Final Fantasy XII for the PlayStation 2 features a very immersive world, really good graphics and amazing sound, making it one of the best role-playing experiences you can find on the console.
Final Fantasy XII became really famous because it arrived almost at the end of the PlayStation 2’s lifecycle and Square Enix’s developers wanted to make a good lasting impression. Instead of being a traditional RPG like Final Fantasy X , this new iteration offers a completely refreshing experience that’s quite unique and it represents the perfect closure for the end of the successful platform. In order to do so, some interesting changes have been made, not only to the new combat system, but also to the story, gameplay, characters and impressive art direction.
The story of the game takes place in the region of Ivalice, the same one as in previous games of the series like Final Fantasy: Tactics and Final Fantasy: Tactics Advance. As a consequence and apart from the setting, some of the characters will be really familiar if you’ve played any of these games. The plot itself is really simple: in this region, there’s an empire called Archadia, which starts being hostile to its neighboring countries. One of the affected places is the small kingdom of Dalmasca, which includes Rabanastre, a country where the main hero of the adventure lives. Vaan is the main character of the story, and he hates the empire because his brother was killed during the war. He sets out for revenge with his faithful friend Penelo, and together they decide to break into the royal palace. On their quest they meet several interesting people: Princess Ashe is the heir to the throne and was supposedly dead, Balthier is an arrogant sky pirate who is looking for the royal treasure, Fran is Balthier’s partner and a Viera warrior and finally there’s Basch, captain of the Dalmascan army and is considered a traitor.
Most of the characters’ motivations are a cliché of the genre. Final Fantasy XII is full of stereotypes, for example, the main character is a good-nature boy who is really tired of his mundane life and wants to become a fearless sky pirate. Then there’s the arrogant womanizer, the princess who wants revenge, the faithful female friend, a likeable thief, a woman who has lots of secrets and so on. In any way, the main story is one of the game’s weakest points, but not weak enough to keep you from enjoying the rest of it. Additionally, the game includes all those elements which are really characteristic of the series like chocobos, crystals, airships and more.
One of the most interesting changes is the combat and the gameplay in general, which have been totally redesigned. Exploration is one of Final Fantasy XII’s best features and the basic camera movement is much more polished and dynamic that in other games of the genre. As a consequence, combat feels much more fast-paced, but very tactical at the same time, mainly because it happens on the same environment that you explore. Active Time Battle days are over, the new system is called ADB (also known as Active Dimension Battle) and it allows you to see the monsters you fight as they are integrated on their battlefield, everything in glorious 3D. This addition is really beneficial as it avoids the frustration that most Japanese RPGs have, as sometimes they force you to continuously run away from random fights if you want to survive. What’s also amazing is that each foe reacts differently: while some are very aggressive, some others tend to be pacific and only fight if you attack them first. Also, as each area is a potential battlefield, you need to be aware of the obstacles that they may present, as some places are full of traps which can change the course of a battle. Now if you want to avoid foes you can simply flee making the game much faster and more enjoyable. The system is really deep and engaging as it includes lots of features like battle chains, the possibility of making different actions, and so on.
As exploration has been enhanced, travelling is a big deal in Final Fantasy XII. You can go from one place to the other on foot, you may use chocobos and eventually, as in previous games, you’ll get an airship. In addition, there are certain crystals where not only can you save your progress, but you may also teleport easily to previously visited areas. This is important because Ivalice is huge, Final Fantasy XII makes you feel like you’re a tiny part of an immense world and that’s mostly for the game’s MMO-like approach.
Though, the main party is composed of six different characters (Vaan, Fran, Basch, Balthier, Ashe and Penelo) only three of them can be active at the same time. This forces you to rotate your members so as to allow everyone to gain experience points. At certain points during the game, “guest members” will join your party as a requirement of the main plot. Unfortunately, these characters act independently so you can’t give orders to them or designate their gambits. Gambits are one of the most interesting additions. These are basic commands that you can assign to the members of your group and they determine how they’ll behave in combat, for example you can set one of Vaan’s gambits to cure a character when he/she has less than 50% of health, or he may cast Dispel to any foe. As you can imagine these are highly customizable as there are myriad combinations, mainly because the game not only includes active, but also passive ones. Priority is also very important, so the order in which you put gambits will determine which action comes first.
Another important addition is the license system. The license system is basically a big grid which looks really complex at first but it’s really not. Basically, every time one of your characters defeats an enemy on combat he’ll earn license points. These points can be spent on the license board, which is very similar to the one included on Final Fantasy X. The licenses determine which weapon, set of armor, magicks (spells) and techniques your character can use. Also, some licenses will boost your character’s stats like HP or enhance the number of gambits that he or she can set. So for example, before you can equip a new weapon to certain character first you’ll have to acquire certain license to be able to use it. Each member of your party has its own board and some techniques can only be learned by some specific characters. The system is very rewarding and highly addictive once you understand how it works. Something exceptional about this system is that it also allows you to unlock Espers and Quickenings.
As in previous Final Fantasy’s some of your characters can summon powerful creatures to fight for you, here they are called Espers. Before you can summon them, though, you first have to catch them like in Pokémon, that’s to say that you have to be able to defeat them in battle. A couple of them are part of the main story but many others can only be found on side quests, so getting all of them may take you more than you think. On the other hand, quickenings are special magic attacks which allow you to do massive damage to enemies. When you cast them, you’ll undertake a quick time event minigame that tests your reflexes. There’s a timer on screen at all times, so the quicker and more precise you are, the more damage you’ll do to the enemy. Each quickening has three levels and getting all of them will probably take you some time as they are scattered in key parts on the license board.
Graphically, Final Fantasy XII is simply breathtaking. It’s one of the best looking games on the PlayStation 2 and the visual style is uniquely refreshing. Everything included enhances exploration so most environments are really big, but highly detailed also. The different characters, foes and places are modeled in 3D and you can always rotate the camera to appreciate their details. The loading times are really short, especially taking into account the size of the environments. I’ve never noticed any serious slowdowns and the frames per second maintain steady. The game runs smoothly and the world is full of good animations and special effects like lightning, shadows, reflections, shiny spells and so on. The thing that stands out the most is probably the use of several cutting-edge CGI sequences, which simply look gorgeous.
The soundtrack is quite good also as it incorporates many orchestral pieces. It sounds really well and some tunes are reminiscent of old games of the series. Though, you’ll hear some pieces over and over again, most of them are catchy and suiting enough. Voice acting is even better, as most of the voices simply fit. The different dialogue lines are delivered perfectly and the diverse conversations are believable and lifelike enough. The only problem with these is that lip-synching isn’t very good, probably because the game was directly translated from Japanese to English without taking it into account.
In conclusion, Final Fantasy XII took a long time to be released, but the wait was well worth it. Its qualities are undeniable, as this is a long adventure that’s both immersive and highly recommendable. The game looks superb, sounds really well, the gameplay blends in seamlessly with the combat, and it includes some really interesting characters. Yes, it does all this by changing some rules, but once you have an opportunity to rediscover the world of Ivalice once again, you’ll probably be there for a long of time.