Reviews// Final Fantasy XII (PS2)

The point of view and the game engine have also evolved greatly

Posted 23 Feb 2007 16:13 by
At SPOnG we're not big fans of sequels. At SPOnG, we're huge fans of Final Fantasy.

These two positions are diametrically opposed, when you consider that the Final Fantasy you are now reading about is Final Fantasy XII (that's 12 in Roman letters). You could be forgiven for thinking that this is the 11th sequel in a series that began with somewhat ironically named Final Fantasy. But you'd be wrong.

Due to some early naming madness, and the fact that Final Fantasy X had a sequel called Final Fantasy X2, and Final Fantasy XI being an on-line only MMPORPG, we're actually on the... well, we're not exactly sure what increment we should really be on - especially when you take into account spin-offs like Final Fantasy Tactics. But we're certainly well down the path of sequel. But calling each Final Fantasy game a sequel to the previous is a trifle misleading. Although the games carry a thread of commonality:

Chocobos - birds that look like a cross between Woodstock (from Peanuts) and an Emu, and which can be used for transport, or raced for gambling seem to pop up in every FF game.

Another common feature is the music, which is ethereal and restful, and full of lilting arpeggios. Pretty much everything else changes with each game: the characters, the settings, the storyline are all vastly different from one iteration to the next.

The point of view and the game engine have also evolved greatly in the 20 years since the first game was released. We've moved from a 2D Zelda-style point of view through a 3D-characters-on-2D-terrain perspective utilising flick-screen, right through to a real 3D floating camera third-person game-style.

So, each game is a sequel seemingly in name only. There's good business sense in that - the series has built up an incredibly loyal following, and when Square (now Square Enix) has developed similar games with different titles (the Excellent Parasite Eve, for instance) they have sold far fewer copies than games in the Final Fantasy series.

Final Fantasy games are - and it's conceivable that you might not know - fantasy role playing games. Their origin lies in the Dungeons and Dragons games that used to be played with dice - though these games too made the leap to video games long ago.

Each game in the Final Fantasy series places you as the protagonist in an epic tale of valour in the face of great adversity. Partly due to their complexity and partly due to their Japanese cultural origins, the stories are often perplexing to western eyes and ears. But suffice to say that you find yourself propelled forwards through a story that is epic in its scope and duration.

FFXII is the first off-line game in the series to use the full 3D character and background system, and a floating camera that was introduced in a Final Fantasy XI expansion disk. This makes the game feel much more traditional - more like a Tomb Raider or a Devil May Cry game, say. This change is one of the most significant differences in FFXII - it extends throughout the entire game, and makes certain sections fundamentally different.

In previous games, when wandering through the game world, your "party" collapsed into a single character - who ever was currently party leader - expanding only for battle sequences and cut-scenes. But in FFXII, your party members remain discrete and follow one another around in file, like characters in games such as Gauntlet, The Chaos Engine, or Splinter Cell.

The battles themselves are also transformed in FFXII. Previous games have switched to side on mode for battles, and each member of the party has taken turns to attack - and each monster/opponent has followed a similar pattern. But FFXII remains in 3D third-person mode for battles, and they are fought in real time. This brings a couple of aspects of the new game mechanic into focus: firstly, the camera.
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