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Final Fantasy XII

Square Enix
Traditional RPG
Final Fantasy
  • October 31, 2006
  • March 16, 2006
  • February 23, 2007
A- 69 total ratings
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Final Fantasy 12 Save Spots

A Final Fantasy XII review Author: Jeriaska Published: November 14, 2006
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Final Fantasy XII is the brainchild of Yasumi Matsuno, director of Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story. Matsuno's efforts on this project were so intense that he eventually had to bow out of the title of director due to a nervous breakdown, leaving Square Enix for a less stressful work environment. As a result, Hiroyuki Ito of FFIX and Vagrant Story art director Hiroshi Minagawa are credited as directors of the game, though Matsuno's signature, which has won his titles two of six perfect scores in Famitsu Magazine's twenty year history, is indelibly inscribed from start to finish. Matsuno brought with him a bevy of talents from his previous forays into castle-dwelling, dungeon-crawling RPG territory. One immediately recognizes the art design of Akihiko Yoshida, whose angular characters populated the world of Ivalice when it was the setting of the Tactics series. This time the landscape is still decidedly medieval, though touches of high-tech have encroached upon the antiquity, powered by alchemy and "magick" in place of electronics. Composer Hitoshi Sakimoto handles the cross-pollination of Bubonic-era sword-slashing and futuristic airship piloting with masterful skill.

The story centers upon the once-powerful kingdom of Dalmasca, caught between the imperial dynasties of Archadia and Rozarria. At first Archadia seems like a trustworthy enough empire, whose heir apparent Vayne Solidor publicly calls for a democratically elected official to inherit the kingdom over his own ascension to the throne. However, it soon becomes clear that the Judges, Archadia?s heavily-armored lawgivers, are turning into mercenary warlords in their imperial expansion. Vaan and Penelo enter the fray as vacant Dalmascan teens whose parents conveniently died (of the plague, no less!) and get swept up into the adventure and intrigue to become unlikely heroes. Ashelia Dalmasca is the rightful queen of the occupied Dalmasca, now a member of the underground resistance incongruously dressed in an ass-hugging miniskirt. She is joined by the scruffy knight Basch, whose twin brother allows for a confusing case of mistaken identity. Rounding out the party, Balthier and Fran are purportedly a couple of sky pirates, though they are never caught doing anything nefarious, possibly because they are both refugees of elitist households. The couple are best described as a smart-talking outlaw with a gun and a reticent, exotic creature with a bow who fly an aircraft and occasionally aid provincial kids in saving imprisoned princesses from armored imperial goons, but otherwise share no resemblance to Han Solo and Chewbacca from Star Wars.
Here Vaan performs a Quickening

Dalmasca's identity as a small kingdom wedged between two expansionist imperial powers lends a subtle resonance to the state of Japan?s current political situation, particularly considering the Archadian war revolves around the possession of an enriched mineral ore called manufactured nethicite. The glowing stones are used to power titanic airships, but when nethicite's power is abused, nuclear explosions ensue. The desire for military expansion and technological mastery drive the Archadian top brass psychotic in a far more plausible series of events than anything in Square villainy past. As a result, the game?s primary antagonists have a human face, departing from the tired clich? visited upon every installment since VI of delivering some intergalactic evil monster from space for the final showdown. In another triumph of tasteful storytelling, while gods do exist in the world of Ivalice, they are neither good nor evil. The Occuira are merely drab immortal flames who cut down humans with the powers of nethicite when their knowledge grows too strong. One rogue spirit named Venat has spurned his boring fellow ghosts in lending his mastery of the nethicite to the Archadian imperials, leading to the Judges' disproportionate military advantage. Clearly Matsuno and company went through great pains to provide a reasonable balance of power and rational motivations to their cast of characters, calling upon a wealth of Greek myths and Biblical fairy tales for inspiration. The result is clearly the most successful title in the series in verisimilitude.

In another tip of the hat to reality, Final Fantasy XII marks the first appearance of corpses for the series. Long-time fans might find themselves slightly jarred when early on in the quest Balthier points out a Bangaa body decaying on the floor of his prison cell. Previously in the series, the newly deceased made their exit by flickering out of existence once slain or by disappearing into a stream of light lifted heavenward. The first game for the Playstation 2 went so far toward denying the reality of death as to depict the departed enclosed in an overgrown display case, allowing central characters who have bitten the dust to return from the dead. By contrast, the latest in the series dispenses with such ludicrous hand-holding. When monsters or allies get killed, they do not drift away as fairy dust but sit there rotting on the floor. By extension, the prevailing attitude toward death in Ivalice is brutally matter-of-fact. When Balthier reunites with his estranged father, nary a tear falls nor a how-do-you-do is exchanged before the two engage in a battle to the death. For that matter, not much affection is lavished upon poor Vaan or Penelo. The two act more like bickering siblings than star-crossed lovebirds. Nor will players find much in the way of sexual tension between Fran and Balthier's no-nonsense alliance, while Ashe and Basch remain frostier than a fresh batch of blizzaga. All I can say to Final Fantasy XII's stance of honor and duty over hugs and kisses is "How utterly refreshing!"
Meet the opposition.

Regarding the quality of the English localization, the merits mainly outnumber the flaws, though the appearance of "Bahamoot" and "Markwis" are a bit jarring. Vaan and Penelo's Americanese somewhat conveys the sense of innocent provinciality, while the stone-cold pensiveness of Basch does a fine job of supplying their stoic characters with staid sobriety. Highest marks however go to Gideon Emery as Balthier, who arguably provides the coolest character ever in interactive entertainment. Kari Wahlgren, who voiced Shelke in Dirge of Cerberus, provides laudable pathos as regal Ashelia Dalmasca. Also stellar are Johnny McKeown as Larsa, John Lee as Dr. Cid, and Elijah Alexander as Vayne Solidor, who lend superb skills to their parts, helping to shape a handful of the most memorable characters in the series' history. Hand it to four centuries of Shakespearian tradition in dramaturgy, these Engishmen sure know how to make a sentence roll off the tongue.

The gambits screen allows you to direct the behavior of your NPCs
Perhaps the greatest departure from the series is the newfangled gambit-based battle system. Only three characters are playable at a time, with a fourth often joining in as an NPC. The new system treats your allies like computer programs, inviting you to employ them with a tangle of algorithms so that they act obediently, independent of your direct control. For instance, you can direct Penelo to attack the enemy targeting the leader of the party, unless of course the enemy is flying, in which case she is to cast Fira, that is unless an ally has less than 40% HP, in which case she ought to use a hi-potion, unless the situation arises that a party member has fallen unconscious, in which event... and so on. When the game is first training you on the gambit system, Penelo asks Vaan if he has any commands for her on their way south. Lecherous insinuations ensue, thanks in no small part to the camera's penchant during cinema cut-scenes for gratuitous crotch-shots. The result of the new system is, all in all, a step forward for the series. Battles progress speedily by encountering the enemy directly on the overhead map without cutting to a new screen, thus allowing for a bevy of new circumstances unthinkable in the days of random encounters, such as running in terror as a lumbering dinosaur chases you across the Giza Plains.

This brings us to one of the most noticeable foibles of Final Fantasy XII. Where are all the save spots? In an attempt to add greater challenge to the title, the designers have reneged on the option of saving anywhere on the overhead map. There are a noticeable shortage of save crystals to be found, and despite having the ability to switch to one's three reserves when the party is decimated, FFXII has one of the highest Game Over counts of any title in the series. Before venturing on this quest, ready yourself for the potential for extreme frustration, as running around for thirty minutes can lead to one's party suddenly being decimated by the appearance of a powerful enemy far outside of one's league. Do not be too shocked if in blind rage you find yourself declaring that they should have called it "Final Fantasy 12 Save Spots."

Hats off to Hitoshi Sakimoto.
On a lighter note, the Final Fantasy XII original soundtrack is the first in the series by the prolific composer Hitoshi Sakimoto, best known for his work on Vagrant Story, the Ogre and Tactics series, and Breath of Fire Dragon Quarter. The quality of composition provided by workhorse Sakimoto is truly outstanding, including quality remixes of the Main Theme, Victory Fanfare, and Chocobo song. Most notable for long-time fans of the series is the symphonic orchestration of Final Fantasy V's Clash on the Big Bridge. Not to be outdone by Nobuo Uematsu's intimidating legacy, the complexity of tracks like Giza Plains, Ashe's Theme, Eruyt Village, and Cerobi Steppe effortlessly transition from one astonishing melody to the next, spanning a wide range of lush emotional tones. The energy of orchestral tracks like Phon Coast, Dalmasca Easterland, and Sky Fortress Bahamut lend the soundtrack a driving spirit and dizzying energy appropriate for the lofty tale of a sky pirate's adventures. One cannot speak highly enough of the effort and masterful skill poured into this spirited and highly ambitious masterwork.

Considering the tremendous upheaval behind the scenes, Final Fantasy XII amounts to one of the most solid titles in the series.
Editor's Grade
dotted line "Considering the tremendous upheaval behind the scenes, Final Fantasy XII amounts to one of the most solid titles in the series."
A- dotted line Average Reader Score (Based on 69 ratings) | Rate it Now
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