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Crimes Against Gaming: Final Fantasy XII
Few can muster the innovation and sheer role-playing force that Final Fantasy has brought to the game industry’s table. Solely responsible for the resuscitation of its parent long, long ago, Square Enix’s intellectual property contains the very recipe for success. Along with legions of rabid, die-hard fans willing to throw themselves in front of a speeding rickshaw to get their hands on another game, Final Fantasy will never truly be ‘final’.
Ahem. Unless, of course, Square Enix continues to mould each successive game using Final Fantasy XII as a template.
That’s right: Final Fantasy XII, otherwise known in smaller circles as the harbinger of doom, has created an anomaly in the otherwise pristine Final Fantasy formula (F3), but we’ll get to that later. Back in 2006, the PS2 exclusive rang in impressive scores from around the industry, garnering a superb 92 from Metacritic and even Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu’s perfect ’40’ score. Though being vastly different to previous installments, it seemed XII could do no wrong.
My friends, what happened in the past is a crime. Final Fantasy XII didn’t deserve the praise it received. This monster is responsible for the degraded, unruly husk of gaming that the Final Fantasy series has become; a travesty that needs to be explained in full.
We at Gamer’s Guide to Life have covered some reasons why the Final Fantasy series is going in the direction it’s headed, but what we haven’t yet addressed is the catalyst to the problem. Coming fresh off the heels of a successful MMO, Square Enix decided to borrow much from FFXI and infuse its next console game with MMO elements. On paper it didn’t sound bad; actually it was sort of enticing. A console, single-player Final Fantasy that plays like an MMO? Could Square-Enix actually meld great storytelling with exceptional gameplay, effectively MMO-ifying Final Fantasy for the solo player? I’d be damned if I didn’t admit I was excited about the idea.
At first, FFXII’s execution is pretty solid. The visuals look grand, the cut-scenes are their requisite year length, and the voice-overs are extremely well done. Soon after its serious and comically exaggerated opening though, you’ll be exposed to the controversial combat. Being the MMO wannabe it is, in FFXII you can see every single hostile in your immediate surroundings. That means you’ll no longer have to worry about being ambushed by the Giga Behemoth inside of a bar. It’s a great feature for the series and gives you the freedom whether you engage or not. Once a fight is picked, the game seamlessly transitions into the scuffle and its MMO-ification is brought to the forefront.
In short, the combat in this game is nothing short of astral vomit. It’s a rather complicated explanation, but I’ll do my best to tackle the beast. Like an MMO, your party of three will attack in real-time and use the abilities you designate. You can also revert to the old-school turn-based approach, but it’s pretty clear that FFXII was built to destroy that notion. If you opt to take the old-school road, you’ll pull your brain from your heart before you can enjoy any aspect of the fighting. You see, it’s your turn to attack again every second since, you know, it’s real time – so if you have the action paused every nanosecond, you’re effectively playing in bullet-time. Slow-mo combat is not cool, it’s not fun, rewarding, or anything else nice sounding.
Controlling your party members is pretty weird in this game. In previous Final Fantasy titles you could control every action your characters take. You can still do that, but like I said above, it’s very unrealistic since the game would need to be paused every 2.459 seconds. I’ll remind you that FFXII is built on MMO principle which means that combat against monotonous enemies, like jack rabbits, should be dealt with exceedingly fast and without thought. Enter the new Gambit system. These little babies allow you to give AI to your digital followers so you don’t have to constantly tell them to attack the dudes in front of their face. Gambits suck.
Allow me to explain. Gambits are great for this game since it allows you to push through the garbage to get to the nicer smelling garbage. They also allow you to control a single character without having to micromanage your party members. The problem I have with Gambits is that they take too much away from the game. Sometimes I’d seriously walk away from my TV when I was in a lengthy fight. I didn’t need to be there; think about that. My other issue was how FFXII dealt with mana or magic power. The only way you could get mana back effectively was by running – just moving around. One boss fight entailed me running around an antagonist dubbed ‘the Judge’ in a large circle, healing the people who needed it and attacking when he didn’t do enough damage. I didn’t have to press a single button to win the fight. To make matters worse, your companions do not move around like you do, so they’ll never gain that mana back in the heat of battle. Maybe it’s just me, but running back and forth or running circles around enemies while I attack just doesn’t seem to be as rad as it sounds.
Much like in FFX, characters achieve new abilities by moving around a welfare version of the Sphere Grid called the License Board. After every fight you’ll gain XP and some License Points (LP). You can move around the board by expending your points but here’s the kicker, everyone starts in the same place. That’s right, unlike FFX which started you on a HUGE different edge of the grid, this damn game just gives you all the same starters. I think the worst part about Licenses is that you can’t even use certain armor or equipment unless you unlock it on the board. So you can be wearing Plate Mail Assless Chaps, but if you happen upon a Cloth Toga? You can’t wear it unless you have it on the board.
Limit Breaks, Trances, Desperation Attacks – whatever game they’re from, Final Fantasy veterans know that these finishers help define the series. FFXII instills a new name to Limit Breaks they dub the Quickening system. Quickenings are probably the worst Limit Breaks of all time but are perhaps the most effective in a game like this. Each character can find three Quickenings of varying power and they can all be strung together in one lengthy, repetitive movement. To shoot one off, you have to have full MP and then you’ll be taken to a cut-scene where you’ll be prompted to press a button. As long as you press it before the timer runs out, so-and-so will do a move and the screen will fade to another cut-scene where you’ll be prompted to do the same thing. This string can last forever as long, even though doing just one Quickening will reduce your MP to zero. How it works after I’ve done 12 Quickenings I couldn’t care less about, but I hit one boss for over 10,000 damage at level 10 and won. Awesome.
On another hand though, Square Enix brought back the Espers. For those of you who don’t know, Espers were the magical forms from FFVI (the best in the series) that rock total house. Unfortunately, even the good name of the Espers can’t save the new ones in FFXII. Once summoned, your party is teleported away from the area except for the caster itself. The Esper cannot be controlled and wanders around for a certain time period doing whatever. Funnily, the caster him/herself is usually getting hammered on by the creatures you were hoping to kill with the Esper. If you die, the Esper is unsummoned. If you think that stinks check this; usually Espers have several attacks, but they all contain at least one super. Upon completing the super attack they leave the area and your party is teleported back in. Sometimes they come in and use that attack, leave, and effectively did nothing. I want my old summons back.
Perhaps the worst part about FFXII is its headache of a story and the bland characters. Story for the Final Fantasy games is its most important foundation so it’s confounding as to how they looked at this and thought it was all good. I don’t think I’ve ever played a Final Fantasy game where I haven’t cared about the protagonist or the group he’s gathered. Actually, FFXII doesn’t even have a clear enemy since it’s too busy trying to make civil war and unrest the most complicated political thing of all-time. There’s no clear-cut good dude either, just an androgynous guy named Vaan who I immediately swapped out of my party when given the opportunity. 30 hours in and I still have no idea what’s going on or what people are trying to accomplish.
I’ll finish up here by stating how atrocious boss fights are. As I’ve described the combat to be a pancake drenched in the sweat of a 400lb male equestrian, the battles with the bosses aren’t nearly as exciting. Once a boss fight is locked in, they begin bashing you with their physical attacks just like every other game out there. The issue is that they really don’t do much else. Occasionally they’ll throw out a magic spell or some flagrant taunt but once they hit the 50% HP mark, the fight changes. Something drastic happens where the boss utilises some extreme area of effect ability that takes you for a ride; they will continuously do it until the fight is over. It’s almost like a time check saying, “You got me this low, I’ll keep spamming this until I’m dead. Haha!” Every boss follows a similar pattern or at least something close to it.
Oh and once it’s all over? You don’t even get items or ANY type of reward for winning. No I’m not kidding – Boss fights with no cool rewards. I’m sorry, you actually are rewarded – you get a huge “Congratulations” text message across the screen as it spins for about a minute around your party, who is posing for the non-existent camera man.
FFXII is an insult to the RPG world and an embarrassment to the Final Fantasy name. This console MMO-ification is pure evidence that what we’ve seen from FFXIII and the coming games can only lead to unrivaled terror. Do yourselves a favor Square Enix, revisit your older games and see how a real title plays.