Only one game can come out with a limited edition PS2, world book, wireless controller and an herbal tea drink. Yes, it’s Final Fantasy XII, probably the most hyped PS2 game ever. After countless delays and the absence of a “traditional” offline Final Fantasy game since X-2 in 2003 Final Fantasy XII is finally here. Can this game live up to Famistu’s perfect 40/40 score? Let’s find out.
Unlike the other Final Fantasy games which start out in a completely new universe, Final Fantasy XII is set in Ivalice. That’s the same world as the GBA game Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Also like the tactics series, the world in FFXII is in the middle of a war. On one side is the nation of Archadia and the other side is Rozarria. Trapped in the middle is Dalmasca, which is where the story begins. On a simple raid Reks and his command leader Basch are inside the castle. All of the sudden Basch does thinkable he turns into a traitor and kills the King of Dalmasca. Then the story switches to Vaan, Reks’ younger brother, who lives in Rabanastre the capital of Dalmasca. Vaan and his best friend Penelo reside there, but times have changed Dalmasca has now become the unofficial territory of Archadia. Vaan’s main dream is to sail the skies as a pirate and he just might get his chance due to a fateful encounter with the sky pirate Balflear and his Viera partner Fran. On the other side of the story is Ashe, the princess of Dalmasca who seeks to restore her kingdom. She leads the Dalmascan resistance and another chance encounter brings her face to face with Vaan. As you can see there’s a lot of politics in Final Fantasy XII, something that’s expected since the game is an extension of the tactics universe. FF fans fret not the main story still has all of the major elements: action, romance and some plot twists for good measure. But we won’t spoil that for you guys.
Compared to recent Final Fantasy games like VII and VIII, which infuse sci-fi elements, Final Fantasy XII is much more fantasy. Even though the opening trailer looks like a star wars epic with airships blazing into battle, the scenery has castles instead of flourishing cities. The areas in FFXII are huge (think Final Fantasy XI large), starting with the opening city of Rabanastre. Towns are a couple of screens wide. They’re also populated with many residents of the FFXII universe with humes, moogles and bangaa. It’s a welcome change to see a thriving town with NPCs everywhere. On the other hand, you can’t talk to all the characters on screen. You can only interact with set characters that have icons over their head. Since the town is so large FFXII has moogles placed in each area which can teleport you around to save players some running around time.
Once you’re outside of town you’ll get a chance to explore Giza plains or the underground waterways of Dalmasca, but this isn’t your traditional dungeon exploring. Instead of having your party walk around a dungeon, then enter a random combat FFXII takes some cues from Final Fantasy XI Online to make a more fluid experience. Monsters are scattered around each dungeon. You can freely approach them and begin attacking any time you want. Just open up the battle menu and select fight to begin a melee attack. You’ll begin to fill up your action gauge, when it’s full Vaan or whoever your party leader is will strike a blow. Your party will continue pounding the enemy until it is dead or you command your team to stop. However, you don’t want to aggravate every monster in range. While you’re busy slashing your sword at an Owlbear other nearby monsters will come up and attack you too. So you have to pick your battles wisely. Also be wary of large monsters like the T-Rex in the first desert area or the Rocs on route to Dalmasca. These monsters are equivalent to the notorious monsters in Final Fantasy XI. If you leave them alone they won’t mess with you, but if you pick a fight you just might wind up dead.
Also unique is how you control, or don’t control your party. Instead of menus popping up asking for your action every round your party members act semi-automatically. The player is in direct control of the battle leader, while all other characters follow their gambits. The gambit system is sort of like programmable artificial intelligence. You start out with two gambits, which are two different actions you can set. First you pick a condition like “attack the same enemy as the leader” or “use this when a party member’s HP is less than 30%” then you follow up by setting an action to perform after this. You end with commands like “steal from the enemy the leader is attacking”, “cast protect on Fran”, “heal the party’s HP when lower than 70%” and “attack the first enemy you see”. Now you can give these commands different priorities by ordering the gambits. The gambit system allows for some interesting character set ups. You can take Penelo and make her a magic using character by setting her primary action as casting fira on any enemy she sees. But what if your HP gets in the red? Try setting her first gambit to “if the characters HP is less that 30% cast cure”. Now you have her act as a back up healer and a primary magic user. You can auto set Basch to cast protect (physical damage reducer) / shell (magic damage reducer) every free second he gets so you can auto buff your characters by setting your primary gambit to fight and your other gambits to casting protect/shell. Why set fight first? If you don’t Basch will concentrate on casting protect even when your party is ruthlessly attacked by mandagoras. Another example is making a complete buff/debuff character. Take Vaan set his primary gambit to casting slow, secondary gambit to casting blind and the next gambit to casting don’t act. Don’t worry too much about MP loss, your characters automatically recover MP as you run around. There’s also a charge ability you can pick up to help recover MP even faster. As you play through the game you’ll earn more gambit conditions, more skills to use them with and earn the ability to set more gambits. However, the gambit system isn’t exactly intuitive. Imagine writing one long if…then… else statement or writing a page long list of things you want to do with priorities next to them. If you’re totally frustrated and hate the gambit system you can control each character manually by opening up the battle menu. However, learning the gambit system can probably save you the mess of micromanagement. It seems a little tedious at times, but if you’re patient with trial and error you can create some rather creative combinations. I can’t wait for people to post up what they think the ultimate gambit combinations are and debate them in the forums.