3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
More Than The World Was Ready For...,
This review is from: Final Fantasy XII (PS2) (Video Game)
Here is a game that monopolised my free time for about four months, a game where the final clock was at about 350 hours for just one near-complete playthrough. Though the loudest commentaries available at the moment in the west seem to be very negative, I feel confident that there's a quieter and much larger army of devotees for this - 'Final Fantasy XII', the ultimate Ivalice adventure - whom I'm hoping to speak for in this review. Anyone interested in getting to the bottom of exactly what's on offer with this title, please read on...
I think it's pretty safe to say that no previous Final Fantasy game looks this good. At long last, the series seems to visually match its ambition and create a vast-scale world brimming with detail. Spanning continents, the huge maps offer everything from burning deserts and dried-out prairies, through lush grasslands, forests, mountain ranges, snow-covered valleys, to ancient tombs, forgotten mines, and domains unimaginable. As you move through these places, the weather can change, and even the wildlife can vary. The few built-up cities are a great size and richly designed, with architecture and ornamentation composited from those of various world cultures as well as original elements - you can choose just about any wall or floor in these cities, get close-up, and examine how much effort went into the design, how many motifs they have crammed in to create this sense of real tradition and cultural character - and thus the most absorbing environment possible. These places just feel so alive, too, with many inhabitants going about their business - even in shops, you are presented with shelves of items, racks of weaponry, and can see other customers standing around inspecting and discussing these things, it's no longer just one menu screen. FFXII may not have the photo-realistic quality claimed by many other concurrent and next-gen games, but for the true artists who put the game together I'm sure this was (quite rightly) barely even a consideration: the magic comes from the distinctiveness of the environments, the intricacy in all the constructions and objects, the old and gritty feel given by lighting and the low saturation of colour in most areas, and the unique style and sheen of the characters' features.
The soundtrack for the game is also phenomenal. Like his outstanding music for 'Final Fantasy Tactics' and 'Vagrant Story', Hitoshi Sakimoto has again composed a huge variety of pieces in a wonderfully ambiguous ancient-orchestral-electro vein, mirroring perfectly the diverse 'retro-future' atmosphere of Ivalice, where the bow and arrow is just as contemporary as a colossal airship. A lot of the work is fast moving, and melodically very complex - sometimes I just can't believe how much energy the guy must have to keep churning out such imaginative runs - which keeps the game's locations alive, suitable for both wandering and battle-without-transition. While the odd track can definitely stick in your mind due to long periods spent listening to it in dungeons etc, generally the soundtrack is not at all 'memorable' in the same way as Nobuo Uematsu's music for the previous games - there are few blatant emotional signposts or catchy shortcuts. And this is by no means a criticism. Instead, the music is dramatic and unfamiliar, multifaceted, often majestic and haunting (the game's most creepy piece is by fellow Basiscape composer, Masaharu Iwata, who also co-wrote the Tactics score). Emotional scenes tend to be given more subtle treatment with dark, neutral background music, which somehow makes things seem more historical, epic, not so clear cut. I find that it is all memorable in a different way, in that I will always remember vividly the feel and atmosphere I experienced thanks to a particular piece, if not the details of the music itself. This will be another soundtrack I'll enjoy for years to come.
As for the game's story - a dark fantasy riddled with complex political maneuverings, very much like most games made by this ex-Quest team - this is in comparison the one area where things seem a bit smaller in scale. For such a vast setting and elaborate way of playing, the main course of the adventure is actually quite brief and contained, and comparable in scope to 'Vagrant Story' rather than a Final Fantasy. But it is like the former also in that it takes its modest story and paints a truly sublime picture of it, by getting the most out of the game world: crafting the physical dimension in such detail, making the journeys you take as vivid as possible; providing reading material on all of the game's locations, legends, and creatures; and having a solid cast of characters to ground the story and connect the player to the world's present and its history. Once you realise that the game only aims to cover the events of one small country and (for a change) NOT solve the problems of the entire universe, you can start to appreciate what depth the creators really achieved. I think the main characters in the game are incredibly well presented - distinguished, strong personalities shown through some very expressive dialogue and beautiful cutscenes. But unfortunately I would add that one or two of them are just not explored deeply enough. Ultimately I was left wanting a lot more background on these characters, whereas normally in FF you can count on pretty thorough character development which will be woven in satisfactorily to the wider events as they unfold.
One less attractive feature of the game would be the repetition of enemy creatures - there are a great number of different foes, yes, but the game is so huge that eventually you start to see the same ones again and again, just skinned differently and given huge stat and skill boosts - this detracts from several of what should have been exciting hunts, seeing a rare monster that actually looked the part. Fortunately there are still a few hunts that succeed on that front. Also, my major side gripe about the game is the system for picking up treasures, which has a 'probability' factor I've seen described by at least a couple of people as 'obnoxious' (I'd have to agree). Basically, some treasure chests in the game hardly ever appear, and when they do you still only have a small chance of getting a good item out of it - and some of these items are one-of-a-kind. I believe the idea was to allow for little unlikely surprise items to pop up for the player no matter how many times they play through the game, but this sure makes life extra tough and frustrating for the completist... so good luck to you if you are one!
For me, the aforementioned weaknesses coupled with the relatively smaller scale of plot just marginally prevents 'Final Fantasy XII' from outdoing instalments VII and VIII; since while those games may be from an earlier generation and technologically show it, they still attain their goals in style and have longer, more involving stories. It's hard to say how it weighs up against IX and X. But the leader board aside, I enjoyed FFXII immensely, and have a feeling that as it fades into memory it may come to be recognised as something special, the peak of the PS2 generation, and ahead of its time.
PS. Tech note: If you have the option of playing the NTSC version, do so - the PAL version runs at 50hz only and is noticably muddier and more sluggish.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 2 Feb 2012 00:21:19 GMT
Henry Spencer says:
Great review. It's nice to read that someone else is as much in love with the world of Ivalice, Sakimoto OSTs, Matsuno games, Vagrant Story and FFXII as I am. ;)
In reply to an earlier post on 9 Mar 2012 17:24:12 GMT
Last edited by the author on 9 Mar 2012 17:24:37 GMT
Many thanks for the comment :) Yep, the whole Matsuno/Ivalice thing was such a rich seam... I hope there's still a chance we'll see more, even in these changed gaming days.
Posted on 25 Nov 2012 17:58:43 GMT
Another well-examined, well written and utterly thorough review of a quality product. This person should turn pro. Seriously.
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