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Game Review #4: Final Fantasy XII

Game Review #4

 

Game: Final Fantasy XII

Publisher: Square Enix

Format: Playstation 2

Release: 2006

Genre: RPG

 

Today I am reviewing one of my favourite games, Final Fantasy XII. As I’ve stated before, I am a big fan of RPGs; I’ve also stated before that Final Fantasy is one of the biggest franchises in the RPG genre and even gaming history – whether people like the fact or not.

 

Final Fantasy XII is the first one I ever played from the series.  It has been said to me ‘the first one you play is often your favourite’, and boy is this statement true on my behalf.  I spent over 245hrs of my life playing this game, I loved it so much, but it is not without its faults as I shall explain bellow.

 

We start the game in the fictional country of Dalmasca, which has recently been invaded and taken over by the powerful Archadian Empire.  We meet a street urchin by the name of Vaan, who is fed up with the Archadian oppression his country and people have to suffer.  When Dalmsaca has a state visit from Prince Vayne of Archadia, Vaan decides to upset the proceedings by robbing the palace.  During his escapades, Vaan meets two sky pirates, Balthier & Fran; a disgraced Knight, Basch, and a dethroned Princess, Ashelia.  Joined with his childhood friend, Penello, the six heroes band together to help Ashelia claim her rightful throne and free Dalmasca from its oppression.

 

One of the first things I notice about this game is the stunning FMV sequences.  Though it is not unheard of – especially in recent times – for a Final Fantasy game to behold breath taking graphics.  However, as well as amazing FMV scenes, the in game graphics were top notch too, making the game a joy to view.  This can also be attributed to the fact that Final Fantasy XII came out towards the end of the PS2’s (Playstation 2) life. It is not uncommon for the best games of a console’s life come out at the end, as developers are completely familiar with what the machines are capable of at the time.  Regardless, the game is pretty to look at.

 

Another thing I noticed was the soundtrack.  I always appreciate a well composed soundtrack, feeling it adds great atmosphere to games, films and television programs.  The sound track on Final Fantasy XII really stood out for me. Many times I would wonder in certain areas of the game just to hear particular pieces, and I even went out of my way to buy the soundtrack on CD; I was very much impressed with it.

 

Yet one of the main things I really enjoyed was the story.  I absolutely loved the subtle, political ploys throughout the story, as Ashelia tried to regain her kingdom. Giving the game a real grown up and sophisticated edge.  Some people complained FF:XII was too political.  Personally, I couldn’t understand this argument. I thought the politics really gave the story an intelligent feel which had me thinking and wanting to desperately find out what happened next.

 

As your six characters progressed through the story, they discover Archadia has been using a powerful material called Nethercite to build powerful weapons and battleships.  However, this Nethercite is too powerful for the hands of humans and technically belongs to these god-like creatures, who have been manipulating humans throughout the centuries.  However, one of these god-like creatures has gone wayward, disgusted with his people’s manipulation of mankind he helped the Archadians in gaining their recent power.  The remaining god-like creatures offer to aid Ashelia in obtaining her throne.  Now, Ashelia must choose whether to: take the Nethercite offered by the powerful creatures and get revenge on her Archadian enemies using the Nethercite, or, refuse the help of the ancient beings and no longer allow them to manipulate mankind while finding another way to stop the corrupted Vayne and his overpowered armies.

 

It is not uncommon for Final Fantasy games – or RPG games – to have a much grander scheme in their stories than what was originally shown to begin with.  However, this is where I find, especially with JRPGs, the games often over reach.  I have nothing wrong with there being a higher meaning in stories, but sometimes I find they over complicate things with their big ideas and leaves the player somewhat confused.  Thankfully, Final Fantasy XII doesn’t fall into this trap; it gives its story a higher meaning and depth without baffling the player with ideologies one would need a step by step guide to understand.

 

Another trap FF:XII manages to avoid, is clichéd characters – another thing JRPGs are guilty of.  There is no lone wolf, main character who spends a majority of the game brooding and feeling sorry for themselves, before eventually learning to let people in.  Nor are there any over feminine, always speaking in a softly spoken voice, and unbearably nice female characters which reflect no real women on this planet.  All the characters in FF:XII are interesting and likeable with no annoying traits to grate on your nerves.  I suppose it also helps when the characters were very well voice acted as well.

 

However, one thing which did disappoint me with the story, was a plot line involving the sky pirate Balthier.  We see a bounty hunter appear early in the game, wanting to track down Balthier and collect a reward placed on our favourite sky pirate’s head. Later we see the bounty hunter confront Balthier and the gang, in a confrontation the heroes have to flee from the bounty hunter, leaving it open to be concluded at another time.  However, in the main story we receive no conclusion on this plot development; which was a real shame, as on the whole, the story was very well constructed and played out.  You can however receive resolution on this plot point in an optional side quest – unfortunately, the resolution is disappointing and anticlimactic.

 

Moving away from the story and onto the game play, you come to learn the game is huge with a massive free roaming world for you to explore.  Unfortunately, there isn’t really much to do but to look around and battle.  The dungeons are unimaginative and repetitive; consisting of nothing much more than walking into a corridor and clearing it of enemies, walking into a room and clearing it of enemies, walking into another corridor and clearing it of enemies, and so on and so forth.  There’s little puzzling or platforming elements to this game.  It’s all about taking down your enemies and getting to your next stage.

 

With a game which is so battle orientated, it is important to supply a battle system that keeps things interesting and keeps you on your toes – after all, you will be battling for many hours.  Final Fantasy is a series famed for using the traditional turn based battle system, but in recent instalments of the series it has tried to step away from this, adopting new battle systems which have been hit & miss. For FF:XII, they used a system known as the ‘gambit’ system.

 

The gambit system is a system which allows you to input commands into gambit slots that the computer AI will act out.  For example: if you put in the command ‘heal when HP is below 50%’, the computer will heal your character when their HP is below 50%; provided there is sufficient MP or potions to do so.  In the beginning of the game you only have a limited amount of gambit slots, making choosing you commands rather tactical. For example: you will want to give healing and protection commands to your strongest magical users while allowing you other characters to take care of fighting.  Also, in the early stages, it may be necessary to put in commands manually due to lack of gambit slots; keeping you on your toes as you have to keep an eye on what is happening and seeing when you have to interject.

 

You can gain more gambit slots as you level up – by acquiring licenses – and thus allowing the computer AI to act out more commands.  Depending on the number of ‘gambit’ slots you have and the situation you are in, it is necessary to tweak your commands to your best advantage.  The system works very well and it is rather fun to set your commands and send your troops into battle.  Yet as well as this system works, it is also its downfall.

 

With the more ‘gambit’ slots you have, the more commands you can give to cover any situation that should arise, thus making your team the ultimate killing machine. It basically means you can tweak your commands so perfectly, there isn’t much for you to do other than walk up to an enemy and let the AI take care of everything – which can be somewhat boring.

 

This is really disappointing, as you are doing nothing more than walking your characters around the scenery and watching them fight. Especially when you buy games to play, not watch!  However, there is something to compensate this, and that is the side quests.

 

The number of side quests is vast, even if a majority of them are hunts.  Though the hunts involve you battling the monsters with the perfect, yet flawed, battle system, the fun in the hunts is finding your marks.  The marks will only appear if certain criteria are met: such as the right weather condition or having no armour equipped.  There are even some hidden boss battles which will take you hours to do, and even if you have your ‘gambits’ perfectly set up, the fights are still challenging enough to require you to input commands manually as well as relying on your gambits.

 

You can spend a majority of game time trying to complete these side quests which are a lot of fun to do, but there was one quest which was poorly thought out: acquiring the Zodiac Spear.  As you journey through the game, you will come across treasure chests; in opening them you will find money or goodies.  Yet to acquire the spear you need to leave some of these chests un-open before opening the very final chest.  Unfortunately, without a game guide there is no indication this is what you have to do or anyway of figuring out what chests you do and don’t open.  In fact, you wouldn’t even know this side quest existed without a game guide.

 

Regardless of this one minor flaw, the side quests really make this game, and you will get a lot more out of it if you take the time to complete them.

 

Character development of this game is a combination of levelling up through gaining experience points and buying licenses.  Gaining EP (experience points) allows you to level up in the standard way; reaching new levels and gradually increasing you HP (health points) and MP (magic points).  You can also acquire LP (license points), which will allow you to buy licenses to gain certain skills and attributes.  For example: if you want to use fire magic, you have to make sure you have the appropriate license to buy and use such spells.

 

In the beginning of the game it is important for you to spend you LP wisely.  In example: magic users tend to have lower HP, so you will want to buy licenses which let you use/buy heavy duty armour for their protection.  Another example: ranged fighters are good at taking out enemies at a distance, so you will want to buy licenses to improve their accuracy as this will improve their skills.

 

As you buy more and more licenses for you characters, they become pretty much good at everything.  This isn’t unheard of in RPGs; often when you level your characters up to high levels, magic user become good fighters, and fighters become good magic users, and all your characters become good all-rounders.  Unfortunately, this can be slightly boring, as it takes away any tactical element of the game and you can plough through pretty much any enemy.

 

All licenses are available to all characters, as none are designated to a certain skill set.  Though to some degree, it is satisfying to make these ultimate warriors.  Like the gambit battle system, when you’ve bought all the licenses it makes you virtually indestructible and takes away almost all threat of you dying, thus eliminating any challenge to the game.

 

Another way to develop your characters is with equipping armour and weaponry, and there is a variety to choose from.

 

Each piece of armour provides you with different attributes: head armour will improve your magic defence while the right foot wear will increase you speed.  Heavy duty armour will provide you with more protection but slow you down because it is weighty. Light armour will allow you to move quickly but is useless at defending you against strong enemies.

 

The vast numbers of weapons also have different advantages as well.  Staffs are naturally weak weapons but improve the potency of your magic. Whereas axes will deliver great damage but are cumbersome to wield.

 

You can also make weapons and armour out of the items you collect through out your journey, and some of the weaponry/armour you can make is vastly superior to what you can buy in shops.  On the whole, it is important for you to equip your characters correctly to get the most out of what you want them to do.

 

Even though there is a lot to choose from when buying and equipping your characters, the menu isn’t overwhelming. If you are a novice to playing RPGs this shouldn’t confuse you too much.

 

In general, FF:XII is pretty user friendly for first time RPG players, yet still retains core elements more veteran RPG players will be used to – engaging story, character development, and plenty of side quests.

 

One thing FF has moved away from in this game (and thank god they did), was random battles.  Always cropping up when you don’t want them, and never when you do.

 

When entering a new area you can see all the available monsters fight and you can choose whether to engage them or not – they will however come up to you if you wonder to close to them and they spot you.  You also have the option to flee the battle if things are getting too much for you.  It is also a flee option which works 100% of the time – excluding boss battles.  It is quite the luxury to be able to escape battles and travel unhindered when needs be.

 

Unfortunately, the game does make a mistake in its explanations.  There are certain things – such as rare animals, quickenings, targeting enemies – that do not even get a mention in the tutorials. Whereas quite simple things have longwinded explanations making them seem more complicated than they actually are.  Also, if you want to complete this game fully, then you’re going to need a game guide or you will be looking things up on the internet.  Much like with obtaining the Zodiac spear, there are some things which have no indication on how to do them or that they are even available within the game without you resorting to some sort of guide.

 

All in all, I really enjoyed the game, despite its flaws.  I was able to live with them and enjoyed all the good points out of the game.  Some RPG fans should really stay away from this game, especially if you want more from the combat.  Yet if you’re a big Final Fantasy fan or are still intrigued to give this game a go, I would suggest buying it at a reasonable price (£10 – £15 tops).

 

Good Points:

  • Very good story.  Sophisticated and filled with political intrigue.
  • Likeable characters.
  • Plenty of side quests.
  • No random battles and a flee option which always works.
  • Very nice graphics and music.
  • Easy to get to grips with.

 

Bad Points:

  • Characters can easily become overdeveloped and takes away any challenge of the game.
  • Game guide is required because the game fails to require in-game information about certain things.
  • Battle system becomes rather lacking as there is little for you to do but sit and watch.
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Game Review #1 – Final Fantasy VII

To all new and previous readers of my work, I would just like to point out this is my first non-fiction piece of work, and I just want to give a brief description of what I plan for this blog to be before I get down to the nitty-gritty.  I call this blog, Roux’s Reviews (a play on my online moniker), and shall consist mainly of…you guessed it, reviews. 

I shall mainly be reviewing video games as this is a media format I greatly enjoy; however, I will also occasionally cover film, television and literature – and possibly the odd rant or two if I’m honest.  I in no way claim to be a professional critic, I merely just what to expand on a format of writing, and maybe my insight can aid readers on whether or not to purchase a game or not.  So…lets begin.

I start this blog with a review of Final Fantasy VII.  Just to explain, as a gamer, my favourite format of games is RPGs.  A genre that seems to split the gaming community like marmite; I however, love them instead of hate them.  I was hooked after playing my first RPG, Baten Kaitos, on the Gamecube; but due to the lack of RPGs on the Gamecube I was forced to buy a PS2 to get my RPG fix.  It was there I played a game called Final Fantasy XII (a game I will review later in this blog) and fell in love with Final Fantasy, thus I wanted to play the others in the series.

Final Fantasy VII is a major game, whether people like to admit it or not.  It was a major turning point in the Final Fantasy series, and in some respects, the RPG genre too.  Final Fantasy VII was the first 3D Final Fantasy and the first to have a futuristic feel to the game, things that had never been seen in the series before. 

Final Fantasy VII was released in 1997 for the PS1 and has received much love over the years including several spin offs – on various different media formats – and has even been given the title of the Greatest Game Ever (a claim I always take with a pinch of salt as gaming technology is forever moving forward, and you are always guaranteed to have someone dislike a game because it is impossible to please everybody).

As I review this game, I try and keep in mind that this game was released over 10 years ago and cannot be held to the same standard as modern day games, and it is with that knowledge in mind I try to keep this review fair (as I will with all my reviews).  I also want to point out that this review will have major plot spoilers for the story, if you have yet to play this game then I strongly advise you to take heed of this warning. 

I shall start with the graphics, which in my opinion, are very poor.  Now I know I said in the previous paragraph that I understand this is an older game and cannot be held to the same graphical standard of today’s game, and nor do I do that; in fact, I even credit the game for its graphical achievements.  In some places the FMV sequences are absolutely stunning for a PS1 game of its age; however, in some places they are very poorly designed making navigating very difficult.

There was one time in the game where I spent two days trying to find my way out of a junkyard – I went up and down cranes & poles, in and out of nooks & crannies that lead absolutely nowhere trying to find my path that led to the city.  I eventually found my way out of the junkyard by accidentally walking into a pile of junk and discovering I could walk through it to continue my journey from A – B.  For some reason I didn’t think to do this, maybe it was because the pile of junk looked like a solid object and as you know, it is physically impossible to walk through solid objects – unless you have an intangible form – and I would only attempt to walk through such an object if I saw an opening I could physically squeeze through – which of course I did not due to poor graphical design. 

Another instance was when I was exploring a mystical and ruined city.  My path continued on top of a cliff path which I had to reach by climbing a shell and jumping down from the connecting branch.  I climbed the shell, walked across the branch closest to the path and then found…I was stuck.  Back and forth I went, all with no luck as the logical conclusion to my navigational problem was not going to work.  Instead, I had to climb to the very top of the shell – way beyond the path I had to carry on walking along – and walk across the highest branch of the shell – which wouldn’t physically be able to support the weight of my character – and jump down from there to reach my path – a jump that in real life would no doubt be very dangerous and cause physical injury. 

It was with many instances like the ones explained above that I found the game infuriating.  I understand not wanting the game to be easy, but this was down right ridiculous.  I was not walking off the beaten track to find a hidden, and optional, treasure chest or secret area.  I was travelling from A – B, a mandatory part of the game if you wanted to complete it; I should have been able to navigate my way from point to point. 

Then there was the world map, which was also a nightmare to navigate, what with its bland and generic surroundings, coupled with vague clues on where to go next, E.G: ‘To reach the next town you must walk through the forest’ – ‘What forest?  The one in front of me?  Or the one behind me?  Maybe it’s the one to the left or right of me?  In fact, scrap that; I’ll just use the tried and tested, and tedious, technique of running round in circles and happen upon chance to come across the town I need to go to next.’

Most of this I put down to poor graphical design, being unable to recognise or find my way, and thus affecting the game play.  Factors to which in my opinion make bad graphics, even if it does have some pretty FMVs.

Another problem I faced was the speed you travelled at on foot, which was painstakingly slow!  You crept millimetre by millimetre to get to your next point and often ended up screaming at the television screen for your character to hurry up.  After two weeks I discovered you could move faster by holding the X button down – yippee!  This does however, raise an issue I hate. 

When Final Fantasy VII was released on PS1, the console used a controller that only had a D-pad.  Unlike an anolog stick, where you can control your speed by how much pressure you apply, you can only move at a default setting when using the D-pad buttons.  In some cases you can change your speed setting with a single press of a button, or going into a game menu, in other cases, you have to hold down a button…continuously!  Game developers please take note: THIS FEATURE IS ANNOYING! 

I do not like having to continuously press a button down, alongside using the D-pad, to travel at my desired pace.  When playing games you normally want to get stuck in, and often go charging in at full throttle like an over excited puppy and generally do not want to tip toe about the place.  In some instances you need to sneak about and a slower pace is required to do that, but these situations are often few and far between.  In fact, there was only one time in Final Fantasy VII that I needed to walk slowly, and really and truly, it was more of a case of avoiding a squeaky floor board than walking slow and sneaking about.  The faster travelling speed on foot should have been the default setting for the D-pad instead of forcing me to hold down the X button all the time…grrr!

Another annoying feature of this game was random battles.  Battling is an important part of RPGs for developing and levelling up your characters; however, random battles are absolutely horrible, and I thank the heavens a majority of modern day RPGs no longer use them…oh thank you great creator!  Regardless, Final Fantasy is famed for its random battles, and it is only in resent instalments of the game that they have started to move away from this.  If you want to play the earlier games, you’re just going to have to grin a bare this fact of random battles. 

However, this is also a negative point of the game, even though it is standard for a game of this genre and age.  It is quite alarming just how much you are bombarded with these battles; and often upon my lips was the phrase ‘What…another one!’.  This problem becomes worse if you are travelling at a snail’s pace.  There are just sometimes when playing RPGs where you don’t want to battle and just want to travel from place to place without being bothered by unwanted battles – more often than not with this game it will be when you are trying to find an almost impossible to see exit thanks to the poor graphical design.  Yet with random battles, the opportunity to fight when you want is taken away from you.

Going into further detail with the battle system, it uses turn based game play based on probability (a feature that divides people into a love and hate of RPGs).  It’s a fairly simple system to use and easy to master, however, it can be somewhat boring.  Thankfully the menus aren’t overwhelmingly too long as you scroll down the lists of available commands; this is thanks to the materia system of character development.

Character development of this game is relatively simple, only having to upgrade one armament and weapon.  Each piece of armour and weaponry has slots to contain materia, equipping your character with certain abilities.  The more powerful your weapon or piece of armour, the more materia you can upgrade it with, however this doesn’t become too excessive to become confusing. 

Materia can also be levelled up with regular use, EG: a level 1 cure material will only heal a small amount of your health, level it up to level 4 and it will cure a large amount of health.  It also becomes important to equip your character with appropriate materia to make sure you have diversity of abilities.  However, as you gain items which hold more materia and your character reaches the higher levels, this no longer becomes necessary as your characters become excellent all rounders and become good at pretty much everything, taking away the tactical intrigue of battle.  Also, some veteran players of RPGs can be left feeling unsatisfied with the simplistic character development.

Another aspect of character development is their development in the story.  RPGs are lengthy games; intriguing stories and engaging characters are important to keep you in for the long haul.  The three main characters however, are somewhat annoying and boring.  Cloud Strife is a brooding whinge bag, Tifa Lockhart is plain boring and Aerith Gainsborough is a shit stirring bitch!  Yes I said it, Aerith is a bitch – I’d say worse about her, but I fear it would be censored.  It really is the other characters who are more interesting – except Yuffie, she’s annoying – but you are forced to watch a pointless love triangle between the three main characters, which results in no romantic conclusion!

The three main characters I didn’t care about, and nor could I understand their tales to tell, it was all beyond my intellectual capabilities.  I spent most of my time wishing Cloud would stop being so pathetic and whining; and grinding my teeth whenever the shit stirring devil in disguise, Aerith, was given screen time.  The best moment in the game really and truly was when Sephiroth impaled Aerith on his big, long sword – no pun intended – and put that she devil to death – it was the only time I did the happy dance in the entire game! 

I would go into detail about the ridiculously complicated and mind boggling story, but it is far too long winded.  If you really want to know what happens, I suggest looking it up on wikipedia, you’ll no doubt get a clearer explanation than playing the game.  I’ve played this game through, and I’m still none the wiser with what was going on and feel un-concluded with certain things that happened.  In all honesty, I wasn’t really concerned about what happens in the story; it’s long winded, confusing, implausible and I don’t care what happens to half of the characters anyway. 

For the most part, I have been pretty negative in this review, and that was because playing this game really wasn’t an enjoyable experience.  There were a couple of moments I did enjoy, with some puzzling game play or interesting action, but they were few and far between.  The game was a chore to play, what with being bombarded with random battles, having to continuously press the X button, frequently getting lost through no fault of my own, using a simplistic but uninspiring battle system and being force fed a story that had me saying ‘What the fuck…you can’t be serious’ repeatedly, coupled with characters that I hated really did prove to be a game I wasted my life with.  If I am honest, had Final Fantasy VII been my first RPG, I probably wouldn’t be the fan of RPGs that I am today.

Personally, I’ll probably be trading this game in, one play through was more than enough, perhaps too much.  Even though people may want to cry that it was the game of its generation, I struggle to see how.  The issues I have highlighted would not only be relevant today, but also over a decade ago when it was released.  Were it not for the fact I was so stubborn to complete this game I would have turned it off and changed it for a more enjoyable game, and I would have had those feelings if I had played the game when originally released.

The game really isn’t worth the hype it gets, certainly not now, and certainly not when originally released.  Though I acknowledge the huge leap SQUARE (now SQUARE Enix) made with the first 3D Final Fantasy, it is clearly obvious they have moved on greatly from Final Fantasy VII.  The game has issues that make the game un-enjoyable to play, issues that are hard to overlook because they are so infuriating.  Do not be fooled by the hype, this game is mediocre at best, if you can get passed the hindering issues it has.