Final Fantasy XII Reader Review
The only Final Fantasy games I have played are this (XII) and Final Fantasy X. The whole PS1 era of Final Fantasy passed me by, and so some might expect me to get some things wrong, or generally point out a flaw in Final Fantasy XII that long-term fans may consider the exact opposite. A good example could be a gameplay function that is generally ancient in development terms, but may still be seen as a feature that has been long associated with FF.
I am writing this review from someone new to the game while taking into account games in a similar genre, along with memories from playing FFX, which FFXII is sort-of a sequel/follow-up to (not story-wise, but development-wise).***
As stated above I let most of the FF era pass me by (which I am, of course, ashamed of) but I managed to grab FFX a few years after it came out just to see what all the fuss was about. During my first time playing the game I was completely put off by the 'Random Encounters' and the high degree of difficulty enemies would randomly pose without any indication to the player. Eventually I got plain tired of the game and sold it on.
Interestingly, a few months after I had an urge to buy the game and try it again- and that's exactly what I did. This time things were a lot different, as I changed my whole perspective of the game which worked wonders on the whole. This time I not only managed to play the game to the end, but I also had the desire to complete content which required a lot of dedication (e.g. collecting all monsters for the monster arena, or defeating Dark Aeons to face Penance). At the end of it all I felt like FFX was easily one of the best PS2 games I'd ever played, all I had to do was understand the game to enjoy it, which is something new players will need to do if they wish to gain a similar experience.
Now, after that seemingly meaningless ramble, I was in no doubt that FFXII would make my pre-order list without incident, and once the game was - finally - released in the UK I was quite excited to have similar experiences all over again, but to a greater extent (which most of us would expect from a new instalment to any franchise, I expect).
Beginning FFXII felt good, and the opening FMV sequence reminds you (like you would really forget) that you're now playing Final Fantasy, and that you should get ready for a huge and amazing adventure.
The opening section lets you take control of a fella called Reks, and serves as a tutorial for you to get to grips with the controls. Certain things such as camera and character movement are posed before you, along with a few simple fights to give you a rough idea what�s going on. It's pretty straightforward, and you�ll likely have a good idea how things work by the time the section ends and you lose control of Reks.
After some-more story development the game then lets you take control of Vaan, who's training his blade skills on some rats down in a sewer. Again, this small section lets you get to grips with the combat, and doesn�t pose any real threat as long as you keep things simple.
Once this is over you're let loose around Rabanastre, which is your large home-city. It's here (if not before) that you will likely realise the game has small sections of land which are cut-up into separate areas. There are blue dotted lines to indicate when you�re leaving an area and once you do the loading-times aren't too long, which is reassuring when you consider how many times you're going to be passing through different sections.
Players of FFX will notice that the sectioned areas are very small in comparison to the areas they experienced in Spira. The main reason for that, I assume, is because FFXII populates the land with enemies that you can see, rather than having your screen randomly smash with enemy encounters. The amount of monsters roaming about obviously has a bigger effect on FFXII's limitations, as opposed to the lands free of any visible enemies in FFX.
While this example of technical limitation seems fair-enough (having visible enemies may seem like a good incentive to have small-section areas), it is only the first example of how FFXII doesn't quite manage to come off as impressive as what FFX did (and still does, for the most part). But before we start tearing rips out of the game for technical flaws, it'd be more logical to discuss the combat system first.
The combat in FFXII works similar to combat in an MMORPG (such as World of Warcraft) or even like what Knights of the Old Republic on the X-Box uses. This is quite a big change from the full turn-based system of FFX, but while players may expect this to have a huge impact on their experience, it actually doesn't.
Personally I don't find the combat to be exactly better than what a turn-based system can offer, but at the same time FFXII's combat equals the same amount of excitement and strategic elements which FFX offers.
What lets it down, however, is when you start to cast spells and end up waiting for long-periods of time for them to execute. Again, I assume this is a technical limitation, as you can almost hear the PS2 scream in agony as it tries to process the animation for each spell being cast. If your party is mainly made-up of melee attackers, then you don't have much to worry about, but when you face certain bosses who are immune to physical damage it can be very frustrating having to wait for spells to cast when things are getting pretty frantic. On this value it's plain to see why a full turn-based system works better (especially on the PS2).
Luckily, to balance out the problems magick poses, the game offers you the chance to dictate what your allies will do in battle with the Gambit system. This feature allows you to enhance your combat experience as you can tell your ally to, for example, heal anyone when their health is below 20%, or cast Fire on an enemy who�s weak to the element. A game like Knights of the Old Republic could benefit hugely from such a feature, and for that FFXII at least manages to bring in something admirable about it. The only flaw with such a system would be for it to make you - the player - feel like you're not having much control over the battle. On a side note: I used Gambits for my two allies, but turned them off for my controlled character. This way it felt like I had a manual effect on the battle, rather than having very little input.
Like usual your party is restricted to three characters on the field, while you have another three (total six throughout the game) to replace existing members on the field. Now and again you�ll have the pleasure of having an additional helper known as a Guest join your party. While you have no control over the Guest, they have Gambits of their own and don't hinder your progress at all, which is obviously a good thing.
A Guest usually joins your party once some form of the story has developed, which is ironic to a degree as the storyline in FFXII is adequate, at best. Unlike FFX where the storyline does everything it can to explain the characters, the world and its background, FFXII gives very little development at all and thus you end up not really caring much about what happens in the end.
For example, there is a character known as Penelo who serves as Vaan�s close friend, yet throughout the game she doesn't seem to say or do anything useful at all, which makes you wonder what the point of her is. And the other characters don't fair up much better either, with only Balthier offering up minor interest with his sky-pirate ways and charms.
The logical reason as to why FFXII has such a poor story could be due to Square Enix wanting to keep the game more gameplay focused, rather than putting off potential players with too much storyline. On this level the game succeeds, but personally I felt the balance between story and gameplay in FFX was excellent, and wouldn't have been put off at all if FFXII were to be the same.
With the storyline being a bit on the dull side, you might think that the soundtrack would probably let go of itself as well, but thankfully this isn�t the case as the music performs impressively for the most part. It�s not quite up there with the emotionally fuelled pieces FFX offered, but it doesn�t manage to disappoint, which is enough for this instalment.
Now that the storyline is - to an extent - non-existent, you may be thinking that at least the gameplay itself will have benefited. Sadly, it�s hard for me to even say that the gameplay is anywhere near the levels enjoyment it actually should bring. It's not that the game is bad to play, as it simply isn't, but at the same time the main core of the game involves running through repetitively designed areas killing similar enemies over and over again until you reach a boss.
Now and again you will get a puzzle which may take a while to solve, but even that begins to grate as the main difficulty in such sections is having to navigate through a maze of mass boredom (the Draklor Laboratory being an excellent example).
All this doesn�t help when you consider that FFXII still uses the same old-skool technique of save points. Unlike modern RPGs that give you more opportunity to save your progress, FFXII still relies on forcing you to play through sections hours on end without saving to make things difficult. While FF fans will say that this is a traditional function, I think it's about time Square Enix moved forward with this and offered a more logical save system.
Of course I understand that being given the option to save anywhere can possibly make things too easy and even make you over-reliant on such a function, but on the other hand it has never been fun and enjoyable to have to do the same stuff over and over again. A mere checkpoint system would suffice, so that if you did spend hours grinding for experience and loot at least you know you wouldn�t have to do it all again if you died.
Fortunately, the game still somehow manages to keep you coming back for more despite all I've said above. There are plenty of side-quests and weapons/items which are worth the time to locate and acquire. On this side of things the game does well to offer more than 100 hours of content, which is something a lot of modern RPGs seem to be lacking (after all, one of the main things which makes an RPG a RPG is the vast amount of content).
While I would like to say the huge amount of content is excellent, the game yet again manages to let loose on your fire once you begin to realise that you're given absolutely no indication or idea of where to look for what you're after. For example, there are enemies in the game called Hunt Marks, which NPCs will pay you for once you kill them. Usually you would speak to the person wanting the monster dead and they would give you a rough location for where it is. Sadly, as the game pushes on you�re given less and less info on where your targets are. Put simply - without a guide you're more-or-less stumped.
And it�s not just for Hunt Marks that information is lacking; it�s pretty much all side-content in the game. Unless you have all the time in the world it would be ridiculous to try and complete everything FFXII has to offer without some form of guide. I'm half-tempted to believe that Square deliberately put so little detail into the game so that it will force players to buy the official guide for help. Fortunately we all know about the internet, and so such a plan is void these days, but to still have to use a guide to want to play a game is absurd, and it should be something Square are looking to stop in their future games.
For the Hunt Marks you're given a Clan Primer, which serves to hold details and remind you of your hunts. Sadly you're not given anything similar for side-quests and so you can completely forget about any quest you may have as the game keeps no record of your progress. Would a mere quest-log be such a taint upon the game? Hmmm�
There's so much good in FFXII, and heaps of potential, but the game constantly manages to tip the balance back in favour of a flawed game each time you�re just beginning to enjoy it more than usual.
One area, however, which is flawless, is the voice-acting, which is some of the best used in a game. It's fair to say, infact, that the voices actually overshadow the characters speaking the words themselves.
Overall FFXII feels too much like a step-back in design terms. While it employs a few new ideas which work well (e.g. Gambits), the game doesn�t do enough to improve or cover up the gameplay flaws and technical limitations. If this was the first time a Final Fantasy was released on the PS2, then FFXII wouldn't be half as disappointing. Sadly, a Final Fantasy is already out on the PS2 (two, infact) which offer a much more satisfying and polished experience. While FFX uses the same save game and lack-of-information techniques as FFXII, it still manages to use other functions to keep it a successful experience� FFXII lacks this, and so we�re left with a game offering nowhere near the level of enjoyment we�ve come to expect.
It�s still worth playing, there�s no doubt about that. Both FF and non-FF fans alike can gain a good RPG experience from FFXII, but that there are similar and better games on offer means that I can't recommend FFXII as much as I would like to.
7 / 10