An Ocean’s Dream Review: Final Fantasy XII

18 10 2011

Ocean’s review on FF12!

I’m a big classic FF fan. My first game ever was FF1. So I got this game as a gift when I had my PS2. This review will be from the perspective of someone who played near the final dungeon, and not finished/completed.

Graphics    7/10
I am not really going to comment on the quality of the 3D itself (especially the models) since it’s a PS2 game and not a cutting edge thing anymore. I mean I’ve played PSX games recently too and I wasn’t turned off by the graphics. The art style is the more important one to me.

I remember one of the concept art pics had the city of Archades, and that was probably one of my prime motivations for playing/continuing this game. My goal was to reach this city. I guess I still prefer the concept art to the actual in game city though, but I still think the in game cities are still nice to look at. However, navigating them is a chore because they’re so big, and a bit of repetition because of it. I mean, one of the cities you start in has 7 different areas, and a lot of that space really unused.

I get an equal sense of “woah, that’s neat” and “blah how boring” from this game, which is something that is likely to cross over into the other sections as well. Like, the desert ruin towers you cross through are an interesting addition to the desert, but then the desert is long and fighting the same enemy over and over, or that grassy fields are pretty much entirely just grassy fields and nothing special except that they are huge. You get some other areas too which look nice but then quickly lose its interest when there’s 50 floors of it. Particularly when the color use is very unsaturated throughout.

Character design too. You have bangaas and other fantasy races as well as some nicely designed characters. Some may have nice clothes that fit the setting, especially from the richer population of the game, and the judges are heavily armored and fit in well. There’s a variety of characters from old to young too. However, you get to the main characters and then it goes downhill. Basch and Balthier are fine, but Fran (and the rest of her race) looks like its catering to 4 different fetishes at once (bikini armor wearing tall dark skin bunny girls). Ashe is supposed to be a princess, and her top is okay but she has some weird pink skirt that really ruins it. Then Penelo and Vaan are no better either, plus Vaan is one of those Cloud/Tidus/Hope type of characters. It wouldn’t be so bad but you have to see Vaan/Ashe a lot, and there’s a whole town dedicated to Frans people.

Gameplay    4/10
Which brings me to this. Here’s my gaming background. I play both Western and Eastern RPGs. I’m just as familiar with Might and Magic as I am Final Fantasy. Played Oblivion, Played Dew Prism, Played Ultima, Played Secret of Mana. So I’m familiar with both open ended gameplay and a more linear type of gameplay. FF12 decided to do a more open ended game, while still having some type of linear progression. I’ve played games (Might and Magic 6, I’m looking at you) which had long dungeons. This one does too. I think the game is concerned with being big and epic that it becomes more big and repetitive instead. Dungeons tend to have pretty much one main enemy type and maybe 2 others. You’ll be walking around giant open areas or maze like places. I played and got through a part of a dungeon that was pretty long and didn’t have a save point until right at the end of that part. And that was only the halfway mark. It even ends up being uselessly big sometimes, as the map after the save point has no enemies, no treasure or features other than stairs and walls that you have to find your way around to continue.

The battles can be pretty fast however. It’s a bit more of a “watch and let your characters do the work” type of system with the use of gambits. And it’s a pretty smart AI, it’ll usually work just as you tell it to. You can still manually put in commands too, especially if you need to change things up (particularly in a boss fight). However, a lot of the times a good enough gambit system will get you through battles without you having to press a button at all. They do have quite a bit of spells and buffs to use, and I find it great that if your characters are down, you can just replace them with your reserve party. Some other FF game that came out later should have done that. Quickenings (high damage but high MP consuming attacks) are weird but they can be useful especially when a boss is nearing low HP. Espers can fight for you but truthfully I don’t use them very much. You can customize your characters quite a bit though, so you can set different roles to each. Having one character take the hits, another healing and staying away, things like that. It’s better to play it that way. It is possible for it to have a lot more depth than it seems, but it’s just faster to play it straight with attacks and all.

You have a license board, which is how you can equip armor/weapons or get new abilities. Certain parts of the board have Quickenings/Espers to unlock, but mostly it’s just going around to unlock weapons/armor as you’d like. It’s silly to require a license to wear stuff but enough people joke about that so I won’t. So instead of predefined characters, just make them how you like. Send one character to learn white magic if you’d like, and another to get swords and heavy armor, whichever you like.

A lot of the sidequests involve going after marks. These are basically enemies that you need to hunt. So first you need to go to the mission board in the tavern, find the person in the world who requests the hunt, then find the hunt, then take them down, then return to the person who requested it. It takes longer to find the requester/hunt than it does to beat them usually. I’m sure the highest rank hunts have millions of HP and I don’t care enough to fight them. It can be a nice enough distraction I suppose but I didn’t really feel that rewarded for it. I still did some though. The game is actually pretty linear if you just do the main story line without worrying about hunts. There are other things to do such as looking for materials to sell in the bazaar and chain enemies for drops. There are other small miniquests you can do but they span multiple areas and don’t always have very much clues to go off of.  Again, the game is a bit too big for its own good. Some people can clock in hundreds of hours on this game if they really want to, and while that isn’t a bad thing in itself, a lot of it is really walking around because the game world is so big. There are no minigames here really so there’s no moments like the bike chase scene in FF7 or Chocobo Racing or things like that.

Story        4/10
I think there was one. Let’s see… an empire wants to take over a city and then you go all over collecting crystals called Nethicite and continue collecting crystals and being transported by crystals, so you can use it to… I dunno, most of the cutscenes are just Balthier and Ashe talking about crystals and Vaan saying something stupid while Penelo does a giggle in the background. And sometimes they even give Basch a line or have him agree with Ashe. Your kingdom is invaded but everything seems rosey like nothing ever happened other than what happened in a small cutscene.

There’s not much in the way of cutscenes. Most of the stuff that happens is either in the beginning or very end. It’s partially because it’s a bit more open ended, but I think they just changed the story a bit much and put their focus in the wrong places (like adding Vaan, placing too much of it on crystals). A potentially interesting political story was pretty much completely shoved aside for crystal gathering and hunting marks. Really, they speak a lot in cutscenes, but outside of that, nothing interesting.

As for the characters, I dunno if they really have much room to develop much. They seem pretty much the same as when you get them. Vaan is annoying, Penelo is annoying, Fran is annoying, Balthier does all the actual useful talking, Ashe says she agrees and asks everyone to help her find the crystals, and Basch says he’ll stay right by her decision. In fact, Basch was probably the one that changed most, and I’m pretty sure he was meant to be the actual main character. That would have been a good decision.

Well I wrote how they are annoying, but I think the biggest thing is that they have no real reason to exist in the plot. Vaan wants to be a sky pirate, gets caught up in business he has nothing to contribute in, gets into an airship a few hours into the game, his story complete. But he’s still around, and I don’t even know why. Penelo probably has an even slighter motivation, and that’s…. ok, I really do not know. Time to look it up, one second. Oh right, to keep Vaan out of trouble. That is all. She was written into the plot by middle aged men who love high school girls I bet. Fran is just Balthiers companion, and her motivation is also… to see the world I guess. Because in Disney princess fashion, they don’t just want to be in their village, they want MORE. There are more on the enemy or NPC side who have a greater sense of belonging in the plot (like Ondore, Gabranth, Cid) than these 3.

Now contrast this with Ashe/Balthier/Basch. Ashe is a princess from a kingdom who got taken over by Archades and wants to free her people (from what though, I don’t know, since they seem to be doing pretty well for themselves even under enemy occupation). Balthier goes to first get the dusk shard to help pay off his bounty or at least steal it for himself, then realizes it’s nethicite and remembers why he left the Empire, because of his father who was driven mad by it, as Balthier himself was in the service of the Empire. Basch was a Captain for Dalmasca. The Empire had his twin pose as him and slay the King. He was deemed a traitor and imprisoned. Once Ashe requested his help again, he regained his sense of honor and a new sense of purpose.

As far as villains go, I don’t particularly care for the main villain because he’s mostly just power hungry. There’s a little more to it than that so I’ll give him some credit but mostly from what I remember he really only appears once in a cutscene until the end game. Cid and Gabranth are better and tend to be more recurring, although still a lot of time passes between seeing them again. That’s probably less a fault of the writing and more a fault of the giant dungeons…

Music/Sound    6/10
Sakimoto composed the soundtrack for this game. I rather like some of the songs but I can’t say I’d put it up to par with another soundtrack like FF6s for example. I strangely like the esper theme, and it did use some of the old FF themes like the main theme and the crystal theme, but other than that there wasn’t really much Uematsu songs. They’re not usually all that memorable though. In fact, some of them just are because you stay in an area for so long. Even then, I’ve forgotten like half the soundtrack already. I don’t think I’d go far enough to say a song is terrible, but there are only few that really pop out to me.

The voice acting is actually rather nice…. except for Vaan/Fran/Penelo. All of their voices irritate me. Seeing how they thankfully get removed from importance after the first few hours, you’ll be hearing mostly Balthier/Ashe and their voices are well done. The narration is done by Ondore I believe, and he has a rather weird accent that sounds like it doesn’t know what countries accent to mimic. Not terrible but just weird.

Overall        5/10:    Try first before you buy
Much too big and open for my tastes. I have nothing against open worlds, lots of sidequests, or things like that. The background world of Ivalice is fine (mostly), and the story had some nice potential. I’m sure the original script of it would have been genuinely good. It just feels like this is too slow paced for me and it takes too long to get anywhere, especially with the huge dungeons. Is it worth a purchase? I’d say… at a cheap price, yes, pick it up. It still has its good moments, it’s not a terrible game. It just really could have been much greater. It more felt like an offline MMO to me. Those with plenty of spare time might not feel too upset about it. Again, reactions are mixed for this game, from people hating the game to people loving it, so you might just end up really enjoying it. In fact, a lot of official reviews have rated it very highly. I can’t. It has a lot of great ideas as I’ll reiterate, but it wasn’t all executed well.




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