Square Enix tosses tradition aside yet again with a single player MMO as an actual entry in the Final Fantasy series. The characters and story are pretty shitty, but the license point system, open world aspect, and semi-realtime combat may be enough to win over some diehard S-E loyalists. Plus, it looks and sounds pretty and is set in Ivalice, which was the universe of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.
Available For: Playstation 2
Developer(s): Square Enix Product Development Division 4
Publisher(s): Square Enix
Release Date: 2006
Archetype(s): MMO, RPG, RTS
If you had asked me about Final Fantasy 12 roughly 5 years ago, I would’ve scoffed and ignored you. If you ask me today, I can actually speak pretty highly of it, despite it doing so many things wrong. Much like Atelier Annie, there are so many things this title does wrong, especially in regards to the rest of the series, and yet there are just enough things it does right that it’s still fun to play.
Let me first start by saying three things immediately bother me about this game. Firstly, the renne fest speak. I get that they’re trying to get a little closer to how they actually spoke in medieval times, but it comes off foppish and makes the already crap characters and uninteresting storyline that much more annoying. Also points two and three…crap characters and uninteresting storyline.
Look when the game first starts, we’re treated to some pretty awesome Lord of the Rings as done by Squaresoft-esque scenes, then some Vagrant Story-like environments as we tear it up with characters we know nothing about as yet even more shit goes down. This is a step in the right direction. Usually when Squaresoft starts a Final Fantasy game with a shit already in progress premise, it gets your blood pumping and you’re ready to take whatever it can dish out.
The problem is it doesn’t last long enough and there are enough twists with, again, characters you know nothing about that it doesn’t matter. Worse still…you don’t even come back to these characters for hours. Sure, one dies, but the other one you don’t get to see until about 5 hours or so later, depending on how quick you play the game. And…you won’t give a shit out him then either.
I’m serious; none of the characters are even remotely interesting or TRY to be interesting. For fuck’s sake, one character is a SKY PIRATE and the other one is super jealous because that’s what he wants to be, but they never flesh this out. Now it could be because they allow for more gameplay than story, which would normally be a good thing, but this is just bad storytelling.
No character is truly developed, we’re introduced to people we don’t care about, and because of the renne fest speak we nod off quickly and aren’t able to pay attention to important facts in the storyline. If this was any other company, I honestly wouldn’t care…BUT THIS IS SQUARE ENIX. And it’s not as though the company fell apart and couldn’t make a good game to save their life either.
Dragon Quest 8 was a PHENOMENAL RPG and got me re-interested in the Dragon Quest series, for example…but that’s another review for another day. Anyway, we’ve talked about the bad (well okay, I’ve written and you’ve read), so what is there that’s positive about this title? I mean, if the characters, story, and dialogue are bad, that just means it’s worth passing up, right?
Yes and no. What usually wins me over in a game is the technical angle. I don’t need flashy graphics or amazing music (though they do help). Besides that, there ARE flashy graphics and amazing music, so there’s a plus right there. Let’s first talk about the license point system and how ridiculous, yet strangely ingenious it is. The LP system is something that can be heavily criticized at first, then highly appreciated as time goes on in the game.
How so? Well, in Final Fantasy X (I will never refer to it as 10 because there’s an X-2 and I will NOT say 10-2), you had the sphere grid, which was kind of a board game where you applied points to develop new abilities and stats that were unique to certain character traits, but you could also bleed over into other board sections shared by other characters to create insane custom classes that some have criticized as “breaking the game,” but I find to be truly awesome.
In Final Fantasy 12, you have something similar, but it’s done to the nth degree. There are inherent paths, but it also involves equipment. This is where, initially, you feel they went wrong. I always use to say “why should I have to spend hard earned points to be able to wear a hat.” Here’s the thing, though…usually you can wear a few new pieces of equipment like that and usually you find those varying pieces of equipment all in the same place.
Furthermore, selecting certain types of equipment to buy with points over and over also has subtle implications on your core stats, meaning you’re unintentionally creating a certain type of class by preferring to buy certain types of equipment with them. There are also a surprising amount of augments that beef up your characters to amazing states. You can get things like the ability to gain MP by defeating enemies, gain MP by being attacked, increase combat swiftness, increase damage, increase magic damage, and much, much more.
Plus, you’ll optimally want everyone to learn certain types of spells and guess what…the more spells you have characters learn, the higher their max MP. Again, subtle changes the board doesn’t even mention that make sense as you buy them. This one feature in the game is one of those things you’re totally unsure of at first, but over time you see the true genius of it.
The same can be said for the combat and gambit systems. Initially I was annoyed that my turn-based combat had been taken away, but here’s the thing. Firstly, gambits allow you to fully customize how you want characters to react in combat so you get to just manage the overall strategy and much better than in Final Fantasy 13 because you can still manually set what you want them to do and the game is even nice enough to pause while you do this.
Second, combat is very quick. Sure, there are minor annoyances like enemies may swoop in when they see their buddies being attacked and instead of fighting just a single wolf, now you’re fighting 5, but that’s also more realistic and causes you to think more from an RTS angle than a turn-based strategy angle. And thirdly, because combat is so quick and mostly avoidable, you can dash through dungeons without having to constantly remember where you’re going or why.
Again, it’s something most fans would initially be skeptical about, but especially if you’ve played the game for more than 10 hours, you learn to truly appreciate. Now yes, especially with boss battles, it gets tough. REAL tough. But again, most RPGers are looking for a solid challenge because a lot of modern RPGs are pussy shit these days.
A couple of final thoughts then I’ll wrap this up. For everything that it does wrong and how easily it ostracizes long time followers of the series, it does manage to also pay patronage to previous Final Fantasies. How so? Let the intro run next time you pop this in. First you’re treated to the Final Fantasy prelude theme, which is beautifully orchestrated while you watch beautiful skies and airships.
So if you cut it right there, it almost feels like a remake of the original Final Fantasy. Suddenly it breaks into a theme that is reminiscent of the Final Fantasy Tactics titles while showing you lots of bits from the actual game itself. Remember, the game is set in Ivalice, but quite a bit more serious and adult than Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.
Finally, we have more bits and scenes, but with the Final Fantasy 4 prelude theme beautifully orchestrated to get your blood pumping and most of the scenes they show you have classic enemies, crystals, and much more. The message is that this Final Fantasy will include all of these elements in some way and that promise, I assure you, does come through.
So would I recommend this title? If story, characters, and dialogue alone can break an RPG experience, then perhaps not. However, if you feel you’re able to overlook these faults, then a truly great RPG experience awaits you. Even though it betrays the series in a way because of some of the new features, it tries at every angle to incorporate and include almost everything it possibly can from all the previous Final Fantasies and in a way much bigger and more appropriate than Final Fantasy 13 could ever hope for.