Wednesday, November 22, 2006

VG REVIEW: Final Fantasy XII

Square Enix, for PlayStation 2
rated T for Teen (alcohol reference, fantasy violence, mild language, partial nudity, suggestive themes), $49.99.

Eight hours into "Final Fantasy XII," I was no further along in figuring out the plot of the game than I had been when I started playing.

To an extent that's to be expected, as the "Final Fantasy" games, like most Japanese role-playing games, are epic in length and require hours upon hours of devotion to complete. I'm talking 40 and up.

And yet, this time around I found myself less satisfied as the story seemed to be stalled in first gear. The 12th game in the popular series boasts some nice features and impressive production values, but at the same time it feels curiously bloodless. The game takes place in the fantasy world of Invalice, where a ruthless empire has subjugated a neighboring, smaller country.

After a lengthy opening sequence, the game focuses on young Vaan, a street urchin who teams up with a pair of pirates (one of whom looks like a cross between a supermodel and Bugs Bunny), a disgraced knight and a princess in hiding.

Together they, well, wander around a lot. Apart from saving the occasional wayfarer there doesn't seem to be any larger plot.

Of course, the story is only half of any good rpg. The other half is the fighting system.

The central aspect of "FF XII" is the Gambit System. It allows you to assign commands to the folks in your party, which they follow through in order of importance. For example, you can tell a character to cast a cure if someone's health gets too low, or attack the weakest enemy first and so on.

This micromanaging allows for more strategic play, as you'll frequently have to shift your tactics depending upon whom you're fighting. It also makes the game more of a spectator sport, as you'll often take a back seat during most battles and just watch your characters clash.

There also is the license system, which offers an interesting way to level characters up. You spend the points you earn in battles by purchasing licenses for armor, spells, weapons and so forth. You don't purchase any of the actual items, mind you; buying a license just allows you to use the items.

The upside to this system is you can make your characters take on any role you want. The little girl in your group could become a better swordswoman than your experienced knight, who could, in turn, become a pretty good healer.

"Final Fantasy XII" is convoluted and at times frustrating, but the game rewards those who have the time and willingness to see it through. Plus, it's one of the best-looking games I've ever played on the PS2.

But I can take only so much incremental plot devices before my mind starts to wander. It might be quite awhile before I muster up the courage to return to Invalice again.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006

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