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Review: Final Fantasy XII

Posted Mar-04 2008 by ron, created under common review policies
For PS2, optional widescreen mode, runs fine on European 60GB PS3 models


RPGs on the Playstation 2 are plentiful as sand on a shore, but not all of them are created equal. The genre as a whole may be decried for becoming stale and too reliant on its staples, but those of us who actually play the games know that the Final Fantasy series in particular has evolved quite dramatically in recent years. At the very least the Final Fantasy installments developed since Squaresoft's merger with Enix each brought us complete overhauls of the basic gameplay mechanics, which is a laudable risk if nothing else. Today we review the youngest, and most radical specimen so far, which will help us determine how necessary that "nothing else" bit really is.

Ashelia

The RPG genre knows many staples, but that doesn't mean you will know all RPGs once you played one or two. You particularly won't know FF XII.

To start off with what we all expected, Final Fantasy XII drops inclined players into a vast fantasy world with many towns full of NPCs to interact with and enormous outdoor areas and dungeons to explore. The setting feels almost modern, due to the architecture and sheer size of the larger cities, and the ruling caste even controls a few machines and vehicles powered by crystals, but at the same time normal citizens lead a low-tech life, and your combat arsenals will be mostly medieval, with plate armors, axes, bows and spears.
The entire game controls from a third-person perspective. All the environments are modeled in 3D and free camera rotation is mapped to the right analog stick.

Vaan talking to a citizen

A little chit-chat with one of the dozens of NPCs in the game's first city. This is how FF XII portrays busy city life, and also delivers many small bits of lore and gameplay hints.

Combat is of course a central component of Final Fantasy XII, and this is where it differentiates itself the most from its predecessors. Instanced "combat screens" haven been abolished completely. Outside of the settlements, enemies roam the game world proper and are visible from afar. When a character in your active battle party comes close enough, they will engage automatically and start attacking, without any change in perspective nor control scheme. While movement controls remain real-time, combat is built around phases. The speed of actions is determined not by the player's dexterity, but by stats and equipment choices. Fast characters don't just act first, but can act more often than slower ones. To indicate to the player what's going on, the game displays a bar for each character that fills up at a certain speed, and once it's filled up, a combat action is carried out. The game also projects colored lines through the 3D world to point out which player character attacks, or is attacked by, which enemy, and yet more indicators are present in the map overlay that accompanies the player in the top right corner of the screen at all times.

Combat against a giant toad, during rain

The blue lines show that all our three party members are set to attack that toad thing, while the red line indicates that Vaan may soon receive a slap of his own. The combined map/radar in the top right corner is handy, too.

For the most part, the player controls combat only indirectly by moving the lead character around the battlefield and thus choosing which risks to take, when and how many enemies to draw into the fray that then plays out mostly by itself. Whenever it becomes necessary to use a specific skill, spell or item, it can always be chosen from the combat menu, which comes up when you press X and conveniently pauses the flow of the game while still letting you look at the combat situation. You can also at any time change equipment or swap out party members, though that requires pulling up the actual menu, which blocks off your view into the game world.
If one so desires, Final Fantasy XII also offers the option to turn off any automatic behaviour and then requires manual menu input for every single combat action. The filling bars make this mode similar to previous Final Fantasy games based on an "ATB" variant.

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