This is without a doubt not only the worst Final Fantasy game I’ve ever played, but one of the worst games I’ve ever played, period. I believe that if this game was called anything other than Final Fantasy, game critics would have layed down the bitch-smacking it heartily deserved.
I was a die-hard FF fan. I still consider Final Fantasy VII, the game that brought me into the series, a game I could still pick up and play with all the enjoyment I did back when it first came out in 1997. But apparently Square-Enix has no notion of its heritage beyond roman numerals and this year’s atrocious Dirge of Cerberus and now FFXII have brought the hard-death to my love of the series.
The biggest problem among the many is the lack of character development. We’re thrust into a gigantic world war with an evil empire and a small rebellion and that’s all well and good. That tends to be the set-up of these games (big guy vs. little guy), but there was always a commitment to the characters that drove the story forward. How is it that Final Fantasy VI, with its 22 characters, manages to create interesting, compelling arcs for everyone while FFXII with only six characters, has as much character growth as an ad for tampons (actually, the tampon commercials have an edge because those women manage to find a solution to dealing with their monthly visitor while this game diddled me around for fifty hours).
I kept sticking with the story wondering when it would get interesting and it never happened. The first six to ten hours are spent just trying to introduce all the characters and their motivations (The disgraced soldier wants honor! The street-kid wants Revengture! (that fun mixture of “revenge” and “adventure”) I want my time and money back!); motivations that always seem miniscule when constantly compared to the giant backdrop of the dull political and diplomatic intrigue. The game’s big bad is Vayne Solidor and despite a neat intro scene, the writers decided to just make him power-hungry and be done with it. Guys, you have to live in the shadow of Kefka and Sephiroth—Step up.
The game can’t even really choose a protagonist. It starts off with Vaan who has a voice actor that’s doing his damndest not to make the character seem like he leaped straight off the pages of Tiger Beat. All the voice acting is great and it’s a shame that we don’t get more of it in trying to develop these characters. No, the story is too busy spinning its wheels because once you get everyone together, it’s time to follow a big boring path not once but twice. I don’t know if this counts as a spoiler since nothing of consequence happens, but if you’re super-worried, then stop reading and find out how terrible the game is on your own.
So here’s what’s gonna happen: You’ll pick up a shard cut from a special crystal and handed down by the Dynast-King. You get it after spending five hours dungeon crawling and boring fights. Thanks goodness the Gambit system takes the pressure off the X-button (or at least that’s the idea; more on that later). Then, you’ll take the shard to a special elder. The elder will tell you he doesn’t know anything but gives Ashe, the game’s real protagonist and indecisive bore that you wouldn’t want to run a Hardee’s let alone a kingdom, advice about where to go next.
Okay, now do it again. Then, you’ll reach a section where everything is explained through the introduction of a mythical force that hasn’t even been mentioned in the game up to that point. Along the way, you’ll get little glimmers that make your characters more than paper-thin, but the game refuses to slow down and let you give a damn about any of them.
Final Fantasy XII takes the high-level of character gameplay customization available in MMORPGs but totally forgets that when you create a character in those games, you’re responsible for all of it and you’re really making an alter-ego. Here, the names and looks and histories of these characters already exist (half-assed as they may be) so if you want any more development, use your imagination or read some fan-fic because as far as the writers here are concerned, their work is done.
Unfortunately, the gameplay isn’t that deep and is constantly sabotaging itself. A lot of reviewers have raved about the rewarding Gambit system, but none of the ones I read mentioned that the system is completely undone by the periodic introduction of a “guest” to your party. These are characters who will lend a hand in battle, which would be great except that you have no control over them at all. This fucks things up when I want to focus my attacks on one enemy at a time and the labotomized AI wants to go off, fight another enemy, and divide my forces letting me get my ass kicked.
Yes, Final Fantasy XII does deserve credit for being difficult but it’s not always fair. It would be one thing if the game was consistent, but in the opening when you’re weak, you’ll be sure to find a couple of monsters that should you accidentally steer too close, will fuck your shit up. This would be fine except after about a third through the game, this stops happening and only “Rare Game” (part of one of the game’s many boring sidequests) has the potential to beat you outside of boss fights. I’m also hesitant to give the game credit for having battles take place in-field rather than cutting to a separate battle screen, because other games were already on top of this and I don’t think I should give FFXII credit for not being more irritating than it already is.
Speaking of more irritating, another feature is the License Point system. It’s the natural progression of FFX’s Sphere Board except since those characters had personalities, they had reasonable routes to travel. Here, every character starts at the same point and can be anything…in theory. Again, like with the Gambit system, it falls apart under simple scruitny. Sure, Basch can be a healer, but the game gave him a bit of a head start with some fighthing augmentations and he already uses a sword. Why would I push him out of his way to use a staff and healing magic?
With this idea of total customization already slightly crippled out the gate, the License Board becomes even more frustrating as it’s not simply a matter of purchasing abilities. With the exception of augmentations, everything must also be purchased. You can spend your points on whatever you want, but since you have no idea when it will be available to buy in a store, you could just be pissing away your license points. And not all items are available for purchase. You want something fancy like the ribbon or a high-grade weapon and you’ll have to do some side-questing and item-fishing to get the item out of the bazaar.
And that’s where the game’s greatest paradox comes into view: there’s A LOT to do. The problem is that none of it is any fun. For example, there’s the Clan Centurio side quest where you defeat specific monsters and rank up. This would be fine except the process must work like so:
1.) Accept hunt from clan board petition .
2.) Hunt down the petitioner and double-accept his task.
3.) Find the monster and kill it.
4.) Go back to the petitioner for the reward.
5.) Discover reward was not worth effort and curse loudly.
And while teleport stones are available in the game, you’ll still be doing a lot of walking around and fighting through non-targets before you finally reach your super-tough mark. Hope it doesn’t kill you because then you’re gonna be sent back to your save crystal which probably isn’t close by.
And the rest of the quests are either fetching stuff or the world’s most infuriating fishing game. I especially like when part of the fishing side-quest asked me to go on a fetching side-quest. And if you’re anal-retentive like me and have a need to finish what you start, you’ll be hooked but you’ll also be hating yourself. The only way I could tear myself away was through rationalizing that even if I completed everything the game had to offer, I would only be super pathetic since I still hated all of it. It also made switching the Guitar Hero controller and game in and out a bit of a bitch, and I enjoy that game waaaaay more.
Final Fantasy XII seems to highlight what other FF games did right and then do the complete opposite. The Sphere Board is now the broken License Board. Fascinating villains worth fighting is now Power-Hungry Emperor #1125. Personal storyline sidequests are now an off-handed quip or a throw-away line. Summons worth tracking down are now furstrating efforts in futility (Summons are almost entirely worthless in this game). Limit Breaks are now a dumbed-down slots game.
What pains me is that I’m sure there are better RPGs out there. Magna Carta, which I mocked earlier today, could be one of them, but I would never know because they don’t have the big Final Fantasy brand name and all the gaming-media attention it carries. And with all the positive reviews, it looks like Square-Enix now has license to continue making sub-par entries into the series. Well, it’s a good thing all those gaming journalists don’t have to pay for their PS3s or their games because I’m certainly not dropping one cent on Final Fantasy XIII. No, my money will be going to better games that don’t coast on previous successes.
Shame on gaming journalists for praising this unquestionable bore of a game. Shame on Square-Enix for bending over loyal fans and taking their money with pretty-yet-hollow games. And shame on me for spending almost seventy hours wondering if and when Final Fantasy XII would start being fun.