We could make a wisecrack about how long this game is taking to be released, but instead we'll just treat you to one of our previews.
Despite Dragon Quest VIII's phenomenal success, it's the Final Fantasy series that is truly Square Enix's bread and butter, so it's no surprise that the latest installment, Final Fantasy XII, isn't slated to come out in the U.S. until next August. Not only does the company have tons of localizing to do, but it wants to make sure that this is by far the most cinematic entry in the entire series. Based on what I've seen it's pretty damn cool looking, but just because of its flashy CG sequences. Final Fantasy XII features some significant changes that are bound to upset a few diehard fans, but coming from someone who's not a huge fan of RPGs, the soon to be mentioned alterations make the game a lot more attractive.
Ok so I admit it. Old school and bone dry RPGs don't blow any wind up my skirt because I'm a traditionally grounded hack-an-slash guy. If I see a monster in a corner, I want to be able to walk up to it and beat its ass, and with Final Fantasy XII I can in a matter of speaking. Gone is the always annoying transitional period where the player is whisked off to a bland looking battle screen. In this game you can see most of your enemies as you explore the environments, and in some instances, it's totally up to you whether or not you want to engage your foes. If you're low on HP and don't feel like mixing it up with then stay the hell away from that ugly looking beast over there, or, if you're out to gain experience and you're fairly sure that you can lay the smack down on a creature, take your party of three into combat. Obviously, there are some battles you won't be able to walk away from, but for the most part, you have a lot more freedom than ever before.
The actual combat system has also changed. Now, the monster that you're targeting is connected to you by a red line, so you always know who or what you're facing off against. And you also have full control of your character(s) during battle, so feel free to walk right up to an enemy and maximize your close range melee attack, or put some distance between you and your foes and hit them with arrows or another ranged weapon.
Much of what Square Enix has done revolves around giving this Final Fantasy a more real time feel, yet battles are still turn based. When you're locked in a fight you'll have fine menu options that will be familiar if you know anything about RPGs. The first is Fight, which is pretty self explanatory. It's just a melee attack. The second is Magic and there are four types: white, black, green, and time. White magic heals you and your party, Black provides you with offensive attacks, Green is for support, and Time slows down your opponents while speeding up your friends.
The next menu option is Summon, which allows you to call on various creatures to aid you in combat. But unlike previous games you'll have to monitor their hit points. Lastly, there's Gambit, which determines character behavior depending on what items they're equipped with, and then Items, which basically lets you enter more menus and select various trinkets and weapons to equip your party with.
Final Fantasy XII's story isn't the most original of concepts but it certainly works. The game takes place in a land called Ivalice, where the evil Archadian Empire is busy wrecking shop on the weak. Its latest target is the Kingdom of Dalmasca, and after a brutal conflict they manage to slaughter the king. But unfortunately for them, they've left his daughter, Princess Ashe alive, and she declares war on the Archadians. Eventually, Ashe meets up with a rebellious character called Vaan, who dreams of one day becoming a sky pirate, and after a bit of time they team up with Ashe's friend Penelo, the sky pirate Balthier, and his partner, Fran. Together, they set out to annihilate their enemies, and encounter a host of strange beasts along the way.
The story will more than likely pan out and I'm sure the developers are filling in the blanks with interesting stuff. But even if the narrative is total crap, at the very least the game's CG sequences are gorgeous, though at this point that's to be expected from Square Enix. Featuring fluid animation and truly beautiful scenery, the land of Ivalice comes alive with towering fortresses, airships, and characters adorned with all types of intricate costumes. Actually, the cut scenes have a very Star Wars: Episode I appearance to them. They're not as good looking as that movie's trailers, but Square Enix has captured a similar feel.
What's not all that good looking is the game itself. It's passable, but in lieu of the recently released Xbox 360, Final Fantasy XII looks extremely dated. Don't get me wrong, it's still a good looking game and the character designs are outstanding, but having spent a good three weeks with next generation hardware, I'm just about ready to kick the PlayStation 2 to the curb.
My big issue with this game is its release date. Final Fantasy XII doesn't come out in the U.S. until August 1, and since that's almost nine months away, I think it's safe to assume that it might get pushed back. But if I have to wait until next summer to play it after swimming in Xbox 360 games running in 720p, I'm not sure whether I'll be interested. But the Final Fantasy faithful will no doubt line up to purchase it, so I don't think Microsoft's latest monster will be enough to slow sales of what should be a best selling PS2 title.
by Chris Buffa