings, this affects the number of Quickenings that can be used in sequence. Also, for certain amounts or combinations of Quickenings, a custom finisher can be used. At the beginning of the game, Quickenings can decimate opponents, but by the end they do less damage than magick spells for less MP. Overall, the gameplay is the best part of the game, but character progression is annoying and unintuitive, and you'll need to do a lot of level grinding to complete this.
So close and yet so very, very far.
Gameplay This is the first Final Fantasy game that got rid of random battles, and as far as I'm concerned, thank god. Letting you see the enemies in the environment creates a lot of immersion and allows for a lot of smart strategy. Square also added the Gambit system to help make it work, which is an easy-to-use system that can be as complex as you want it to be. Sadly, this game can get very tedious. You'll spend ages killing enemies just to barely scrape together enough gil, or level grinding just so you won't get pummelled. Graphics The best FF graphics to date. The environments are huge and immersive, the FMVs looked amazing, and characters that had little details like shifting layers of hair. Everything around you is just so beautiful to look at. Music While some of the music is nice, most of it is completely unmemorable, which is disappointing for a FF series. It doesn't help that the game sometimes recycles music, like the same music for all the massive plains you have to trek through. Characters And this is where it all went horribly, horribly wrong. I don't think I've ever played a game which such flat, boring characters. I played the entire game praying that the characters would grow beyond their first impressions, but they never gain any depth or character development. I once described Ashe to my mother - "She's a 'stiff-upper-lip' kind of Princess who's trying to get her kingdom back and she's angry at the Empire." Then I realized that's all she was, a blurb that could easily summarized in one sentence. Story While a political drama is new for FF, the plot suffers from atrocious pacing. A shocking twist at the very beginning isn't resolved or mentioned again until the every end, and then had no real satisfying climax. New twists in the story are dropped in so suddenly they're confusing rather than shocking, thanks to an utter lack of build-up. And like I said, how can you care about a story with boring characters? Overall Frankly, this game nearly drove me insane. It completely fails the entire point of an RPG, which is having a good story and likable characters. Not to mention how utterly tedious and painful the game can be. And unlike other FF games, nothing from this game is going to stay with me.
Not Entirely Bad, But.....
This game has alot going for it, but sadly it has alot more against it. In terms of story, one of the biggest sins possible is committed: the plot drives the characters rather than the other way around, and thus the entire main party is left as static characters who just do whatever the story dictates they do, rather than their actions flowing from their characterizations. That's not to say they're bad characters though; they all have their good points; it's just that they're all wasted. Balthier gets off easiest due to how cool he is (he is the leading man, after all), but even he could've been better and shown more Hidden Depths. The villains are hit or miss. Vayne, Dr. Cid, and Judge Gabranth are excellent, and Judge Ghis is OK, but all the other judges (Bergan, Drace, and Zargabaath) have a ridiculously low amount of screentime, Ba'Gamman disappears from the plot completely after being built up as a threat, and we learn jack-squat about Emperor Gramis before Vayne does away with him. As for side characters, some like Larsa and Vossler leave an impression, but others like Al-Cid and Reddas end up feeling rather pointless in the long run. Outside of the story, the game suffers from none-too-memorable music, a battle system that should have been great but wasn't, and a general lack of anything to do outside of traversing hellish dungeons and fighting monster after monster. Combining this with the lackluster story, the game becomes quite tedious. On the plus side, the graphics, while a little too brown, are beautifully-rendered and the environments are larger than those of FFX, and the camera angling works alot better. Most of the character voices, save for some (Vaan and Fran, I'm looking at you) are great. And on occasion, the story actually reaches a cool point (the final battle, for example, is just plain awesome.) So, all in all, FFXII ranks along with FFV for me....not a bad game, but not a good one either; one with, sadly, much wasted potential.
Subtle, Restrained, and Understated
This game, I must say, is one of my favorite Final Fantasies, alongside VI, VII, and IX. For some, the story is the biggest sticking point. Yes, there are "problems". Vayne is a pretty unmemorable villain, and Vaan doesn't really add much to the story — even Penelo had her Larsa subplot — but in a way, I like that. FFXII features a measured, politically-oriented storyline about a small nation between two superpowers and a cast of average people with understated characterizations, fighting overwhelming odds and only achieving small victories, tempted to use weapons of mass destruction to even the odds. The subtle strokes the game paints speak far more than the anime-style histronics in the single-player Final Fantasies surrounding it. Everything screams verisimilitude: the bookends of an old politician reading his memoirs, the small, restrained gestures of emotion the cast share, the lengthy globetrotting across wide open fields, the Shakespearean machinations for the throne, the ethical quandries about free will and destiny, the incredible depth Ivalice's history has, and more. It isn't well-constructed as a story, but it doesn't need to be; it feels organic, like you could read about it in a good history book. The graphics are a delight, full of eye-popping visuals and fantastic design. The sprawling, Istanbulesque Rabanastre especially is a sight to behold, whether its the packs of orphans scurrying through the streets or the fascinating spires stretching into the skies. Outside the city, meanwhile, seeing the way the lens flare glimmers in the sky is breathtaking to a gamer raised on Super Nintendo. The strong structural lines, well-defined characters, and bright color palette, full of yellows and browns and reds, makes the world feel like it could be a Persian miniature. The gameplay is great, although not without its problems, tedious dungeon crawling in particular. Since the items are randomized, some controller smashing results when you slog down a monster-infested sidepath only to get 41 Gil. The open-world expansiveness is a great way to waste hours exploring or just marveling at the scenery, and the Gambits help alot with the tedium of Level Grinding and random encounters. All in all, not without flaws, but great nevertheless.