From the beginning, I couldn’t help but think that this looks a lot like George Lucas’ recent Star Wars movies. The huge city parades and airships in all their wonderful CG glory is spectacular, even if I keep thinking I’m going to see a Storm Trooper. The storyline is very engaging, thrusting you in the midst of a huge battle of big bad Empire trying to take over the happy and peaceful Kingdom. After the tutorial session, you play Vaan, an orphan who spends his days dreaming of becoming a sky pirate. Eventually you’ll meet a cast of interesting characters, each with their own distinct personality and intriguing background. There will also be guest characters that join your party where you can’t control them, but they do lend a hand when you need it.
Gameplay went through some major changes which I can happily say is a good thing. Using the gambit system you can set up actions for your character to do automatically. You can assign gambits to all your characters to attack your leader’s target, or cure your members when their hit points fall below a certain %. This makes fighting much easier and requires less management. Although you still should keep an eye on things, once you have everything set up, it’s like a finely tuned battle party. Random battles are gone, instead you see your enemy on screen. A red bar above their head indicates that they are aggressive and will come attack you if you are in their line of sight. Green bars indicate that they’re neutral and if you leave them alone, they won’t come after you. You can still run and hope that the monsters give up chasing you, but in dungeons and closed areas, this can be difficult, so you need to plan your attacks accordingly. During the fight, with gambits set up, if your character begins attack it won’t stop until the monster is dead. If you fight consecutive monsters of the same category type, this is called a chain, and the more you kill, the higher the chance of you receiving a better item from drops.
For the first time, money is a bit harder to come by. Normally money or “gil” is never a problem, but they made it so that instead of just getting money off monsters, you need to sell the loot that you acquire and participate in hunts to receive rewards. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it gives you plenty of side quests to go for. Each vendor has a bazaar that can open up to you if you sell them specific items. Generally if you sell them enough things, they will open their bazaar to you and give you discounted items. Some rare items can only be bought from a bazaar so it’s worth looking into.
Character customization is different, using a license board (looks like a deranged chess board) where you purchase the license to a spell, weapon, armor or ability and then you need to purchase the actual spell or weapon from a store. The license board allows you to choose what kind of character will play what role. Each time you purchase a square, the surrounding squares will become available. I like this idea, however to get some rare licenses on the board (which happen to be stuck in random corners), it would require your character to purchase licenses for things you will never need. It’s a good idea to figure out what roles you want your characters to play early on, so you can target towards specific areas of the board so that you don’t waste license points.
The game was released with a collector’s edition version which included a bonus DVD of behind the scenes interviews. Along with this, they also have a special edition strategy guide that comes with some great artwork. The guide is definitely worth the money, especially if you want to get everything possible from the game. Sometimes people argue it’s no fun exploring if you already know what to do next, but now that RPGs are just so massive, there are just too many things you could miss. The game is already very long, if I didn’t have a guide I don’t know how many hours I would need to put into it to get things done.
Hitoshi Sakimoto, who has composed for many other RPGs, brings a beautiful score. It feels very different from the previous games, but the storyline is also different and it blends in very well. Nobuo Uematsu, from the original Final Fantasy lends his talents for the vocal theme “Kiss Me Goodbye”, performed by Angela Aki. There is a large cast of voice actors, and they do a splendid job. At times the voices sound a bit muffled, but overall it flows seamlessly. Maybe it was the material this time around that made it easier, but the writing is very poetic and proper, making this game really feel like you’re watching a movie.
Final Fantasy XII will keep me happy and completely occupied until the next installment. With a few minor details such as sound and splotchy textures on the characters, the game is near flawless. Taking some familiar themes from other epic adventures that you might have come across, combined Final Fantasy XII is an RPG worth playing through. Fans of the series should be very pleased, and RPG fans should not skip this one. It was interesting to see that on the release date, the number of players on Final Fantasy XI dropped because they were busy offline.