At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players Screenshots
Ross Gilder PlayStation 2 Square Enix Square Enix 1 Here
Requirements Buy from Amazon.co.uk
Memory Card Click here to buy Final Fantasy XII.

Final Fantasy XII review

With the release of the twenty-second (not including mobile phone games) "Final Fantasy" game now arriving, what has Square Enix done to make sure that this one stands out above the rest of the instalments in the franchise?

Well, as it turns out, Final Fantasy XII adds probably the most iconic change to the RPG formula. Following in the footsteps of, in my opinion, the greatest RPG, Chrono Trigger, FFXII ditches what has been THE staple system of the series; random battles. Yes, you've heard that right, FFXII features absolutely no random battles. In fact, if you want to, you could complete quite a portion of the game (assuming you can manage to defeat the bosses at a ridiculously low level) without actually touching a normal enemy. That's not to say that they won’t touch you, however. Just because you get a 'legendary' fleeing animation pop-up, so to speak, you're just running past enemies, and they still attack.

Unlike Chrono Trigger, however, the rest of the world doesn't stop; while you take turns to destroy the enemies in the vicinity, battles take place in real-time. Well, almost; you still have to wait for your characters to be ready to attack, akin to previous FF games. However, the way it works is slightly different; you have to charge up your attack/magic/summon/etc., before making the motion (not items though), rather than setting an attack and having it occur straight away, as in the previous games. This can lead to a few annoyances, such as getting one player to heal and due to not doing so right away, they instead end up dying while charging up cura! But not to worry, your party can help you out by allowing you to set them auto-actions called gambits. The gambit system allows you to specify what a player will automatically do under certain circumstances. You only start with a few gambits, but you can buy more as the game progresses. Gambits include such things as nearest enemy, enemy weak fire, ally any, ally HP less than 30%, etc. To go with each gambit you can add an action. An example of a stupid action would be for an Ally of HP greater than 90% to perform the Black Magic spell of Death. Unfortunately, you only start with three gambit slots per character, so you have to be careful as to what you put in them (and what order they are in).

Probably my least favourite thing about RPGs is the fact that you are almost required to do more battling in getting to the next area, than in defeating both the enemies in that location and the bosses. Thankfully, battles are no long random, with enemies sprawling the open countryside, which helps. However, once you've set up an amazing gambit system on your characters, it sort of defeats the point of playing the game as the computer does all the battling for you. That said, I can't really complain, as in areas where the enemies respawn (there's only a few, mind) you can have your player level up for a few hours or so while you get on with real life. And if you would rather have complete control, the gambits for each player can be turned on or off at will.

FFXII does, however, keep some important series gameplay ideals, including "Quickenings" and "Summons" which retain a strong 'Final Fantasy of old' feel. Quickenings and Summons are clased as Myst abilities; Myst is the game's magical energy, akin to the lifestream from FFVII, and like in that game it plays an important part in the storyline. Certain rocks called methacite absorb this Myst power, and scientists are looking for a way of extracting and using the power to crush opposing nations. The two main countries in the game are at war and our party are mainly from the nation that's located in between the two. In other words, it's you who has to ultimately stop the war by destroying the methacite and helping to create peace. It's just a shame that the story is quite confusing to begin with, and takes the best of at least the first ten hours trying to fully understand what is going on.

The story seems to lead you from one side of the map to the other every time you complete a dungeon, and as such you'll see a wide variety of nice locales. Though mainly deserts, you'll see African-style plains in wet and dry seasons, snowy mountains, jungles, woodlands, beaches, caves, highlands, as well as a variety of differently styled towns and dungeons. The graphics seem to have a pastel colour style which reflects nicely in the CGI cut scenes. Unfortunately, being a PlayStation 2 game you shouldn't expect anything anywhere near as nice as the visuals we're now seeing on the new systems. For some strange reason, though, most of the areas just seem to occur, and there's no gradual change as you reach the next region. For example, at one point you pass through a jungle, exit the other side, and you're on top of a snow-covered mountain with no warning!

Cut-scenes in the game are generally voiced, however there's still more unvoiced text than there is in, say, Twilight Princess (which famously features no voices whatsoever). Sometimes it's a large block of relatively small text, which is quite annoying, and probably why I found difficulty understanding some parts of the story. By contrast the pause menu has the least amount of text than, well, anything that you will ever see in the game.

To sum up, I think FFXII is the game that's been needed in the series for a while now. Something that mixes up the gameplay, without removing anything that you would expect from a Final Fantasy game. I've put in a good fifty or so hours into the game before writing this review, and I feel like I've only scratched the surface. For the Final Fantasy fan this is a game not to be missed.

Ratings

Graphics Graphics have a certain pastel-coloured style with a wide variety in locales. Impressive for a PlayStation 2 title. 9/10
Gameplay New combat system with no random battles and gambits automatic fighting. For an RPG this is an excellent new gameplay system. However, like all RPGs, it can get tiresome in heavy doses. Some puzzles mix up the gameplay at certain points. 8/10
Value Brand new battling system and story is reason enough to buy Final Fantasy XII. Not forgetting the amount of time you generally spend playing Final Fantasy games anyway. 10/10
Lifespan Story-driven gameplay, which will probably take about 60-70 hours on the game clock to finish. That's not including all the times you'll have died in a dungeon an hour after the last save point. Then there's always perfectionists who will want to reach level 99 and get all the weapons, hunts, awards etc... 10/10
Audio Voice acting for major story events and cut-scenes, music is highly repetitive though, and they even use songs from previous games including an orchestral remix of the FFVII victory theme! But, because there are no random battles, its the same music all the way through a locale and after a while it really is quite irritating. 7/10
Overall Excellent new battling system, and a new weapon/magic licence system, combined with a good, yet confusing, story help make this the best Final Fantasy game I've played since Final Fantasy VII. 9/10

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