The latest Final Fantasy on the Playstation 2, Final Fantasy XII manages to free itself from the increasingly formulaic trend of the series and stand out. It tries to do something different, and it pays off in a big way.
FFXII is quite unusual compared to more "traditional" entries in the series. Namely, it plays more like a massively multiplayer online RPG. The world is one massive, coherent map comprised of various zones through which you adventure. The battle system is, on the surface, an amalgam of the classic Active Time Battle system and those of MMOs. Rather than waiting for a gauge to fill, selecting your attack, and executing it immediately thereafter, you select your attack first, and then it executes after its own gauge fills (at varying speeds, depending on the ability and other factors). This simple change makes for a more complex and engaging experience. Furthermore, the "Gambit" system allows players to make a given action take place automatically when certain conditions are met. For example, you may set the condition "HP
As one of the last great PS2 games, the developers have managed to squeeze every last drop of power out of the aging system, and this shows in the graphics department. FFXII sports huge, detailed areas, and there is never a hint of slowdown during battle. Characters are distinctive and varied, and the CG cinemas are absolutely out of this world. This is one pretty game, make no mistake about that.
Soundwise, FFXII also differs from its predecessors. The soundtrack is more ambient and cinematic, with few truly memorable pieces of music. By no means should it be considered of poor quality. When you stop and listen to it, it is actually quite good. It just doesn't pop out at you as much as it did in previous games. Personally, I think the new musical style is a nice change of pace, and is reminiscent of Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story (as it should be, since they share many of the same staff). The voice actors do an admirable job of infusing their characters with life, delivering excellent performances all around.
The story is a mixed bag. It starts off intriguing, and then nothing happens for a great while. Only immediately before the end does the story hit its stride, and then the game is over. It seems to me like the narrative is only half-finished, with a great many loose ends that should have been tied off. Don't let that deter you, though, as what there is is well-told.
Final Fantasy XII is absolutely stuffed with content. From the optional monster Hunts that provide you with considerable rewards, to the hidden summon spells that you can unlock, to the scads of hidden weapons, there is always something to do. There is even a little feature that unlocks sprite versions of various characters to look at when you hit certain milestones, similar to the Achievements in Xbox 360 games. I spent over 100 hours on my file, and could probably spend several dozen more.
There are few RPGs as masterful as Final Fantasy XII. Whether you are a long-standing fan of the franchise or merely an RPG gamer looking to get the most out of their dollar, you owe it to yourself to check this game out. Highly recommended.