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Final Fantasy XII Journal: First Impressions

Posted in Blogroll,Game News,Game Reviews by lordsaanjun on November 6, 2006

A Final Fantasy XII Moogle

OK, I’ve played about twelve and a half hours of Final Fantasy XII at this point, and I have to say, I’m impressed. There was a lot of criticism leading up to this game, as, I suppose, there always is before the newest release in a major franchise series, but Final Fantasy XII is a real tour de force of the series, and not to be missed. I’ll comment on the game in some general areas to try to give you the sense that I’ve gotten of it so far.

Graphics
This game is graphically stunning. The Playstation 2 is officially at the top of its graphical performance here, and there’s no denying the quality. The world is, even more than Final Fantasy X, an immersive one. You genuinely believe in the things you see on the screen. Bangaa, Viera, Moogles, all have become distinct possibilities. They inhabit a realm of the “almost real” due to the progress the graphics have made. This is further reflected in the streamlining of all the GUI in the game — your interfaces are beautiful, stripped to their bare essentials, and intuitively functional. From a graphical standpoint, the game is otherworldly. I am excited to see the graphics on the PS3 knowing that the PS2 can do this.

Story and World
Final Fantasy XII is the best of both Ivalices. What I mean by this is that the game combines the best elements of the worlds represented as Ivalice in Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. XII has the political intrigue and massive total wars between nations that made the Final Fanatsy Tactics plot so interesting (and, with its hack translation, so hard to follow), but it also has the character-driven stories and fantastical elements (Bangaa, Viera, Moogles, some more canonical FF monsters) that made Tactics Advance so enjoyable. The story itself is too complicated to begin to explain here, but includes some of the following elements: an evil twin, a powerful hegemony, sky pirates, two people who have been mistaken for dead, a complicated family of villains, and, last but not least, the despotic Judges, who are the law enforcement, judge, jury, and all too frequently executioner for those who have committed “crimes” against the Archadian Empire. There is a subtle political commentary that underlies the entire game — I don’t think it’s commenting on any one government or historical event in particular as it is on the things that happen any time one country takes control of another by force. All of this, of course, is on the backdrop of Ivalice, a classically “Final Fantasy” world with as many natural and magical threats as human ones.

The Hunts
This is something that I think Final Fantasy XII does very well. The developers of the game knew that, if XII was to be set in Ivalice, they needed to maintain some of the Tactics Advance elements of the world. In addition to the ruthless Judges (who make a somewhat less intimidating appearance in TA), XII also kept the Clans, specifically YOUR clan from Tactics Advance, which is called Clan Centurio in XII. Run by Montblanc (another familiar Tactics Advance hero, heroically rendered in the XII’s 3D graphics), Clan Centurio is a group of “hunters,” who take commissions to go kill “marks,” powerful monsters that threaten the lives of the people of Ivalice. The entire hunt system hearkens back (intentionally) to the Missions of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, and Montblanc presides over your performance on these Hunts, rewarding you (amply) for your time and efforts from the Clan Headquarters in Rabanastre, the game’s main city. The marks are interesting, difficult monsters that are a lot of fun to track down, and also to fight. Kudos to Square-Enix for finding a very effective and fun way to incorporate the clans into FFXII.

Nonlinearity
Whereas Final Fantasy X was fiercely linear, to the point of railroading the player into a specific course of action, Final Fantasy XII is much less so. The game allows you to divert from your main mission frequently in order to participate in Hunts and other sidequests, and, in fact, seems to encourage such detours for the purpose of leveling your characters and gaining the often more-than-useful rewards from these sidequests. This is really a nice feature, and one which I have already taken the time to explore — more than once I have used the game’s orange teleport crystals to “skip out” on my current goal in the main mission and go do some monster hunting and sidequesting. It’s a welcome change from X’s rigidity, and I think it’s a major selling point in the game.

Difficulty
Another way that XII dramatically differs from its immediate predecessors, X and X-2, is its difficulty. This game is MUCH harder, and requires you to spend a lot more time in character development, than either of the previous games did. If you are not deliberately spending time gaining experience and License Points (more on Licensing in a minute), you will get your ass handed to you. Guaranteed. The game is still very fun, but it seems to have abandoned the idea that Final Fantasy has to be simple or easy to be fun.

Licenses
My cousin referred to Licensing as “the sphere grid, perfected,” and I have to agree with him. The License Board is your characters’ method of learning new abilities and skills throughout the game, in addition to the Experience Points you gain, which increase your statistics, HP, and so forth. Licensing is a really innovative idea, as it essentially allows you to make a completely customized character, even more so than X’s Sphere Grid, which tended to force characters into assigned roles for most of the game unless you were willing to do something totally bizarre to break the mold. The trouble with Licensing, as I see it, is that you have to have the license to perform the spell (Magick) or battle skill (Technick), but then you must also PURCHASE the Magick or Technick in question from a store. This results in a lot of time between the learning of the ability and the doing of the ability, since Gil is somewhat hard to come by in this game (man is it EVER). So while the License Board itself is well done, some of the execution with the whole buying thing could be smoother.

Combat and Gambits
So I know you’ve all been waiting for this. Does the Gambit System suck?

No. It does not. Take it from someone who has beaten seven Final Fantasy games. What the Gambit system does is prevent the mashing of the confirm button that is common if not expected in every other Final Fantasy game. Essentially, it automates the parts of combat that you would want automated: attacking unless there’s something more important to do, Phoenix Downs for dead characters, Cure magick and Potions on the wounded, etc. etc. You can interrupt the Gambit on any character at any time and command them to do something else — your commands automatically override the Gambits you’ve placed on a character (a fact which really helped in my fight against the game’s first real powerhouse, the intimidating Judge Ghis). I would say, additionally, that while having Gambits on your party leader (Vaan, usually) is optional, having Gambits on your support characters is definitely not. Combat is very fast-paced in XII due to the real-time nature of it, and if you had to micromanage all of your characters in every combat, you would most certainly get killed. So the Gambit system gets my approval. I can’t see a reason not to use it, and I am actually pretty sure that it’s saved my ass a few times in the game. A tip, however: Don’t assume that setting up a Cure magick Gambit ALONE will keep your party in HP. I have learned from experience that it is a VERY good idea to reinforce that with a Potion Gambit in the next lowest priority slot. That way, you don’t die when your party runs out of MP.

So those are my general impressions so far. I’ll keep putting up things as they occur to me — hence why this is labeled with two headers, so I can keep posting more “Final Fantasy XII Journal” articles. I would Strongly Recommend buying this game, to parrot Matt #2’s Random Reviews… but good luck finding a copy if you didn’t preorder.

Yours in Ivalice,

Matt #1

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One Response to 'Final Fantasy XII Journal: First Impressions'

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  1. Kyu said,

    i completly agree with you in every way.

    espically about the FFX thing, i complained about it once and my friend said “yeah but it makes the game easy ^.^” and i got really mad because he was right, untill this game (i skipped 11 so i’m not counting that) the rule has been “as the nuber goes up it gets easier” and i think this game was a nice way to beak that.


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