reviews
Final Fantasy XII: Return to Ivalice
Developer:Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: RPG
1 players
Game Was: Provided
Rated: T by the ESRB
Review by: Keith Schleicher

pure gold

Final Fantasy XII: Return to Ivalice

The name “Final Fantasy” is more accurate than some gamers might expect it to be.  When the original Final Fantasy was created, the developers felt that it would be their last game, and so they wanted to go out with a bang.  When the game sold beyond expectations, they were able to stay in business.

Since then Final Fantasy has become a phenomenon.  While there will always be a debate on which Final Fantasy game is the best, the series exploded with Final Fantasy VII.  The marketing blitz flooded the airwaves, showing scenes from the movies in the game.  A soft-drink company had a tie-in with FF7.  As a result, FF7 has become the best selling Final Fantasy game worldwide, introducing a large number of people to Japanese RPGs.

Final Fantasy X was the first Final Fantasy game brought to the PS2 and almost sold as many copies as Final Fantasy VIIFF10 proved popular enough to be the only Final Fantasy game to have a true sequel.  Final Fantasy XI was a bit of a gamble for SquareEnix because it was the first MMORPG made by the company.  Both the PS2 and PC versions sold well, and eventually an Xbox 360 version was released.

Now Final Fantasy XII (FF12) is here.  While the series has evolved with each iteration, FF12 promises to be the most mature, and possibly the riskiest, game in the series.  Many have questioned the move to a near real-time battle system, similar to the one used in FF11.  With the name “Final Fantasy” on the box though, it’s almost guaranteed to sell a few million copies.  Some stores are opening up at midnight so that those who pre-ordered the game can get their copy early.  Yet, the question still remains, does Final Fantasy XII live up to the hype?

Graphics - 92/100

The Final Fantasy series is well known for their stunning movie sequences.  The movies in the game are some of the best CGI sequences this side of Pixar Studios.  They draw you into the world of Ivalice, making the kingdom of Dalmasca a real place.  The different inhabitants of the land move realistically through the streets, each having their own swagger.  The airships fly through the sky, rotors propelling the ships, hovering for an instant before swooping down towards its prey.

The in-game graphics might not look quite as good as the movie sequences, but they still look good.  The characters are well-rendered.  They move fluidly while running without looking awkward like you might see in some other RPGs.  The clothing on the characters isn’t just painted on either.  For instance, Vaan’s vest and medallion move independent of Vaan’s body.  These little touches help the characters look more real.  There is a nice variety to the models too, from the normal human characters to the bunny people to the alligator-like and pig-like characters.

The environments in the game are varied.  You might be running out in barren plains for part of the game, and other times you’ll be in dark, dingy, and seedy areas of the city.  Each environment is also varied enough that they don’t become stale.  Some areas, such as those with shops, are busier than other areas.

Some of the male characters of FF12 are a bit androgynous as is typical of JRPGs.  Vayne has a head of hair that would put Fabio to shame and would feel right at home in a shampoo commercial.  Vaan could use a better hairstyle.  Still, the look of characters like Balthier and Basch look more masculine and are a great improvement over the characters you’d find in Magna Carta: Tears of Blood, where the men look a bit too much like women.

At least the female characters don’t look like they walked out of the Dead or Alive series.  In fact, the women in FF12 actually look natural.  Penelo is young and has a hairstyle with short pigtails.  Ashe is a little older and doesn’t look like a typical JRPG teenager.  Still, Fran looks like she has a constant blank stare on her face that really bugged me while playing the game, and her clothes don’t cover much of her backside either.  You might be into that if you are a Furry though.

FF12 does suffer from jaggies.  While this is to be expected for a PS2 title, it is kind of disappointing to see after the excellent job done with the rest of the graphics.  Also, some of the enemies look like their polygon count is much lower than your characters.  While it’s not difficult to expect the enemies to not look as good as your character, there are still times when the difference between the look of your enemies is staggering.

Sound/Music - 95/100

When you first put in the FF12 disc and the game loads, you can instantly tell that this is a Final Fantasy game.  The melodic chimes move up and down the scale while female voices sing in the background.  Trumpets and other instruments are slowly added until the brass section and drums bring dark overtones to the theme.  Finally a ray of hope is brought with a bright melody.  The brass supports the string sections.  While the theme might not be as good as other Final Fantasy themes, it still has a majestic Final Fantasy feel to it.

The voice acting in Final Fantasy X really bugged me.  In particular, I felt that the voice of Tidus didn’t match the look of the character.  Finding good voice acting for a JRPG is a true challenge these days.  FF12 is one of the best voice-acted JRPGs on the market right now.  While Vaan’s voice was an issue for me when playing the game at first, it eventually grew on me.  All of the other characters’ voices sound good and match their appearance.

The background sounds have been prepared with the same care as the music and voices.  The footsteps of the characters in your party are easily heard, and when in a cave or dungeon they echo.  Running through water makes your footsteps splash.  Every strike with the sword clangs and gunshot blasts boom.  Potions gurgle when being used.  Chimes indicate that a party member has been healed.

Controls - 90/100

The controls for FF12 are relatively simple.  Movement is done with the left analog stick, while the right analog stick changes your viewpoint.  Menu selections can be made with the left analog stick or the D-pad.  Triangle brings up the Party Menu and X brings up the Battle Menu.  To flee an enemy, you need to hit R2 and then use the left analog stick to actually run away.  Once you are locked onto an enemy, you can use the L2 key to lock onto that enemy and circle strafe it.

The controls aren’t customizable at all.  While this wouldn’t be an issue most of the time, the right stick moves counter to how most third-person games work.  Moving the right analog stick up and down makes the camera move down and up respectively, making the camera control inverted along the Y-axis.  While I prefer that control scheme, others might wish that they could change the control.  Moving left on the right analog stick, the camera moves to the left instead of changing your party's viewpoint to the left.  The same applies when moving the right analog stick to the right.  This takes some getting used to, but after playing the game for a few hours it becomes second nature.  Movement sometimes needs to be precise to activate triggers and switches though, and getting to the exact spot can be tricky at times because of the controls.

Gameplay - 186/200

FF12 starts out with a siege on the kingdom of Dalmasca.  The King has agreed to sign a peace treaty with the Archadia Empire that would allow them to occupy Dalmasca.  However, as you go through the tutorial to warn the king of the incoming invasion, the King of Dalmasca is assassinated and your character is killed during the siege.  That’s when you realize that FF12 deviates from the Final Fantasy formula and you are in for a dark adventure.

As you play through the game, your party adds and subtracts members.  You are introduced to these characters through the game, and as you interact with them you learn about the back story behind each of the characters.  For instance, starting out the game you learn that Vaan (sounds like “Vaughn”) is a thief who is trying to steal from the Archadia Empire.  He is the character you start out with at the beginning of the game.  As the story progresses you’ll meet up with new characters. FF12 is an ensemble piece and not a game where you follow the story of one particular character.

As you go through the game you gain different quests by talking to people.  Some of these quests are the typical FedEx quest where you need to go from Point A to Point B and back to Point A with a possible side trip to Point C and Point D.  While some of these do wear out their welcome quickly, some of these are actually interesting and feel like they were an integral part of the game and not just tacked on to extend the play time of the game.  However, some of the areas within the game are rather large and you need to do a lot of backtracking in them.

As you are out and about on your adventure, you need to arm and protect yourself.  Armor and weapons can be bought through merchants.  You can also obtain potions and other items to heal yourself and restore your Hit Points and Magic Points.  Magic Points slowly regenerate as time goes by, but Hit Points require potions or healing spells to replenish them.

The biggest difference gamers notice with the game is the battle system.  At first, the system looks a bit like a real-time battle system.  While you can move around during combat, the action gauges fill up to indicate when you can actually perform an action, like attack.  Some actions take longer than others to perform.  For instance, using a potion is almost instantaneous.  Making an attack takes longer.  Casting a powerful spell takes even longer.  These lengths of time help to balance out the strengths of the attacks.

Target lines show the intentions of every unit in the skirmish.  A red line indicates that a hostile has targeted someone.  A blue line shows what enemy your party members are targeting.  A green line indicates a helpful spell is being cast, while a purple line indicates that an item is being used.

While in battle hitting X brings up the Battle Menu.  The default is to pause time when the Battle Menu is shown, but you can set it so that time still flows during the battle when the Battle Menu is shown.  Here you indicate which enemy you want to target, which spell you want to cast, or which item to use.

Your party has a leader that you can switch at any time.  However, controlling each member of your party individually would become quite tiresome.  That’s where the Gambit system comes in.  In the Gambit system you are given slots to direct how the characters in your party should react.  Each Gambit has two parts, a target and an action.  The target can be an ally or an enemy.

When you are first granted access to the Gambit system you have a limited number of targets.  The target can be an ally with less then half of their Hit Points or the enemy that is targeting the party leader.  More target Gambits can be acquired through finding them in treasure or purchasing them through merchants.  The action part is anything that the character can do, from attacking to casting a spell.  When you start out, only two Gambit slots are available for each character, but more can be added through the License Board.

Some might be weary that the Gambit system might suffer from Dungeon Siege syndrome where the game plays itself.  While the Gambit system is a great help, there are times when you need to override the command given in the Gambit system.  You are also able to shut off the Gambit system for individual characters in your party if you wish.  The Gambit system does take a little while to get into.  Once you start seeing it work effectively though, it’s almost a thing of beauty to watch your party successfully attack an enemy and swiftly defeat it.  That doesn’t mean that the game is easy though, as you can come across enemies incredibly more powerful than your party.  Also, you don’t have the ability to assign Gambits to the guests in your party, and sometimes they can make some really bone-headed moves.

In FF10, advancement was handled with the Sphere Grid.  While the characters had a set path when starting out their journey, you could customize the characters how you wanted to after a while.  FF12 has something similar in the License Board.

The License Board looks similar to a Chess Board.  Each of the squares represents the ability to cast a spell, use a weapon, wear certain pieces of armor, increase the number of Gambit slots, and increase your characters’ stats.  Each party member has their own License Board.  As you battle you earn points to fill out the License Board.  The License Board gives you more flexibility to customize the members of your party to your liking.  While it might look intimidating at first, it’s a simple way to upgrade your characters as the story progresses.

As you play the game, you want to continue through the battles to figure out where the story is going.  Unfortunately FF12 takes a while to get into.  When you first start playing FF12 there are a lot of cutscenes.  While the length and frequency of the cutscenes aren’t on the same scale as Xenosaga, it does take a little while to actually get into playing the game.  Once you can get past that though, a thoroughly enjoyable game with an engaging story opens up.

Value / Replay Value - 92/100

FF12 includes a large number of hours of gameplay.  It wouldn’t be surprising to find 100 hours with the game with all the subquests within the game.  Some people will try to burn through the game quickly, but with all the twist and turns you won’t be able to finish the game without devoting a lot of time to it.  In this day and age where some companies are asking $50 for under ten hours of gameplay, players will get their money’s worth out of FF12.

The License Board really allows for a lot of customization with the characters.  If you want to have a character be a magick user for the first time you play and then make that player weapons-based later, the License Board allows for that flexibility.  This allows you to play each game differently.

Concluding Thoughts

With the lifespan of the PS2 nearing its end, Final Fantasy XII is a fitting swan song for the console.  Once you start playing, FF12 has an addicting quality to it that will cause you to skip meals and lose sleep, constantly pressing forward towards the next save point.  If you are a fan of the Final Fantasy series, or JRPGs in general, purchasing FF12 is a no-brainer.  FF12 has one of the most intriguing storylines with gameplay that is strangely addicting.  Those waiting for the next single-player Final Fantasy game after FF10 will discover that FF12 was worth the wait.

Pros:

  • Excellent graphics and sound
  • The License Board and Gambit system
  • Intriguing storyline
  • Hours of gameplay

Cons:

  • Can’t change camera direction on right analog stick
  • Slow start to the game
  • Backtracking can get annoying

Final Score

pure gold

555/600 - 93%