|Developer: Square-Enix||Publisher: Square-Enix|
|Release Date: October 31, 2006||Also On: None|
In every genre of video games there is always at least one series or game that stands out more than the rest, one which all other games of that particular genre are compared to. The fighting series has games such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, shooters have games like Halo and Half-Life, so on and so forth. In the realm of RPG’s there is one series that sticks out more than any other and it goes without saying what the title of this epic saga is. With eleven titles under it’s belt, as well as quite a few spinoffs, it’s still going strong. After years of anticipation, Square-Enix has given us the twelfth chapter of the Final Fantasy series, and as we turn the pages, we find a little bit of old, a little bit of new, and a whole lot of stuff to do.
The game starts you off in the middle of a royal wedding, set in the beautiful city of Rabanastre, capitol of the Kingdom Dalmasca. Lord Rasler of Nabradia and Princess Ashelia of Dalmasca have exchanged their vows, and join each other in holy matrimony. However, this is no time for celebration. Shortly after the wedding, King Raminas receives word of an invasion by the Archadian Empire in the east, who plans to gain power over the Rozzarian Empire by swallowing all nations in-between the two. Arcadia had made quick waste of Lord Rasler’s homeland of Nabradia by destroying Nabudis, and they now approach Nalbina fortress with intent to strike. Fearing for his father’s life, Lord Rasler sets off with captain Basch Von Ronsenberg (what a name) of Dalmasca’s Order of Knights in order to help defend the fortress and his father’s life.
However, despite all efforts, the odds, as well as the numbers were against Lord Rasler and Dalmasca’s defense and, along with the fortress, Lord Rasler met his untimely end. The once glorious Nabradia is now nothing but a wasteland, and the majority of Dalmasca’s troops eradicated at Nalbina, King Raminas has no choice but to sign a treaty of surrender. Before he gets the chance to sign this treaty with the Empire, his life is taken by one of his most trusted Knights. Grief ridden with the loss of her husband and her father, Lady Ashe takes her own life, solidifying Arcadia’s rule over Dalmasca.
Three years later, you come into the game as a young, enthusiastic orphan named Vaan. His parents died to a plague when Vaan was very young, and his brother died in the war. He and his childhood friend Penelo live in poverty and both dream of the freedom of Dalmasca. Vaan idolizes and is very set on some day becoming a sky pirate, coming and going, pillaging and plundering as he pleases. Vaan learns of an important banquet being held at the old palace. He decides to play Robin Hood by stealing valuable items from the palace and giving them back to the people living on the streets.
Vaan runs into some troubles and also runs into an actual thief; the witty and dashing sky pirate Baltheir and his Viera partner Fran. It turns out that they both had their eyes on the same treasure, but before they could debate about it, there was an attack on the castle by rebel forces. The trio escape through the sewers and come across Amalia, a leader of the resistance force. Vaan, Baltheir and Fran help save Amalia’s life from pursuing forces as they make their escape from the castle and the city. From here on out Vaan’s life will never be the same again. He gets caught up in a tail of ancient kings, lost magic, and political corruption.
Final Fantasy XII’s story is intense, as well as engaging, and never runs old. From the moment I picked up the game to the moment I put down the controller, I was always speculating on what was going to happen next. Even more transfixing than the storyline itself is each individual character. Each new character you meet has a completely unique, interesting personality that always remains constant and really brings you into the game. British and Scottish voice actors work wonderfully for each character and create an interesting dialect that fits perfectly in the world of Ivalice.
Almost at the end of it’s generation, the PS2’s graphics engine gives it’s all to make Ivalice one of the most beautiful, colorful and diverse Final Fantasy worlds yet. All characters are beautifully detailed and the mixture of classic and modern in the towns and nature is nearly perfect. As usual, the game is chock-full of breathtaking cinematic story sequences that will have you drooling.
These things, engaging story, great character development, impressive graphics, have all come to be expected from a Final Fantasy game. But this time around, Square-Enix game us something that was completely unexpected. They’ve completely done away with the Active Time Battle (ATB) system, and introduced something new, the Active Dimension Battle (ADB) system. Allow me to explain. First, all enemies are free roaming and can be seen on the field, as well as all members of your party. Once you are within range of an enemy, you can attack right then and there, if you choose. That’s right, no more random battles. No more being thrown into another screen independent from the one you were just exploring. No more ridiculous transition effects such as grass shattering or the screen getting fuzzy and bleeding away. If there are other enemies meandering close by, they very well may jump in the battle as well, so be careful not to be overwhelmed.
In battle you can essentially choose what you want every character to do for every turn, but that would be hard and very tiresome after a while. Square-Enix has taken the proper precautions to make battle a little less stressful in the form of preset AI commands called Gambits. Gambits are the most exciting and interesting part in this new battle system and are essential to surviving difficult battles. The Gambit system enables the player to set an astonishingly large amount of actions based on ally or enemy variables. At this point you may think to yourself, “But wait, doesn’t that mean the game’s technically playing itself for you?”. To this, I say no.
Setting your Gambits requires a copious amount of planning, forethought, and often require you to switch them up to suit your current situation. If you are in an area where the enemies often use poisonous attacks, you may want to set a Gambit so that if anyone is poisoned, a character will automatically use an antidote, rather than going through different character menus and doing it manually. It makes the battle flow smoothly and seamlessly. The Gambits that are located at the top of the list also take priority over the ones below, so that you don’t have a character healing someone, rather than reviving a fallen ally. At first, constantly setting and resetting these may seem tedious and boring, but with hundreds of different Gambit commands and 12 possible Gambit slots for every party member, the level of customization is nearly infinite and as I said, it is the key to having a solid party.
The player can also choose to have battles in Active or Wait mode. When in Active mode, the battle rages on at all times, even when you open your player menu, where as in Wait mode, opening your menu pauses battle and gives you time to think about your decisions. Active mode is fun, but during the harder battles can get extremely intense and sometimes a bit too hard. I recommend using Wait mode until you get used to the way the game plays.
Also new to the battle system is the battle log, located at the top of the screen. This notifies you when an enemy is using a spell or technick. Magic, instead of being two simply classes, it’s broken down into five specific classes, and Technicks, which are attacks that don’t cost MP that are different from Magic and Quickenings/Summons have been added to your arsenal.
One of my favorite new additions to gameplay derives from Final Fantasy X’s infamous Sphere Grid: the License Board. Like the Sphere Grid, the License Board has various abilities, statistical enhancements, spells, etc., just like the Sphere Grid, but the License Board takes it a step further. All of the items, weapons, armor and Quickenings (special ultimate god attacks similar to limit breaks) are determined by the License Board. By obtaining that specific item, spell, etc., only then are you eligible to wear or use it in battle. Much like the Sphere Grid, in battle, defeating enemies earns you License Points (LP) which you use to purchase the different tiles on the board and the items/abilities/etc. that they represent. The License Board is the same for every character and as you begin to expand, you will begin to see the patterns of the board. For example, the bottom left of the top half of the board is mostly different status boosts, whereas the top right is where most accessories are. Each character starts in the same place, so you may expand and customize your characters whichever way you’d like. You could make everyone able to do everything or you could choose to fine tune certain characters into whatever class you wish. The choice is yours.
Making a return to the series are the infamous summons, now in the form of “Espers”. Sadly the veterans of the series such as Ifrit, Shiva and Bahamut are not available for use, although they do appear in name. A new slew of Summons have been created for you to use at your disposal. You’ll encounter many of these Espers on your quest, as well as quite a few hidden Esper’s for you to discover for yourself. The Espers are a fairly dominate force, but you use them at a cost. First, you must purchase them on your License Board and only one character will be able to use that specific Esper. They will not be able to be shared between characters, so choose wisely whom you give it to. Also, when you defeat enemies with Espers, only the character that summoned it will receive experience, so use them with discretion. Espers are cool to watch and are used to unlock certain side-quests in the game, but aren’t too conventional to use. Once you reach a certain level, you will find that the Espers die much too quickly.
The world of Ivalice is huge and expansive. With complete freedom to do as you wish throughout the game, you will seldom find yourself without something to do. There are a variety of side-quests and mini-games to find and complete. The most interesting and engaging one of them all is becoming a bounty hunter. After certain events in the game, you can join Clan Centurio and go on various hunts, tracking down notorious monsters. By completing marks, you up your rank within the clan, find tons of special loot and items, even find additional storyline content. In addition to the hunts, you can also play an entertaining fishing game and even a racing game. The world is seemingly endless with plenty of secret areas for you to explore.
Final Fantasy XII also has an extremely extensive party menu, which gives you access to normal party commands such as your item inventory, equipment and party status, as well as the Clan Primer, which includes an in-depth bestiary, list of all hunts you’ve accepted/completed, and the Sky Pirates den, which displays certain trophies you receive in-game achievements. It also has a very detailed world map, allowing you to access the maps of all areas you have previously visited.
After spending hours upon hours of exploring the vast world of Ivalice and careening through a vivid tale of politics, magic, trust and betrayal, I can say I have truly been on an adventure. Astonishing graphics, top-notch voice acting, new intuitive and entertaining gameplay, side-quests, and mini-games make the long wait for this epic more than worth it. If you are a fan of the Final Fantasy series or even just RPG’s in general, Final Fantasy XII is a game you simply cannot pass up.
|Replay Value/Game Length:||10|
|Written by Matt Evangelista||Review Guide|