In Case You Haven't Played It Yet
Final Fantasy XII
Game System: PS2
Distributed by: Square Enix
Reviewed by Frank L. Ocasio
When was the last time you played a Final Fantasy game? Was it Final Fantasy X? I bet it was. Before Final Fantasy X, gamers far and wide used to mess their shirts with drool at the very thought of the next FF in the making. We loved FF games to a pretty obsessive extent; I for one played and beat even ones I absolutely hated (Final Fantasy 8... and Final Fantasy 8).
However, that all changed after fans finished Final Fantasy X. It wasn't that the game was bad; it was actually the first to come along in a while that was actually pretty good. The problem was, Square Enix decided to shoot for the MMO market with Final Fantasy XI. And back then, for many of us, MMO's were a mystery. A mystery that required a monthly subscription fee. And so, many of us passed on XI. And to put it more directly, a lot of us (the ones smart enough to stay far, far away from Final Fantasy X-2 anyway) passed on Final Fantasy for four years. Not a silent four years--XI was still all over the place--but four years during which many of us ignored the name Final Fantasy because it suddenly referred to a stupid MMO that wasn't for us.
Couple that with the release of the Wii and PS3 last year, when Final Fantasy XII was finally released, and you've got a prescription for me telling you about a very slightly flawed but honestly amazing RPG in case you haven't played it yet.
Ah the land of Ivalice, the setting for this adventure. If you remember Final Fantasy Tactics for the PSone, you'll remember that Ivalice is actually the world where that game took place, and so, is likewise where Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for the Gameboy Advance took place. Unlike the worlds in previous FF games, Ivalice feels truly living. The towns are realistically or at least charmingly designed and they're always bustling with plenty of folk of varying races (from lizardmen to cool, masked, horned, beast people) who always seem busy on their own errands. It's hard to not get sucked into this world of battle-ready airships and monster riddled lands from the first time you lay eyes on it. A world of sky pirates who own the clouds, Imperial Judges who uphold their Empire's cruel laws, and, of course, street rats who own the sewers. Street rats like your protagonist, Vaan. Vaan... who doesn't really own those sewers... but who at least wants to be a sky pirate. Vaan who seems to have no other real purpose in this game.
I really don't want to nit-pick here though, and that's all pointing out Final Fantasy XII's quirks would be. Sure, you probably won't be wowed but the story, and you may think it's at least a little racist that not one of the playable characters is one of the cool beast races I mentioned earlier (although you do get an amazingly stereotypical and annoying Latin Lover character you'll have to expect to hate). You will still be entertained by the story and plot though (especially because while it can be bland and confusing, it can also be good times because it borrows heavily from Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean). And if the story isn't at least enough to draw you in, some of the PS2's best graphics and absolutely amazing gameplay will be.
Unlike previous FF games, where players spend the majority of their time waiting for battle animations to finish (especially Summon cut scenes), XII introduces an entirely new battle system that's much faster and less tedious mostly because there's no transition into battle screens and partially because you don't have to command all of your characters anymore. I mean, you can tell everyone to attack that wolf over and over and over if you want, but why do that when you could just program their "Gambits" so that they'll do it themselves? Yeah. You didn't even realize you hated commanding all of your characters all the time until right now, did you? Well, just imagine: you can pretty much program your characters to do anything, and sooner than later, you're going to realize this makes you think more tactically about your battles than you ever have before.
Likewise, the License system is probably the best means of increasing your character's strength since Materia. Unlike the Sphere Grid from X, Licenses don't turn out to be insanely linear; you can purchase Licenses on your large License page in absolutely any direction you want, allowing you to choose what abilities, strengths, and weaknesses your character has and what weapons and armor he or she can use.
On top of that, you can join a Clan or visit the local bar for a list of Hunts--side quests that pit you against one insanely tough monster or another for the sake of gaining profit and treasure. In most cases, these Hunts have charming back stories that explain why they've been posted. The same kind back story that's present in the majority of the game's other side quests.
What else, you ask? Well, honestly, there's a lot... else. Too much else to talk about here; it would be hard to explain it all anyway. Just trust that there's so much else in this game you'll keep coming back for more and loving every second. I can understand that you probably cuddle with your Xbox 360 and a pile of FPS's (after kicking out your annoying girlfriend who keeps arguing night after night that she should be the one cuddling with you). If you once loved RPG's though and either have suffered of late because there haven't been many good ones released that you've liked, or if you just forgot your inner warrior (and let him regress all the way back down to Level 1) and you haven't played it yet, then you really should give Final Fantasy XII a shot.
One Last Thing Before I Quit: Complete-ists and pretty much anyone who prefers an updated version of a game will probably want to wait for Final Fantasy XII: International Job System Version (if that's really what they're going to call it). It comes with a larger License page (which spells brand new abilities), a setting for HD TV's, and apparently other added content to boot. However, with Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings soon to hit the Nintendo DS and pick up where this game ends, it's up to you whether or not you can take the wait.
Grading: On a Scale From 1-10, 10 Being the Best
Overall Gameplay: 10