Story Line in Final Fantasy XII (3 out of 5)
People have said the story in Final Fantasy XII is similar to the one in Star Wars; and in part its an accurate statement since you play as members of a resistance group fighting against an evil empire. In Final Fantasy XII, the mighty Archadian Empire is conquering its small neighbors, one of them being the kingdom of Dalmasca, home of Vaan, Penelo, Basch and Princess Ashe. Their lives will no longer be the same after the Archadians attack Dalmasca, with Vaan losing his brother in the war, Basch captured as a prisoner, and Ashe exiled from her throne.
Two years later their lives will be intertwined and together they plan to restore Dalmasca back to Princess Ashe, the only sole surviving heir. Joining them will be two sky pirates, Balthier, and his sidekick, the Viera (elvish looking creature) called Fran.
Ivalice is the world which Final Fantasy XII is based on, so anyone who has played Final Fantasy Tactics or Final Fantasy Tactics Advance will be familiar with the cultures and the characters. It’s a beautiful world to walk around and explore, with rich cultures that show through in the Final Fantasy XII art designs of the towns and the characters. Like your party members, many NPCs have a sophisticated taste for fashion, with a variety of colors and intricate designs on their shirts, headbands, pants, and accessories.
Many of the characters in Final Fantasy XII are political figures who talk about political things. Conversations can get pretty boring. But this direction also allows the story to be refreshing without having to rely on clichés.
The cut scenes will have its share of terrific action sequences and drama, but most of the conversations is tied down to political business rather than giving us a more personal look at the relationships between Vaan, Ashe, and the other main characters. Don’t expect an intimate story like Final Fantasy X. At least Vaan, Penelo, and Balthier help keep the story from being so serious, bringing their shares of sarcasm, humor, and laid back atmosphere.
The Combat in Final Fantasy XII (4 out of 5)
There is a couple of features that take Final Fantasy XII in a radical new direction for the series. There are no more random battles. You can see all your enemies, and red dots on the Minimap will display where they are, which is a very convenient feature. Still, it’s hard to avoid a lot of them because they can spot you from afar and you will need to beat them to gain experience and License Points. The pacing in combat is now faster, more hectic, but with more action than previous Final Fantasy games. It’s almost like playing an MMORPG.
You can only have three members in the party (sometimes four because of guest members) so it’s wise not to agitate too many enemies at once or else it will be a long and grueling battle. Final Fantasy XII is not an easy game, and you will have to be patient and grind your way to an adequate level to beat many tough opponents. I’m not a fan of the required grinding (especially in dungeons) and I didn’t like having to fight many of the same enemies throughout one area, the game developers should have tossed in more variety.
Those complaints don’t break the game because the good outweighs the bad. The battles are very satisfying because the developers have added many features that will either help or challenge you in combat. Enemies are intelligent on the field, where archers will keep their distance to avoid harm, while spell casters will remember to heal any of their comrades low on health. They will work together in attacks or run away once their HP is low, hurting your chances of getting any loot from them. They will surprise you by sprouting out from the ground, coming from behind, and attacking from a distance.
Booby traps will be a common obstacle throughout Final Fantasy XII, so avoid them or else expect a heavy hit to your health. There are some very good items that can be stolen from the unlikeliest enemies, so it’s wise to always let one of your characters steal in battle.
The colored line connecting you to him is a helpful feature to let you know if you match well against an opponent. A blue line means it’s an easy foe; a yellow line means it’s tough, but not impossible to beat; a red line means it is an incredibly tough opponent, far beyond your party’s current level, so it’s best to avoid it.
If common battles aren’t enough to satisfy your love for combat, then join a club called Clan Centurio, lead by the moogle Tomaj, and work as a bounty hunter. The citizens of Ivalice will hire you to find and kill high level opponents who are causing problems for them; finish the job and you will get rewarded. The more bounties you collect, the higher your clan rank is, and Tomaj will reward with good items. There’s always surprises in this game and it’s a pleasure to look forward to what kind of enemies and quests you will face next.
Character Customization in Final Fantasy XII (5 out of 5)
If I could describe the game in one way I would say it’s very flexible, thanks to the License Board and the Gambits system in Final Fantasy XII.
The License Board is required for what your character will wear, what spells they can cast, certain stats they can improve, and abilities they can perform. It looks like a Scrabble board where each square represents weapons, armor, accessories, magic, technicks, and abilities you can learn. Let’s say you purchased at the shop a Longsword, a Bronze Helmet, Gauntlets, and Cure. In order to use those four items you will have to first make sure your character has learned them from the License Board.
The License Board allows you to customize any of your characters basically from scratch. Basch looks like your typical soldier but because of how much flexibility and freedom there is in the License Board, you can turn him into a powerful spell caster instead.
Your whole party can be entirely made up of fighters, or magicians, or balanced classes, or something entirely unique. A character can learn how to use guns, swords, wands, and wear a combination of heavy, light, and magic armor. The options are endless. Anyone who loves to customize their characters down to the smallest details will appreciate the License Board’s open endedness.
Gambits are commands you can give to your characters to automatically perform them in or outside of combat. I can assign Cure to the Gambit, “Ally: HP < 20%,” and the characters who has that command will automatically heal anyone who has HP lower than 20 percent. The great thing about Gambits is they free me from manually performing the same actions over and over; now I can just make my characters automatically cast magic, attack, steal, and do the many other activities in the game. If I want to control my characters’ actions, then I can just turn the Gambits off too.
If you enjoy Gambits then you will also spend a fair amount of time there making adjustments, because many commands will not work for every situation. Not all enemies will be vulnerable to fire for example, so you will have to make sure your characters are not casting that spell under those scenarios. Maybe those enemies are more vulnerable to ice, so you need to put that in place of fire.
Final Fantasy XII is really a story about politics, a different direction for the series, so fans may be turned off by it if they don’t like hearing dry conversations from political figures. It’s not as straightforward as many other RPGs with the good guys vs the bad guys scenarios. Not every member of the Archadian Empire is hostile and vicious as some of their peers. Some members of the resistance group are not as friendly as they seem.
Just like other Final Fantasy games, this one is filled with secrets, side quests, and surprises. The game starts real slow but if you can be patient with it, you won’t be disappointed with all the wonderful items, towns, and quests you will get to explore. The bread and butter in this game is the pleasure of building your characters from the ground up and the battle system that provides plenty of action.
It’s not the best in the series, but you will be impressed by all the new features here, especially the License Board and the Gambits, that was never in any of the previous Final Fantasy games.