Warning: The following review contains spoilers. Reader's discretion is advised.
Developed and published by Square Enix
, Final Fantasy XII
came to stores in Japan and North America in 2006 for the PlayStation 2, and along with it several new innovations that we'll get into in just a bit. The game stars Vaan, an orphan and resident of Rabanastre, who dreams of one day becoming a sky pirate. He finds himself in the middle of a conflict between the Archadian Empire and the Resistance. If at any time the game feels like Star Wars to you, it's not just you.
The game is kind enough to start us off with a tutorial. Once you get pass all the usual no- brainier stuff you discover that the battling takes place in real-time. You still have all your usual attack commands and can take all the time you want with “wait” enabled. What I like about this is you don't have to reenter an attack command. All you have to do is select an enemy to attack and your guy will keep attacking even if you cut away to use an item. You can also select the leader of your party, the leader will act as the character you play as, so you can play as any member of the party once you reach a certain point.
The Gambit System allows you to customize your party in accordance to your play-style. You can set the computer to prioritize healing allies, attack nearby enemies, etc. Another thing to keep in mind is that the Gambit System is optional. You can switch it off at any time and put in all your commands manually, so there are a lot of options presented to you. You could even sit back and let the computer do most of the work, if it pleased you.
Then we have Licenses, which the Empire use to pull out your name and select you for Jury Duty. Okay, no. But they are important in unlocking new abilities for your characters. Licenses can be accessed through the game menu in the form of a checkered board and upon gaining License Points, you can purchase a license for swords, magic, and bows. Before you can use any of them however you have to buy the weapons/magic from the appropriate shop in a town somewhere. You need to think carefully which abilities you want to give your party and how you'll use them, or the game will make you regret it later.
At certain points in the game a fourth character will join your party as a “guest.” These are non- playable characters that join your party for a limited time that you can't customize. The first two guests you come across will become permanent party members at a later date, the rest will not, and it sucks. Especially if it's a character you want to play as. For example, I would have loved to be able to play as Lord Larsa, but no. Guest only. What a waste. If they could program four party members then it would have been nice to be able to have up to four members on the field at all time, instead of just three with the guest being the exception.
While we're on the subject of party members, let's talk about our characters. Ashe and Balthier has the most stage presence. Ashe, being the princess of Dalmasca, and a fighter for the Resistance, wanting revenge against the Empire for the death of her husband and taking over her home; and Balthier, for being a charismatic sky pirate who honestly has all the best lines in the whole game. Fran is a reliable partner to Balthier who gets her chance to shine when you visit her people. Penelo fulfills the role of the fun-loving, best friend to the main character quite nicely. Basch is your traditional, straightforward paragon knight with honor, and then there's Vaan.
Vaan actually isn't a bad character. He's established pretty well in the beginning and his motives for wanting to become a sky pirate and his hatred for the Empire are made pretty clear. Where the game drops the ball with him is when halfway through it becomes less about him and more about Ashe, to the point that you could make Ashe your party leader and the narrative's flow wouldn't be disrupted all that much. Vaan feels more like he should have been a supporting character instead of a main protagonist. Ashe or Balthier would have severed as better leads than him. Vaan says it better himself, “I'm just along for the ride.”
Out of all the guest characters that come along, the one that stuck out the most was Larsa. The younger brother to Lord Vayne and the first that shows you that not everyone with the Empire is a chibi. I also like his accent. All the accents in this game are just wonderful. Larsa only wants peace and sets out on his own to see to it. He even stands up to his brother in the end and becomes someone you want to see lead Archades. His chemistry with Penelo is also pretty great from the moment he takes her by the hand and runs off.
Then we have the villains. Vayne introduces himself as I imagine a lot of bad people in power would, by posing as a good guy and knowing just what to say to get the masses eating out of his hand. He's cold, cunning, smart, well-spoken, and sophisticated. The game does a great job of making you hate him and taking him out at the end of the game is largely satisfying. Doctor Cid fills the role of crazy, evil scientist really well and was the first time the Cid character was ever a villain in a Final Fantasy game. The Judges are cool looking, but not many of them stick out except for Gabranth, and Gabranth sticks out for all the wrong reasons. More on that later.
All throughout the game there are certain monsters you can hunt. You just need to speak with the guy who put out the hit on them (sort of speak) and then seek them out and kill them. Only then can you claim the reward money and all that good stuff. I didn't care enough to seek out all the different hunts you could go on. Most of the game was already going from battle to battle in the overworld until it became exhausting, so why would I want to add on to that? The only hunts I did were the ones mandatory to advance the plot.
Summons in the game are called “Espers” and in order to get one you have to find them and defeat them. A nice little throwback to Final Fantasy VIII with the GFs. Unlike that game however is the fact you can only assign a summon to one party member. After that they disappear on the board and can't be used again. The same goes for Quickening, the skill you need to be able to summon them that can be found on the edges of the License Board, and after that you need a full gauge of MP shinning yellow or you're not going to be able to summon it.
There are five Espers you'll encounter during the course of the main story, but thirteen overall you can find in various sidequests. Only one needs to be summoned in order to advance the plot. I didn't find the Espers that great. None of them really stood out to me in the way Shiva, Ifrit, Quezacotl, and a lot of summons of the past did. The same goes for the other boss monsters you encounter in the game. Now I can't even remember what most of them looked like.
The game takes place in the world of Ivalice and is a fairly large place to explore. So much so that I got lost on several different occasions. I found myself wandering through the feywood forest and back at the Henne Mines just trying to find the Stilshrine of Miriam. The location map just doesn't compliment the world map that well. I think I'm going the right way just to discover that I'm not.
The world created is well-enough to hold for a single playthrough, and while I do like Rabanastre, there's not much to grab at you here either. It's like Square wanted to address the criticism Final Fantasy X got for linearity, but failed to add any real substance to their creation. Ivalice feels like it's just a big world to get lost in rather than having anything to compel you to explore the world further. Dungeons in the game are fine, but man do they grow tedious by the time you get to Giruvegan with all the running back and forth they make you do from there to Pharos.
Picture remind you of anything? Now, Final Fantasy is no stranger to taking things from Star Wars, what with Final Fantasy II being compared to the movies and using the names Biggs and Wedge in Final Fantasy VI, VII, and VIII. But there's a difference between being inspired and ripping something off. Unfortunately, Final Fantasy XII leans more on the latter. A lot of scenes that involve the airships look and act exactly like the ships in the Star Wars movies. So much in fact you may as well have the Star Wars soundtrack playing in the background.
The Empire feels too much like the Empire from Star Wars. The Judges take after the Sith with being given new names for their employment and some of them leaving and taking their life back. Judge Gabranth in particular has many parallels to Darth Vader. Started off good, goes bad joined the Empire, became an armored badass, tried to get the main character to get “angry” near the end, is defeated and then has a last moment of redemption before dying. Even Balthier's character takes a lot from Han Solo straight down to the bounty on his head. And even through all of that...
Final Fantasy XII is still a better Star Wars movie than the prequels.Conclusion:
Final Fantasy XII has good characters, great villains, a fun battle system that allowed for a lot of customization, but can unfortunately get weigh down by how much it takes after Star Wars and running around the world can get boring at times.Try it.