Final Fantasy XII Review

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This chapter in one of the world's most popular role-playing series features an inspired look, boldly redesigned strategic combat, and a long, engaging story.

The Good

  • Inspired art direction and a strong cast of characters draw you into the world  
  • lengthy quest spans dozens of hours of gameplay  
  • redesigned strategic combat system offers considerable depth and complexity  
  • all battles are fought in context while exploring, so no random encounters  
  • excellent music and voice acting.

The Bad

  • The gambit and license-board systems are complicated to get used to  
  • a bit too much running around back and forth in some spots.

Ironically, the nature of the underlying combat is the same as ever, which means you'll constantly be trading hits with foes whose own attacks will frequently bring your characters to death's door, just in time for a healing spell to restore them. Many foes will also use status-changing effects in different combinations, like poison or sleep spells, and Final Fantasy players will need to contend with these in familiar ways. You'll also learn special abilities unique to each character and get to summon creatures called espers to temporarily fight for you, elements that will also be familiar to Final Fantasy players. What helps make all the fighting feel meaningful and interesting is Final Fantasy XII's licenses system, another fairly convoluted but ultimately good addition to the game. Your characters all earn license points with each enemy you defeat, and these points are then used to unlock new upgrades and innate abilities for your characters. Much like the combat, the license board gives an odd first impression, because you need a license for literally each and every equipment piece, magic spell, and special ability in the game before you can use them. So you can't equip that crossbow as soon as you find it, and you won't just magically learn the cure spell once you hit a certain level. You need to spend license points on the license.

The license board works kind of like Scrabble. You can only acquire licenses next to other licenses you've already acquired, and the licenses along the edges of the board (farthest from your starting points toward the middle) are often tied to the strongest items, spells, and upgrades. Each character starts off with some basic equipment and ability licenses, and the board is roughly split up so that weapon, armor, accessory, magic, combat, and special ability licenses are all grouped together. Licenses for more-valuable abilities tend to cost more points, and the license board also lets you unlock additional gambit slots for adapting your characters' behavior in combat toward increasingly complex battles.

Much like the combat, the license system introduces some trade-offs. The good news is that the intricacies of this system are far more interesting than annoying, and it gives you an incentive to fight just about everything you encounter, even the weakest creatures that are barely worth any experience points anymore. The bad news is you might find yourself getting hung up on trying to figure out the "best" way to unlock licenses for each character, and since the license board is the same for each character, that means each character is also the same, and it's entirely up to you to define their differences and specializations. This may come as no surprise to those who've been keeping up with Final Fantasy for a while, since recent installments in the series have all done this. But it still seems strange that Basch, the captain of the Dalmascan guard, is inherently no better in a sword fight than pig-tailed Penelo. In fact, you could turn Basch into a pure healer / magic user while developing Penelo as your single toughest fighter. This open-ended system adds sophistication and replay value to Final Fantasy XII, but some sort of "autolevel" system probably would have been a good option.

Final Fantasy XII caters to the series' dedicated fans with numerous references to past installments and with plenty of tough battles. Even once you're comfortable that your characters can all operate like a well-oiled machine thanks to the gambits system, you'll still need to spend a good amount of time going out of your way to level them up, earning enough license points to purchase some important upgrades for all of them. Earning money in the game is no simple matter, either. In a slight move toward greater realism, most of the foes you fight don't actually carry any money, but they'll drop trade goods that you can then sell in exchange. Stealing from foes can give you more of these precious items, and throughout the game, you'll be faced with a lot of tough decisions about which weapons, armor, and spells to buy and not to buy. This is to the game's credit, since having to choose which characters will get the best weapons or best armor is more interesting than simply snatching up all the best new gear in each new town you visit. And remember: You'll need to get the necessary licenses for these upgrades, too.

Exploring, fighting, watching the story unfold, and managing your characters using the gambits and licenses systems are where you'll be spending most of your time with Final Fantasy XII, and there's a lot to it. Expect the quest to last you a good 40 or more hours the first time through, and on top of that, there are many hidden and optional areas to explore, bounty-hunter missions to undertake, special rewards to unlock, and more. The game even features a surprisingly well done bestiary, which provides some lively remarks about all the hundreds of different creatures and foes you'll encounter. Overall, the world of Ivalice feels quite big, especially since you'll traverse so much of it on foot. There's definitely a lot of straight-up running around in this game, but since the visuals are so impressive, all the sightseeing is part of the fun.

Final Fantasy XII's art style is different from that of previous games in the series, but longtime fans of Square's role-playing games will note that it bears a clear similarity to the memorable look of 2000's Vagrant Story. In fact, Final Fantasy XII borrows not only the visual style but also some of the sound design from that game, and the results are truly impressive. The game's characters portray genuinely lifelike emotions during the cutscenes, on down to some very subtle changes of expression and use of body language. And the imaginative characters and scenery of Ivalice make it exciting to enter each new area of the game. You'll see some objects just pop into the environments as you explore them, but there aren't a lot of other rough edges to the game's visuals. This isn't the technical marvel that Final Fantasy X was in its day, but it's by every means another gorgeous-looking game in the series, featuring probably the best art style of any Final Fantasy game to date.

A beautifully composed soundtrack is there to accompany every moment, and while it still uses synthesized instruments like the old Final Fantasy games, it sounds fantastic. Some of the familiar themes are in there, along with lots of original compositions that fit the mood and the setting very nicely. Indeed, one other advantage of how the game's combat all takes place seamlessly within the environments is that you don't get stuck listening to the same battle theme all throughout. Final Fantasy XII offers support for widescreen displays and surround-sound setups, and it generally looks and sounds remarkably good even by today's standards.

The quality of the game's voice acting deserves special mention, as well. Not every performance is spectacular, but the main characters' voice actors are great fits, and they deliver their lines well. There aren't many recognizable actors in the lot (not unless you count Simon Templeman, who voices Kain from the Legacy of Kain series), but this cast does an excellent job of helping bring the in-game characters to life. Note that Final Fantasy XII isn't fully voiced, as most of the conversations you'll have with townspeople are done in text. If there are any minor issues with the presentation, it's that the characters' lip-synching doesn't quite match the English dialogue and the subtitles often don't exactly match the speech in the cutscenes, but these issues are easy to ignore.

Final Fantasy XII has been a long time coming, and it shows. Thankfully, all the time in development hasn't dampened the quality of the game's presentation, and in spite of however many hundreds of people must have worked on this game for all these years, the end result is a more cohesive game than its predecessors from the series' 3D-graphics era. There's still a disconnect between what happens during gameplay and what happens during cutscenes, but by integrating the combat and exploration, Final Fantasy has come one step closer to being more immersive than before. And while Final Fantasy XII takes some liberties with the series' conventions, it sticks closely to most of the good ones, delivering another memorable and highly recommended experience in the process.

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morgan_gibson87 8 pts

A fantastic game too often overlooked. A fantastic battle system...

oidrevdal83 5 pts

The worst of all the Final Fantasy games.

feres26 12 pts

oidrevdal83 Actually, one of the best Final Fantasy games. You don't have good taste, that's all.

D3dr0_0 55 pts

oidrevdal83�If it had another I on XII then you would be right.

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