Final Fantasy XII serves as a transition into a new generation of role playing games. While retaining many elements of X, X-2, and XI, there are many, many changes between it and its predecessors. This game has already received a lot of criticism prior to its release, mostly because of the battle system and Gambits (or game masturbation), and I'm sure everyone wants me to rip into this game. This is a slightly different review - no focus on graphics - you can see how pretty they are - but instead a direct focus on this gameplay, and explaining why I don't have a problem with it.
The story is a highly political one, and takes place in Ivalice, as FFT/A did as well, which seems to insult Tactics fans. It begins with the city of Rabanastre in the kingdom of Dalmasca, which is invaded by the Archadians. Lord Rasler and Princess Ashe were about to be married, in hopes of reconciling two feuding nations, but the royal family, King Raminas and Princess Ashe, were killed in these wars.
The battle system takes elements from previous final fantasy games to an entirely different level. Most noticeably, there are no longer random battles. Your lead character wanders around areas and any monsters in the vicinity, seen or seeing, can be fought in battles. While it’s true you can avoid or run away from many battles, you can’t avoid them all, and monsters will follow and attack you for the length of the area.
Any genius will think that you can just walk out of an area with fifteen flaming Nightmares in pursuit and go back in to see them all back in their default position. It’s not like that; they’ll be waiting right out the door when you return. Positions, HP, and status of all monsters are remembered, even if you leave. This works in two ways: it’s great if you’ve whittled down their health, and only left the area to heal; its hell if you get lost and are almost dead.
Battling may be in real time now, but it's still turn-based. Basically, I lost the part of RPGs that I liked, and kept the one that rather pissed me off. At first I did hate it, but after playing into the game I realized how well it works. Real time battling is chaotic. Turn based fighting is wonderful, because you can see how and when your characters will attack, and enemies can't maul you by hitting over and over. Controls are automatic, whether Gambits is set or not, so you don't have to worry about jumping around or hitting X to attack.
You can pause fighting at any time with O, and while paused you can zoom the camera around the battle scene, choose a new enemy, cast Magic or Mist Knacks, use items, or control another party member. Target lines are also new, and a great way to visualize whose ass you're going to kick next. Blue lines let you see whom you're aiming at, and red lines let you see who is aiming at you. They also make excellent tracking devices, and will follow your opponent as they try to run away. You'll notice that if you've targeted an opponent, your person will automatically levitate toward him, whether or not tracking him down and slaughtering him is worth your time.
Monsters no longer drop gil or useful items or even have the exciting Fanfare at the end of battles. After killing, a bag of spoils is sometimes left among the entrails, and inside will be some useless-sounding item like Wind Stone.
However, everything you pick up can be sold for a delicious price in gil. It makes more logical sense than monsters that happen to carry currency around in their pocketbooks. Additionally, there are both enemy monsters and ally monsters in the world. This builds on the idea established in FFIX, which involved friendly monsters that would reward you with AP and items for the gift of ore or stones. Instead, with FFXII's real time battle mode, friendly monsters are encountered in the field with green health bars, as opposed to the typical red ones. They will never attack if not provoked. Oftentimes, they will cast a White or Green spell on you, such as a Protect or Cure. Sometimes, they will fight enemies and help you out in battles. Even evil monsters will fight each other in FFXII, and their health will already be whittled down before you take a stab at them.
All monsters seem to have more AI than they did in previous games, and will cure themselves or cast positive status effects on their allies. With real time battling, most fights are optional, or at least to an extent. A lot of boss battles can be left simply by going out the door you came through. Then, you can heal up, and return back to the battle. But this works both ways; even though bosses don't automatically regain their status, they can still heal themselves after you've left the room. Some boss battles can be circumvented entirely by taking another route of an area.
The world map is so large that it allows for that possibility. But the monsters in the new area will be harder than those following the boss, and you often miss out on good EXP. It does give you more leniency to explore and return back to boss battles when you're ready, rather than being stuck leveling up in a single area.
While many people have already criticized FFXII for being a game that plays itself, nothing is lost in the new Gambits system. For those of you that haven't heard the anti-Gambits hate speeches, Gambits is a new menu in FFXII. It allows you to set “If-then” statements that are triggered automatically during battles on all of your party members. For example, “If a party member has HP below 30%, then use a Potion” or “If a monster is in front of your eyes, attack it.” It's one step beyond the set-up we had for Kingdom Hearts, where Donald and Goofy could be customized to defend more or cast magic.
Auto-attacking monsters in front of you are nothing new at all; FFXI got there first. Being able to cure is a new thing that I've always wanted. Curing your characters is pretty damned self-explanatory. Whenever some guy in your party is nearly dead, you want him to have more HP. So why bother scrolling through menus to cure three times every round? And while we're at it, why not have it so that when my character becomes poisoned, he can cast Poisona? Or stoned, cast Stona?
Of course, this is where everyone gets angry and insists that with all the attacking and curing taken out of battles, there's nothing left for a player to do, and let's all boycott Square Enix until they force random battles down our throats again. But the thing is, there's more to battling than that. All Gambits does is take out all the pains of having to sit through a ridiculous easy battle, where all we ever did was hit X over and over again anyways. Everyone has gone through a battle in a Final Fantasy game where it would have been convenience to tape that damned 'Attack' button down and walk away for a sandwich.
Gambits mean you can get that sandwich, and maybe a glass of milk too, but still stick around for the battles that matter. Most boss battles, I guarantee you, need you to actually be there. Higher level monsters will need you to be there. Swarms of monsters will need you to be there. Attacking the monster in front of you won't always cut it; there are times when you need to attack strategically, or have your party members kill the mages first, then the judges, then the judge masters. If you want to cast thunder against an ice monster, you're going to have to do it yourself.
I suppose, in addition to the healing when weak, attacking monsters in front of you, and curing negative statuses, you could have an ether to heal your low MP, and Raise to heal dead party members, and essentially have a decent enough system going so that you have to do the least amount of work on the field, but then you're really just taking the fun out of it for yourself. Plus, it'd take a lot of Gambit slots. If you hate Gambits, shut it off. If you use it in moderation, battling can still be tricky, and you can still enjoy it. Plus, you'll love Gambits when a guest character has infinite auto-potions, like Larsa often does.
That's the thing; with real time battling and Gambits, they can make that actual monsters somewhat of a challenge. They can do other things to make the game more frustrating, aside from just forcing you into a battle every two steps.
Monsters honestly can kick your ass now. It wouldn't have been fair to make enemies harder with random battling, because you can't really run away from anything faster than a Tonberry. But in FFXII, you can get the giant dinosaur that can rip your head off and kill you in one hit, and take zero damage from your weapons, in an otherwise easy area. You can get the hellhounds with the freakishly high offense to swarm around you. That's one of things that's hardest to get used to; if you're dying in a battle, there is no end of battle relief, where you get a chance to stand still and not worry about being attacked. Usually, when you're trying to attack one monster, any other passing by in your line of sight will join in. Sure, you'll see the dot on your little map (O NOES ANTICIPATION), but whether or not you saw it coming won't change that it's going to follow you if you run.
Enemies can and will swarm, and they'll have the same strategy as you; everyone will pummel the weakest guy. Then you'll be happy you have Gambits, because three people are going to Raise him when he's dead. Another occurrence in this game lets monsters have a resistance to weapons. Previously, it was limited to a boss battle or two, or all the monsters in the same area would have similar attributes that you had to compensate for. But since there is no battle mode, you can access any menu you want at any time. So, if you run into a flying Zu or two and your swords are rendered ineffective, rather than let it swoop down every few moments, switch to a cross bow. It's not as though you'll be able to expect every battle coming either; monsters can and will jump out of rivers at you, swoop down from the sky, drop from the ceilings, or slither out of the ground unexpectedly. Alarms can be tripped to trigger a swarm of soldiers as well.
Most of the time, should you use Gambits, your active time in battle will be used to counteract whatever Gambits tries to automatically do. Like all artificial intelligence, it doesn't have that human mind behind it to realize that sometimes attacking monsters 30 levels higher than you is a bad idea. Of course, there are the wandering spheres of elemental energy that can kill in a hit. They tend to leave you alone, unless one of your stupid Gambits-powered party members feels like provoking its wrath.
Also, Gambits will want to heal you when you need to be attacking, or will want to attack when you need to devote time to healing. This is where you come in, and have to pick up the controller yourself and figure it out. Most of the time, I detest whatever monster Gambits has chosen for all my characters to attack, and I'll be constantly pulling up the battle menu to change it.
Status effects are also there to make the game unreasonable. Of course, there's no limit to the number of negative statuses that you can have. In fact, most bosses will love the opportunity to cast Bahill, Poison, Slow, Don't Act, Don't Move, Slip, Oil, Confuse, Petrify, Death, Blind, and Silence on you all at once, and then cast Fira. How many of these can Esuna take care of? Not enough. Remedy is weak until you've gotten all the Knowledge of Remedy licenses. Worst of all, if you die, most of your status effects (the ones that don't go away after time) stay with you even after you're Raised to life. But let's take a look at the new status effects in this game.
Time Magic statuses: More or less the same as they've always been. We have our Slow, Stop, Haste, and they all end automatically after you've run out of time. No cure still for any of them, but one Time magic spell will replace any others.
Don't Act and Don't Move: Two new spells in this game that seem to be same thing. In fact, they would be in any other Final Fantasy game. Don't Move isn't a huge deal for long ranged allies or stationary enemies. It means that you can't run around in little circles to boost your MP anymore, or walk around at all. No big deal if it wasn't your leader, because you couldn't have controlled that character anyways. Can be a pain in the ass, though. Don't Act is the real evil, though. You can run around in circles all you want, but you can't attack or heal in any way. Both of these wear off in time, but not soon enough.
Regen and Bahill: The use of one cancels out the other. Regen increases your HP every few seconds because, lo and behold, there are no longer rounds! Bahill is a reverse counter, and you get to see your health plummet in a way that is far from fun. The difference between Bahill and Poison? Poison is a chunk off at reasonable time intervals, and Bahill is a constant loss.
Slip and Oil: Two elementally based statuses that can't be cured with magic. Slip makes you vulnerable to Ice attacks and Oil makes you vulnerable to fire. Bosses love to cast one, and then follow it up the strongest fire or ice attack it has.
Mist Knacks are gained at the fringes of the License Board, and usually cost about 50 LP. They're the Limit Break/Trance/Overdrive equivalent of FFXII. Unlike the other games, Mist Knacks can be activated any time you can afford the substantial MP cost. Also, they can be stacked in a combo attack. To maximize Mist Knacks, you should select the command for all three of your active party members in one turn. Then when Vaan, or whoever is first, performs his Mist Knack, a timer will appear at the bottom. You have the allotted time to select any other character's Mist Knack by hitting X or Triangle. This is repeated with the next party member until all have performed their attacks.
A triple Mist Knack combo is most effective for bosses with allies. If you concentrate on the boss, and all three Mist Knacks are successful, the attack will pan out and hit multiple enemies near your target.
Summoning works similarly to the previous games in the Final Fantasy series. Only five summons can be acquired through the main quest. Another eight can be found from side quests. All of them will be encountered in battle, and have to be defeated before they show up on the License Board.
But, rather than having a set summoner, or the ability for everyone to summon any monster, you can assign one summon to one character, and have him be able to harness its power for the rest of the game. Once set, the summoner for that Esper cannot be changed.
Summons take most of your MP, like Mist Knacks, and when they are in use, battles run a bit differently. It becomes your summoner and summon against whatever monsters or bosses you were battling beforehand. All other party members vanish, and are no longer in play. Your summon lasts as long as both the summon and the caster are alive. If either one dies, then the summon disappears. This can be extremely frustrating. How mages and summoners are usually built, in terms of their stats? They're the characters weakest in physical fighting and defense, and strongest in magic and magical defense. High in Magic Points and low in Hit Points. So on the off-chance that a boss realizes that it can kill your mage in one hit, it doesn't matter whether or not your summon has 9000 HP left; it still goes away, leaving you with a dead mage with no MP.
There is still White Magic for healing, Black Magic for attacking, and Time Magic for disrupting the space-time continuum. However, Green and Dark Magic are a bit new to FFXII. Green Magic includes a couple of defensive abilities (i.e. Protect and Shell), but mostly is the opposite of White Magic, in that it inflicts what White Magic usually cures, such as Silence, Poison, Blind and Sleeper. Some abilities new to FFXII:
Reboot- cure Virus status
Bio – send Slip status to all targets in an area
Clouda- same, but also deals large amounts of damage
Flare – large amount of non-elemental damage
Ardour – large amount of fire damage
Collapse- even more non-elemental damage
Time Magic (aside from the ones that cause new status effects):
Dezone- remove all targets from an area
Balance – splits health between target and ally
Brave – raise physical attack
Faith – raise magic attack
Decoy – all enemies attack only one ally
Vanish – invisible status
Reverse – Switch health and damage points on a target
Bubble – double HP
So much has changed with the menu, it's ridiculous. But it all leads into the new features and tweaks FFXII has to offer. First the idea of leaders. Before, our [least] favorite blond hero was always the leader of the party, and we had to follow his sorry behind for the entire duration of the game, and keep him in the party at all times. Now, we can pick whoever we damn well want to look at. The leader will always be first, and he will always walk ahead and likely be attacked before anyone else (so pick a tank). You still can only have three members in your party, but with menu access, it feels like six. You can change party members during battle, or whenever else suits your fancy. The only time you can't switch someone out is when he's being attacked and his name is in red. That means you get to wait until he's killed, then feel free to do whatever you want with him.
Pretty much the same old spiel. No optimization for single weapon or armor categories anymore, but there is the remove single and remove all button. One great thing about this game is that you only need to buy armor and shields for three people, and then keep switching the armor around during battle. Hooray to free menu access! Some weapons are two handed, and holding a shield will lower your attack and defense. Long ranged weapons make shields impossible; ammunition (bullets for your gun, and arrows for your bow) make up the second slot. Equipment is more of a pain in the ass because, with the new license grid, any character can use any weapon. Mages can use swords and gunners can use flails; it's all utter chaos and anarchy now. There's no longer strict weapon specialization, and sometimes, it will seem that using a different weapon will raise the Attack of a character. This tends to be false, and the default type of weapon will always be best; numbers will lie. Balthier will always be strongest with a gun, though his attack power of 7 will lie and tell you that he can't hit a dead moose with a moose hunting tractor beam.
Everyone will start off hating licenses. It's sort of like the sphere grid, except even more elaborate and worrisome. You have to buy licenses for everything using License Points that you get with your EXP. Weapons, armor, shields, hats, magic, skills, HP, Gambit slots, knowledge, Mist Knacks, and Summons. Then, after you've bought the license, you get to go into stores, and buy the actual spell, weapon, or skill. It sounds god-awful, but it can be pretty fun to customize, and some of the Knowledge of Blank skills are free (gil-wise) and excellent. It's a great way to get a few hundred extra hit points, or boost the amount a potion cures. Although there is a different grid for every character, you only have to purchase spells and skills once.
Early in the game, you'll probably talk to some moogle and join a cult. Then, you can do all sort of fun things clans do, such as hunt down rare enemies for gil, and get random prizes for pithy records. As you progress in the story, more rewards will be available for you to pick up. Mostly, you can go through a long list of hunter's challenges to satiate your side-questing needs. Your Hunter's Catalogue will record all of the monsters you manage to kill, and how many left you have to murder before they're considered mission cleared. Rare monsters will have rankings and the like. Also, there is a section to show your accomplishments you've made by wasting your life playing video games, including having battled 100,000 monsters, casted magic 30,000, or stolen 599 dollars from Sony fans.
Lets you see the world.
Generally Minor Changes:
Blue save crystals heal your HP and MP, ala Kingdom Hearts. Red ones are gate crystals, and in addition to healing, they also let you teleport to any other gate crystal with the use of Telepo stones. These stones can be found in the wild, dropped from the corpses of your enemies.
Green save crystals will also appear as mimics, which are enemies that mimic save points, treasure, and batteries. If you can defeat the save crystal in battle, it will let you heal and save from it.
Also, if you're about to enter a side quest or an area that takes you away from the story, and makes it impossible to return unless you've cleared it, the save crystal will give you a warning to save to a new slot.
Skills: Skills are gained in the License Board and have to be bought in stores as well. Most are active skills and require a turn to use its power. Each is unique, with some familiar revivals (i.e. Steal, Thousand Needles, Toss Gil). Some allow you to attack based on time spent on the game or steps taken. A few involve sacrificing your own MP or HP to kill an enemy or revive an ally.
Libra is a new skill that becomes extremely useful in the game. It's used to see the current health of target enemies, though not bosses, and their type weaknesses. Also, you can see any positive or negative status effects on them. Most importantly, you can see traps in the field. FFXII has red trap spots sporadically hidden about the map unless you have Libra enabled. Then, traps can be avoided for the most part, at least by the leader. Any of your other party members can wander into the traps like idiots, and cause the whole team to suffer a negative status, or a drain in HP or MP.
Knowledge: Knowledge is similar to skills, but since you learn it from the license board, you don't need to buy it from shops. Most are improvements to items or innate abilities. Most are self explanatory, such as Gambit Plus, HP Plus, MP Consumption Cost, and Action Time Shorten. It's also a good way to boost Attack, Magic and Evasion. Knowledge of Potion, Remedy, and Phoenix Down increases the damage or number of negative statuses healed.
Pause: From the Start button, you can skip FMVs, continue, or restart the game from the opening menu (how handy!).
Maps: Maps are a huge thing in FFXII. They're similar to the ones in FFX that appear in the corner of your screen, but now they include dots for both your party members as well as wild enemies. Additionally, Select brings up a map of the whole area you're currently in. Maps reveal themselves as you explore new areas. There are two ways to clear a map. The first is by wandering around every single part of an area, and the second is by buying a map from a moogle. Either way, maps are labeled with useful information, such as where save crystals, air terminals, shop, and inns were. Also, your next destination to progress in the game is marked with a large red X, for our slower gamers.
Races: Humes, Vieras, Bangaas, Moogles, Seeqs, Garifs, Ultan-Yensas, Nu Mous, Baknamuses, Rebbes and Helgas. Mostly from FFXI. Towns in the game are extremely culturally diverse.
Mini-games: There are a couple notable mini-games that involve the usage of the Square button. Vaan will often get into situations where he needs to call someone over or draw the attention of people. For example, to distract the guards in a castle, he uses the Square button to yell at them to come to his location, and then is able to sneak off past them. In another, Vaan has to spread rumors to the townsfolk by yelling and attracting their attention. These games are usually quaint the first time around, but lose their novelty quickly.
Chocobos and Moogles: Everyone's two favorite Final Fantasy mascots are still in the game. Moogles sell maps, set up small shops, and run chocobo pens. Chocobos can still be ridden, but journeys on them are timed, and after the time runs out, they scamper off. However, you are given three types of greens at the beginning of the journey, and you can use each to give your chocobo a boost of speed. Similar rules apply as always; no monsters can attack you when you're saddled on a chocobo. There are some interesting side quests involving moogles and chocobos; most often, helping out the moogles in some way for a reward, or helping out a Hume in some way for a chocobo temporarily.
So what did that huge mass of text I skimmed through mean?
It means that FFXII is a game that took the good ideas from its predecessors and twisted them to fit the mould of a real-time game. Final Fantasy 12 fits perfectly into the Final Fantasy series with its impeccable musical tastes, fantasy and science fiction roots, and its story of an odd party of people thrown together under strange circumstances that are part of a larger quest that ultimately saves the world, kingdom, or their own lives.
It's the next logical progression in the Final Fantasy series, but it fixes what it butchered in X and X-2. If you can't deal with the new changes, you can play FFVII for the rest of your life and angrily boycott Square-Enix. But if the American version of this game and the future Final Fantasy games are similar to this, then there's a bright, bright future for Square fans everywhere.
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