I should let you all know…I never finished Final Fantasy VII. I know, I know. Flame me. Troll me. Abuse me all you want, but I just never got around to finishing the damn game. The same goes with Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy X (never really had the chance to play Final Fantasy IX). The one Final Fantasy game I did get to finish was the one not a lot of people liked (if I remember correctly) when it came out. The reason I actually loved this game was mainly because of the story. The story was something Square Enix boldly gone where it never has gone before.
Final Fantasy XII was released on March 16, 2006 and the last Final Fantasy to be exclusive to the PS2 since Final Fantasy VII. The story wasn’t your typical end-of-world thanks to some crazy guy obtaining unimaginable power or some monster wanting to destroy the world just because it fucking wants to. No, the story revolved around politics, power struggles, deception, tragedy, and vision. In the country of Ivalice, two great nations, the eastern Rozarrian Empire and the western Imperial Archadia, are in the midst of a great war between the two. Two smaller kingdoms, Dalmasca and Nabradia are in the middle of both great nations and are being targeted by Imperial Archadia. The story is full of deceit, political issues, and war. The story felt modern and fresh, as if Square Enix was highlighting an issue of what could happen in the real world.
Each character had an intriguing story as well. There was no true “main” character. It was more like the movie Crash, where everyone’s lives are separately told, but somehow connects and intertwines with others’ lives and ultimately bringing them together for one cause. Each with a heavy past to deal with, yet in the comforts of one another, they look forward to a better future.
Gameplay was nothing like its predecessors as well. At the time, it seemed like Square Enix was trying to break away from the original formula and try something new. Fights in a JRPG were all about random battles and timing. Final Fantasy XII broke away from the redundant formula and moved into a more open-world, MMORPG feeling. It was great. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a refreshing way to play Final Fantasy. The flow was much smoother and instead of constantly running into random encounters, you can actually see what kind of trouble you are getting into, which helped tune your strategy. Who do you want to be used as a tank? Are there magic users? Or you going all ranged combat? It felt as the developers incorporated the “job” system of old in a different way. There were many ways to customize how each of your teammates acted on the battlefield as well. The AI was more than sufficient to follow the orders placed upon them and the game was surprising smooth with all the commands that may be placed during a battle. There were a few hiccups with the AI, but nothing to annoy and destroy the flow of the game.
Sound was absolutely beautiful – like all the other Final Fantasy games before it. The score was something to behold and the voice overs were incredibly done. Each area presented a score that truly felt like you belonged in the game. Each cutscene was masterfully done and the voice overs actors brought each character alive. The sound effects added to the already beautiful atmosphere. Hear the sands flow with the wind or hear the various monsters in the distance roaming the landscapes. The difference in hitting armor or flesh were distinct and clear and brought so much realism in each battle you fight.
Graphics were a non-issue as well…except for the fact that the PS3 was on the horizon and everyone looking at the possibilities of what the PS3 could do. Each character is thoroughly detailed and animated. The monsters looked menacing, but some had more imagination than others. The world is beautifully drawn from areas expanding to the desert to the city and off to the coastal side. No complaints here, just another A+ effort from the Square Enix team.
Controls did take some time to get used to, since the gameplay played more like World of Warcraft than a typical Final Fantasy. Even without a keyboard, Square Enix button layouts on the controller did the job – even with its limitations – on delivering a wonderful and smooth experience.
I felt the game was almost flawless. Yes, some characters did get somewhat annoying, but not enough to put off the storytelling in any negative way. The new battle system could have been better, but shouldn’t deter gamers from experiencing this game. I just wished it was longer – even though I spent more than 30 hours playing the damn game.
Final Fantasy XII didn’t feel like a Final Fantasy game and maybe it shouldn’t have been one; it felt more like an original IP if anything. Then again, Square Enix wouldn’t have sold a lot of copies if it didn’t have the franchise name. A wonderful and refreshing take on a historic gaming franchise, which left a lot of emotions and storytelling on your TV screen. One of the few games which provides a number of reasons why video games should be considered an art medium and provides a better experience than watching TV or a movie.