Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Final Fantasy XII Early Review

With a Halloween release and me never even paying attention to this game until the 30th I decided to head to Wal-Mart and pick it up at midnight. I'm glad I did.

I started playing Final Fantasy games on the Playstation One so I'm pretty much a FF noob. First one I played was FF VIII and have never played the great American FF fanboy game FFVII. Other than FF VIII the only ones I've played are FFX and FF X-2. FFX is probably one of my top 5 favorite games of all time. Played it through at least 6 times. FFX-2 was fun, but I never really got into it and have yet to finish it either.

There are 2 different versions of this game. There is the regular and a Collector's Edition out right now. The Collector's Edition comes in a tin case and has a bonus DVD with a History of Final Fantasy video, interviews from developers, game art, etc. Most of that stuff will probably be on Youtube with in a week so unless you are a hardcore Final Fantasy fan the extra $10 that the CE costs might not be worth it for you. The strategy guide also has a Limited Edition. Apparently there are 8 of these with each cover having a different character. The LE guide also has quite a bit of extra art in it. From what I've heard they are very nice. They are packaged so you really don't get to pick the one you want unless you know the color covers and such.

Like all the others I start them and then start them over when there is enough walkthrough information on the net to allow me the ability to find everything in one play through. Since I got this on the release I have just been finding things out for myself. I've got 12 playing hours in according to my save slots as we speak so I guess I'll try and give some of my first impressions on it so far. Quite a bit to cover, but I'll try to keep it short and to the point. Probably won't though. I'll start with the gameplay as I think this game has some great new features and is really the best part of the game.

At first the game was rather confusing with the new battle system and the changes in the leveling. Of course this is nothing new as every one of these I've played had a completely new system. In this instance I was not a fan of the battle system initially and thought I would end up hating it. The learning curve on it was rather long compared to previous titles and I'd say it took me about 3 hours of game time to catch on to it.

At this point I absolutely love the battle system now that I've caught on. There are some really interesting aspects to it. If you have played FF XI I guess the system should be relatively similar to you. The battlefield is more of an MMORPG than anything. There are no random battles anymore. You can actually see the enemies and can judge for yourself prior to engaging with them if it is a good idea or not. There is a good balance of enemies in each are with ones you can't possibly beat at the beginning that you should just stay clear of.

The battle system is called Active Dimension Battle (ADB). IT is still pretty much a turn based system, but has the feel of real-time. When in battle you can move your character around freely and even try to run away if you get into trouble. No "Flee" command is entered, you just run away on your own. The battle menu to select an action is brought up at any time on the battlefield by pressing the "X" button. All the standard attacks are there with Magick (Yes that is spelled right), items, and Technicks which are your abilities such as steal. All of these attacks can be done on the fly and when selected an active ATB gauge fills up before the action is done. When actions are selected there is no need to enter the action again during the battle. For example if you selected "Attack" your character will continue to attack until the enemy is defeated with no further commands needed.

Later on there is something available called "Espers" which are the summonings in this game. Also, you have the ability to perform "Quickenings" which are ultimately this game's version of Overdrives. Each character has unique Quickenings. I have not yet achieved any of these and can't go into much detail about them.

You have control over your entire party and can change the leader at any time while on the battlefield. What is unique about your party in FFXII is a system that they call Gambit. The Gambit system is a programmable interface that allows you to program your party members to do certain actions in certain situations. These actions will be performed when certain conditions are met in a battle and they start through their Gambit system when the leader (you) engages a battle. For example, you may program a party member to heal other allies when a condition is met. You could have a Gambit that says: "Ally HP<70%>

The leveling in the game is that same as usual where you earn leveling point by defeating enemies. Also, when fighting enemies you earn what is called "Licensing Points". Licensing points in the FFXII world is what you use to learn and use abilities. There is a chess board accessible for each character on the menu under "Licensing" with various skill and abilities you can learn. As you gain License Points you can spend them to upgrade and learn abilities. You can move from say "Swords 1" to "Swords 2" to allow you wield stronger swords, upgrade accessories, magicks, and learn technicks. More powerful skills are only available once the earlier ones are learned (licensed). An interesting concept and something that is similar to the Sphere Grid to FFX, but much more simplified. You don't upgrade actual player attributes here as those increase by leveling up in battle.

Graphically the game is similar to FFX for its patented cut scenes and the player models are comparable to the ones from FFX. I am of the opinion that they look much better, but others feel they are not. To each his own. What are most amazing in the game are the environments. Graphically they are superb. From the cities to the deserts to the dungeons the environments are fantastic. They literally blow FFX graphics away here.

The musical score is also very good. It is classic Final Fantasy music and gives the game a nice feel all the way through. I haven't heard any J-Pop yet so hopefully those patented FF love songs that we are accustomed to hearing will not surface.

Plenty of side-quests once again. There is a pretty interesting one that puts you into the role of a monster assassin. Boards in cities display what more or less can be described as Wanted posters for particular fiends and you then go out and hunt them down. Defeat them and return to the one that posted the monster to receive some sort of reward. Very fun side-quest. As far as I know there are about 80 of these hunts so it should be a solid quest. Since I do not have a guide and one is not available I can't really say as to what other side-quests are there, but there are certainly many more.

Gil, the name of Final Fantasy money in this game seems a bit hard to come by. It is obtained a bit differently here. Instead of fiends out in the desert actually carrying wallets around with them and dropping Gil they actually drop items that you would expect from them. Total common sense here. Monsters with money are absurd. Selling these items, or "Loot" as it is called gains you not only Gil, but if enough of these are sold it opens up the ability to purchase more rare items from shop owners. These are called Bazaar. On the shop menu it is on the bottom below the Buy and Sell links. This should be rather detailed so I am anticipating the time someone makes an online guide for the Loot so I know what the heck to sell and what I'd get. The strategy guide is said to have all this information listed.

Well that's pretty much most of the gameplay info. If I missed anything oh well. I think that gives you a decent idea as to what the game involves from the gameplay standpoint. I guess I'll describe a bit of the characters and the story now for those that will like watching the movie that is Final Fantasy XII.

The story is set in a sort of a medieval time and there is a war raging. Your people have been captured by a neighboring empire and now you are pretty much second class citizens. You play as Vaan, a 17 year old that is like every other Final Fantasy character in the leading role. He's girly and he is skinny. Reminds me of Leonardo DiCaprio pretty much. From my experience so far I do not find him annoying and he is definitely and upgrade from Tidus in FFX. The voice acting is very well done. So...I guess Vaan is out to save his people from the evil empire and meet some other friends along the way.

The Princess Ashe who lost her new husband in the war. The loyal Knight Basch branded a traitor who has been accused of murdering the King. Penelo is a 17 year old girl who is a friend of Vaan's and is kind of just around sometimes. Balthier is the pimp in the game and is described as a dashing sky pirate. He is basically a thief looking for treasure. His partner in the sky is a girl named Fran. She is of some form that they call a Vierra. Considered a master of weapons and she is scantily clad. These Vierra girls all wear like bunny ears on their heads so you can imagine that they are rather Playboy Bunny like.

I haven't been through much of the story thus far so to make any statement about it being good or bad would be silly. It appears that it is a much more mature story this time around, however. I am excited to see how it plays out and if it will be one of the greats. I definitely like the theme thus far. It has a feel of a mix between Lord of the Rings and a bit of Star Wars. A mixture that would be hard to fail with I assume. We shall see.

According to most sources the game should last around 70 hours with out doing side-quests or extras. With all of the extras it has risen to the 100-120 hour range. If you are a perfectionist type like me I would probably expect a good 150 hours worth of play time.

Based on how much I've played so far I think the game is fantastic. Going in with no expectations and a really no background on the game before I bought it I was pleasantly surprised with all I've seen so far. I look forward to a riveting story, but the gameplay is so great that I would still play it even if the story was rather dense. All of the reviews so far have given this game an average of about 9.2/10 so the consensus out there is that it is a great game. Lowest score I have seen was an 8, but the review was quite negative. From the sounds of gamers and reviewers so far I'd say that most will love the game and a select few will not be happy with it for whatever reason.

Jimi Morrison's Head says: "BUY IT NOW!"

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