I finally finished the PS2 game Final Fantasy XII the other night. After over 70 hours playing time over a couple of months (a lot, but not a record –I put in over 250 hours on Baldur’s Gate 2 for the PC) I was ready to call it quits and move on, but I have to say this is probably my favorite Final Final Fantasy game yet and one of the best games overall on the PS2. There’s very little that the producers, their legion of workers, and their millions of dollars didn’t get just right.
I love, for example, the new combat system. I had tried to play Dragon Quest 8 a while back, but couldn’t get past all the awful, terrible, old-school goodness. Turn based battles are boring, and outside of some interesting boss fights they were always my least favorite parts of the FF games. FFXII, however, combines exploration and combat, giving us something closer to what you see in massively multiplayer online games (such as the MMORPG Final Fantasy XI, I assume). Finally there’s more freedom to explore, engage, and mitigate risks when it comes to the frequent combat.
Now, that’s good to start with. But mix in FFXII’s Gambit system and you’re really talking. Gambits are essentially ways of automating the actions of your characters, relying on simple “If this condition THEN do this action” snippets of logic. So you could set up one of your characters to automatically share an antidote if he or another character gets poisoned. This takes a lot of the tedious micromanagement out of the game, but strangely it also adds a whole new layer of strategy and tactics. Gambits can be prioritized and concocted according to a number of different conditions and outcomes, so you’re faced with new questions. Should you set a gambit up to use a potion or cast a healing spell? Should you prioritize casting a protection spell on remaining party members or casting a spell to revive one who has fallen in battle? Who should get the gambit to dispell beneficial enchantments on enemies? Especially by the end of the game, managing multiple gambits across three characters is a game in and of itself. And it’s a fun one!
Of course, I could go on about the production values, too. The animation, graphics (on a Playstation 2 no less), music, and sound are all superlative. So is the writing, which sports a much more adult and darker story than previous FF games. Sure there’s still giant chickens (Chochobos, whatever), magical doo-dads, and assorted cute little creatures, but there’s also genuine character development, political intrigue, romance, drama, war, regicide, and weighty moral dilemmas. I greatly prefer all this to the relatively shallow and cheerful fare of previous games, especially when it’s done this well.
All that said, there were still a couple of things that I didn’t like. I hated the license system, for example, which required you to accumulate “License Points” from combat to spend on a special board so that you could gain the ability to cast certain spells or even wear certain pieces of equipment. Only the two-part development process also required you to find and/or purchase the equipment or spells. Given that the license board didn’t actually describe the equipment or spells it was asking me to spend LPs on, I was often annoyed and left wondering what I should do. I would have greatly preferred a simpler approach.
And, of course, there weren’t nearly enough save points. Like recent FF games, you can only save your game at designated spots, and at certain points in the game they are few and far between. So if the baby wakes up or you just really, really need to go to bed, it’s easy to get frustrated if the game requires you to play for another hour or more before you can save your progress.
Those two complaints aside, though, this was a fantastic (har har) game. If you’re looking to squeeze another title out of your aging PS2, this is the one.