When I finished Final Fantasy X-2, I thought it was time to say good-bye to Final Fantasy. It's not that the game was bad, but the lack of genuine spirit of the series, flat characterization and rather thin story made me think that perhaps the creators of the series have finally run out of creativity. I say "finally", because up to that unfortunate installment, every single Final Fantasy game was blessed by artistic inspiration, no matter how controversial it was.
I felt that there was a need for a radical change. A change that would take Final Fantasy onto a whole new level. The gameplay innovations of "Final Fantasy X-2" were too superficial and didn't make up for the lack of story-telling quality. I dreamed about a departure from the conservative, static battle system of Japanese RPGs, about expanding the game world, about introducing new story-related ideas while preserving the serious, emotional approach to the story.
And then "Final Fantasy XII" came, and it was like a miracle. Everything I was hoping for was there. A gameplay revolution in the world of Japanese RPGs, which was at the same time a genuine, high quality Final Fantasy game.Customizing your characters has always been one of the strongest aspects of Final Fantasy series. Every game provided you with new and entertaining ways, be it switching jobs in Final Fantasy V, junctioning GFs in Final Fantasy VIII, or using the sphere grids in Final Fantasy X. The system in "Final Fantasy XII" is actually quite similar to this last one. You also have a large board with all kinds of abilities you can unlock. The difference is that here every possible ability can be gained from this board and you are not restricted to a certain path, allowing a totally open-ended customization. You decide what kind of weapons and armor your characters will be able to equip, what spells they will learn, what enhancements they will get. Everything is up to you. You can turn the cute little Penelo into an axe-wielding barbarian clad in platinum armor, or you can have the powerful soldier Basch wear magician's hat and cast white magic. There are also plenty of very useful augmentations to learn, such as automatically gaining MP when dealing damage, increasing defense when HP critical, and so on.
Most of the complaints I've heard about this game are highly subjective, and I don't want to descend to the fanboy level and to ramble about how they took out my favorite feature X from Final Fantasy Y and how it utterly ruins the game. Yes, I also loved Nobuo Uematsu's music, but this game has a totally different musical style and nothing can change the fact that it is excellent in its own way.
Lets see the positive and not positive points of it:
+ Great overall concept and execution
+ Exceeds the boundaries of Japanese RPG
+ Fantastic combat system
+ Plenty of exploration in a large world
+ Excellent story and characterization
+ Lots of creativity in style and design
+ High production values
- Story is not always perfectly paced
- Some minor gameplay problems