Warning: images in the game may look far more awesome than they really are.
As in previous installments, Final Fantasy XII retains summoning and special-attacks. There are 13 Espers to summon, and each of the six playable characters has access to three unique special attacks called “Mist Attacks.”
Character evolution is accomplished through the license board. After defeating an enemy, you will receive both EXP and LP, experience (which determines the level of your character) and License Points (which determine everything else). You will need to spend LP to gain access to different techniques, spells, summons and special attacks. You will also need to use LP to be able to equip armour, accessories and weapons.
However, to equip/use your weapons/spells/techniques, not only must you buy said weapon/spell/technique on the license board, you must also purchase it at a shop. Each character’s license board is identical, so once you have enough license points, every single character can become the same as every other character skill-wise, which is a bit of a let-down. It’s interesting to note that because of the license system and LP being separate from XP, you can theoretically have every skill in the game before advancing to level 2.
Ostensibly, Final Fantasy XII features a large variety of side-quests to be completed aside from the plot–they contribute nothing to the main story of the game and are wholly optional–and a few mini-games. It doesn’t, not really. You can complete hunts, which do little to break of the monotony of level-grinding, or you can search out one of the three or four actual side-quests included in the game (if you can find them).
Finally–the giant yellow chickens are badass.
As I noted in the begining, in some areas Final Fantasy XII is an excellent game, but in other areas it is not. Final Fantasy XII has one of the best combat systems to be seen in any current RPG, most certainly, but the story leaves much to be desired.
Previous Final Fantasy games focused very heavily on character development. The exterior machinations of madmen and politickers were mostly second-seat to the internal struggles of the protagonists. The games were about the characters.
Final Fantasy XII deviates from this pattern by attempting to tell a story not of a group of would-be-saviours and their relationships with other people, but a dramatic tale of political intrigue on a grand scale. In doing so, we get a few cut-scenes of far-off events, and hardly a single line of dialog spoken between the party members for hours and hours at a time.
Simply put, the story is not there. Penelo and Vaan are the first two characters introduced. Vaan is supposedly the protagonist of the game, yet he has very little dialogue save for a few bits in the first part of the game. And Penelo? I forgot she was even there. Don’t even get me started on the others–save for Asche and Balthier, they all manage even less presence.
There’s simply none of the back-and-forth that made previous Final Fantasies (hell, the RPG genre in general) so charming. What’s worse, dramatic character developments are not developed… they are simply inserted into the game at seemingly random points. For example, you’ll be walking through one are and into another.
In-between areas a cutscene appears (after countless hours of absolutely nothing at all) and one character will quite unexpectedly drop bit (a very small bit) of self-exposition. Promptly followed by exactly zero elaboration afterwards. You really know the game’s writing is in a sorry state when, by the time of the final boss, Vaan still lacks a clear motivation for even being there at all. Yes, he’s leading the party across the world fighting rare monsters and buying new swords, but why?
The actual game can take anywhere from 50-70 hours to complete, depending on how many side-quests and how much power-levelling you plan to do. Of all those hours spent playing the game, only a pittance contain actual character development or plot advancement–which is frankly absurd for any RPG.