I was just a young lad when I was first introduced to my first role-playing game, Dragon Warrior, back on the NES. I enjoyed the RPG genre but continued playing other things like Super Mario Brothers, Contra, Zelda and all those other classics. It wasn’t until Super Nintendo that I played another RPG. That RPG, Final Fantasy III, turned out to be my favorite game up to that point. Being the writer that I am I enjoyed the very detailed storyline and character development that you get in a RPG. A lot of RPG games would also end with an explanation of what happens to the character after the game, much like a cheesy sports movie. Many great games have come and gone since then, Monster Rancher, WWE Smackdown!, Suikoden, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Metal Gear Solid, Xenogears, NCAA Football, God of War, Shadow of the Colossus, but no game has ever surpassed Final Fantasy III…until now.
The latest edition of Final Fantasy hit stores recently and of course I had to play it. Even though I haven’t liked any of the Final Fantasy games as much as III, I have still enjoyed them very much. Right away Final Fantasy XII gets your attention with an opening scene that is probably the best CGI scene I’ve ever seen (granted I have not played one of the new systems). The opening scene includes a battle that takes place on the ground with iron clad soldiers as well as in the air with swift ships engaging each other. The scene is like an amalgamation of Braveheart and Star Wars. In the scene it’s the night before the King of Dalmasca is set to sign a treaty that will give Archadia occupational rights in exchange for the war’s end. On this night the King is assassinated and his daughter, the princess, commits suicide.
After the scene you’re taken to two years later. Archadia now occupies Dalmasca and the people of Dalmasca are not pleased. You control Vaan, an orphaned Dalmascan who now roams the streets as a petty thief. Like the rest of the town Vaan is not pleased with Archadia being in charge and wants to get at them the only way he knows how, by stealing from them. Vaan sneaks into the castle and steals a very valuable stone and like most RPGs he stumbles his way into a very important role in the story. I’ll be honest with you, the story is a little slow at first and is complicated at times but eventually everything is explained. The story has a lot of twists and turns that are very rewarding and the story is very mature and sometimes dark. And this isn’t your regular video game story. This isn’t a story about Monster X or villain Y; this story is about political and military issues during a war. If you were to compare video game stories to movies, Final Fantasy XII would be an Oscar caliber story, while most video game stories would be, at best, MTV Movie Awards caliber.
When playing Final Fantasy XII the first thing you’ll notice is the new combat system. Final Fantasy I – X were your more traditional random encounters and turn-based role-playing game while Final Fantasy XI was online which meant you were able to see the enemies on the screen and walk up to them and attack them. So which style does Final Fantasy XII implement? Both. In Final Fantasy XII you are able to see your enemies on the screen and walk up to them and attack them. However, there are still old school RPG tendencies too. For example there is a bar that has to fill up before you can do your action which makes it so the battle is still turn-based. The best thing about the new battle system is the new gambit system. Each character has gambit slots and in each gambit slot you can give them a list of commands for a certain action and who to do the action to. For example let’s say you want to make Vaan the designated healer. You can set Vaan’s first Gambit slot so that his action is cure and his target is Ally HP
Another feature in Final Fantasy XII is called the License system. Each character has a board that is filled with different abilities and spells and you have to receive points and unlock the skills. The great thing is you can have each of your characters go in a different direction on the board in order for them to have different sets of abilities and spells. Are you tired of the RPG cliché that the girl always has to be a healer? Well then on her board ignore the spells and unlock the sword or axe abilities. Instead make the big burly man be the healer for once. There are also plenty of different weapons so that you can make each character wield a different weapon or if you decide you want an entire team of archers then you can do that too. The different types of weapons include swords, knives, staves, axes, hammers, bow and arrows, guns, bombs, and spears.
New to the Final Fantasy XII stores is the Bazaar option. The Bazaar option makes the stores in Final Fantasy XII seem more realistic. No longer do you have to buy 13 potions individually and then 5 phoenix downs individually. Instead there are now Bazaar items which are sort of like kits where you get several items in one. For example one Bazaar item might include 4 potions and 2 phoenix downs in one or you could buy a bow and arrows together instead of separate. It makes sense because this is how shops often work in real life. Sure you could go and buy an X-Box 360, an extra controller and a hard drive separately but if you buy all three together in a package you’ll get it for cheaper.
As I mentioned before the CGI in Final Fantasy XII is amazing, the best on the PS2 but the regular graphics are also top notch for this system. The scores for Final Fantasy XII are amazing which is usually the case with Nobuo Uematsu’s work. Again the scores are more like you’re watching an Oscar caliber movie rather than playing a video game. The voice acting is also about as good as it gets. Unfortunately the main character, Vaan, is once again a weasly little high voiced boy but other characters such as Balthier and Basch are very well done. Also Final Fantasy XII is probably more of an ensemble cast game, the first since Final Fantasy III. This story isn’t just about Vaan, you meet all your characters early on in Final Fantasy XII and they all have their own stories as you advance through the game. You’ll also see many Final Fantasy staples throughout the game such as Chocobos, Moogles, and airships.
Final Fantasy X was released in the states in December of 2001. For Final Fantasy XI Square Enix opted to make it an online game with a monthly fee much to the chagrin of most Final Fantasy fans. A lot of Final Fantasy fans are console players so they skipped that game meaning that for them the break in between Final Fantasy games was nearly six years. I think it’s safe to say that the amount of time that Final Fantasy fans had to wait for this game probably makes it the most anticipated video game of all time. In addition to that it’s been getting major hype since the day the first trailer came out. When Final Fantasy XII was released in Japan in July the number one Japanese video game magazine gave Final Fantasy a perfect score; a score that no previous Final Fantasy game has received. Anything with that kind of anticipation and hype is doomed to disappoint and appear to be a failure but Final Fantasy XII completely lives up to every bit of the hype and then some.