#706 Final Fantasy XII

Posted: 28th August 2011 by Mulholland in Games
Tags: , , , ,

80th game played so far

Genre: RPG
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix

Final Fantasy XII… in a game that numbers fourteen installments so far, not counting any sidegames, you have to ask yourself what it can offer now. Add to that the side games, and you wonder how it could be new.

At the same time, new platforms allow for more improvements, and with this being the last of its generation, you can be sure FFXII will push the envelope of what’s possible, allowing for lovely graphics.

With both Skies of Arcadia and Tales of Symphonia in mind, however, we were worried and wondered how the game would end up treating us. It might be pretty, it might be Final Fantasy, and it might be acclaimed, but does that mean it’ll hold up for us?

Our Thoughts

This is the one game we needed to play after Tales of Symphonia. Exactly, after a chore of a game which turned us both to the JRPG genre it was the perfect time for us to plug in and play one of the most critically acclaimed JRPGs of all time. After about two minutes worth of FMV, we knew this would be a good game.

This is something that we all know the Final Fantasy franchise does well. They utilise the best technology available at the time and combine this with great dramatic storytelling. We saw this with Final Fantasy IX where they were able to generate a great deal of pathos with Vivi, in Final Fantasy XII they were able to completely suck us in. A great FMV needs to do many things but the main checkbox it needs to tick is to convey the maximum amount of information with the player’s concentration being engaged even further. The opening 10 minutes of tutorials not only did this but it actually made us read up on more of the backing story which has been fleshed out in subsequent games set in the same world.

One of the best ways to do it is that the series felt grown up here for the first time. It doesn’t treat you like a simpleton, having to explain everything three times in simple turns, nor does it leave things unclear and wondering what’s going on… even if our perception of who the protagonist would be changed three times over. The FMV also looks great and realistic – the best it could do at the time, but it’s enough. The monsters look realistic, not cartoony, but not grotesque either. They feel like they could be out there. Well, mostly. There are tutorials, but they don’t explain it in too much detail – you get to figure out the details on your own.

Unlike the battling and levelling up system which foxed us in Final Fantasy VIII the system used here worked amazingly well. This series introduces a licensing system so you can acquire new moves and the ability to use new weapons. As a system it is very straightforward and allows for the maximum customisability of your characters, basically it’s a homerun. Fans of the series are likely to see this as a further adaptation of the intuitive Sphere Grid system demonstrated in Final Fantasy X. Then there is the gambit system which allows you to program the movements of your party which, if done expertly well, will allow you to traverse dungeons with minimum effort.

In fact it would be safe to say that somehow this game has managed to find a happy medium between turn-based battling and those requiring immediate attention. With the right gambits, in theory you’d have to pay no attention to them anyway, although the game isn’t that easy. But while it feels real time, the immediate pausing system works intuitively and quickly and it was of the improvements that makes the game more enjoyable and engaging – I’ve rarely been pulled into a battling system as much as happened while playing this. You feel in the middle of the action without being overwhelmed most of the time.

Also, because the battling system runs into general gameplay there is no discernable change in graphics like you would normally see. The world itself feels like huge, not huge as in Hyrule’s stretching plains, but there is a large variation of scenery from an urban sprawl, filled with bazaars and citizens, to the skies themselves. When you play this you can see how Square Enix have stretched the PS2’s capabilities to it’s ultimate limit. The graphics and sound are about a half step behind what the current generation are now utilising. The compromise is that every area is formed of dozens of smaller ones with a loading time in between, but this is so short that there is no intrusion whatsoever.

What helps here is the way the environment varies. While there are design elements in common, it’s not as bad as the repeated tiles and very similar models from earlier games. It also feels very open, with open fields, rather than more constrained areas. The game looks lovely and different, from its environments to its characters and all in between. As I mentioned before, the game has grown up, and it shows in the art especially. Everything looks natural. There’s no exaggerated anime-art or clear polygons. In particular, there’s no attempt here to show off. The graphics are great, there’s some lovely scenery to marvel over, but not a single moment where the designers seem to be saying “Look at this; we’ve got something great here.” It’s just there, supporting the game in its storytelling and engaging gameplay.

In effect you feel that every entry in the Final Fantasy has been leading to this game. It really can be seen as Square Enix’s magnum opus where they would have done well to agree that this was their final fantasy game since whatever they have yet to make will always pale in comparison. When you look at the reviews for the thirteenth and fourteenth entries for this series you know how right about this we are.

Final Thoughts

This is one game where it comes together. Not trying to be too serious, not trying to be funny, fitting in all the things that make Final Fantasy great without falling into the melodramatics and boring cutscenes some others bored us with. Comprehensible, not convoluted. Chocobo and Moogles make sense, they’re not silly, they’re not over the top, ruining the tone or changing it. The graphics are great, the sound is good, the characters are very likeable, one thing we haven’t mentioned yet. They suit the world and are far more three-dimensional than most. The story is intriguing and promising – it’s genuinely unclear where it goes, while everything fits together.

It’s hard to mention one thing that makes the game great. Most of the things we see here have been done before, have been done better. But it rarely happens where it all adds up. And that’s what it does. It’s their magnum opus for sure, and I can say I’m looking forward to the next game where they try to top it.

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