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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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Gaming Review #3 – Saints Row the Third

My third review is for the game, Saints Row the Third.  Published by THQ and released late 2011, this version is for the Xbox 360 and rated 18 bbfc certificate.

 

Saints Row the Third is an action/3rd person shooter, based in the gangland city of Steelport.  The Saints are a gang famed for their success and notoriety, so much so that they have their own merchandising, TV shows and fan base.  You play as the leader of the saints and after the first introduction mission you get to customise the look of this character.  You start the game off being kidnapped by Le Ren, leader of the crime Syndicate, and held prisoner on a plane where Le Ren tries to convince the Saints to join his syndicate.  Naturally the Saints refuse and during their escape attempt Saints member – Johnny Gat – is killed.  From then on the Saints want to get revenge for their fallen comrade while stopping the Syndicate from forcing them out of the city ofSteelport.

 

To start off with…I absolutely loved this game.  Every so often a game comes along that you don’t want to put down and that you want to complete every bit of if as it is such a delight to play.  SR3 (Saints Row the Third abbreviation) is one of those games.

 

I have never been one to be interested in games based on gang activities.  However, upon seeing the madcap mayhem advertised on TV with people dressed up in blue, fury outfits, or hitting each other with oversized fists, the game undoubtedly looked fun.  I was further encouraged to buy the game when friends informed me that they would be purchasing the game and taking advantage of the crazy co-op gameplay.  To say the least, I bought the game and haven’t looked back since.

 

As I said in the second paragraph, you play as the leader of the saints, a character you get to customise to very fine detail.  However, you unfortunately only have the choice of three styles of voices, which can be somewhat disappointing as you struggle to choose one that fits your customised character.  Regardless of this little niggling fact, your customised character appears in the cut scenes in all his or hers customised glory, and as a fully functioning character instead of just a phantom presence in the background.

 

The graphics are nicely done to, perhaps not the most polished that I have seen, but good none the less.  However the soundtrack truly stands out and is quite simply put as ‘kick ass!’  When jumping into a vehicle the radio will come on with a selection of radio stations that have some pretty awesome tunes.  You even have the option of creating a mix tape and picking your favourite tunes to play – and believe me, there are some brilliant songs available.

 

Getting down to the gameplay however, this is where the game excels.  The main missions are engaging and fun, with controls that are responsive and easy to grasp.  It was easy to jump into this game if you were a first time player, yet still challenging enough for more experienced players to get something out of the game.

 

As you play throughout the game you earn respect points, allowing you to level up your abilities, acquire new skills and improve the stats of your fellow gang members.  When you reach level fifty you no doubt will have immunity to bullets, fire, falls and vehicle damage, as well as having infinite amount of ammunition; you’re basically indestructible.  This may seem quite boring, taking away any risk or challenge of dying, but surprisingly enough it is not; you are basically unstoppable as you wreak havoc in the city (insert evil laugh here!).  You can also upgrade your weapons by buying upgrades in weapon stores; one such top upgrade allows your gun to fire bullets that ignite your enemies and nearby vehicles.

 

Another great thing about this game is the side quests…there’s loads of them!  You have over 30 assassination missions to complete, as well as over 30 vehicle theft missions to complete.  There are also numerous hidden objects to find; 20 drug packages, 20 photo opportunities, 20 money packages and 20 sex dolls – yes…sex dolls.  As well as numerous gang operations to find throughout the city, where you have to wipe out the collection of opposing gang members in the area.  Then you have to buy up all the businesses and buildings available to buy if you want to take over the city.  Not forgetting, 30 survival modes – where you will receive a phone call telling you to drive to a certain location and survive wave after wave of enemies until complete.  On top of all that, there is also the Saints book, a list of 60 tasks to complete, such as: you need to kill a set amount of enemies, or, travel a specific distance in certain way.  Finally, there are the mini games; there is a wide variety to choose from all ranging in three levels, easy, medium and hard – some were quite challenging and had me in fits of rage…until I eventually completed them. 

 

One thing is for certain, with the main gameplay and all these side quests you certainly have plenty to do.  This game is definitely value for money; I spent over 60+hrs completing every little detail of the game.

 

The real great thing about SR3, and what it has down to a T, is the fun factor.  It’s very rare that a game comes along where you can have just as much fun doing nothing, as you can when trying to complete the game.  I spent many fun filled hours just driving about and listening to my favourite tunes on my mix tape, riling up the opposing gangs into gang warfare, pissing the police force off or just terrorising the public.  The fun is then doubled, when you can join a mate’s game or have them join your game in co-op play; either to help out with missions or just muck about.  Whatever you choose to do, it’s fun, and I don’t think I’ve laughed as much as I did when playing any other game compared to this one.

 

However, as much fun was had, there were a few little issues that stopped the game from being perfect.  Once such issue was customisation.

 

As I said before, you are able to customise the main Character to very fine detail and you have a wide variety of clothing and accessories you can purchase for your character – you could even dabble in a spot of cross dressing if you like *wink wink, nudge nudge* – unfortunately, despite being able to do all that you only have a choice of three voices for your character.  I touched on this earlier, and it really was a disappointing fact that you could do all this customising but were limited to 3 set voices – unless of course you included opposite gender voices for your character, then you had 6 to choose from.  You did not even have the opportunity to tweak the set voices like you did everything else.

 

Another disappointment with the customisation options was with the vehicles.  In SR3 you have a wide variety of vehicles available for your use; cars, motorbikes, jets, helicopters and watercraft.  What was even better about this is that you can customise your vehicles…yippee!  Unfortunately, this option is only available to cars and motorbikes.  If you wanted to make a gold helicopter, forget it.

 

Aside from the customisation disappointments, there were only a couple of snags in the gameplay.  The first is activating the nitros.

 

NItros is an option you can put onto your motor vehicles, allowing you to travel really fast for a short duration of time, a very handy feature.  You accessed this feature by pressing down on the left analog stick for the 360 version of this game.  Unfortunately, this feature was easy to accidentally activate when trying to reverse.  There were many times when I was speeding away from danger that I would accidentally crash on an unmoving object and the only way to get off of it was to reverse off.  However, in doing so, I would accidentally activate my nitros, making reversing impossible as my car would want speed off uncontrollably in a direction I didn’t want to go, or, I would be stuck on said unmoving object until my nitros deactivated.  It was no doubt an irksome situation made all the more worse because I was trying to escape a brute that wanted to smash my head in.

 

The second snag this game had is that it does occasionally glitch; thankfully, not very often but it did happen from time to time.  Sometimes a mini game would not load properly, or more commonly, when crashing your car into a building you would be propelled through the window and into said building.  This of course would be a building you should not have been able to enter, but the game had glitched and you would be inside, with no way out as your were stuck in some sort of white space.  Luckily, these weren’t permanent glitches and you could reset the game back to normal by quitting and reloading, however, you will lose any unsaved data in doing so. 

 

The good news is this game has an auto save feature, activating whenever you complete a mission or side quest, but this doesn’t activate on everything.  If you were trying to complete the tasks on the Saints Book and spent the last 40 minutes complimenting 50 different people and you hadn’t manually saved when achieving this, you would lose that data if the game glitched and you needed to reset it.

 

Regardless, this game is still fun, and the story line is insane along with all the crazy action.  There is even a few pleasant surprises along the way, including funny costume getups, super vehicles, mad weapons and some surprise guest voices/cameos which I won’t say too much about as I don’t want to ruin the surprise.  There’s even a zombie mission in this game, yes…Zombies, it’s that insane – though a small part of me does feel like the zombies were added in just because that’s the popular thing to do in games these day.

 

Game breakdown –

 

Good Points:

 

  • Great sound track.
  • Easy and responsive controls.
  • Good graphics.
  • Co-op play available.
  • Good gameplay with an insane story.
  • Customisation available.
  • Plenty to do.
  • Value for money.
  • Fun, fun, fun, and…FUN!

 

Bad Points:

 

  • Some areas are limited in the customisation.
  • Nitros can trigger when unwanted.
  • Glitches every now and then.

 

Overall, this game is excellent, and though there are a few bad points, unfortunately, they are nothing more than a niggling annoyance.  This game is fun down to its core, and with the vast quantity of things to do in this game it is also value for money.  Don’t let this one pass you by.  So grab your giant, purple dildos and beat a police officer with it – oh, I guess I should have mentioned you can do that also in the game (insert wicked smile here).