Final Fantasy XII - PS2 Review
As you can imagine Final Fantasy XII will almost certainly be one of the last, if not the last, true epic Japanese RPG in the current generation - certainly it will be the last in Square-Enix's long running series to hit the Playstation 2. After a lengthy wait of five years since Final Fantasy X and three years since Final Fantasy X-2 the series has returned to Australian shores while bypassing the MMORPG Final Fantasy XI (the game required the PS2 HDD which was never released here). It's a return we've been longing for. Now back in single player mode this is a big chance for the series to be re-invented, and what a re-invention it is. So how long do I make this review? I could literally write 10,000 words or more and still not cover everything in the game. So here goes a moderately detailed, but not too spoiler filled, review of this epic RPG.
|Final Fantasy XII is a visual treat.|
The Final Fantasy series is unique in that despite being named the same, each game is set in an entirely new world, with new characters and new storylines. Only very small similarities link each game together. There is the occasional character such as the chocobos and, ermm, perhaps the battle system. As we discovered with Final Fantasy XII though Square-Enix are quite happy to totally scrap the old battle system and bring in a new one. The developers have also put in some small touches such as names and spells which long time Final Fantasy fans will notice, but which will bypass newcomers and many casual gamers. So what's the story of Final Fantasy XII then?
|There are plenty of cut-scenes.|
Final Fantasy XII is the story of a world called Ivalice. Our tale begins in the Royal City of Rabanastre, against a backdrop of impending war. Rabanastre is the heart and capital of Dalmasca, a kingdom recently conquered by the neighboring Archadian Empire. The appointment of a new imperial consul gives the main character Vaan the chance he's been waiting for, but an unexpected turn of events puts Vaan and his friend Penelo alongside the sky pirate Balthier and his partner, Fran. Meanwhile, Princess Ashe, the sole surviving heir to the Dalmascan throne, struggles to restore freedom to her people.
After another stunning pre-rendered introduction setting the story up you'll be into the action. As with previous games in the series Final Fantasy XII is a third person Japanese styled RPG. There is plenty of combat, plenty of magic and certainly plenty of dialogue (much of which has to be read) to be read as you meet hundreds of NPC's (non-playable characters) in the game world. Many of these characters, even right down to the smallest child on the street can point you in the right direction to complete your quest. Unlike older games in the series you now have complete control over the camera through the game world - a camera which does, on occasion, require a bit of manual handling for optimal viewing angles but never to the point of annoyance.
|The new battle system rocks.|
One of the big changes that has occurred with this game is the implementation of licenses. As you play through Final Fantasy XII you earn points when defeating enemies which can then be put towards purchasing licenses. This allows you to skill certain characters in various areas. It's a good idea to focus each character on a specific skill-set. For instance it may be worthwhile skilling Vaan in using powerful weapons, while other characters such as Penelo in using magic to heal the party. A balanced party is one which has a wide skill-set. If you do manage to either find, or purchase, new items such as armour or weapons the character which you want to equip it to must have the required license.
So let's talk about the combat system which has seen the biggest change to this title , and which Square-Enix are dubbing the "Active Dimension Battle System". Finally the developers have heeded the calls of millions of gamers and scrapped the random battles. You can now see all enemies roaming around the game world which allows you to either avoid them or enter battle at will. Interestingly, and impressively, even at the beginning of the game there are enemies wandering around that you don't have a hope of defeating until you have leveled up.
|Unlocking more licenses, and skills.|
While some Final Fantasy purists may baulk at the changes made I do feel that it makes the game accessible to a wider audience yet again. I loved the previous games, but do actually enjoyed this combat method even more. It's fast, intuitive and will keep you on the edge of your seat during battle. Fortunately though the game includes Gambits to help you which is a whole other discussion which we will get to in a minute. The game also includes over 40 different hunting missions for you to complete. Essentially bounties are placed on certain enemies which, when you have defeated them, will offer you rewards, new items and access to hunting clans, which in turn give you access to more weapons and items. You can literally spend hours hunting a couple of monsters around the land and indeed it took up a good 20+ hours of my gametime.
Gambits. The word doesn't mean much, but play Final Fantasy XII and it will become a part of your everyday vocabulary. Basically each of the characters in your party can have a series of automatic commands set so they can act independently during battles. While each character starts out with two gambit slots more can be purchased through the license system. These gambits could allow you to automatically heal a party member when their health falls below 30%, or attack the same enemy as the party leader (which you control).
|C'mon tell me you aren't impressed!.|
No game is perfect, but this is pretty damn close. There are a couple of small niggles, the biggest being that the games pacing is a bit off at the start. There are periods where I was unsure what to do and spent too much time hunting monsters to collect rewards. This is all fine but I would have liked to see the story progress a bit quicker. When the game ramps up though, it really gets going and will keep you hooked for weeks until you complete the game.
Graphics in Final Fantasy XII are also astounding. We thought that Final Fantasy X-2 would never be surpassed, but this latest release is clearly ahead. As a developer Square-Enix is now quite comfortable, and quite accomplished, in using real-time generated cut-scenes for the majority of the key moments in the game. As with previous games though Square-Enix still revert to pre-rendered CG for those special moments. The level of polish in these cut-scenes is second to none. They're sensational and a highlight whenever you reach them. Looking at the in-game presentation the menus are clear and even with tonnes of information being thrown at you it is all presented in a way in which you never seem overwhelmed.
|Realtime cut-scenes also impress.|
The game world is superbly detailed with a wide variety of locations to be explored and discovered. From the desert wastelands, to bustling cities it's all here. In fact the cities are wonderfully realised with hundreds of characters going about their daily lives. Bosses also deserve a special mention - while infrequent they certainy offer a decent challenge, but look sensational as well. As previously mentioned the games camera could be a little better, but it's never a major problem, just a minor annoyance.
Audio in this title, as with every other aspect, is second to none. Music has been composed by Nobuo Uematsu (who is doing the main theme) and Hitoshi Sakimoto who has worked on games such as Gradius V, Vagrant Story and Legaia: Duel Saga. Voiceovers have been not only well acted, but well scripted and while there is a large amount of text remaining the voiceovers are used more then previous titles. This is complemented with a solid range of effects as well as Dolby Pro Logic II and THX certification to ensure the highest possible quality.
|One of the great boss battles.|
I simply can not praise this title enough. I've always loved that Final Fantasy series but for me Final Fantasy XII is the best game to date. The changes made have all been for the better and the storyline is deep and engrossing. Any RPG fan would be a fool to ignore this game - even with next-gen systems around the corner - this puts every next-gen title to shame. If you aren't an RPG fan I still urge you to give this a go as you're likely to get just as much enjoyment out of this monster title. Brilliant.
Review By: Dave Warner
Order your copy now from Gameswarehouse (PAL version) or Amazon (NTSC Version).
Talk about Final Fantasy XII in this forum topic now.
|GRAPHICS||Sensational graphics that can only be described as jaw dropping from start to finish. Superb cinematics and character design with equally impressive realtime cut-scenes.||92%|
|SOUND||A great voice cast ensures that this game sounds realistic, and the orchestral music suits the game perfectly.||93%|
|GAMEPLAY||This is the pinnacle of RPG gameplay. Final Fantasy XII sets new benchmarks for all RPG's. It loses the 3 marks due to the early pacing issues - that's all!||97%|
|VALUE||Can you dispute the value in a game that gives you 100-plus hours of game time if you explore properly?||97%|
|OVERALL||Final Fantasy XII is the best RPG we've seen on the Playstation 2, and the game deserves to be in every collection. Square-Enix have made some significant changes to the gameplay for the better and we simply want more. Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant.||96%|