Retro Video Game Review- Final Fantasy XII

Although the Final Fantasy series is known to shake things up with every release in the numbered series, it’s hard to believe without playing Final Fantasy XII that the formula would be shaken up so much. The game is largely polarizing among the series’ audience, some love it, some hate it, all for a range of different reasons.
  
Unlike its predecessors, Final Fantasy XII’s combat system works in real-time.
The classic and heavily refined turn based combat system that was once a staple of the Final Fantasy series is gone, with a real-time combat system similar to that of an MMO in its place. The combat system works by placing each command on a timer similar to the ATB meter on previous games, a command is selected, it charges up for a set amount of time and is then executed by the character. The game takes full advantage of the real-time combat system by removing battle arenas and making the world of Ivalice a combat area, the game no longer drags you out of the overworld to fight seemingly random appearing enemies instead, you can avoid combat if you like.

  
Alongside summons which are a returning feature in the series, Final Fantasy XII features abilities call quickenings as a replacement for limit breaks in previous titles. The quickening is a large-scale attack from a character that can be continuously chained using other members in the party. The system gives the player a mini-game with quick time events to keep the chain up with an increasing difficulty to keep the chain going. When used, quickenings drain the characters mana points meaning that a last-ditch attempt to bring down a boss with quickenings fails, there is no way for party members to cast magic without the lengthy process of spamming ethers.

Both quickenings and summons become relatively underpowered further through the game and are pretty useless to use late game, this results in a limited options for combat in the later portions of the game and does take some of the fun and depth out of the combat.

  
It’s hard to say that the gameplay has aged in any particular way, the combat feels fast and responsive and because of the limited nature of movement in the game, it doesn’t feel floaty or fiddly like older game tend to do. There are some occasions when trying to face an object like a chest at the right angle so that a prompt appears to open it but this is rarely difficult to the point of it being annoyance.

  
Both quickenings and summons become relatively underpowered further through the game and are pretty useless to use late game, this results in a limited options for combat in the later portions of the game and does take some of the fun and depth out of the combat.

  
It’s hard to say that the gameplay has aged in any particular way, the combat feels fast and responsive and because of the limited nature of movement in the game, it doesn’t feel floaty or fiddly like older game tend to do. THere are some occasions when trying to face an object like a chest at the right angle so that a prompt appears to open it but this is rarely difficult to the point of it being annoyance.

With the real-time aspect of the combat system, the Gambit system has been introduced to allow you to keep party members in order and doing exactly what you want them to as party leader and when. The system works by giving the player a set amount of conditions and actions to correspond with them. A simple example of this would be to have a character automatically use a potion if a character in the party has their hit points drop below a certain percentage. The gambits are listed in order of importance to make sure a character doesn’t prioritize DPS over healing a party member if they are your primary healer. The system can be complicated to get a grasp of but results in a sophisticated and effective party if mastered. The system can be made more thorough in terms of increasing the amount of things a party member can do further into the game, it allows the party to be ready to counter the large amount of status effects enemies later in the game can cause with ease.

The gambit system can result in a dysfunctional and potentially catastrophic party set up if you don’t have the full grasp of the system though, for characters can start fighting enemies on full health while being attacked by those that can be easily finished off with a few hits because of the gambit that sets party members to attack the enemy closest to them and not the one the partly leader is targeting. This can result in heavy damage to the party when it can be avoided. Thankfully, the game features an effective tutorial to explain how everything works.

Although the gambit system works great, it does take a lot of effort out of the combat, I found myself turning off gambits for my primary character and setting the other party member’s gambits to correspond with my actions so it felt like I was actually doing something. It’s a small gripe of my own that may not be shared but a gripe all the same.

Final Fantasy XII also features a very deep character progression system, this is done with the licence system which allows the player to progress each of the characters in the party in any way they see fit. This results in a beautiful amount of freedom when it comes to party organisation. The licence board works as the way characters learn new abilities as well as learning how to use different pieces of equipment, each checker on the board represents a different weapon, piece of equipment, ability or augment which can be learned by spending points dropped by fallen enemies.

  
Each party members licence board is identical to each other with very slight differences when it comes to the positioning of abilities call quickenings. This means that every character is able to equip any weapon, wear any armour and use any spell if they’ve gained the licence for it on the board. While this does add an exceptional amount of depth, it does take away from the personality of party members when it comes to using them in battle. It’s possible to have Basche, a disgraced member of the Dalmascan military as a full magic based character in battle. While this is great from a gameplay perspective, it contradicts the narrative around the characters somewhat.

The game’s art style also vastly differs from its predecessors taking in a lot of visual influence from middle eastern cultures such as ancient egypt with the use of statues similar to that of the statues of Pharaohs for its more ancient areas within the game. The game’s art style is not free of the trademark grandeur and beauty that the Final Fantasy series is known for though. even the games mines are intricately detailed and grand in terms of architecture. The games characters in terms of design also feel much more grounded in this iteration in the series, each of them are distinctly japanese in terms of style but their weaponry and clothing feel much more based in reality for a game in a fantasy setting (bunny eared characters make an exception to this).

The game in terms of its visual fidelity has definitely aged, the serious lack of anti aliasing makes the game look like a pixellated mess on a high-resolution screen, as the game is practically impossible to buy new, I’d recommend that you play it through an emulator on a much higher resolution with anti aliasing turned on, with this, the game tends to look much better than a lot of early Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 titles because of its art style.. The cut scenes on the PS2 version are still stunning in their own right and hold up well to modern games, While they are beautiful, they are also frequent and tended to pull me out of the game, cut scenes have never been a thing I’ve particularly liked, while they are absolutely beautiful in the game, I would have preferred something real-time or at least a storytelling method that is a little more immersive.

  
The voice acting in the game is pretty top-notch and is a vast improvement over previous titles in the series, with Final Fantasy X’s voice acting paling in comparison. The voice acting on the english dubbed version avoids the stereotypical anime voice acting silliness that is prevalent within a lot of english dubbed titles for the east, not that there is anything wrong with those but it does have a bit more grab with a broader audience from the west because of this.

The story feels much less character driven than previous titles, with more of the feel of a massive space opera or fantasy epic, Vaan kind of fits the mould of previous Final Fantasy protagonists but he does have a lot less character than previous protagonists have, instead, he feels like a hollow shell for the player to use as a vehicle through the game. This isn’t inherently bad but it is different from its predecessors and may be a turn off for certain fans of the series. The game can draw comparisons with Final Fantasy VI by including a large cast of characters each with their own motives for being involved in the plot however, it lacked an emotional drive to push me through the game. Instead, the political and militaristic based plotline was what kept me interested. The game picks up and drops small plot points throughout the game but overall, the story is pretty solid and engaging and its cast of characters is equally as solid with a few exceptions, Baltheir and Basche being highlights in the cast.

  
Overall, Final Fantasy XII is a fantastic RPG and a highlight to the PS2 era of gaming, it’s combat system is deep and responsive, it’s party management mechanics are top-notch and hold up to modern standards, its graphics when emulated are still beautiful and beat a lot of games from the early 360/PS3 lifespan and it’s story is engaging end epic. I would definitely recommend playing this game.