Final Fantasy XII (PS2)

First, I would like to introduce you to a new feature here at Gamerswithjobs. We call it Perspectives, and it is, in many ways, our response to the traditional reviews that many of you have grown tired of reading, and most of us have grown tired of writing. We have found over the life of the site that, while we had a great passion for the current games we were playing, we often felt like the expectations in speaking about those games through the traditional structures were creatively stifling. We always fought with the question of whether you guys wanted to read yet another review for a given game, and so we often stopped short of giving our impression partly for fear of being lost in the noise and partly because reviews are, by nature, dispassionate and thus steer away from what drives us to play games. This feature is designed to free our writers to explore new angles on the game review methodology.

While some writers may still structure some of these Perspectives in the familiar norms of traditional reviews, we will also explore other avenues of speaking about the games you and we may be playing. We will be straightforward in addressing how much of the game we've played, what difficulty settings we've used, our levels of enthusiasm going into the game, whether we've focused on single or multi player and other such relevant details. We will try to be brief -- others may be more successful than I -- and focus on the experience of actually playing instead of spouting feature bullet points. Reviews have become too much a part of the retail chain, and our goal is not to either sell you a game or otherwise; we simply want to tell you what we were thinking as we played and let you do with that information as you wish. In all, Perspectives is meant as an alternative view that frees us to speak with more passion about the games we are playing, and give you, we hope, something worth reading.

Now, on to Final Fantasy.

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Time Played – 10 Hours :: Completed? – Not by a mile
Franchise Experience – Extensive :: Predisposition to Game - Enthusiastic

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As a rule, I have very little interest for Japanese style role playing games. For that matter, much of Japanese popular culture leaves me as cold and perplexed as a Labrador retriever that's just been told a particularly racy joke. For fans of Final Fantasy that might not be the opening angle you would prefer from someone preparing to write at some length on such a hallowed franchise, and I imagine you now unsheathing your gleaming katanas and googling my address. Rest your furry-fury souls and let me say that when it comes to this franchise I am submissive as a mewling kitten lost in a rainstorm. Though I am vocal in my general displeasure for other franchises of similar kind, Final Fantasy is something that I should probably not care for yet simply can not deny, like taco night or Before They Were Stars shows.

I am not of the ilk that shed a tear when Final Fantasy VII's first CD came to a tragic close, nor have I ever worn a Moogle costume for Halloween – or worse outside of Halloween – though I am advanced enough in the lore to understand the relevance of both those items and more. I have never imported the episodes of the series not released in the U.S., and certainly never taken courses in Japanese solely for the purpose of being able to accurately translate those imported versions from their native tongues, which is all to say that my enthusiasm for the series is enthusiastically solid if reasonably tempered.

I am, thus far, a satisfied fan as I story my way through Final Fantasy XII, and wash clean the dirty memory of my hours in Final Fantasy XI, the vast majority of which we spent installing, upgrading, patching and ultimately navigating the labrythine maze of logging in the the actual game. I'm not certain that I entirely recall whether there ever was an actual game produced for Final Fantasy's MMO attempt, or if it was all an elaborate joke played on unsuspecting customers. If I recall correctly one had to level up in patching several times over before being able to buy the special ability to get to a log-in screen, which may have been the game's final boss. I don't know.

Final Fantasy XII elegantly portrays a gorgeous world where men ride chickens across deserts and women may sport animal appendages without a second glance. The game offers a new, and relatively unique battle system, sometimes overwhelming options for character customization and the kind of grand sweeping story where any adolescent miscreant may be elevated to deific status. And, none of that stuff is what I really want to tell you about.

So far, far as I can tell, this game has been Final Fantasy: Star Wars Edition. Empire and rebellion have always been a central theme of the franchise, but this version inches toward that next leap to iconic hijacking. This is not a complaint, exactly, because, after all, Lucas hijacked a Japanese artist to begin with in constructing his occasionally charming and too often bungling space opera, so turn about is fair play. And, the addition of a Biggs and Wedge character in many recent Final Fantasy games certainly suggests a comfortable familiarity.

It didn't really coalesce in my mind until this past weekend when, on our little radio show, I explained that the character Balthier was a roguish but likeable character hailing from some far corner of the same cloth from which Han Solo was cut. The logical progression in my mind led there to Fran, the anthropomorphized rabbit-eared sidekick, a loyal and constant companion to the sky pirate. Well, it's Chewie, you see, that is if Chewie wore a thong and were uncomfortably attractive.

The story's hero, Vaan, an orphaned and disgruntled youth with a mind toward rebellion and eyes to the sky takes the Luke presence all the way down to the petulant tone. I keep waiting for him to protest that he was just on his way to Migelo's shop to pick up some power converters. And let's not forget Basch, the grizzled war veteran of a dying order who, in a time of crisis, mentors the young Vaan to the cause of rebellion. Granted these are all existing archetypes in ten thousand narratives, but the similarities strike beyond the superficial. I hesitate to go into too many comparisons for fear of playing spoiler, but there are at least a few more major Star Wars character with obvious analogues in the world of Ivalice.

I dare anyone who witnesses the cutscene where Vaan and crew board the skyship for the first time to convince me that it doesn't smack of any number of scenes on board the Millennium Falcon. Hell, even the box art for the game evokes the film's original movie poster. Identical? Obviously not, but it seems obvious to me that there are similarities.

I don't intend to sound conspiratorial or affronted at all, and should you choose to reject this notion entirely as the deranged ravings of a Star Wars fanboy, you'll have no shortage of ammunition in pointing out the ways that the two stories are not similar. Go ahead, I won't argue or belabor the point, though I may bristle at the thought of being described as a fanboy of anything except World of Warcraft. From my perspective, Final Fantasy XII offers an interesting take on a story I've seen before. I try not to let the similarities be distracting, and enjoy the fresh view on familiar themes.

Maybe in hour eleven the reminders of a galaxy far far away will quite suddenly evaporate and the tale will find its own voice. If so, then bring on more. I've enjoyed the journey so far, and plan to slowly carve out chunks of time to invest myself in Vaan's tale of growth, discovery and conflict. Now, if you'll excuse me, the pirate, war veteran, human/animal hybrid and I are off to the floating city in the clouds to save the girl.

Final Fantasy XII
Official Site
Square Enix
Released in North America: Oct 31, 2006

- Elysium

(Some credit to Bill Harris and Dubious Quality for helping motivate me toward rethinking how we should write reviews.)

Comments

Wow, I like the new style! It smacks more of an anecdotal idea than a "7/10 sound" review. I really enjoyed reading this (I do love SW though, that may have helped). Bottom-line is, if I wanted a scored review, I'd go to IGN. This type of review could be a good niche for GWJ reviewers to cater to: a unique perspective on the game, not just a bunch of numbers.

nateaudio wrote:
Wow, I like the new style! It smacks more of an anecdotal idea than a "7/10 sound" review. I really enjoyed reading this (I do love SW though, that may have helped). Bottom-line is, if I wanted a scored review, I'd go to IGN. This type of review could be a good niche for GWJ reviewers to cater to: a unique perspective on the game, not just a bunch of numbers.

Someone get this guy a cookie.

Cookies with all Perpectives. I think it's a winning combo.

Thanks, nate. What Demi is saying is that that's exactly the kind of response we're hoping for from the feature.

Is this the end result of the Final Fantasy series having run out of original ideas? Feel free to smack me if I'm way off base.

Elysium wrote:
The logical progression in my mind led there to Fran, the anthropomorphized rabbit-eared sidekick, a loyal and constant companion to the sky pirate. Well, it's Chewie, you see, that is if Chewie wore a thong and were uncomfortably attractive.

You don't know what curves or undergarments are on under that fur. Maybe Chewie's a tall supermodel with some kinda hair hormone problem.

EDIT: Changed to gender neutral text in case I'm right.

I thought we were doing free kittens? Or was that the PS3 giveaway.

Man, I can't keep it all straight. I'll be glad when February rolls around and life is boring again.

If you read the books, Chewie is a definate dude. But now I have to go Lysol my brain to get rid of the mental image of Chewie in a thong. Thanks Chuck.

I love this! Yes, I would argue the Star Wars stuff. Mostly because Lucas filed the serial numbers off Cambell's work and basically anything could be drawn back to it. Instead of saying it's "like Star Wars with giant chickens" I would say it's more like "someone else read The Green Knight". There are days when I would like to be able to go kick Eleanor of Acquitane in the teeth.

I mentioned it somewhere in one one of the two threads on FF12 (one with spoilers and strategy discussion here and one with spoiler free impressions here), but after the initial setup of the story is done, the game does veer away from Star Wars in many significant ways. But yeah, the first third of the game is as direct a rip of Star Wars as I've ever seen.

I've also written far more about the game than I ever intended to in those two threads, so I'm just going to force myself to stop typing now.

rabbit wrote:
I thought we were doing free kittens? Or was that the PS3 giveaway.

Man, I can't keep it all straight. I'll be glad when February rolls around and life is boring again.

These kinds of seasons don't roll around but for every 3-5 years, Rabbit. Soak in all the hyperbole and gaming goodness before the February hangover sets in.

Great review...er, Perspective, Elysium. Enjoyed it.

nateaudio wrote:
Wow, I like the new style! It smacks more of an anecdotal idea than a "7/10 sound" review. I really enjoyed reading this (I do love SW though, that may have helped). Bottom-line is, if I wanted a scored review, I'd go to IGN. This type of review could be a good niche for GWJ reviewers to cater to: a unique perspective on the game, not just a bunch of numbers.

Yeah, what nate said.

I don't bother reading reviews, I'm more of a word-of-mouth buyer/renter. There's no point in me reading a gushing review of a format I don't like - e.g racing game. Or reading a damning review of a format I'm a slave to. But if someone I know, who is like minded, tells me I have to go get racing game x because, I don't know, the mini-games in it are awesome or something, I'm probably sold on it.

Point in case: Psychonaults has never looked like my type of game. Picked it up and went 'meh'. But after reading stuff here, and at the escapist, I'm desperatly on the hunt for a copy now

So what I've gotten from this is:

1) You dislike JRPGS, yet like FF (not sure exactly why)
2) You had problems playing FFXI
3) FFXII reminds you of Star Wars.

I know you guys are trying to write non-traditional "reviews" of games, and maybe I just don't understand what you're trying to do... but as someone who hasn't bought FFXII, and who has purchased many of the FF games before, and who is looking for an opinion of the game, this doesn't really help me at all.

It's certainly not poorly written... I just... as I said, I guess I just don't get it.

I was dropping by today explicitly to start a thread about FF12... that it's just not very good.

I'm in about 28 hours now. A very large chunk of that time has been spent grinding.

I'm serious. A single player game with grinding. You do NOT get enough gear and money to complete the storyline, by just playing through the storyline. There are optional sidequests, and they do have some good loot, but they're not enough either.

Instead, you have to grind. Grinding is built into the game; it's required, not optional. Further, it's done in a particularly boring way. You have to kill the EXACT SAME MONSTER over and over and over to get the good treasures.

This is impossibly boring. I can't believe how bad it makes this game. The combat is fun, but when you have to kill the same monster 200 times in a row to progress at a decent speed, that's not fun anymore. Some of the biggest and best treasures you can get.... are things that make grinding go faster.

If I want grinding, I'll play freaking WoW.

This game sucks. Complete waste of $50.

Malor wrote:
I was dropping by today explicitly to start a thread about FF12... that it's just not very good.

I'm in about 28 hours now. A very large chunk of that time has been spent grinding.

I'm serious. A single player game with grinding. You do NOT get enough gear and money to complete the storyline, by just playing through the storyline. There are optional sidequests, and they do have some good loot, but they're not enough either.

Instead, you have to grind. Grinding is built into the game; it's required, not optional. Further, it's done in a particularly boring way. You have to kill the EXACT SAME MONSTER over and over and over to get the good treasures.

This is impossibly boring. I can't believe how bad it makes this game. The combat is fun, but when you have to kill the same monster 200 times in a row to progress at a decent speed, that's not fun anymore. Some of the biggest and best treasures you can get.... are things that make grinding go faster.

If I want grinding, I'll play freaking WoW.

This game sucks. Complete waste of $50.

Welcome to Final Fantasy.

On the other hand I have over 70 hours under my belt and I'm still having a great time. I LOVE finding new areas and figuring out how I can 'grind' them. For instance: I've found an area in the jungle where, once you clear out all the animals, skeleton warriors start spawning en-masse. It's incredibly tough, but immensely rewarding because each kill gives about a thousand experience and the loot sells quite nicely. You call it grinding, I call it Final Fantasy. It has always been like this, and I've always loved it.

Difference of tastes I suppose. I've also never played MMO's... and the best part of that is: I know at the end of my 'grind' with FFXII... there's an ending! Good luck 'winning' WoW!

I know you guys are trying to write non-traditional "reviews" of games, and maybe I just don't understand what you're trying to do... but as someone who hasn't bought FFXII, and who has purchased many of the FF games before, and who is looking for an opinion of the game, this doesn't really help me at all.

I would refer you to the 4000 reviews of the game floating around the internet, I'm sure you'll find what you're looking for there. Or the impressions thread in the forums. Like Elysium said, normal reviews are boring to write and often redundant by the time we can put a good one up, this is a working toward something more personal. It'll develop organically.

You call it grinding, I call it Final Fantasy. It has always been like this, and I've always loved it.

Every other FF game I've played (3, 5, 7, and 10) has been easily finishable by simply going through the storyline. (Well, 10 got pretty tough at the end, and I didn't finish it, because I didn't want to grind out enough powers to finish off Tidus' dad.) There's always been lots of extra content you could go find if you wanted, but except for the end of 10, none of it has ever been grinding, particularly not grinding OF THE SAME CREATURES. You were always making progress toward a goal, not bashing unrelated critters half a world away to loot their stuff.

In FF12, you have the same fight, over and over and over, for an hour or more at a time. That is not fun, that is simple tedium. It indicates that there wasn't enough real content. They have to distract you from the storyline because there's not enough storyline.

Malor wrote:
Stuff

Really?I've played other FFs, I, II, 7, and 10 and I've found myself going through the same areas for hours on end trying to build up my team to survive bigger battles. I've never been able to play Start-Finish in a straight line in a FF. Ever. That's why I like them so much! It rewards you for building up your teams. *shrug* I've been having fun for over 75 hours now (I have the save-window up on the screen over there <--) and I still haven't gone through all the story content. Currently I'm doing hunts and trying to fill up my Beastiary. I love the extra content that unlocks.

I guess I just don't see it. But again, I haven't burned out on this type of gameplay because FF and Disgaea are the only games of this type I spend my time on.

I also don't see what you expected going into this? You want your characters to be handed the better loot on the first battle? For your skills to shoot through the roof just because you've talked to some NPC's? A cutscene and suddenly the wealth of years of training is at your beck and call because otherwise you might have to train your team for a while? More story and it turns into a game on rails. Less rewards for 'training' and where's the incentive to play?

What changes would make this a better game for you?

I'm not sure how to change this post so that it doesn't read so adversarial. I'm seriously wondering what you were expecting going in because as I said, Every FF I have played has rewarded you greatly for 'milling.' So much so that I've never played one without doing so.

/Edit! Oooh I forgot 8 because I never got to finish it. It was a friends disk and I never got enough time. I should pick that one up some time!

Gabe over at Penny Arcade nailed it:

Gambits are more than acceptable for the many, many, many perfectly meaningless combats you will face Final Fantasy XII.

That's it exactly! Most of the combat is bullsh*t makework to try to get enough money for proper equipment. It has nothing to do with the actual story whatsoever. In the other games, monster encounters were obstacles between you and your goal, generally the next plot point in the series. You were pretty much guaranteed that completing each section got you ready for the next one. Monsters weren't that hard individually, but you were carefully rationing your health, mana, and supplies to get to the next camp spot.

This game isn't like that at all. You aren't given what you need by getting through the storyline. Instead, you MUST go do completely meaningless fighting to complete it. Further, to get maximum rewards, you can only kill THE SAME KIND OF MONSTER. This is a terrible mechanic. It rewards tedium. If they had done the chains by counting 'all monsters you kill between save points', that might have been a little better. But I, for one, think it is an incredibly stupid mechanic to expect the player to kill two hundred of the same monster in a row so he/she can get back into the actual game. Running around and around and around killing the same goddamn monster over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over is not a lot of fun.

Malor wrote:
That's it exactly! Most of the combat is bullsh*t makework to try to get enough money for proper equipment. It has nothing to do with the actual story whatsoever. In the other games, monster encounters were obstacles between you and your goal, generally the next plot point in the series. You were pretty much guaranteed that completing each section got you ready for the next one. Monsters weren't that hard individually, but you were carefully rationing your health, mana, and supplies to get to the next camp spot.

I can understand the rest of your sentiments even if I disagree with them, but this part of your contention I think is incorrect. I've played through every Final Fantasy except 3j (which is coming later this month in remake format to North America for the first time) and 11 (which is an mmo, and thus doesn't count). The only one that I found could truly be seen as reasonable to beat without any deviation for sidequests/"grinding" at all for any reason was possibly the original release of FFIV on the SNES, which was actually modified from the original Japanese version to be easier for the Western audience. Every other one took some degree of grinding to have a reasonable chance of completion. And that's never bothered me, even in XII.

As for the Chain mechanic, I don't think it's necessary. I'm roughly 30 hours into the game (a little further, actually), and only twice have I deliberately taken the time to chain up enemies, mostly for fun. I've earned plenty enough other stuff to sell and get most of the equipment I need (you only need to upgrade to every 2nd or 3rd tier of armor, really) by standard sidequesting/levelling like I have in every other Final Fantasy game.

I think you're fixating on an optional mechanic a bit more than need be, and it's unfortunate that it killed your enjoyment of the game.

Great review, I give it 10/10.

The thing is, and I'm being perfectly serious here, I expect a 15/10 from you, Elysium. Or a 20/10. I'm still waiting for that review that changes the way I think and the way I play, a review that elevates my hobby.

Tis a wee bit o' pressure on you but I think you and every other GWJ writer are capable of even greater things. Your writing flows so effortlessly, it's like you throw a dictionary grenade on the front page then dance around as the burning pages slowing tumble to the ground. Whatever you write I gobble up, yet I still feel more experimentation is in order. We excused ourselves from scores and story/graphics/gameplay breakdowns here at GWJ, lets take it to the next 3 levels. Writing reviews only-to-please-yourself is definitely the direction to go. Perhaps a blog-style travelogue, a la Qubious Duality, might be more helpful. You could experiement with different styles on 1 game.

Also, I don't feel GWJ needs the review-one-week-after-release schedule. We already know if the game is any good by the time you put a review on the front page. We just like to read your opinion. Perhaps 2-4 weeks is more appropriate for this site.

You don't have enough great peers to geek out with, that's a problem. You are creating this new direction yourselves. Might I suggest reading some Pauline Kael, the great New Yorker film critic. I imagine as a writer you are attracted to literary review, but it seems a little inbreed to me, writing about writing.

Perhaps you need to take the gloves off, try beating a bad game down into a bloody pulp of an algorithm. Screw balance. I don't know if you hold back, if professional relationships with the rest of the industry require a tempered hand. Perhaps that is another boundary to explore.

2am, I'm tired. Just some thoughts.

Keep experimenting! You're not quite there yet I feel, although it's a very fun read I do not know wether this game is "for me" or not after reading it. If that's not the point of the review though, I respect that, but than it's not a review anymore.

Souldaddy,

It's evident that you mean your comments out of nothing but love and respect, and I take them to heart.

I am almost afraid to stand alone here in the churchyard; yet I will adventure."

(R&J Act 5, somewhere in there)

(Professional relationships... heh.)

Farscry wrote:
I can understand the rest of your sentiments even if I disagree with them, but this part of your contention I think is incorrect. I've played through every Final Fantasy except 3j (which is coming later this month in remake format to North America for the first time) and 11 (which is an mmo, and thus doesn't count). The only one that I found could truly be seen as reasonable to beat without any deviation for sidequests/"grinding" at all for any reason was possibly the original release of FFIV on the SNES, which was actually modified from the original Japanese version to be easier for the Western audience. Every other one took some degree of grinding to have a reasonable chance of completion. And that's never bothered me, even in XII.

I tend to agree with you Farscry. Then again, I rarely even noticed I was "grinding" in previous FF games because I enjoyed the combat enough that it never bothered me. There is just something about the way combat works in XII that prevents me from enjoying it like I have every other FF game, or really just about every other JRPG I've played. It sort of feels like they tried to mix together some great elements (real time combat, visible enemies, MMO style world) and the result just doesn't add up to the sum of it's parts. Then again, it could just be that I resist change and XII is significantly different from the previous games in the series.

Malor wrote:
In FF12, you have the same fight, over and over and over, for an hour or more at a time. That is not fun, that is simple tedium. It indicates that there wasn't enough real content. They have to distract you from the storyline because there's not enough storyline.

I'm confused. I'm just short of 20 hours in and I've never "had" to grind for anything. Who told you it was necessary? The chains that you set up just between story points have been more than sufficient to get me everything I need so far. Just be intelligent about the order you pick your combats in when you're going through the area. Set your allies gambits up so they don't go start picking fights with everything they see and you can pick and choose.

I did try to do some grinding early on, but I found out that it was just me mis-reading a clue in my Clan Primer and to get this thingy is an actual sidequest so I stopped the wholesale liquidation of cactoids. And I did get totally go ram lost in the Sandsea last night so I probably killed a few extra jawa-thingys along the way. We'll see how I do in the Tomb tonight.

I'm ridiculously over-equipped in some ways because I steal multiple times in every single combat and so I've had plenty of loot to sell and that gives me money to upgrade my equipment and buy any techniques/spells/gambits I see so I have them handy once I get enough LP to get the licenses.

rabbit wrote:
Souldaddy,

It's evident that you mean your comments out of nothing but love and respect, and I take them to heart.

I am almost afraid to stand alone here in the churchyard; yet I will adventure."

(R&J Act 5, somewhere in there)

(Professional relationships... heh.)

You set me up!

You know, I've never understood this whole grind argument in regards to FF. I've played many of them, and I've never had to grind once. I follow the story, sometimes ignoring sidequests, and I'm still capable of winning. The boss fights are difficult sometimes, and I admit loading earlier saved games in order to stock up on the right gear for the challenge, but it isn't impossible to beat a Final Fantasy game by just following the story and nothing else. All said and done, I usually clock in about 20 hours by the time I complete the game.

As for disliking JRPGs but liking FF, I can relate. I suppose it has to do with the FF's superior production values. Normally that's a non-issue, but I don't really view FF as a game so much as an interactive story. Granted the story is getting really, really old now, and I'm not sure I want to bother with XII. The other games lack the graphics, audio, and voice-overs. All you have is boring, repetitive combat. That's my personal take on it. I can't speak for you, but about halfway into a JRPG I start running away from battles or automating my characters. I honestly cannot stand it, and the random encounter thing MUST go. All too often I find myself following the beaten path rather than exploring because I just don't want to deal with a half dozen random encounters. So in summary, the pretty colors divert my mind from the infuriating encounters, hence FF is superior to most other JRPGs by my books.