Final Fantasy XII
PlayStation 2
Reviewed: 10/30/2006

Final Fantasy XII is the first main-series installment of the world’s most popular RPG series to come along in five years (because really, screw Final Fantasy XI). As such, the expectations surrounding it are tremendously high. FFXII punches those expectations right in their stupid faces, then steals their lunch money.

As is the style of many games, players will be introduced to Final Fantasy XII‘s world and story by way of a pretty CG opening sequence. But from there, things get a bit different than most other Final Fantasy games. Previously, there’s been a prevailing emphasis on the thoughts, struggles, and situations of the main characters on a personal level. Some of this is clearly present in XII, but it is not nearly as dominant as it has been in days gone by. The story here isn’t as much about the characters, so much as they are simply an important part of it. Greater storytelling emphasis in FFXII lies upon the stage on which this play takes place, not so much the stars of the show. And the balance between the two is perfect. Even with so much detail about the overriding political/military struggle, the characters are not left out of the picture; players will get to know them quite well.

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King me, slut!

That said, the cast of characters is remarkable. Each of these unique personalities is fleshed-out well, and combined to form a memorable, interesting crew. With all that, cliché is still avoided by way of their excellent chemistry (as opposed to some cases, where a cast is varied, but feels forced together).

Perhaps this respect for the cast is assisted by the technical splendor present here. The English voice acting is without a doubt among the best to be found in video games today. Even games previously thought to have “good” or even “great” voice acting are no Final Fantasy XII. Underacting and overacting are avoided entirely, and each voice matches its respective character well. (To boot, the bad guys speak with British accents, which is good, because history has shown that England is almost always the bad guy.) FFXII‘s graphics are, in true Final Fantasy tradition, top-of-the-line. The CG cinemas are gorgeous, and even the cutscenes done using the game’s main engine look very slick.

Technical advancements are not the only department in which FFXII shows positive evolution for the series. Gameplay here comes with changes, most notably to the combat system. Instead of a transition to a different screen–or any transition at all–for battle, combat is done in an MMORPG fashion. That is, the characters will simply draw their weapons, walk up to some sucka, and start some crap. There is no “escape” command; players just hold R2 to stop targeting stuff and run the hell away, hoping to outrun their foes. Most monsters are aggressive, so if they spot the party, they will attack. So while the concept of “random battles” is gone, there will still be a lot of fighting.

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The battles move entirely too fast for this guy.

That’s all for the best, though, because combat in this game is criminally fun. The lack of screen transition, ability to switch party members in and out of the battle on the fly (as long as they’re not being targeted or in the middle of an action) and general flow of it put the fighting in Final Fantasy XII among the best available in RPGs today. Players will set “Gambits” for each character, which are manual modifications to the AI. These let players address a possible situation, then specify a target and action. For example, a player may set Asche to cast Cure on any ally whose HP drops below 60%, or tell Vaan to cast Fire on flying enemies; there are thousands of possibilities. Even serious haters of AI-controlled combat need not fret, because at any given time during battle, players can issue specific commands to any party member, and the member will immediately obey. This may sound like it limits the gameplay or that “the game can play itself,” but give this game a whirl for an hour and it will become clear that such things simply are not true. Never has a Final Fantasy battle system been able to so consistently extract as much adrenaline as XII‘s.

What’s even better news for experienced Final Fantasy fans is this: the game is not easy. There is some real challenge to this game, especially in some of the boss fights. With money also being a little harder to come by than it is in the usual FF game, one can’t buy his or her way out of difficulty, either. This is more than welcome, as a common complaint about RPGs these days is in the lack of challenge. FFXII is a step in a better direction, in that department.

There are a few small flaws with Final Fantasy XII. One slight disappointment in the game is the license system–not the system itself, but some things that appear later in the game. The system places each character on his/her own board, and players must purchase things with License Points gained by killing enemies. Only items bordering an already owned ability can be purchased, so at the start, characters will be learning the same, basic things. But from there, since one can’t see what the next revealed ability will be (as one could with FFX‘s sphere grid), it’s hard to decide where to take each character. Too often, a very good License will be found on one character’s board, and a subsequent scan of others’ boards will take place to see where they are in relation to this desirable square. Perhaps the party obtained a powerful weapon that no one can equip. Great, so what’s the shortest route to unlocking that on the board? The player can’t know. With some modifications, this could have been a great setup. In its current state, however, it’s decent, but not what it could have been.

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Things get more difficult when characters spontaneously combust and die.

FFXII‘s world is huge, and there is a ton of stuff to do and open area to explore. This adds a lot of non-linearity, but also makes for some shaky pacing. There will be several hours in a row in which the player’s path is fairly set, followed by a dropoff and overload of ten hours’ worth of completely optional activites, almost of SaGa caliber. Overall, the game flows pretty well, despite the occasional bit of chunky pacing.

All throughout this experience, players will be treated to an excellent soundtrack. Most of the music isn’t the type begging to be taken into CD players, but it’s hard for a game’s music to fit it as well as Final Fanatsy XII‘s does. Nearly every track perfectly suits the location or story scenario in which it plays. Even though it’s game music and will inevitably loop, there’s no fear of annoyance at repetitive or irritating music here. Hitoshi Sakimoto’s work here is remarkable.

Final Fantasy XII is a joy to play. Fast-paced, exciting gameplay combined with a well-told, interesting story, and grand amount of things to do make it so. Its amazing visuals and soundtrack are like icing on top. This game will surely be a fan favorite for many years to come.

-Heath Hindman

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Great
Story Legendary
Graphics Legendary
Sound/Music Legendary
Replay Value Great
The Verdict: 9