lauantai 11. joulukuuta 2010

REVIEW - Final Fantasy XII (2006)

Genre(s): RPG
Released: 2006
Available on: PS2
Developer(s): Square Enix
Publisher(s): Square Enix
Players: 1

The era of the PS2 was coming to a close, so was the run of Final Fantasy on the particular platform. Final Fantasy XII was in production for five years. During this time, Square Enix published two Final Fantasy games to mixed reviews - the sappy Final Fantasy X-2 and the critically acclaimed, but on the account of PS2 owners, very unpractical and expensive online game Final Fantasy XI (NOTE: the PS2 version was never even released in Europe). No one knew what to expect from Final Fantasy XII. To some people who had grown up playing Final Fantasy, the franchise was long dead, especially after its driving forces Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nobuo Uematsu had parted ways with Square Enix. Directed by accomplished Final Fantasy veteran Hiroyuki Ito, responsible for some of the finest games in the series, and artist Hiroshi Minagawa who made his directorial debut, Final Fantasy XII was promoted as a thematically faithful Final Fantasy game, but a whole different gameplay experience. Set in the world of Ivalice which had served as the setting for many Final Fantasy spin-offs including the 2000 classic Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy XII was indeed a bombshell. It can definitely be recognized as a Final Fantasy game right away, as all imaginable classic elements, even some long gone from the series, are in place. However, although it's strictly a single-player experience, as far as gameplay is concerned Final Fantasy XII has more in common with real-time MMO's like its predecessor than any old Final Fantasy game you might've played. The story's like a crossover between vintage Final Fantasy and Star Wars without all the science fiction. How does it all work? Like a dream... for the most part. Final Fantasy XII is an excellent game with potential to be one of the finest games in the whole series, however some of its ambitions work against it.

Star Wars vs. Final Fantasy in the World of Warcraft

Bobby Edner : Vaan Ratsbane
Cat Taber : Penelo
Gideon Emery : Ffamran mied Bunansa, "Balthier"
Nicole Fantl : Fran
Kari Wahlgren : Ashelia B'nargin Dalmasca, "Ashe"
Keith Ferguson : Basch fon Ronsenburg
Elijah Alexander : Vayne Carudas Solidor
Johnny McKeown : Larsa Ferrinas Solidor
Michael E. Rodgers : Judge Magister Gabranth
John Lee : Cidolfus Demen Bunansa, "Cid"

Six freedom fighters rise against the tyrannical Archadian Empire, all for their own reasons. Young Princess Ashe is the rightful heir to the throne of Dalmasca, who faked suicide after her husband's death to go underground and carefully plan a resistance movement. Vaan is an orphan from the streets of Rabanastre, who dreams of becoming a sky pirate. Penelo is his best friend and companion. Balthier and Fran are infamous sky pirates always willing to make a quick buck, and Basch is a former knight captain of Dalmasca, accused of high treason and murder, set out to redeem himself.

Final Fantasy XII has often been praised for its story, which I simply don't understand. The weakness of the story is the first negative that rears head about it. The localization is very good - the voice acting and everything is simply magnificent - but the script itself is so God damn confusing. You need to keep jotting down bits and pieces to simply know what's going on and to make doubly sure you know the difference between Dalmasca, Rozarria, Archadia and whatnot. The game's sophisticated English is extremely good and it's totally opposite to the localization problems of the past, but it doesn't really serve its purpose - even I don't understand all of it, or I need to work extra to get all there is to get, and then I miss something else crucial. In short, I still can't make heads or tails of some of the things that drive the characters. The characters themselves, on the other hand, are extremely strong. Their personal issues and conflicts are what make the game's story for me instead of their means of mutual struggle.

Vaan and Penelo are introduced as the game's lead characters at first, but very soon it becomes clear that they are far from being the stars of the show, they are more like by-standers, kids learning the ways of the world from their elders. Vaan is still officially forced upon the player as the lead, which is a drag since he's arrogant and thick as a brick, much like most child characters in Japanese games. Penelo is Vaan's polar opposite, a level-headed, reasonable girl who keeps her boyfriend (well, that's what he obviously is!) in check. Too bad there's nothing really memorable about her, comparing her to the rest of the cavalcade... except her butt. I mean... sizzling. Speaking of hot, we have two greater female characters who are both quite damn easy on the eyes, both in their own way, and in the case of Fran, that way is quite twisted since she's not even human. OK, so Rikku wasn't exactly human, but Fran is a Viera. Vieras are over six feet tall, they have hooves for feet and long bunny ears to indicate their strong senses. I stand by my declaration, Fran's hot. It's a fetish for bunny ears, I guess. Blame Playboy magazine. Moreover, she's very wise and calculating, a no-nonsense type of character without a sense of humour or at least the ability to laugh - there's not really a classic shady character in the game, but I guess she's the closest to being one, although her personal traits are just in her tribe's nature.

Come on, tough guy. Why waste your strength
on a kid? Take on the real leading man.
Right down to her choice of clothing and surly attitude, Ashe is like a prototype of the next game's lead character Lightning; she could almost be her twin, only her hair is shorter. Ashe is also the sort of character that was meant to be a non-stereotypical female lead; a tough, bitchy character that would spell absolutely nothing but trouble for all men around her. However, she is introduced a bit differently, as a complete opposite of herself, so we know right off the bat it's all just a charade. She's really a nice girl, just a bit stuck up. And besides, that thing she has going on with Balthier has Princess Leia & Han Solo written all over it... just like everything in this game has Star Wars written all over it. Speaking of Balthier, if they did something right with this game, it was the creation of this lady-killing, smooth-talking sky pirate. The only problem with Balthier is he's so much like Han Solo - my favourite character in the Star Wars universe - that he makes Fran look like Chewbacca. The ONLY problem, since Balthier is most definitely one of my favourite Final Fantasy characters of all time. I usually like those dark, brooding characters I mentioned, but Balthier utilizes a different strategy to win my vote. He's clever, sarcastic, and has a punchline for every possible situation; double all that with a devilishly arrogant British accent in the English version. Gotta love Balthier! To introduce the last playable character, a personal quote from Balthier is more than fitting; "Kidnapping the princess is a serious crime. It wouldn't do much to lower the price on your head." "What's the bounty on your head these days, I wonder?" Of course, we're speaking about Basch, a fallen captain who is desperate to clear his name, but he knows the evidence is stacked against him, so he doesn't really take it as an offence if someone's fitting a noose on his neck. Basch is the first playable character we see in the game - although at that point those who haven't read about him should have no idea that he would show up as a playable character some time in the future. Anyways, we know immediately that this guy's worthy of our trust and fandom, whether he pulled the plug on his own king or not; he must've had his reasons, because he's that damn cool. He, Balthier and Ashe are definitely the three characters that force me to be a little more interested in the game's story and its outcome - and, their dialogue is magnificent. I very much consider Basch and Ashe the game's main characters 'cause a lot of the storyline especially in the early goings revolves around them.

Final Fantasy XII isn't really a reboot, it's more of a one-off to try something completely new after years of going back and forth with an age-old standard, in better and worse. Still, it qualifies as some sort of a reboot 'cause even classic elements are wholly redesigned. Cid appears as a villain for the first time in the franchise's history, as an Imperial scientist specialized in Magicite research; exactly the same as he was in Final Fantasy VI, but this time he's obviously sinister from the first time we lay eyes on him. Chocobos look a bit more like wild animals than usual; they're still kinda cute, but they look a bit dirty and the kind of big, tough birds that could really hold their own in a fight. Moogles who return to the main series in an official capacity for the first time since Final Fantasy IX are completely redesigned; they still say "Kupo" a lot, but they're taller and look purely lagomorphic instead of mysterious anime creatures. But, one thing remains, and it has been this way since Final Fantasy VII, except in VIII in which the main villain was a woman: the bad guy has long hair. I don't know what's even the point in selling Vayne as a good guy and a hero of the people - maybe it's a tribute to Seymour - when we know for damn sure that he's a loyal spokesman of the Empire and the only moment in the game he sounds friendly, sincere and selfless, lasts for about two minutes. And again, he has that long hair, made famous by Sephiroth, Kuja and Seymour. Rest assured, you're gonna fight that guy. As if you didn't know that already. Even if Final Fantasy XII was something totally unexpected as a game, some things never change.

Before going into specifics, I feel the awful need to point out some of the most obvious connections this game has with the Star Wars saga - I'm trying not to spoil too much for those who are truly interested in the story for one reason or another. First, there's this tribe of sand peop... I mean, Urutan-Yensas, little guys in robes who live on a desert, don't like humans and communicate with high-pitched voices that could be described as squeaking. I already went over the relationship between Balthier and Ashe. It's more like mutual respect than a romantic relationship - Ashe is quite obviously cold as a freezer - but there's a definite Han Solo / Leia undertone in their dialogue. There's a huge bounty on Balthier's head which has just about every headhunter in the kingdom tracking him down, and he travels the lands in an extremely capable airship, with his "alien" companion attempting to find more and more ways to make easy money, going home is not an option. At one point, he's lured to a city in the clouds to take care of business. That's Han Solo for you, and as much as it hurts me to say this, Fran is indeed a talking, female Chewbacca. Don't get me wrong, I love Chewie, but he doesn't really tickle my interest like Fran, if you catch my drift. What hurts me even more is that Vaan is quite a lot like Luke Skywalker, with less character development. He doesn't really accomplish anything, at least at the pace Luke does - he just dreams and flaps his gums. The connection between Vaan and Luke said, I consider Old Dalan, an NPC who's kind of like the mentor to each street urchin in Rabanastre, the obvious, yet minor reference to Obi-Wan Kenobi. Last - at least for now - we have the Judges, who serve as the game's "mascots", as there's one of them pictured in the European cover art and the game's title screen. Darth Vader, anyone? At first the Judges seem like way lesser factors in the storyline than anyone or anything else, these elite executioners in traditional dark armour seem like just tools to scare the player, but actually, they're quite important to the game's mysteries.

One last thing to say before I begin: one doesn't just walk into Final Fantasy XII. Be prepared. It has many qualities which serve as links between it and the rest of the series, but if you've never played an MMO, a Western RPG or Final Fantasy XI for that matter in your life, you're in for some hard schooling. It might have been made in Japan, but Final Fantasy XII is way more delicate and precise than any other J-RPG. That said, you're in luck since the game has many tutorial files which you're able to review at any time, it's not nearly as hard to learn as it might first seem, and most importantly, it's a very good game. I believe you're gonna be hooked, as complex as it seems, and as admittedly boring it might be at its worst.

As you should by now, I don't go passing out perfect tens to any qualities, much less overall games, very lightly. When the graphical display of Final Fantasy XII is in question, I have no choice - there is no better-looking PS2 game out there. First of all the game's in full 3D, which simply means that you can control the camera in any way you like. You can zoom in to Penelo's nice butt or check out Basch's awesome scar up close with no problem at all. This, and the sheer size of the game's environments, both interior and exterior, are simply jaw-dropping. The characters and their movement are well designed, each and every texture is carefully refined... but not too refined. The overtly clean and polished look of Final Fantasy X is dropped out, and in turn we get much more believable facial expressions and decent lip-sync work. The only thing that remotely hurts my eyes about the game is the use of those flat, poor dialogue boxes on the bottom of the screen; the classic dialogue boxes only show up in tutorials and some choice situations. The game is damn beautiful; a true technological breakthrough that goes to show why the PS2 has lived such a long life.

The classic Final Fantasy theme song "Prelude" starts up the game for the first time in a single-player Final Fantasy game in years, and makes one shed a nostalgic, very happy tear. We're really dealing with a Final Fantasy game here, and judging by the sound of things, it's gonna be awesome. The victory fanfare also returns, yet it only plays after storyline bosses, due to the regular battles being seamlessly fought in real time. The music written for the game by Hitoshi Sakimoto, Masaharu Iwata and Hayato Matsuo is surprisingly great. There is absolutely no techno or electronic music here - it's classical, epic music all the way. That also means that Uematsu's personal rock influences are gone from the fray; there are no synthesized guitars or anything of the sort to spit out some crazy riffs in climactic points like usual, but the epic, progressive soundtrack is very supportive to the game's style. I'm fine without Uematsu this time around, as surprising as it might seem. It might not be the best Final Fantasy soundtrack and as background music, it could use a little more variety, but it's ten times better than all the other non-Uematsu shite out there. ...And you know what? There's a remix of "Clash on the Big Bridge" from Final Fantasy V. If that wasn't a spoiler, I don't know what is... but I just had to mention it since it's my favourite Final Fantasy song of all time.

Like I have pointed out a couple of times, the voice acting in this game is phenomenal. What I know of Final Fantasy XI, is that it didn't have voiceovers at all. They wouldn't have made any sense in an MMO, anyway... Captain Obvious strikes again! So, the closest comparison to the voice cast would have to be that of Final Fantasy X and X-2. The latter did OK, but we have still come a long way. The voices have a much stronger connection to the characters on the screen, and most lines are delivered with passion. Sometimes the characters' accents fail in mid-sentence and some particular actors overdo their accents, but there's not a moment that would remind me of the worst of X or X-2. Special mentions go out to Kari Wahlgren (Ashe), Keith Ferguson (Basch), and of course, Gideon Emery, who makes Balthier a ten times greater character than he already is.

To business. In May 2002, Final Fantasy XI was released in Japan - first on the PS2, and a few months later, on the PC. Even today, hundreds of thousands of players, most of them Japanese, log in daily to check their progress. Back in 2002, though, MMO's were kind of limited to who other people referred to as nerds and no-lifes. Massive multiplayer games had never been that big of a global phenomenon, although there were many Western role-playing games, both online and offline, that were out to challenge the Japanese success story of Final Fantasy. They just rarely left their home computer environment, and when they did, they flopped. Then, Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi became a fan of Western RPG's, and he came up with the concept of an online Final Fantasy game. He had nothing to do with the final product, but he created the spark of getting rid of restrictions that many fans of the Western style as well as the online freeroam had felt to hold the series back. Final Fantasy XI was a success in Japan and North America, but not the success story that would define its sequel.

In November 2004, World of Warcraft conquered Australia and North America. Four months later, Europe was also devoured by the largest MMO ever conceived. No longer was online playing limited to nerds and no-lifes, but kids and their parents, even the school teachers of those very same kids. Ozzy, Mr. T, William Shatner, guys that we all know showed up on just about every website ad, promoting World of Warcraft. Today, World of Warcraft is still the most popular online game of all time - the much-anticipated Cataclysm expansion pack was actually released just a few days ago, and the game is six years old! Square Enix already had their mind set on making Final Fantasy XII a single-player experience, to oppose their still active online community and truly serve the fans that didn't have the necessary hardware or money to buy it, for a change. However, making a standard, single-player Final Fantasy game in the golden era of Western MMO would've been a bad business move. So... they made an MMO for single players only. Paradoxical, I know, but by far the only way to easily describe the game for fans of traditional J-RPG.

Let's see. Four people against an overgrown
tomato. Unfair? Nah. Just the FF XII way.
The game's beginning is full of different tutorials and trials of soon-to-be common elements, so I'll skip ahead a bit because you're in for hours of playing before you can even assemble your first proper party. For most of the storyline's first quarter or so, your three-person party is accompanied by a CPU guest, who brings along an additional 25% chance of survival. Some random helpers are also likely to pop up in the field during the first hours of the game. It's like the designers are holding your hand every step of the way. Soon enough, though, you'll be on your own - about 30 hours into the game, at least at my pace. Until then, you'd better have learned the basics.

Every location in Ivalice is connected. You can get pretty far just by walking. Apart from a city in the skies and a few heavily guarded territories, walking is a recommended method of transportation for obvious reasons. Every connecting path is full of enemies, apparently glad to take part in a little sword vs. flesh. There are no random encounters at all. Enemies pop up on your minimap as red dots and you can either target them from afar or try to find a way around them, if you're not into fighting at the moment or find the enemy to be a little too hot to handle for you at your current experience level. Very difficult enemies appear from time to time from the very beginning of the game, but very often there's a trick to just having them ignore you. Just watch out for rare creatures, don't use magic(k) around Entites or Elementals, and don't spontaneously attack the otherwise docile Saurians, and you should be fine. Use a little discretion while scanning the huge horizons of the game. It's not the non-stop, one-button EXP fest it might look like at first.

Libra, a traditional Final Fantasy ability you might know better as Scan or Sense, is absolutely crucial to use in the game. By using Libra at steady intervals, you'll not just be able to see an enemy's EXP level before going in all guns blazing, but also traps that have been laid out just about everywhere, especially in most of the final dungeons, which are potent enough to kill your whole party at one single step. You can order a character to re-use Libra automatically whenever its effect ends by using the new Gambit system.

The battles are fought in real time (ADB = Active Dimension Battle), but you must use the traditional menu from time to time to give commands you aren't able to apply via Gambit yet. "Gambit" is a fancy name for a traditional, Western tactics system, which allows you to apply auto-commands for your party - that is, your whole party. You can Gambit your chosen main character if you like, personally I prefer manual control over the lead character, but it's perfectly possible and very common to give everyone a list of auto-commands. How many different Gambits you can apply to a character depends on the amount of their Gambit slots, gained via the whole new character development system among everything else, their specific talents which are also acquired via the board, and simply the skills and Gambits you have bought, or found in the field. That's right, Final Fantasy XII returns to the age-old system in which you have to buy everything. Skills, spells, Gambits, weapons, armour, accessories. And yes, as the age-old games would have it, everything's damn expensive. You'd like to think you have all the money in the world, but it's never enough for everything on sale. Actually, one of the game's weakest points is that the stores restock their wares a little too often. Advance one single step in the storyline - like watch one 30-second cutscene - and the city you left by foot many hours ago might have new stuff on sale in every store. You'll find yourself backtracking to the city of Rabanastre about a dozen times in AT LEAST the equal amount of hours. Yeah, you'd like to think that you don't need the stuff on sale - sometimes you don't, but sometimes you do if you want to survive with flying colours. And hey, every Final Fantasy player alive wants all the stuff fresh out of the oven.

Not enough money? Go back into the field where you had your very first battles, stock up on loot to sell and some Licence Points along the way. Is it really this easy? Yes, it is. Regardless of your EXP level climbing up to 70 or 80, or your history of killing about a million wolves (Level 3-9), you'll always gain one Licence Point from them, which is the same amount as you would gain from a Bomb or Nightmare much later on in the game. With the proper key items, you can gain even better loot from them in the later stages than in the beginning of the game. So, it's like this: walk for miles to reach your next destination. Teleport (luckily you can do that in choice territories) back into Rabanastre. Recheck the stores. Sell your loot. Buy everything. Broke? Go for your umpteenth one-hour stroll into any desert nearby. Return to Rabanastre. Buy the rest. Go back to your original spot... oh, wait! Check the bulletin board in the bar first, there might be a new bounty available! Oh, and did you remember to return to the Clan Hall for a possible - but not certain - prize for your recent beheadings, check your current rank or visit the Muthru Bazaar for your new clan provisions? While you're at it, you might want to check the new stocks in other cities you've visited! The game is very hectic, just chock full of backtracking. It is huge, no doubt about it, but are there really that many different territories in it? No. Can you honestly spend 70 out of 150 playing hours just backtracking back and forth? Absolutely. At times I'm even reminded of the infamous Earth Cave in the very first Final Fantasy game. There are some dungeons in the game which you have to enter for one reason or another, and fight halfway through it, then return outside, just to go back again, to visit a now unlocked part of the dungeon to do something else. I hate to say this, but as great as Final Fantasy XII might seem, seriously one of the best games in the series due to its unique qualities, a big part of it is just a waste of valuable time.

Actually, the game is at its very best when you're navigating through the many dungeons. Yes, real labyrinths of death are most definitely back, made possible by the appliance of full 3D. Not only are the interiors confusing and trap-laden, the exterior, connecting paths between points A and B are also maze-like; since you'll be doing a lot of walking, the game is like one big dungeon, minus the many cities, of course. By the time you get an airship under your command, you'll probably have visited each location on the map already, except for the stage for the final battle. The airship is no more than a module for shortcuts, and the (pseudo-)world map is perfectly flat, not even as interactive as it was in Final Fantasy X. Navigating through the dungeons lets you forget every sub-technicality about the game; you simply advance, level up, develop your characters and collect a shitload of loot. Looting is the primary source of income, and it's extremely fun. Its purpose always isn't - decisions on what to buy just keep getting harder and even unfair with time - but it's always exciting to see what kind of a price a rare of piece of loot you just found while skewering a zombie's innards fetches on the market, and there's always a possibility that the one strip of foul flesh or a piece of a bat's wing is an ingredient a merchant needs to whip up a new killer item for you.

A modified version of the "!?" system from Final Fantasy IX returns, but this time a mark appears from a distance away - there's just no way you can spot everything by yourself in the game, since there are many hidden corners with treasure barrels or chests, and non-highlighted doors. In this game, treasure containers respawn, and what they contain is pretty random - if I'm not totally wrong, what you find is up to your current level and needs. Remembering the pain of finding Eye Drops whenever you desperately needed, say, a Tent in some earlier game makes this theory quite comforting. Speaking of Tents, Save Points themselves, both kinds, cure all ailments like they did in the previous two single-player Final Fantasies. There are indeed orange save crystals which serve as teleports between each other. Almost each major location in the game has at least one of them. There are also airship cruisers you can use to travel between cities, and of course, Chocobos to travel on battlefields, but renting them is damn expensive and you can only use them for limited periods of time. However, there are dungeons which you can only enter with the help of a Chocobo, as tradition goes.

Once you have your full party of six, you can change members any time you like, and not just that, but if your active party dies in battle, you can immediately switch to another party, and even revive your previous one if you like. This allows the use of some extremely cheap tactics, but the game still isn't easy, not by the longest shot. You might notice that even if you're the kind of player that has always refrained from using protective spells and debuffs against the enemy, spells like Dispel, Protect, Shell, and the new duo of Bravery and Faith are some of the most crucial spells in the whole game, much more important than any offensive mana. They just take a whole eternity to acquire... like almost every truly important ability or spell in the game.

The Licence Board is innovative, but it has true
purpose only in the middle of the game.
Just buying everything is not enough. You can't do shit with any weapon, or use any spell, which you don't have a proper Licence for. I mentioned Licence Points earlier, and you indeed get at least one from every single enemy you kill - they're the same as AP was before. You use the Licence Points to advance on a Licence Board, a developmental system similar to the Sphere Grid, but much less restricted. There are two separate boards: one is for acquiring licences for weapons and armour, one is for everything else: HP/MP augments, technicks, magicks, accessories and other auto-abilities. Acquiring the licence for something always unlocks everything one step next to that licence. Each character has the very same board, but they all start from different points. You can advance to any direction you like, meaning you can promote someone as a mage, while focusing on the physical skills of another character. This also means that each and every character can learn everything in the game, and they can also use any equipment. Balthier starts out with a pistol and Vaan has the Steal ability from the beginning, but you can easily turn the tables by licencing and equipping Vaan with a gun, and making Balthier your melee thief. Sounds quite stupid, I know, but it's an example. Personally, I stick to the original weapons in the case of most characters; I have some sort of obsession to equip Ashe with axes and hammers, and Basch with spears and poles, even while they're both natural-born swordfighters, though. But again, it's all up to the player. The Licence Board is quite all right in my books. It just takes a very long time before the licences start paying off properly. Even if you get a licence for some Magick or Technick right away, it might take tens of playing hours before you can actually purchase the skill, and vice versa. Towards the end of the game, the board loses some of its point since everyone likely has enough points to complete the whole board, there's no more need for specific abilities for specific characters.

Quickenings serve as Limit Breaks, and they appear in corners of the Licence Board. Each character has three different Quickenings, and once a character has acquired a licence for one, it disappears from every other character's board, and the other characters have to get their licence for a Quickening from another corner. What's different about these special attacks in comparison to a classic Limit Break is that they consume MP, and with good Quick Time reflexes, they can be used several times in succession during one battle - AND, performed together with other members' Quickenings. A good combo results in an ultimate Quickening, which does a huge bulk of damage to any opponent. The hard part is the consuming of MP, you won't have any left on those characters that participated in the combo, and curing members manually or by Gambit is a very important part of each challenging battle. Luckily MP recovers automatically, and there are augments on the board which shorten the recovery time in several different methods.

Summons return as Espers, as they were called in Final Fantasy VI, but there are no stalwarts here. Actually, each vintage name of a summon is given to an Imperial airship in the game - Leviathan, Ifrit, Bahamut, and the sort. I don't quite understand their exact meaning to the plot, but all the Espers in the game are sort of guardians of ancient secrets, that want to test the characters before lending them their power - in other words, you have to fight each and every Esper in battles some of which are exceedingly tough. After acquiring an Esper, the wretched thing appears on the Licence Board and you can permit one character to use it with a very small Licence price. It's funny that as tough as some of the Espers are as bosses, they're useless in battle aside from the fact that they're good cannon fodder in the stead of your characters. They fight on the side of whoever summoned them for a set period of time, until dying or automatically reaching a Quickening of their own. Usually they die. They don't have much to go on when it comes to artificial intelligence.

Character development is not restricted to the Licence Board. Of course it isn't, since if and when you complete each character's board, you'd have six identical characters, only with different Quickenings and Espers. Each piece of armour also affects HP and/or MP, and the characters' basic stats grow with EXP.

The last thing I'll talk about is the "minigame" I mentioned a couple of times already. Since Final Fantasy XII is a flowing, real-time RPG with Western influences, there really isn't a distraction of any sort - but it wouldn't be a Final Fantasy game without some sort of prominent sidequest or "game" that is present throughout the main game. That's why we have mark hunting. In Final Fantasy X, there was the option to go hunting for enemies in different territories to create several superbosses, which could all be fought at a battle arena. You might think that mark hunting is the same thing, but it's actually completely different - it's more like bounty hunting. There are several NPC's with one certain rare monster or individual they want dead for one reason or another, and it's your job to go get these gradually toughening bastards for gil, rare items and fine equipment. Now this is fun, extremely so... but the backtracking strikes again. Let's say you have just beaten the longest dungeon in the game. You go to the nearest bar to check the bulletin board for any new marks, and there is one, in the middle of that very same dungeon, and even at high levels, you have no guarantee of being able to beat the mark, or at its worst, even FIND it, since there are sometimes some really weird, cryptic criterias to be able to even encounter some of the enemies. Regardless of where you are, each time you gain a rank, you should haul your ass back to the Clan Hall in Rabanastre right away to see what the chief moogle offers you as a reward for your hard work or if he has some new info on some really tough bounties called Elite Marks, then check the new stock of a special merchant that works exclusively for the clan. Later, yet another guy comes along that wants you to go on a hunt for other rare creatures outside the confines of the marks posted. Yes, there is much to do, but one's interest holding up through the whole damn ordeal is another thing. You ALWAYS have to return to your employer to collect your check - which is incredibly stupid. Why not just kill whatever they want you to kill and automatically receive the spoils for it? Is it perhaps considered challenging to make that one trip to some random guy to tell him his dirty deeds are done, when you could easily just get your big prize and continue your journey, perhaps cut a couple of extra hours off the game while you're at it? I'll tell you: it's plain boring.

That Chocobo looks ready for war.
Before Achievements and Trophies became every day business for owners of the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, respectively, we had Final Fantasy XII and the Sky Pirate's Den, an extremely nice and comprehensive trophy system. The game is quite difficult, even in the storyline the most challenging battles require full knowledge of the pros and cons of the Gambit system from the player, the effective use of Gambits provides the most natural challenge in my view for players that are not familiar with any games that are practically based on predefined tactics. The Sky Pirate's Den prompts the player to go all the way, on the first time, since the game is made so (perhaps intentionally) that it has perhaps the least replay value out of all Final Fantasies, it's just so damn lengthy, even disregarding the hours that go to total waste. It's the kind of game you're supposed to beat just once, in my opinion. You can't save in the final "stage", so your last save will always be at a point in which you can tie up some loose ends whenever you want to, as long as you get that far. Getting every 16-bit sprite into your Den practically means you've done absolutely everything in the game, since it requires you to finish all marks, including the ultimate superboss of the game - Yiazmat, who has no less than 50,000,000 HP and literally takes HOURS to kill. I never made it past his "predecessor" Hell Wyrm, myself, so I'm in for a lot of work as well, if I ever find the time and interest to fully complete the game.

The beautiful Princess Ashe, before she goes
all Miss Parker on us.
The placement of save points is very awkward. Primarily, in cities save points pop up around just about every corner, but even in the lengthiest dungeons, you're lucky if you'll see two of them. If you suddenly get tired or just bored of the game, you often need to backtrack to the entrance and save there, and fight the very same horde of monsters you just vanquished along the way. EXP and LP extravaganza, for sure, but fun? No.

Final Fantasy XII could've been a masterpiece. It's smooth, flowing and thoroughly cool... but in turn, it has a crappy, confusing story - with many interesting characters, though - and dozens of hours of pointless backtracking as its biggest pairing of ball and chain. As a dungeon slasher the game borders on phenomenal despite some really cryptic and nerve-consuming mazes like the Great Crystal. Interacting with NPC's and simply running back and forth through the cities and between them, really isn't as fun as it could be, and has been. Despite stark punches of boredom right to the kisser and some unrefined features, Final Fantasy XII stands as one unique, visually perfect and deliciously offbeat Final Fantasy experience, which everyone should try out.

Graphics : 10
Sound : 9.1
Playability : 8.2
Challenge : 9.0
Overall : 8.5


GameRankings: 90.64%

The game holds a Guinness World Record for the longest period of development in video game history.

The second Final Fantasy game to spawn a direct sequel. Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings was released exclusively for the Nintendo DS in 2007.

Although not involved in the game's development, series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi was very interested in original director Yasumi Matsuno's work, and impressed by it. After Matsuno left the project, Sakaguchi refused to play the game beyond the first tutorial.

The world of Ivalice was first introduced in Final Fantasy Tactics for the PS1 in 1997.

Judge Magister Gabranth (voiced by Keith Ferguson instead of Michael E. Rodgers) appears as an extra antagonist in Square Enix's all-star anniversary game Dissidia - Final Fantasy, released on the PSP in 2008.

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