Bounty hunters, an evil empire, and a young, unsuspecting hero who unwittingly gets caught up in the action. And it all happened in a world far, far away…in a land called Ivalice. “Wait a minute,” you say. “Didn’t we already do this with Star Wars?” Well…not really. Sure, George Lucas had Chewie, but Final Fantasy XII has chocobos. Giant chickens trump walking carpets almost every day. And really, even though the twelfth installment of the Final Fantasy series has similarities to that distant galaxy from long ago, it’s not just another Star Wars game. It’s not even Squeenix’s version of a Star Wars game. It’s Final Fantasy, and that pretty much means you can’t go wrong.
You start off as Reks, a solider in the Dalmascan army, and you’re on a mission to save the king. And, once you’ve got a handle on how to kill things, you kick the bucket. Scene moves ahead a few years and suddenly you’re Vaan, Reks’ little brother. Vaan is a street rat, a thief, and your new main character. And, true to the code of videogame heroes, he winds up getting mixed up in a gang of revolutionaries who are going to take back the throne from the evil Archadian Empire and maybe even save the world while they’re at it.
OK, truth be told, maybe the story is not as strong as in some of the previous FF titles. There are a lot of political things going on, which might not be everyone’s cup of tea. And it plays out like a Final Fantasy and Star Wars lovechild, but it isn’t as bad as that sounds. For one thing, the characters are really well developed. Each character’s story is explored in different parts of the game, and even if you find them annoying and decide never to keep them in your party (Vaan), you can still appreciate what they went through to get where they are today. Thankfully, even if you’re delving into their past, you don’t have to have them in your party to advance the story—the cutscenes will initiate with or without their presence.
And since you spend a good 80+ hours watching these characters from all sorts of angles, their attire and design will eventually become something you ponder as you mindlessly level up. True to typical FF character design, everyone has a good number of belts and buckles as well as scandalously high skirts and midriffs. Then there’s the matter of Vaan’s lack of shirt. And Fran’s lack of, well, almost everything. And Basch’s oven mitt over his heart. And Reddas’ hot pink pants. And, my personal favorite, Balthier’s deliciously tight pants. When you’re not playing the “Is that a guy or a girl?” game with characters like Larsa or Drace, you’ll probably question the fashion sense of several male characters. However, Ivalice has a history of dysfunctional trousers; just look at Sydney Losstarot’s or Ashley Riot’s pants (or lack thereof). But really, you get used to it after a while, and the only time you’ll really think “what the hell were they thinking” again is when a cutscene comes up, as they are generally shot at an angle that focuses on everyone’s posteriors.
Butt-shots aside, the cutscenes aren’t too bad. Voice acting is decent—you just need to watch the scenes without the subtitles, as the words don’t always match. But if you’re only playing for the blood and glory, you can always skip the scenes and get on with the hunt.
The battle system itself is where a lot of people start to argue about the game. Instead of traditional button mashing, you use a set of prearranged battle controls called gambits. Depending on how the gambits are arranged, a character will prioritize which actions he or she will take. So, if you have “attack the closest enemy” in slot number 1, and “curaga” in slot number 2, even if you’re all on your last legs, the character will keep whacking away at the enemy. And if you keep the gambit system on, it’s automatic: You can sit back and let the programming do the work. Cheating? Not really. Personally, I prefer the free-range ability of the new battle system; instead of the traditional turn-based fighting, you can run up to a monster and attack it, and, if you find it’s too strong, you can try to escape onto a new screen.
And this is where the game really takes the cake. The places you go are gorgeous, and the map is proportional to what you actually see. And, with the freedom to change camera angles, you can get an eyeful of the scenery. The amount of detail in each area is amazing, and the environment has been richly rendered. The art is a mix of Islamic and Mediterranean, with intricate geometric patterns and lavishly decorated walls, floors, and even ceilings. And that’s just in town. Outside, while you’re letting the gambits do most of the work for you, you can sit back and watch the clouds roll by, or, if it’s the rainy season in Giza, you can see the dark clouds roll past in the water’s reflection. My personal favorite place to wander is along the Phon Coast, where the water is clear, the sand is bright, and the music is peppy.
Another thing that people are on the fence about is the soundtrack, which I love. Others feel like it’s really not a FF soundtrack unless it’s done by Uematsu Nobuo. I think they need to give Hitoshi Sakimoto some credit, because the music he composed fits the story, and the songs fit their location. Angela Aki’s “Kiss Me Goodbye” is a fitting song to wrap up the story, and provides a nice background as we learn what the characters are doing one year after the game wraps up. In fact, it neatly prepares us for the DS sequel, Revenant Wings, but that’s a whole other chocobo.
Truth be told, it took me a while to get into this game. I’m not big on politics, and I wasn’t playing it frequently, so most of the story was lost to me the first time I played it through. Plus, the pants in my party were rather distracting. But the story is decent, the characters are well developed, the gameplay is fun, the music is pleasant, and the graphics are gorgeous, so it’s only a matter of time before you start wondering why on earth you didn’t enjoy it before.
So, if you’re looking for a new game to keep you occupied for a while and you don’t want to spend too much, give Final Fantasy XII a try. You’re going to find at least one thing that you really like. And besides, it’s Final Fantasy, so you know you can’t really go wrong.