With a perfect score from Famitsu, all eyes are on the North American release of Final Fantasy XII. The staff of RPGamer is no exception. What could make Final Fantasy XII earn such high praise? The demo last year wasn't enough to answer this question, so only the real thing would do.
The Final Fantasy series has had superior graphics since Final Fantasy VII, and Final Fantasy XII does not disappoint. The pre-rendered video is the high quality we've come to expect from Square Enix. The gameplay visuals are crisp, vibrant, and movement is as smooth as can be on the PlayStation 2. Equipment changes are seen on the characters as they move on the field. While none of the clothing on the characters flows freely, Fran's hair does -- a nice touch. Towns are packed full of characters to interact with, making the cities look alive.
"It's been a long time since Final Fantasy XI, but it is worth the wait."
One thing to note is that the game defaults to a widescreen (16:9) setting. Before noticing this, the trailer movie seemed distorted. Once the TV was set properly, everything looked fine. If the TV doesn't support widescreen, there's an option to change it to normal display.
The music of Final Fantasy XII is reminiscent of the music of Final Fantasy Tactics. The main composer, Hitoshi Sakimoto, was part of the duo who created the music behind Tactics. The same style of music is present in most of the Final Fantasy XII soundtrack. Even though they share the same world, Ivalice, the music is really the only prominent tie between the two games.
Most of all, the characters are believable. Avoiding the cliché that all the heroes just happen to get pulled into something larger, Vaan and Penelo are the only ones who were pulled into the main conflict, and they have reasons to want their side to win. They are children, orphaned from the war two years past. They dream of restoring their homeland, Dalmasca, to its former glory before the Empire took control. Through an unavoidable chain of events, they find themselves in the company of two sky pirates. These pirates are later enlisted by two individuals who are also intent on restoring Dalmasca. Since Vaan and Penelo share the same goal, they band together against the Empire.
The battle system brings a lot from its predecessor. There is no battle screen, no delay to engage one monster after another. The party, which can hold three and a guest at most, is visible on-screen. The leader of the party is controlled by the player and the other members follow behind. When a monster comes into range, a bar appears. If the bar is orange, the monster is aggressive and will attack the party. If the bar is green, it is not. The party may still attack if they wish, in which case the bar will turn to orange and the monster will return the favor.
During the early part of the game, all commands must be issued. Once the player has selected attack, it will continue to attack until the monster is dead. Selecting a spell or item will reset the action gauge for that action, and the character will return to attacking once the action is complete. Once Gambits are available, a lot less work is put into the battle, but the player must keep an eye on everything in case something goes wrong. Special tactics, such as Steal, are hard to set up as a Gambit, so it's better to use these as a command at the player's discretion.
Is Final Fantasy XII really the ideal game worthy of a perfect score? So far, it looks that way. While there is still a lot left to explore, it is a hard game to put down. It's been a long time since Final Fantasy XI, but it is worth the wait.