Developer – Square Enix
Release Date – October 31, 2006 (North America), February 23, 2007 (Europe)
Platform – PlayStation 2
Genre - RPG
With the release of Final Fantasy 13 a month away in Japan, and the North American release announcement coming shortly, we decided to go back and provide an in-depth look at the most recent main series installment. A review of probably the most controversial game in the series, Final Fantasy 12, follows.
Final Fantasy 12 is by far the most drastic departure for the series in terms of storytelling and gameplay, and this is evident beginning with the setting itself. FF 12 takes place in the world of Ivalice, the same world seen in Final Fantasy Tactics and its PSP remake War of the Lions, FF Tactics Advance and A2, and Vagrant Story (12’s sequel, Revenant Wings naturally takes place in Ivalice as well). Though references to previous games and locations were minimal, this was still a departure for Square, which had previously set each new FF game in its own self-contained world.
Ivalice is a land at war, as the kingdom’s of Archadia and Rozarria, the two major powers on the continent, prepare for an imminent clash. Caught in the crossfire are the small kingdoms of Dalmasca and Nabradia, which lie between the two warring states. Nabradia’s Prince Rasler, the husband of heroine Princess Ashe, is killed defending the two lands. The two kingdoms are overthrown, and to make matters worse, Ashe’s father, King Raminas is assassinated while signing a peace treaty with Archadia, apparently by one of his own men, Basch, who disagrees with the surrender or its terms.
The story of FF 12 is a mature, often dark tale, featuring fully-fleshed out characters with strong personalities, motivations, and development. The story was seen as a letdown by many fans of the series, and it’s true the story is a departure from previous entries. It is much more a character-driven drama, and lacks the instant gratification approach of the melodramatic narrative and deep storylines of previous games.
The story also isn’t helped by the gameplay itself, which tends to sidetrack the player and distract them from the main quest by throwing large environments to explore, tons of optional content to conquer, and loads of character customization at them. Overall, I would agree that it isn’t the strongest story in the series by any means, and though likable, the characters are also some of the least memorable in the series. That said, it’s still an enjoyable story with deep characters, and loads of political intrigue.
The gameplay takes an even more drastic turn than the story though, borrowing elements of CRPG’s/MMORPG’s to craft a wholly unique FF experience. Rather than random battles which switch you to a separate combat screen, all combat takes place in real-time directly in the game environments, which are quite large as a result to facilitate this. You control 3 character parties, and character actions are governed by gambits, which are preset commands given to each character, telling them how to act and react in certain situations. The gambit system starts out simple and slowly ramps up in complexity as more and more skills and gambit modifiers become available.
Despite the presence of the gambit system, all characters can have their actions overridden at any time and manually inputted if players wish to play it more like a traditional RPG. Unfortunately, the player has to manually call up the character’s menu screen when their turn is ready. An option to turn the game into a full-fledged turn-based game would’ve been a good one for players who would rather play that way, but as it is, the system works out well enough, and the game can always be paused, and the gambits overridden when necessary.
Character customization is all governed by the licence board, which determines the abilities characters can learn, provides stat increases, and must even be used to allow the equipping of weapons and armor. I liked the general freedom the board provided, but felt it was somewhat limited in scope. Depending on how you play, and how aggressively you seek to complete your bestiary, you’ll probably have your character’s licence boards nearly completed around the 50-75% mark of the game, save for perhaps a few of the most expensive squares. That’s a far cry from FFX, which could easily be beaten without getting a character even close to completing the massive sphere grid.
Graphically, FF 12 got lost a bit in the shuffle, as next-gen consoles were already out by this point, but it is undeniably one of the most beautiful games seen on the PS2. Graphic design was especially brilliant, creating a true feeling of immersion in a living, breathing world.
The music was composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto, and generally complemented the vast environments and feeling of exploration well. There weren’t as many classic songs in FF 12 as there were in past games, perhaps due to the switch in composers (though Sakimoto’s FF Tactics soundtrack is widely considered one of the greatest videogame soundtracks ever, his work since has largely been seen as inferior), or perhaps owing to the new gameplay direction. At either rate, the soundtrack is solid, though largely unspectacular. In addition, the voice acting is largely outstanding, and I’m personally a big fan of Square’s English translations of late, and their use of British accents rather than American (FF 12, DQ 8, Drakengard 2, etc.).
Overall, I enjoyed FF 12, and appreciated the effort to deliver something new. Some of it worked well, some of it not so well, but the game kept me engrossed for its entirety, as every Final Fantasy has, and which few other JRPG’s do.
Graphics – 9
Sound – 8.5
Story – 8
Gameplay – 8
Control - 9
Overall – 8.5