Final Fantasy XII Impressions (Spoiler-Free)

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Gamerang actually had this in my mailbox the day before its retail release. Go figure.

I've never been able to stick with any of the FF games (or JRPGs in general), but I think that this could be the first FF title I actually finish. I spent a few hours with it last night and despite the fact that it starts out slow, I'm definitely looking to spend a lot more.

I know these things probably seem like minor adjustments, but doing away with random encounters and battle screens and allowing the player to freely control the camera and character movement during battles feels huge, as far as my play experience is concerned. This is probably the first JRPG I've played (not that I'm an aficionado, by any means) where the combat doesn't feel locked-down and really comes across as dynamic and visceral. I don't know if longtime fans of the series appreciate the changes, but I think they're awesome.

It's also the first FF title I've played where the voice acting and writing (and all other aspects of the localization) are superb across the board. Visually, it's beautiful. Load times are surprisingly brief. Technically, the games seems rock-solid. Again, I'm only a few hours in, but still, in every sense, this appears to be a very smart, highly refined game.

Add to all this the (expected) overall high production values, and I'm pretty much hooked. I'm just beginning to toy around with the gambits and other features, so there's still a lot to play around with. I don't know how long my interest will last--if the grind gets ugly, that might end it for me--but so far, I'm really interested in seeing where this game goes.

I'm wondering what you longtime FF/JRPG fans out there think.

Well it certainly sounds different from previous FF's I've played! Looking forward to it.

(I was writing this to be thread starter but you beat me to it... sorry if it doesn't follow your post well, Fly.)

Gametrailers review.

So the game was released at midnight last night. I'll be picking up my ridiculous "Gamestop Exclusive" collectors edition after work today, so I'll post some impressions of that tomorrow.

I linked to the Gametrailers review at the start of this post because many people around here seem to agree with their opinions on games. In fact, usually I do too. However, I'll be honest: I've already been playing the game for a bit here, and I wholly disagree with most of their final assessment of the game. I hope that people will give it a fair shake because I have enjoyed the game immensely so far, and I think that many others will as well.

Their major point is that the minute to minute gameplay is not enjoyable, and that simply is not the case for me. In fact, while I still feel that the battle systems in FF10 and FF10-2 were some of the finest examples of turn based combat ever made, I have never had more fun with simply running around killing monsters and collecting items, experience, and skill points as I have had with FF12.

I'm not sure why I have found it so intoxicating, but I think it is a combination of a few things. First, there is the fact that I can program the more mundane and repetitive actions to happen without my input, making combat a fast, streamlined affair while still allowing for some rather deep and complex battles with more challenging enemies. Second, there is a large number of expansive and varied environments to wander through, so instead of leveling and gil farming feeling like the grind it does in most RPGs, it feels like exploration instead. And finally, there are the optional bounty hunts.

Oh, the bounty hunts. It's not a new idea, really. Most RPGs feature a few hidden monsters towards the end of the game that are insanely difficult and offer an extra challenge for people who want it. FF12 has dozens and dozen of them, and they are accessible almost from the very start of the game. So from the beginning you constantly have the option of challenging yourself with fights far above and beyond what you will encounter during the regular course of the game. At least for me, this gives a constant sense of value to leveling up and buying the best equipment, because it might give me a shot at killing that beast that is troubling the caravans or getting revenge for that guy's fallen comrade.

(Incidentally, while many of these tough monsters are organized through the games bounty hunting system, where you take a job from a bulletin board and go hunt a monster for a client, the game is loaded with optional monsters everywhere you look. In every region most of the monsters seem to be of the same general level. However, there are often a few much higher level monsters hanging around that generally ignore you, or that only show up during certain kinds of weather, or whatever. And beyond that, there are still the extremely tough, extremely hidden monsters that give you access to summons or powerful equipment.)

Anyway, the point is that I wholeheartedly disagree with GT's claim that the game is not fun. Of course that's not to say that their other two major complaints aren't at least somewhat valid.

Regarding the story and (story related) character development: While it certainly is the case the the story and characters are interesting and well crafted, I will admit that I don't feel as engaged by them as I would like to be. This might have to do with the fact that I have been spending anywhere from 2 to 3 up to 10 or 15 hours hunting monsters and building up my characters between periods of story advancement due to how fun that part of the game is. (No, the irony of one of the game's greatest strengths exacerbating perhaps its greatest weakness is not lost on me.) When all is said and done, though, I am fairly certain that FF12 will not manage to top my list of RPGs in terms of story and character development, which saddens me given how much fun I am having playing it.

Regarding combat balance and (gameplay related) character development: GT is somewhat correct that basic combat generally favors melee over magic. However, they clearly didn't bother much with any combat outside of the main story line, because if you just have everyone just attack and cure against any of the various types of "optional" tougher monsters, you will not have much luck. They are also correct that FF12's license board allows you to develop all your characters to be the same, which is both a good and a bad thing. Again, though, if you are at all interested in exploring the game's offerings outside the main story line, you will instead want to develop specific combat roles for your characters, and the same freedom that allows you to make them all the same also allows you to build and use them ways that more rigid job systems (or even the FF10 sphere grid) allow.

Oh, and they are also correct that the summons and "quickenings" (FF12's name for limit breaks) are balanced in such a way that you will only want to use them in desperate situations. If you ask me, though, that is a good thing. It has been far too easy to abuse these super moves in previous FF games, and the way they are balanced in this game forces you to think about the consequences before you use them.

All told, FF12 is a polished and fun, and is a worthy entry in the series. It changes a whole lot, though, and people fear change, so I do expect that many people may find it not to their liking because of what it left behind. But change is good, too, and FF12 brings a lot of new life to the series in my humble opinion. Nobuo Uemetsu's hand is no longer felt in the score, but Hitoshi Sakimoto's orchestral score sets the mood well, and gives the game a unique cinematic flavor, even if it lacks the infectious melodies of previous Final Fantasy games. The art direction is (to me, at least) a pleasing mix of traditional FF design and the very distinct style of the art team's previous games, FF Tactics and Vagrant Story. Speaking Vagrant Story, this is the first game that has ever rivaled the quality of that one's localization; Dragon Quest 8 came close, but FF12's is truly excellent. Oh, and the drastic changes to the gameplay that everyone is so worried about can't be that bad if a hopeless Final Fantasy fan like me is so enamored with them.

Anyway, I suppose I won't say too much more about the game for now, but suffice it to say that the game is worth your time if you like Japanese style RPGs. In fact, if you don't like JRPGs but you just might give it a shot anyway; all the changes that have FF fans up in arms might just fix some of the things that you haven't liked about them previously.

Thanks for the writeup Zero. I had just seen the gametrailers review and was somewhat cooled on the game, so I appreciated your verbose and nuanced counterpoints.

It's going to sound really superficial, but between the luke-warm feedback and the creepy-ass furries (that moogle freaks me out), I think I'll pass.

booty wrote:

Thanks for the writeup Zero. I had just seen the gametrailers review and was somewhat cooled on the game, so I appreciated your verbose and nuanced counterpoints.

My pleasure. I'd hate to see that review turn away people who might really dig the game, and if I manage to get even one more person to give the game a chance I'll be glad.

Oh, one more thing:

The game has a widescreen mode, which makes me very happy.

It's going to sound really superficial, but between the luke-warm feedback and the creepy-ass furries (that moogle freaks me out), I think I'll pass.

Luke warm reception? Other than GT and Shane at EGM, I haven't seen a review that is even remotely negative. There are pleny of people bitching about the changes to the battle system prematurely, but none of them have played it beyond a very bad (and frankly unrepresentative) demo. Yes, I'm looking at you Gabe and Tycho.

Nice write-up, zero. I generally don't go for JRPGs, but this one actually sounds really sweet, at least on paper. Hopefully one of the video stores around here will have it up for rent soon and I can give it a whirl.

FWIW, the average review score is 91.8% so far, making it one of the best-reviewed PS2 games out there.

Luke warm reception? Other than GT and Shane at EGM, I haven't seen a review that is even remotely negative. There are pleny of people bitching about the changes to the battle system prematurely, but none of them have played it beyond a very bad (and frankly unrepresentative) demo. Yes, I'm looking at you Gabe and Tycho.

Yeah i'm kind of wondering where the luke warm reception is coming from as well. I'll be picking mine up in about 10 minutes. Frankly I have yet to play a SquareEnix game that hasn't been awesome.

Nice write-up, Zero. Your detailed comments echo my thoughts on the combat thus far. I've been surprised at how much fun simply exploring and monster hunting is. Beign a relative outsider to the genre, I don't have a solid grasp on all the nuances of the combat system, but it seems to me that by merely fiddling with gambits and tweaking the battle speed, combat is highly customizable.

I haven't read the GT review, but I'm surprised to hear it's so negative. I've poked around the reviews elsewhere and like you said, they're pretty much stellar.

Stric9 wrote:

Frankly I have yet to play a SquareEnix game that hasn't been awesome.

This is why I feel there's a lukewarm reception. Because everyone's beaming about it, but even some of the crappier Square games (FF8, Ehrgeiz, SaGa) are treated a bit more kindly than perhaps they deserve. Whenever I read reviews, ANY reviews, I look for the bad. That way, things are usually better than I expect.

I will definitely get this eventually, because I must do what zero tells me. Really! The guy never leads me astray-- it's like having a clone testing games for me.

I always find it absolutely bizzare that reviewers can rag on a game so much, point out a flaw that is vital to actually enjoy the game and then proceed to give it an 8 or higher. I really can't see where GT is coming from either. Lots of monster battles? Those haven't been in every previous Final Fantasy game? I look forward to this being the PS2's last hurrah when I pick it up when it drops lower (yes, I know its on sale at Circuit City for $38.)

LobsterMobster wrote:

This is why I feel there's a lukewarm reception. Because everyone's beaming about it, but even some of the crappier Square games (FF8, Ehrgeiz, SaGa) are treated a bit more kindly than perhaps they deserve. Whenever I read reviews, ANY reviews, I look for the bad. That way, things are usually better than I expect. :D

If it makes you feel any better, I thought that FF8 was the weakest entry in the series ever, closely followed by FF9. Also, I don't believe Ehrgeiz or SaGa games ever got much more than "meh" in terms of reviews, because, well, they were just plain bad.

I have to pick this one up. You've converted me Zero.

I was a little put off after playing FFX-2. It's the only FF game I haven't bothered to finish. But FFXII sounds sweet.
I've always been a fan of trying to get every special piece of armor/weapon or finish every quest or explore every square inch of the map. And I'm a programmer, so the fact that I can program my teammates sounds cool. From what you guys have said, this should keep my interest for quite a while.

I though FF9 was pretty good... and I certainly enjoyed it more than FF8. It's not to say that FF8 was a disaster... but I just could not get in to the battle system and the story left me with the notion that everyone in that world was related in previous life.

I picked up collectors edition... because that is the only thing that GameStop had. Seems like a low demand on those.

I have to pick this one up. You've converted me Zero.

I was a little put off after playing FFX-2. It's the only FF game I haven't bothered to finish. But FFXII sounds sweet.
I've always been a fan of trying to get every special piece of armor/weapon or finish every quest or explore every square inch of the map. And I'm a programmer, so the fact that I can program my teammates sounds cool. From what you guys have said, this should keep my interest for quite a while.

Heh, well, I am also one of the few people who liked FF10-2. You had to put some time into it, but it got good.

You did remind me of one small gripe I did have with the gambit system. It is fine how it is, which is like a long series of simple if-then-else statements. But you only get one condition and one action for each if statement, and there is no nesting. The amount of control they give you is nice, but I want more, you know? It is also light years beyond what any other game offers for scripting teammate AI.

I think relying solely on the GameTrailers review will give an overly negative view of the game. Watching the review, I felt that the reviewer didn't really 'get it'. He had some negative things to say regarding staples of FF games.

I also read the IGN and Gamespy reviews, which felt overly positive to me. Methinks the truth is somewhere in between. I picked the game up this morning, and am looking forward to trying it out tonight.

Thanks for the feedback Zero, seems to fill in the gap between the good and bad that I've read.

This is why I feel there's a lukewarm reception. Because everyone's beaming about it, but even some of the crappier Square games (FF8, Ehrgeiz, SaGa) are treated a bit more kindly than perhaps they deserve. Whenever I read reviews, ANY reviews, I look for the bad. That way, things are usually better than I expect.

I've only played FFVII(PC), FFX, FFXI, DQVIII, and FFTactics Advance as I never owned a console before the PS2. But every one of those has been top notch. The biggest reason I look forward to the PS1 emulation on the PSP is I would love to be able to play FFVIII and FFIX on the go.

I picked up the collector's edition at gamestop and I wouldn't really pay extra money for it. The feature on the history of Final Fantasy is interesting but otherwise the bonus dvd contains a bunch of garbage. I also got the collectors edition guide and for $5 more it's not too bad a deal as the art book is gorgeous, although the packaging is really weird.

Stric9 wrote:

I picked up the collector's edition at gamestop and I wouldn't really pay extra money for it. The feature on the history of Final Fantasy is interesting but otherwise the bonus dvd contains a bunch of garbage. I also got the collectors edition guide and for $5 more it's not too bad a deal as the art book is gorgeous, although the packaging is really weird.

That's what I was afraid of. Well, whatever. FF games don't come around very often, so they can have my extra $5. Or, more accurately, they've already had my extra $5 for several months now.

It's a shame though. The game itself features an extensive bestiary with a lot of excellent illustrations. I was hoping that the extras disk might have some of that art on it in a form that would be easily transferred to the computer in order to make wallpaper with it.

I though FF9 was pretty good... and I certainly enjoyed it more than FF8. It's not to say that FF8 was a disaster... but I just could not get in to the battle system and the story left me with the notion that everyone in that world was related in previous life.

I certainly enjoyed FF9 as I was playing it, but looking back I think it was only because it played so hard on nostalgia in its design. It was technically competent, but nothing about it really stuck with me.

For those who care, and would like to judge their tastes against mine to see whether or not FF12 might do it for you, here is my ranking of FF games. (I've never played FF1 through 3 more than a couple of minutes on emulators, so I leave them off. Likewise with FF11.) The list starts with my favorite, and goes down.

FF6 -- Mostly for nostalgia's sake, since it was the first FF I ever played, but I think it was honestly a better crafted game than any of the PS1 games.
FF10 -- Brilliant battle system, modern presentation, memorable characters. Also, other than MGS, I feel it was the first console game that really showed that voice acting could be more than just an annoyance.
FF10-2 -- Best battle/character development system in an FF game ever, and if you got past the first few hours it actually had a compelling story, great characters, and excellent gameplay flow.
FF7 -- Although I feel that the game was rushed (look at the inconsistency in the FMV, and the way the localization goes to sh*t after the first disc) there is a good reason that so many people responded to it so strongly.
FF4 -- More nostalgia, but also this was the game where a good many of the elements that make Final Fantasy the series that it is were introduced.
FF9 -- Played too much on nostalgia, but was still a solid (if forgettable) game.
FF8 -- The experiments made with the game systems were interesting, but I don't really think they were pulled off very well. Also, none of the characters really spoke to me, and I found the art design a bit bland.
FF5 -- I feel bad about this one, because I never actually played past the start of the second world (and I tried to play it twice). Too much grinding, an uninteresting cast of characters, and the fact that it abandoned some of the features that FF4 introduced turned me off.

So far, I thinking FF12 will end up near the top of the list.

If you care, my tastes in RPGs tend towards games with a story or characters that are interesting or appealing, and I will often forgive somewhat uninspired gameplay to get it. It is much more rare for me to do the opposite. Some of my other favorite JRPGs include the following (in no particular order):

Chrono Trigger and Cross
Xenogears and Xenosaga
Suikoden series except 4
Legend of Mana
Vagrant Story
FF Tactics
Disgaea
Dragon Quest 8 (but NOT 7)
Fallout (not really a JRPG, I know, but it was too good not to mention)
KOTOR (ditto)
Jade Empire (ditto)

Malkiel wrote:

I think relying solely on the GameTrailers review will give an overly negative view of the game. Watching the review, I felt that the reviewer didn't really 'get it'. He had some negative things to say regarding staples of FF games.

Their recent, positive review of Spinter Cell was also very off base. Maybe they're having a bad month or something.

Malkiel wrote:

I also read the IGN and Gamespy reviews, which felt overly positive to me. Methinks the truth is somewhere in between. I picked the game up this morning, and am looking forward to trying it out tonight.

Speaking of overly positive reviews, did you guys catch the Play Magazine review this month? 10/10 with the reviewer throwing out the word "flawless" every other sentence.

I'm all over this game and I'm sure I'll enjoy it, but flawless?

No, certainly not flawless.

Hard to think of a game that is, though.

Tetris.

Also, you're a bastard. I was doing Soooo well on convincing myself to not buy this for now.

Thank you!

Rezzy wrote:

Tetris.

Touché!

Rezzy wrote:

Also, you're a bastard. I was doing Soooo well on convincing myself to not buy this for now.

Thank you! :)

I do what I can!

I think it's hard to write a JRPG review that considers the experience and tastes of those familiar with the genre and still provides valuable information for everyone else. Same goes for evaluating earlier titles. Especially earlier titles, in fact.

For example, I can understand and appreciate why people like FFVII so much on a conceptual/intellectual level, but picking up that game for the first time a few months back was not a good experience for me. Presentation, interface, and control scheme conventions have changed so much in recent years that the game just felt totally awkward and alien. Same goes for Vagrant Story (although VS's presentation and design are so unique it withstands the test of time a little better, I think).

As far as FFXII is concerned, I think it's the move toward something that looks, feels, and controls a bit more like a modern 3rd-person action title that makes the game so appealing to me. Yet I can't help but think that it's also a subtle example of the ongoing homogenization of game design. I guess that worries me a bit, as a matter of principle. Given the overwhelmingly positive response to the game thus far, it doesn't seem to worry game reviewers.

Zero's covered my thoughts pretty well. All I'll say is, so far, this might be my game of the year. DQ8 was mine last year.

Anyway, I'd do a big gimongous write-up, but there's more game to be played! *retreats to his console cave*

The Fly wrote:

As far as FFXII is concerned, I think it's the move toward something that looks, feels, and controls a bit more like a modern 3rd-person action title that makes the game so appealing to me. Yet I can't help but think that it's also a subtle example of the ongoing homogenization of game design. I guess that worries me a bit, as a matter of principle. Given the overwhelmingly positive response to the game thus far, it doesn't seem to worry game reviewers.

That's an interesting thought. I guess it doesn't really worry me either, though, because I think that the traditional JRPG isn't going anywhere. Certainly FF is the most notable franchise in the genre (at least here in the states), and it is changing. FF11 was an MMO, FF12 is what it is, and FF13 looks as though it might feature another action oriented take on combat. Yet there are other franchises that are holding true to the more traditional turn based combat and doing fine. Just this year we had Suikoden V and Xenosaga 3 in this vein, and last year we had the phenomenal Dragon Quest 8 which is very much in keeping with the tried and true formulas.

In fact, if I had to hazard a guess, Square may be trying to hedge its bets a bit. Keep the Dragon Quest series true to the genre's roots and use the Final Fantasy franchise to try expanding the horizons of the JRPG a bit.

Good write up, zero. I'm getting it, just not now

zeroKFE wrote:
The Fly wrote:

As far as FFXII is concerned, I think it's the move toward something that looks, feels, and controls a bit more like a modern 3rd-person action title that makes the game so appealing to me. Yet I can't help but think that it's also a subtle example of the ongoing homogenization of game design. I guess that worries me a bit, as a matter of principle. Given the overwhelmingly positive response to the game thus far, it doesn't seem to worry game reviewers.

That's an interesting thought. I guess it doesn't really worry me either, though, because I think that the traditional JRPG isn't going anywhere. Certainly FF is the most notable franchise in the genre (at least here in the states), and it is changing. FF11 was an MMO, FF12 is what it is, and FF13 looks as though it might feature another action oriented take on combat. Yet there are other franchises that are holding true to the more traditional turn based combat and doing fine. Just this year we had Suikoden V and Xenosaga 3 in this vein, and last year we had the phenomenal Dragon Quest 8 which is very much in keeping with the tried and true formulas.

In fact, if I had to hazard a guess, Square may be trying to hedge its bets a bit. Keep the Dragon Quest series true to the genre's roots and use the Final Fantasy franchise to try expanding the horizons of the JRPG a bit.

Spoken like someone who knows what he's talking about. I didn't play Xenosaga 3 or Suikoden V, but I did spend a bunch of time with DQ8, and I'll agree that it's a great example of a very, very well done but very traditional JRPG. That game almost had me converted.

I picked the game up today at EB (had to get the CE copy for some reason since I didn't preorder), and I've put about 3 hours into it. The story is going a little slow, but the initial vibe I'm getting of it being a lot darker and more mature than the past Final Fantasy games on the PS2 are exciting me to no end. No matter how good FFX was, I couldn't get pass the cringe moments (laugh scene with Yuna and Tidus, anyone?) enough to warrant a second playthrough.

My only gripe so far is I hate how you have to buy all the unlocks FOR EVERYTHING. I know it's been mentioned, but I can't stand it. Maybe it gets better as time goes on, but having to unlock skills, weapons, armor, magic, and even how much potions help you is a little too much. Then again, it does add to the customization the game is trying to throw at me, and I appreciate that. I didn't feel FFX's characters were that customizable until the very end of the game where you got to branch around to the other grids.

My impressions of the CE:

Very, very classy box. And, the content on the bonus disc isn't half bad. I didn't watch all of the interviews, but the few I did weren't the normal annoying marketing driven fare that you often find on this sort of thing. Also, there is a decent collection of art in the DVD menus, but it's not stored in an easily accessible manner. Bummer. (Anyone know how an easy way to extract that sort of thing?)

Fun fact from one of the interviews: The entire game was translated by only two guys with one editor. They reduced the size of the localization staff from previous games in order to ensure higher quality and consistency. At the same time, though, the ammount of text to be translated increased by a factor of a third over FF10-2, which in turn had a third more text to translate than FF10.

Vrikk: I kind of thought of it as buying my class. I can see how it would be a bit annoying, but I found it added an interesting dimension to the character building to have to pick and choose what types of equipment to train your party to use.

Perhaps after everyone has had a chance to play around with it a bit, if people are interested I could share my thoughts on what license paths I used. Three quick, general suggestions though: (this is probably in the manual, but you may want to scroll past if you want to discover strategies for yourself)

*** minor strategy spoilers follow ***

1. Buy innate ability licenses as quickly as possible -- there is some very useful stuff, and once you buy them they are always on.
2. Once you have a grasp on the general way in which you are going to build your characters, plan your paths to the quickening spots as quick as possible. Not only do quickening combos make a great desperation attack, once a character has two their MP will double, and when they have all three it will triple. Very, very useful. Just beware that unlike other licenses, each quickening spot can only be used by a single character.
3. More than in any other RPG you've ever played, steal frequently. One of the only ways to earn cash is to sell the loot you get from monsters, so you will want to maximize you loot gathering ability as quickly as possible.

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