Make no mistake about it: Final Fantasy XII is an average game. But it’s a kind of average that most games can only dream of. It is spectacularly average, and could very easily have been an all-round superb experience if not for all the ways it went wrong.
Final Fantasy XII is the second traditional Final Fantasy Title to be produced for the Playstation 2. It is also the last. FFXII incorporates many features new to the franchise–most notable a real-time combat system–that has unjustly polarized fans. You either love it, or you hate it. Indeed, it seems that the game in its entirety is either loved or hated, depending upon who you ask–and when you ask him or her. It’s all very subjective, and very messy.
Much of the strong emotion swirling around this title seems to be sorely undeserved. Final Fantasy XII, is should be nowhere near as polarizing as it is. It’s a game that fails to add any substantial new element to the ever-more tiresome RPG genre, and fails even to produce a strong narrative–something that has been, traditionally, the hallmark of the series. In some areas FFXII does very, very well. In other areas, it does very, very poorly. In the end, it’s nothing but a mediocre affair.
Who was the protagonist, again?
The aspect of Final Fantasy XII that gets the most (unwarranted) criticism is the combat system. The game gives the player expansive, detailed environments crawling with a variety of beasts to fight. You engage in combat by approaching any monster you choose (or are forced into it by the monster choosing you) and thereby initiate combat.
The game uses the very same active-time battle system that was featured in FFVI, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy IX and Final Fantasy X-2. Instead of the game automatically deciding when a turn ends–and thereby when you can issue commands to various party members–you get to choose when to pause the game and issue commands.
Because all actions occur in real-time in the overworld map (the ONLY traversable map in this game) there is always the possibility that additional monsters can join the fray. Also, when an enemy retreats you are able to pursue it–just as the enemies can choose to pursue you, should you choose to flee. It’s the same combat system we’ve always had with some flash and dazzle sprinkled on top–and the cosmetic changes work marvelously well, turning what would otherwise be a lethargic repeat of games past-played into something seemingly new and invigorating.
A particularly well-embraced feature of the game is the Gambit System. The gambit system is little more than an artificial-intelligence that you can customize for each individual character that determines which actions they take in particular situations. Other games (notable the .hack and Tales of… series) have had similar features, but Final Fantasy XII’s Gambit system is by far the most detailed.
Gambits range from the very-general–such as having a character set-up to immediately attack any enemy that is targeting the party leader–to the very specific–having a character use the spell Firaga whenever an enemy’s health is below 30%. Gambits direct the initial actions of the other characters in the party, but individual orders from the party leader (the player, naturally) will Always override the gambit. Gambits can be turned on or off, depending on the player’s preference.
In addition to the over-abundance of mundane monsters (too many of which use the same models with different coloring) that must be fought for hours on end in order to level up and/or attain that precious gil there are three types of “special” enemies. There are rare monsters, that only appear after certain conditions are met, there are “Hunt” monsters which compose the majority of the side-quests in the game, and, as always, there are bosses.
Above all else, it is important to mention that Final Fantasy XII’s combat system is actually fun to play. Yes, it gets repetitive–but it is addictive and it is fast. No other RPG comes close to this level of sheer enjoyment in combat–from big bosses to mundane random monsters wandering the desert. It’s the same system, at heart, as it’s been for years–but in Final Fantasy XII it has an energy that previous titles have lacked. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that you can speed up or slow down the pace of the game, at your leisure.