Review: Final Fantasy XII

Final Fantasy XIII

Initial Thoughts

I don’t recall too much about this game’s story. I do recall that it came out when I had recently moved across the country very abruptly, leaving all my stuff behind (long story). I had planned to go back and get it, naturally, but the hype over this game and its heavy TV promotion actually caused me to go out and buy a new PlayStation 2 along with this game just to be able to play it — even though I had one already with the rest of my stuff and would get it two weeks later.
Another thing I recall about this game is not liking its battle system, either, but we’ll get into that during the…

Review

Right off the bat, this game starts out with a lot of dialogue and cutscenes, with the narrative in this game very medieval in tone. It actually is quite a while before you actually get to play as a character. Even then, it’s just a prologue that soon leads into more cutscenes, and then another brief controlled squence. Finally, after nearly 25 minutes have passed, you are in control of Vaan and able to explore the city of Rabanastre.

The size of the cities are overwhelming and are definitely the biggest they have ever been in the franchise. In fact, they can even be broken up into separate sections that incur loading screens between zones.

Graphically, the game is improved upon from its predecessor, Final Fantasy XI but a lot of the game is very similar. Like Final Fantasy X, you can see emotions on the character’s faces and the transition from cutscene graphics to actual gameplay is mostly the same as well.

The battle system also is similar to Final Fantasy XI in some ways. For example, you will see enemies on your world map that you can choose to engage or run away from. This is a first for the single-player series and a move away from random battles that would remain a constant for the rest of the series. But another addition (which you can toggle) are sight lines that will display. Basically, a blue line will trace from a player character to its targeted monster, whereas a red monster will trace from an attacking monster to its target. There are also traps along the journey that you can trigger which can give your character(s) status effects like Poison if you don’t avoid them.

The part of the battle system I really dislike is a new addition called Gambits. While your party consists of three members (though you can swap in and out members like Final Fantasy X at any time), you will only control one at a time, with the other two fight on their own. Gambits help define what they do, so let’s explain what they are. Within the Gambits menu, you can set a series of “if/then” conditional statements that will apply to specified characters, as well as the order in which they take place. An example of this would be the top Gambit slot having a statement like “If character HP <50%, then use potion” (or other healing method such as Cure). The second slot would then be something like, “If being attacked, attack target.” And so on with myriad combinations, expanding even further as the game progresses and you earn or purchase more Gambit slots and abilities.

The problem I have with this is four simple words that have been my main criticism of this game since my initial play back in 2006: the game plays itself. Oh, sure, you definitely steer your characters around the towns and interact with NPCs and all that good stuff that goes along with the genre but, when it comes to traversing the world map or exploring a dungeon, that’s also all you really do: steer. Because if an enemy attacks you, your party will automatically start attacking as well. Battles take place in real-time (just like in Final Fantasy XI) without a transition-to-battle screen (like in every preceding title). And so — with Gambits set up properly — you can literally just put down your controller and wait until your characters finish clearing the enemies out of the way before picking it up again and continuing along your way. So you’re not even only controlling one character with two AI characters — you’re basically just steering them through the game. If that criticism sounds harsh, let me point out that this game’s optional Superboss, Yiazmat, has the most HP of any boss in the game’s series’ past, present, and future with over 50 million. And I beat it by steering my characters to its lair, initiating the battle, and letting them fight. Several hours later, Yiazmat was dead. Granted, you could turn off Gambits completely and manually control characters — which I actually experimented with at one point — but the game simply isn’t designed to be played that way, and I ended up begrudgingly switching back.

There are intricacies to the battle system, such as chain bonuses. The way this works is that, if you continue to kill monsters of the same type, you will build up a chain bonus. As this increases, so does your potential rare loot that will drop from the enemies (another similarity to Final Fantasy XI). This made for a series of grinding for me in specific areas either or experience or license points (more on that in a minute) or for where the rare loot was either usable or I could sell it for gil to buy other items. In doing this, one must also occasionally make use of the flee function, where holding down R2 will disengage from all enemies as you run away.

Another element of the battle system are Quickenings, which are the “limit breaks” of this title. Initiating one of these kicks off a quick-time button press sequence where you will have a fixed amount of time to enter in your character’s commands. You can even then kick it over to another character and input their own commands before time expires, and repeat, building a long chain until time finally expires. It’s fun when you actually use it, but I must admit I rarely did. I just plain forgot about it because I was basically able to beat everything just using the normal Gambit setup (including Yiazmat).

Similarly, the Summons in this game will actually take the place of the two other party members while the Esper is out. They can unleash a powerful move before disappearing again. Much like the Quickenings, I didn’t mess around with this much, either, mostly for the same reasons.

It’s also worth nothing that, even as far as treasure chests go, each one has a chance of a rare item appearing instead of its “normal” item. In fact, there is even a weapon (the best in the game) that only appears if you did NOT open four specific chests throughout the game. There is another means to obtain it via a treasure chest, but it has conditions for it to spawn and even be the same item that are akin to loot drop rarities in a typical MMO, which is appropriate given this game’s similarities to its immediate predecessor.

As far as minigames go, you can undertake Hunts where you are tasked with seeking out and taking down rare enemies for rewards. You can unlock more as you proceed, including some of the superboss style. Some of the enemies only appear under certain conditions as well. It is in this regard that the game takes on yet another similarity to Final Fantasy XI (with its Notorious Monsters).

Regarding the aforementioned license points, the level progression system in this game uses a new system called the License Board. This board is a tiled board with hundreds of squares, each square representing an ability, spell, equipment piece, or augment. You must spend license points you earn from battles to activate squares on the License Board, granting characters access to new abilities, magic spells, gambit slots, etc. You even must unlock the ability to equip stronger weapons and armor. The cool thing about this is that, even though your characters do start off with certain abilities already unlocked, it is completely up to you as the player to determine how they will end up. You can make all the women the primary damage dealers and all the men the healers, or vice versa. You can even pick and choose what type of weapon you would like a character to specialize in. This system, while a bit daunting at first, allows for great customization, as well as allowing for the “everyone learns everything” approach if you so desire.

Backing up a bit to abilities, this game struck me as odd in that a lot of the spells have names similar to games in the series, but the summons are all different names. I get that this game is set in Ivalice (the same world as Final Fantasy Tactics), where this precedent was previously set, but it feels odd to me when airships are named Ifrit and Shiva, and summons (called Espers here) are named Belias and Mateus.

As far as the story of the game goes, it’s done very well to start, but quickly gets convoluted. By the end of the game, little really makes much sense, and I’m still not really sure what the final boss of the game had going on throughout the entire story, nor what was his motivation. Sadly, despite being so verbose and grandiose of a tale, it ends up forgotten, perhaps because of that very reason.

 

 

Final Thoughts

When I think of Final Fantasy XII, I often refer to it as “an offline MMO.” The game has elements that are clearly adapted from Final Fantasy XI just before it, for better or for worse. I also tend to think of it as “the game that plays itself,” a part of it that I did not like. All in all, while certain gameplay elements are fun, and the license board is a cool idea, this wasn’t a game I’d be excited to play again.

This brings my list of favorites to read as follows:
1) Final Fantasy X
2) Final Fantasy IX
3) Final Fantasy VII
4) Final Fantasy VI
5) Final Fantasy V
6) Final Fantasy IV
7) Final Fantasy II
8) Final Fantasy III
9) Final Fantasy
10) Final Fantasy XII
11) Final Fantasy VIII

I wasn’t sure if I disliked this game more than I did Final Fantasy VIII, but the latter’s story was just horrendous as I went back and read the review, and its level progression system was undeniably worse than the license board (which I liked). At the same time, I sort of feel bad putting it below the first three games, but I feel like I’d be more open to going back and replaying any of those three over this one again. It’s not even that this game was necessarily bad or not fun. It just overall seemed so far of a deviation from the other single-player titles in the franchise that it stands out for that reason, and not in a good way, in my opinion.

Onward to Final Fantasy XIII!


Initial Thoughts

I don’t recall too much about this game’s story. I do recall that it came out when I had recently moved across the country very abruptly, leaving all my stuff behind (long story). I had planned to go back and get it, naturally, but the hype over this game and its heavy TV promotion actually caused me to go out and buy a new PlayStation 2 along with this game just to be able to play it — even though I had one already with the rest of my stuff and would get it two weeks later.
Another thing I recall about this game is not liking its battle system, either, but we’ll get into that during the…

Review

Right off the bat, this game starts out with a lot of dialogue and cutscenes, with the narrative in this game very medieval in tone. It actually is quite a while before you actually get to play as a character. Even then, it’s just a prologue that soon leads into more cutscenes, and then another brief controlled squence. Finally, after nearly 25 minutes have passed, you are in control of Vaan and able to explore the city of Rabanastre.

The size of the cities are overwhelming and are definitely the biggest they have ever been in the franchise. In fact, they can even be broken up into separate sections that incur loading screens between zones.

Graphically, the game is improved upon from its predecessor, Final Fantasy XI but a lot of the game is very similar. Like Final Fantasy X, you can see emotions on the character’s faces and the transition from cutscene graphics to actual gameplay is mostly the same as well.

The battle system also is similar to Final Fantasy XI in some ways. For example, you will see enemies on your world map that you can choose to engage or run away from. This is a first for the single-player series and a move away from random battles that would remain a constant for the rest of the series. But another addition (which you can toggle) are sight lines that will display. Basically, a blue line will trace from a player character to its targeted monster, whereas a red monster will trace from an attacking monster to its target. There are also traps along the journey that you can trigger which can give your character(s) status effects like Poison if you don’t avoid them.

The part of the battle system I really dislike is a new addition called Gambits. While your party consists of three members (though you can swap in and out members like Final Fantasy X at any time), you will only control one at a time, with the other two fight on their own. Gambits help define what they do, so let’s explain what they are. Within the Gambits menu, you can set a series of “if/then” conditional statements that will apply to specified characters, as well as the order in which they take place. An example of this would be the top Gambit slot having a statement like “If character HP <50%, then use potion” (or other healing method such as Cure). The second slot would then be something like, “If being attacked, attack target.” And so on with myriad combinations, expanding even further as the game progresses and you earn or purchase more Gambit slots and abilities.

The problem I have with this is four simple words that have been my main criticism of this game since my initial play back in 2006: the game plays itself. Oh, sure, you definitely steer your characters around the towns and interact with NPCs and all that good stuff that goes along with the genre but, when it comes to traversing the world map or exploring a dungeon, that’s also all you really do: steer. Because if an enemy attacks you, your party will automatically start attacking as well. Battles take place in real-time (just like in Final Fantasy XI) without a transition-to-battle screen (like in every preceding title). And so — with Gambits set up properly — you can literally just put down your controller and wait until your characters finish clearing the enemies out of the way before picking it up again and continuing along your way. So you’re not even only controlling one character with two AI characters — you’re basically just steering them through the game. If that criticism sounds harsh, let me point out that this game’s optional Superboss, Yiazmat, has the most HP of any boss in the game’s series’ past, present, and future with over 50 million. And I beat it by steering my characters to its lair, initiating the battle, and letting them fight. Several hours later, Yiazmat was dead. Granted, you could turn off Gambits completely and manually control characters — which I actually experimented with at one point — but the game simply isn’t designed to be played that way, and I ended up begrudgingly switching back.

There are intricacies to the battle system, such as chain bonuses. The way this works is that, if you continue to kill monsters of the same type, you will build up a chain bonus. As this increases, so does your potential rare loot that will drop from the enemies (another similarity to Final Fantasy XI). This made for a series of grinding for me in specific areas either or experience or license points (more on that in a minute) or for where the rare loot was either usable or I could sell it for gil to buy other items. In doing this, one must also occasionally make use of the flee function, where holding down R2 will disengage from all enemies as you run away.

Another element of the battle system are Quickenings, which are the “limit breaks” of this title. Initiating one of these kicks off a quick-time button press sequence where you will have a fixed amount of time to enter in your character’s commands. You can even then kick it over to another character and input their own commands before time expires, and repeat, building a long chain until time finally expires. It’s fun when you actually use it, but I must admit I rarely did. I just plain forgot about it because I was basically able to beat everything just using the normal Gambit setup (including Yiazmat).

Similarly, the Summons in this game will actually take the place of the two other party members while the Esper is out. They can unleash a powerful move before disappearing again. Much like the Quickenings, I didn’t mess around with this much, either, mostly for the same reasons.

It’s also worth nothing that, even as far as treasure chests go, each one has a chance of a rare item appearing instead of its “normal” item. In fact, there is even a weapon (the best in the game) that only appears if you did NOT open four specific chests throughout the game. There is another means to obtain it via a treasure chest, but it has conditions for it to spawn and even be the same item that are akin to loot drop rarities in a typical MMO, which is appropriate given this game’s similarities to its immediate predecessor.

As far as minigames go, you can undertake Hunts where you are tasked with seeking out and taking down rare enemies for rewards. You can unlock more as you proceed, including some of the superboss style. Some of the enemies only appear under certain conditions as well. It is in this regard that the game takes on yet another similarity to Final Fantasy XI (with its Notorious Monsters).

Regarding the aforementioned license points, the level progression system in this game uses a new system called the License Board. This board is a tiled board with hundreds of squares, each square representing an ability, spell, equipment piece, or augment. You must spend license points you earn from battles to activate squares on the License Board, granting characters access to new abilities, magic spells, gambit slots, etc. You even must unlock the ability to equip stronger weapons and armor. The cool thing about this is that, even though your characters do start off with certain abilities already unlocked, it is completely up to you as the player to determine how they will end up. You can make all the women the primary damage dealers and all the men the healers, or vice versa. You can even pick and choose what type of weapon you would like a character to specialize in. This system, while a bit daunting at first, allows for great customization, as well as allowing for the “everyone learns everything” approach if you so desire.

Backing up a bit to abilities, this game struck me as odd in that a lot of the spells have names similar to games in the series, but the summons are all different names. I get that this game is set in Ivalice (the same world as Final Fantasy Tactics), where this precedent was previously set, but it feels odd to me when airships are named Ifrit and Shiva, and summons (called Espers here) are named Belias and Mateus.

As far as the story of the game goes, it’s done very well to start, but quickly gets convoluted. By the end of the game, little really makes much sense, and I’m still not really sure what the final boss of the game had going on throughout the entire story, nor what was his motivation. Sadly, despite being so verbose and grandiose of a tale, it ends up forgotten, perhaps because of that very reason.

 

 

Final Thoughts

When I think of Final Fantasy XII, I often refer to it as “an offline MMO.” The game has elements that are clearly adapted from Final Fantasy XI just before it, for better or for worse. I also tend to think of it as “the game that plays itself,” a part of it that I did not like. All in all, while certain gameplay elements are fun, and the license board is a cool idea, this wasn’t a game I’d be excited to play again.

This brings my list of favorites to read as follows:
1) Final Fantasy X
2) Final Fantasy IX
3) Final Fantasy VII
4) Final Fantasy VI
5) Final Fantasy V
6) Final Fantasy IV
7) Final Fantasy II
8) Final Fantasy III
9) Final Fantasy
10) Final Fantasy XII
11) Final Fantasy VIII

I wasn’t sure if I disliked this game more than I did Final Fantasy VIII, but the latter’s story was just horrendous as I went back and read the review, and its level progression system was undeniably worse than the license board (which I liked). At the same time, I sort of feel bad putting it below the first three games, but I feel like I’d be more open to going back and replaying any of those three over this one again. It’s not even that this game was necessarily bad or not fun. It just overall seemed so far of a deviation from the other single-player titles in the franchise that it stands out for that reason, and not in a good way, in my opinion.

Onward to Final Fantasy XIII!


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Jason L. Hubsch

Jason L. Hubsch

I love music, video games, comic books, pro wrestling, politics, and God -- and not necessarily in that order! If you like any of these, chances are we'll get along.

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