Tag: square enix

Final Fantasy XII

This post is in its legacy format, awaiting an editorial update pass.

Played to completion?: No
 
Overview:
The reins of the lucrative Final Fantasy series are turned over to the creative team behind Square’s Tactics spinoffs in the hopes that fresh blood will revitalize the series, and in many ways this decision proves to have been a good one.  XII is set in familiar Ivalice but develops its world in much greater detail, to the game’s benefit.  The most notable departure from Final Fantasy tradition comes in the form of the game’s battle system, which employs a simple scripting system to allow automation of repetitive combat actions.  Despite some reports, this system is actually quite effective and with appropriate planning can be set up to handle most if not all battles in the game, boss-level enemies notwithstanding.
 
What I liked:
As someone who had thought he had lost his taste for the Final Fantasy series (and Japanese RPGs in general), I found this game to be a delightful surprise.  Initially attracted by the promise of being freed from babysitting characters through endless random encounters, I found the Gambit scripting system to be powerful and flexible, and took a great deal of satisfaction from designing a command set capable of defeating a towering dinosaur (must be the programmer in me).  A skeletal cast of playable characters keeps the focus tight and allows for more detailed characterization of each.  Although Balthier is irresistibly endearing as the dashing rogue archetype, I ended up finding Fran to be the most compelling of the bunch, due in no small part to her strange and slightly alien-sounding voice work.  The license board system would have entertained me for hours by itself.
 
What I’d have done differently:
Although the Gambit system was useful and initially liberating, before long the feeling sets in that it is something of a cop-out.  After all, if RPG turn-based combat is repetitive and dull, perhaps redesigning it to be fun would have been a wiser design decision than automating it.  As it stands, by the time I had played 45 hours into the game I was thoroughly bored with watching my party bop monsters on the head while I twiddled my thumbs.  Considering how fun and strategic I found Final Fantasy Tactics Advanced’s battle system, I think that ultimately this Gambit element was a bad design decision.  Between hands-off battles, non-interactive cutscenes and dialogue excising all input except "Would you like to buy something?", player control is largely limited to steering the party from one tiny map to the next.  It isn’t long before this cab-driver gameplay forces one to wonder why Square didn’t just make this Final Fantasy Tactics: The Movie.
 
I have often forgiven games their lackluster gameplay in favor of a compelling story (see: Legacy of Kain series), and for a while this game kept me entertained.  But as the game progresses the spaces between meaningful story developments get longer and longer, without any perceptible increase in emotional payoff when they do occur.  The characters, though often well-realized, are mostly quite dull, with viewpoint character Vaan beating out tortured baggage Ashe and obligatory annoying girl Penelo by a narrow margin to snatch the title of most flat character of the bunch.  Most striking is the moment when you realize that the six characters you have collected early in the game are all that you will be allowed, and that (with one technical exception each), all of them are human, all of them are white, and all of them are blond.  Fran is viera (human + rabbit ears) and of a slightly darker skin tone than the rest, while Balthier’s hair borders on brownish.  In a setting as diverse as Ivalice, how is it possible that this is all the variety we get?
 
Finally, the game design in terms of goals and objectives was significantly lacking.  With so much of the game behaving as a non-interactive cutscene (even when you can technically take control), it was critical for the game to have exciting quests to complete.  Even though the player had very little input, the suspense and anticipation of seeing how it all would unfold could have carried quite a bit of interest (as with a movie) if carefully crafted.  Instead we are given stereotypical RPG quests were boring five years ago.  Leave town, cross monster-infested terrain, enter monster-infested dungeon, get generic magical artifact.  You will cross loading zone borders no fewer than 20 times for a given quest.  Final Fantasy XII introduces a new denouement stage to each quest: get captured by the Empire and have your magical artifact taken away.  In this stage, you will watch a cutscene wherein a bad Empire guy will talk at you for a while, then a battle will start and you will have your manacles removed and all your equipment back.  In making your escape you may or may not get the opportunity to take back the generic artifact you just spent so much time acquiring, depending upon the designers’ whims.  What fun.
 
Closing:
Final Fantasy XII makes a great first impression, but leaves a bad taste in the mouth.  I stopped playing shortly after arriving in the Imperial capital city, probably very close to the end of the game (I don’t know, because the game gives very weak progress feedback).  I didn’t yet have control of an airship, I had no idea what my characters’ plan was, and I was being ordered to run a bunch of mundane mini-quests to earn enough "chops" to afford a cab ride to meet one of my own party members across town.  At this point I realized that I had video games I could be playing instead, and set this exercise in tedium aside.  What appeared at the outset to be the game which might bring me back to Japanese RPGs may in fact have been the final nail in the coffin.
 
Would I recommend it?: It’s an excellent Japanese-style RPG.  Derive from that what you like.