Wednesday, July 12, 2000

Final Fantasy XII review 9.0

After a long wait, Final Fantasy XII is finally here, after such a long wait. Everything about it shines. From it's deep storyline, to its fantastic and complex gameplay. All worries aside, Final Fantasy XII is a keeper.

The Archadian Empire has taken over the Kingdom of Dalmasca. The King has been assissnated and the princess is presumed dead. The people of Dalmasca are displeased with the Empire, especially a young boy named Vaan who believes it is up to him to take Dalmasca back. Luckily, he's not alone. There's an entire resistence group out there that are willing to help him out. The storyline of Final Fantasy XII is different from all the Final Fantasy games. For one, it relies far more heavily on its political drama and philosophical intrigue. What you get from Final Fantasy XII isn't a huge epic story in scope, but rather a drama that unfolds. It's a different way to tell the story for Final Fantasy, but here it actually works. It's still got some good twists and it is somewhat deep, but don't expect something along the lines of previous installments such as Final Fantasy X or VII. It doesn't have the most memorable ensemble cast either, but you do, for the most part, like the characters.

What many fans are most concerned about when it comes to this new installment is the battle system itself. It strays away from the series roots. It is no longer the ATB style battles we've been used to since Final Fantasy IV. Instead it's Active Dimension battle. All enemies in any given area of a dungeon are present at all times and will charge you upon seeing you.

You can free roam through any area, and so can your enemies. As your characters approach an enemy they pull out their weapons and you can begin to issue attacks. You can only play as one character at a time, but you can still issue orders to other characters if you want. Since all enemies are present on the map at one time, running away can be a hassle. Enemies will give chase, and some enemies will even join in the battle.

The combat has a couple of downsides. For one, getting money is downright painful and repetitive. Your enemies don't drop money, and when they do it's not a lot. Instead you'll be forced to sell the items they drop. This wouldn't be a problem if stuff wasn't so expensive, and if the items dropped by enemies didn't sell for so little. Also, dungeon maps are huge. It's easy to get lost and overshoot your objective sometimes, even with the ingame map provided.

This wouldn't be Final Fantasy without some complexity to the battle system, though. First, there is the game's complex AI system called "Gambits." Gambits allow you t customize what your characters do in battle. You can set your characters up to attack, or you can get more complex and have them heal anyone whose HP falls below a certain percentile. Once you get used to the Gambit system, however, it's really easy to take advantage of. To the point where Final Fantasy XII becomes a cakewalk. Even worse, if you set them up too well, you'll find that the only thing you ever have to do is move around the left analog stick. It is entirely possible to track through Final Fantasy XII never having to open up the menu.

Then there's the license point system. As you battle through the game you'll earn license points which can be spent on the license board. This helps to determine what spells, abilities and even weapon and armor characters can use. Yes, that's right, weapons and armor. You cannot use a certain weapon unless you have a "license" to do so. There's nothing too complex about this and it suffers from its own little issue, the fact that in the end every character is the same.

Let's be honest on one more thing... for some Final Fantasy XII just might not be a lot of fun to play. The aspect of no random battles is nice, but take advantage of the gambit system, and Final Fantasy XII becomes a game that, for the most part, feels one-dimensional. The complexity is nice, but gambits can make the player feel like he's doing little to participate. What it amounts to is basically you moving around the left analog stick while your characters automatically carry out their own actions in battle. There are times when Final Fantasy XII can feel monotonous as a result. That's not to say you won't have fun, it's only to say that battling won't keep you as engaged for long. Especially when every character can so easily learn everything. The dungeons being so big doesn't help this. They've made big so that you will battle. And while the battle system isn't really bad in anyway, it can definitely be annoying to find that Square-Enix made a dungeon huge for the sake of padding out the length.

Graphic-wise, Final Fantasy XII is fantastic. The towns are detailed, and so are your characters. The fact that each town has so many unique looking characters on screen at once is an impressive feat. The game also sounds lovely. Even better is the games artistic design. Towns are breathtaking. The game also sounds good. The voice acting isn't the best in the world, but it does manage to be good in many areas.

Perhaps Final Fantasy XII suffers most in the story department. It's a good story, but the game doesn't spend a lot of time focusing on it. It gets off to a great start, but at some point the game just becomes so devoid of it that it's easy to lose interest in what may have been one of the series more interesting stories. Around the mid point of the game, the story takes a backseat, with developments coming further between. It's refusal to focus too much on its characters doesn't help this. It picks up again in the end and makes for a good story overall, but there's so much to Final Fantasy XII that just doesn't focus on it. What makes the story good is how well written and how cinematic each of the cutscenes becomes. When you get one of these in depth moments into the story it's really engaging and really good. The problem is just that for so long this doesn't happen much. The world of Ivalice is definitely beating with a pulse, though. Running through towns and seeing the vast populations really brings things to life. It's just a shame Final Fantasy XII couldn't have a more lively story.

The Good

+Fantastic Graphics
+Good storyline
+The new battle system is complex
+Tons of side quests and secrets to keep you busy for hours
+Beautiful soundtrack
+Well done voices

The Bad

-Dungeons are huge and save points are few and far between
-The battle system is too easy to take advantage of
-The license board will eventually make every character the same
-While the story is good overall, there certainly isn't too much focus on it

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