This time around, Final Fantasy is set in the fantastical Ivalice, a world filled with plenty of high political intrigue, corruption and a whole lot of monsters in between. Final Fantasy XII has a very different feeling from the previous installments in the series, adopting many aspects from MMORPGs, and drastically diverging from the typical turn-based system that has been a staple of Final Fantasy since the series’ inception.
The graphics here are some of the best that the PS2 has to offer, featuring excellent character models, some absolutely incredible pre-rendered cinematics, and some huge and amazingly detailed environments. Each different area you encounter has a distinctive look about it, and there is a larger variety of different monster models than previous games, specifically FFX. As you can expect from Final Fantasy, the character models are excellent, and their movements more realistic than what we have seen in the past. The maps are absolutely huge for a Final Fantasy, and for all their size, still manage to be incredibly detailed, you can walk just about anywhere on the map and find something distinctive, whether it’s in the textures or the actual map design, quality was not simply given up for size, it was improved along with it. Also, as mentioned before, some of the cinematics in this game are mind-blowing, lasting several minutes and featuring full voice acting and some epic scenes, most notably the awesome airship battles. The one thing that fans may miss comes in the form of all the actual battles. The simple attack and summon animations are all well done, but spells and other effects leave a little to be desired, still, this was to be expected with the switch to a more MMORPG styled battle system. All in all, the graphics in FFXII are phenomenal, and despite a few shortcomings, will not fail to impress.
This is where Final Fantasy XII really shines; this is the first game in the series that you won’t find yourself dreading battles and rushing simply to get to the next town. Final Fantasy XII takes the offline series in a new direction gameplay wise, incorporating a lot of ideas from its online predecessor, Final Fantasy XI. No longer will you run across a bare landscape getting in random battles which you have no control over. Rather, now you can see the enemies wandering around and choose how to attack them, or to run past them if you really want too, although the new style and gambit system makes it entertaining and simple enough that generally the only time you want to run past battles is when you are desperate for the next save point to heal up your characters. Gambits are basically a set of triggers that tell your characters what to do, for example, you can set gambits so that anytime an ally is KO’d, your character will automatically raise them with a phoenix down or magic spell.
This brings us to the next point; the difficulty level, unlike previous games, Final Fantasy XII is quite challenging, particularly towards the beginning of the game, when you may not have a full grasp of the battle system. However, once you gain the understanding to set a good set of gambits, the battles become much easier and less tedious, removing the need to constantly intervene and heal annoying status effects. The change is a welcome one, and provides the game with a different feeling and overall more enjoyable combat.
Final Fantasy XII isn’t necessarily original in itself, but it is original in the way it combines so many aspects from other games. It is a definite new direction for the series itself, emphasizing combat over characters and story, a huge leap from Final Fantasy X, which sometimes felt like a movie rather than a game.
The game’s soundtrack is good, but ultimately forgettable. There are a few nice scores here, but it is a disappointment when compared to what is expected from the series. There are no memorable epic scores or themes, and you will likely not notice the music for the most part. Still though, the soundtrack does what it’s supposed to do, and in no way takes away from the experience.
Another strong point of Final Fantasy XII lies in its huge amounts of side quests and optional material. In addition to the main storyline, you can undertake the missions of the Hunting Clan. Citizens from all over the game’s world petition hunts for unique monsters, you can then pick up the contract and complete the hunt for some great rewards. The Clan also includes hunts for the game’s most challenging monsters which will require battles that take several hours if you’re up for it. There are also a few sidequests to complete, but most of the playability aside from the main storyline comes in doing the hunts.
The story is where FFXII falters a bit, while the story itself is quite interesting, it lacks the epic fantasy feel that so many people play the games for. Instead, Final Fantasy XII opts for a story filled with politics and international intrigue over the usual band of characters up against a fantastic villain. This will disappoint some fans, as the nature of the story sort of leaves character development behind in favor of political developments. Only a couple of characters have detailed and interesting backgrounds and some of the characters seemingly have no reason to tag along other than to advance the plot. This is the problem; the player will not feel as immersed in the story and as empathetic towards the characters, and the story itself lacks the feel that we usually get with a Final Fantasy of a few people against a great evil.
With the Archadean Empire’s desire for more power and land being the core basis of the conflict in the game, it feels less like a fight against evil and more like a simple fight between two countries that has happened countless times over. For some people however, this is a welcome change, forgoing the usual love stories and insurmountable odds for a more mature, politically driven story. The reason for the disappointment is likely less about it being a bad story or a bad game, and more likely about unattainable expectations that many had for this game, because at its core, Final Fantasy XII is an incredibly fun and engaging game, still one can’t help but feel that something is missing.