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Final Fantasy XII review

Great
AT A GLANCE
  • Expansive world, full of life
  • Lengthy, challenging quest
  • Engaging if infrequent story
  • Big levels get boring to explore
  • Character-building is weak
  • So low-key it's not engrossing

What a weird journey Final Fantasy has made on the PlayStation 2. Look back at the PSone: FFVII set the tone for FFVIII. FFIX was the "different" one, but it still fit the mold. But then PS2 came along... FFX inherited its style from FFVIII; FFXI went online; FFX-2 was the first direct sequel in the series' history - and a very odd one at that. And now, we arrive at Final Fantasy XII... another beast entirely.

You've probably read by now - it's been how long since they announced it? - about how Final Fantasy XII is, well, different. And it is. At first glance, it looks a lot like the Final Fantasy you're used to, but really, whether you examine its story or gameplay, it couldn't be much more different from Final Fantasy X. Final Fantasy XII will be looked back on as a "love it or hate it" kind of game.

Before we dive into the gameplay, let's talk story. The last several Final Fantasy games put us inside the troubled heads of their heroes. Although Vaan could hold his own in a pretty-boy cat fight, this is not a character-driven tale. It's a sweeping epic in the vein of Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, where the characters are important for what they represent, not what they feel - and the main thrust of the story centers on war and the naked, magic-fueled ambition of man.

Though the tale is epic and the cinemas are excellent, the story is missing the emotional core that drove the previous games - even if their stories made less sense. This is probably the first time a Final Fantasy story feels like a blockbuster movie - maybe even more than it feels like a game. The tale centers on Dalmasca, a tiny kingdom caught in a huge struggle. Ashe, the beautiful, fallen princess struggles to capture the power to rebuild her kingdom, as Vayne, the son of the Emperor who conquered Dalmasca, seeks to dominate the entire continent.

The cutscenes come much less frequently than those in prior Final Fantasy games - but they always make an impact. You can read the story in the characters' detailed expressions... which is, at times, preferable to hearing it in the overwritten dialogue.

But if Final Fantasy XII isn't coasting on cutscenes, gameplay is even more crucial. The Final Fantasy series' gameplay usually centers on making the right choices in building your characters, so the battles come off without a hitch. This game is the ultimate evolution of this idea. The battles, which occur instantly and with no transition, more or less run themselves - your job is to set up intelligent Gambits for your characters, which dictate their actions. For example, you can instruct Ashe to prioritize healing over fighting, and she'll keep your other characters healthy while they beat on enemies.

The game has been accused of "playing itself" but that's not really true; you have to make sure everything runs smoothly, and formulate strategies on the fly - particularly during the entertaining boss battles. But there's an odd sense of disconnection from the bulk of the battles, and you won't uncover some of the really useful Gambits - like ones that target enemy weaknesses - until late in the game.



The developers really screwed up the summoned monsters this time around; they're far too rare, irritating to deal with and not as effective as a simple, well-thought out strategy. Similarly, the "Quickening" super attacks really handicap you, as you have to burn most of your magic points to make a dent in a boss with them. By the time you can deal with that, you'll have gotten used to doing things other ways. Unless you grind your entire party's levels, which is as boring as it sounds, you'll be ignoring these parts of the game - which, since FFVII, have been, well, what Final Fantasy is about.

It terms of its world, FFXII again deviates from the norm. Each area in the game is made of several large, interconnected areas. Final Fantasy XII brings real-world scope to RPGs; as you move through the game, these areas get larger and larger, making FFXII feel like almost like a wilderness hike, not an adventure. Put it this way: rather than preserve the town/dungeon structure of most games, the whole world's your dungeon, and you're always crawling it. Some parts of the world seem oddly empty and unnecessary... but in sharp contrast to the hemmed-in reality of most PS2 RPGs it's more refreshing than not.



Ever complained that the characters in Final Fantasy are interchangeable? FFXII takes this to the extreme. The License Board is similar to the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X, but it totally controls your destiny: weapons and equipment, spells and stat boosts are all there. By the middle of the game, you'll have a clear picture of any and every ability you will ever get and can pick whatever you like, building a party that's completely suited to your tastes, but which lacks any character-based focus. In FFX, it was exciting to unlock new abilities; in FFXII, the mystery is gone, and character-building is dull.

We've spent most of this review pointing out how FFXII is different from its predecessors. So let's lay it out: there is nothing whatsoever wrong with mixing things up. It's exciting to see Square Enix willing to take huge changes with its flagship series. Final Fantasy XII offers a lot of freedom, but that freedom sometimes feels very much like a lack of focus.

The story soars, but not so often. The dungeons are long and meandering. The gameplay is effective, but not engrossing. It's a staggeringly well-made game that throws more at you than any other RPG on the PS2... but well-made doesn't necessarily mean "fun." It's oddly low-key for a game about armies clashing and magic blasting. Some will proclaim it the most exciting evolution of the FF series yet; more, we suspect, will cast their eyes hopefully towards the future of the series.

More Info

Release date: Oct 31 2006 - PS2 (US)
Available Platforms: PS2
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Square Enix
Developed by: Square Enix
Franchise: Final Fantasy
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Animated Blood, Violence, Mild Lyrics

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8 comments

  • JosefMotley - September 26, 2010 1:33 p.m.

    "theirs no katy perry"? what's muci? oh, music. no, i like the music from final fantasys 4-10. when it was decent. i don't know whether you noticed, but i did mention ENGLISH TVs, and everyone else i know who has played it in ENGLAND has had the same problem. if you didn't, you must have some special TV that's probably the size of my house or something. i nearly threw up when i played it drunk. the plot is awful. the characters are one dimensional. nothing happens. i didn't care about a single one of them. the cut scenes involved identically armoured characters aimlessly chatting to each other for needlessly lengthy periods of time, and made me yearn for metal gear solid cut scenes as they would actually be a relief. when i finished the game i was more outraged than any other game i've ever played. maybe this was the first FF you played? or have you never played a real MMORPG and not realised what a watered down version of those this game really is? i didn't mind the battle system. i just wanted something other than endless maps of similar looking monsters to grind on. i wanted a STORY. not some crap about kings getting assassinated. lets compare plots (SPOILERS) FF7 - remains of an alien invader are used as genetic modification to create super soldiers. the very lifeforce of the planet, required for people and animals to reincarnate, is being harnessed and drained by an evil global mega corporation. the main character discovers almost his entire life has been a fantastic lie of his own creation. a love triangle shattered by a sudden death. giant creatures created to defend the planet roam around it smashing things up. the main enemy summons a meteor that will soon fall and destroy the planet. only by using a spell that may entirely remove humanity can you save it. until the slightly cash-in sequels, it was never certain if any characters beyond the last of a race of cat/dog/things ever survived. FF8 - time paradox creates a compressed world where the future and past are the same. also rumour has it, the love interest eventually degenerates into madness as becoming a sorceress has artificially extended her lifespan way beyond those of her friends, so she ironically becomes the main protaganist by causing the time compression in an attempt to bring back her lost and almost forgotten love. plus; monsters fall from space. futuristic cities. mobile mercenary colleges. FF9 - admittedly mostly rehashed bits of good plots from previous games. i'm not gonna lie. still better than 12 though. FF10 - a demon that pepetually returns on mass jaunts of destruction can only be defeated by what is essentially a blood sacrifice. until it is revealed to be a massive religious conspiracy created by the anti-machine lobbyists, and the demon turns out to be the last remnants of their so-called god, who ironically goes down with one zombie spell and a phoenix down (if i remember right) FF12 - some king assassinates another king, or something. i literally can't remember anything else happening in the whole 150+ hours it took me to do everything. please feel free to prove me wrong.
  • RogueRED - April 17, 2010 7:53 p.m.

    @JosefMotley .,.. You have no idea how much a dumbas you are. A. It worked on my TV, without the damn flicker. fail. B. No plot or character development? Their are so many 4 letter words I could use right now, so I'll leave this alone. C. The muci kicks ass. Maybe you don't like it because theirs no Katy Perry.
  • JosefMotley - February 2, 2010 11:06 a.m.

    this game is awful. i will just copy and paste my previous comments on it as it's not worth my time and i think people need to know how terrible it is. i spent 150 hours completing it (which came as a shock when i did, as i was waiting for a plot) so I think i'm pretty qualified to say this... it doesn't even WORK properly on english TVs, even with the flicker filter on it's intensely headache inducing. It has no plot, no character development, and is entirely made up of level grind. Pretty much what you said about FF11. oh and the music is awful. i felt so ripped off after playing through this game. final fantasy has been great up till and including the controversial X2. this game in comparison feels like a pale imitation of those glory days.
  • Jaki3Boi17 - November 30, 2008 5:10 a.m.

    I happen to think this game is quite good. The review comments quite well on the game and explains in good detail how good the game really is. The best of the Final Fantasy games, this game deserves a 10.
  • Roran109 - September 3, 2008 11:39 a.m.

    One thing I notice about reviews around the web... Is that the review itself really bashes the game, and points out every flaw, however dimiutive it may be. You ended really going, "Ew... I really wanted to play this game..." when are reading the review itself. But when you get the rating, you get an 8, saying its a great game. It just seems like reviews are more like trashings nowadays than really telling you wants bad AND good.
  • Sukururu - December 28, 2008 12:07 a.m.

    I have played a lot of games and thi is by far the best game ive played. every time u turn it on theres something new to do it really deserves more than an 8 for everyhing it delivers i also ove the fact that its in the same world as final fantasy tactics advance and that montblanc is head of the clan that ur in
  • TheNineTails - August 6, 2009 1:29 a.m.

    @ Cernunnos psuedo-mmo combat system? wtf are you talking about, in XII you can SEE the damn enimies instead of the screen cracking like you've just thrown a chair at your tv. fool.
  • Cernunnos - March 27, 2009 12:25 p.m.

    god i hate this game. this and FFX-2 almost ruins the series. the pseudo-mmo crap combat system is appaling. the story isnt anywhere as good as IV, VII, IX and X. the characters arent half as memorable or likeable. it has no personality, none. id give it a 5. bah.

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