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Final Fantasy XII Preview

Platform: Playstation 2

Developer: Square-Enix

Release Date: TBA (August 1, 2006 tenative)

The Fantasy Franchise

Most gamers and even non-gamers have heard of the powerful franchise known as Final Fantasy. Just play any RPG on your console with a non-gamer in the room, and they’ll always bring up, “Is that Final Fantasy?” Final Fantasy has even become synonymous with RPG’s in the view of the mainstream media. With a franchise so entrenched in the gaming industry, you assume a new sequel will come along every year. Well, it’s been two (soon to be three) years since a traditional Final Fantasy game was released. Over the two years different products based on the Final Fantasy intellectual property were made. Those products include cell phone games, an online game, even a movie corresponding to the great Final Fantasy VII, well accepted by the mainstream and the majority of older jaded RPG fans (some still haven’t reconciled with the fact that Final Fantasy switched into the 3D realm). An unwritten rule was also broken by allowing a direct sequel to be made in 2003, called FFX-2. It had mixed reviews in the both the gaming population and critics. Older FF fans saw this as a great mistake, bolstered by the lack story and character development.

Fortunately for the franchise, the cosplaying community saw the game as a big love letter to the FF cosplaying crowd. The main characters’ outrageous outfits have created a cosplay phenomenon in both Japan and the US. Some may say this led to the growth of cosplaying in America. Another great mistake in the eyes of FF fans was the creation of FFXI, an MMORPG. For many fans, they see FFXI as a separate entity and should not have been given number 11, since it was not an RPG in the traditional sense. It’s been four years since a traditional Final Fantasy game was released.

Back in the end of 2001, Final Fantasy X was released with some skeptical minds. The game did financially and critically well, yet, some older fans saw the inclusion of English dubbed voices as blasphemy in the name of Final Fantasy. Some argued that the Japanese voice acting was acceptable, thus game should not be penalized for not hiring better US voice actors. Either way, FFX brought RPGs to the 21st century with its outstanding graphics and CGI. The story was, however, very controversial among fans. Many older fans saw the main character Tidus as wimpy and whiny, yet, older fans have expressed that characters like Yuna and Auron helped lessen the blow caused by the weak character development displayed in the game as well. Oddly enough, it was this game that created the new Final Fantasy fan base.

Many Final Fantasy fans who use to play FF3 (FF6 in Japan) on their SNES are now in their 20’s. Fans like me have grown up with RPGs starting at their humble beginnings. Slightly younger fans, whose first Final Fantasy game was FF7, were introduced to the older SNES RPGs through the use of emulation. The late 90s was the age of console emulation on the pc. RPGs never released in the States were now playable to the American gaming community. This led to a big boom in the console RPG community. At the end of the 20th century, SNES emulation began to lose appeal; some attribute this to the fact that most of the Japanese-Only games have already been released in ROM format, and the ones left are of low caliber. The emulation scene has since died down. Yet, luckily many of these newer gamers now have easy access to a whole library of Japanese RPGs from the SNES age. Final Fantasy X was mostly likely the game that led these very young gamers to the world of RPGs and SNES emulation. Final Fantasy XII, like FFX, is likely being made to introduce new gamers to the world of RPGs.

Since FF8, the series has been criticized for its use of random battles, overly melodramatic storyline, effeminate main characters, and the lack of battle system innovation. After each iteration of the series, noise about lack of innovation and originality in the FF series grew louder. To jaded RPG fans and world-weary critics, the franchise was becoming stagnant. Square-Enix has now decided to make changes in the franchise that will not only placate jaded fans, but also bring in fresh blood into the FF community.

If you heard it plays like FFXI, that is correct. It is just better slim-lined and more intuitive as far as the battle and menu system goes, this is what FFXI should have felt like. As online game it does pretty well, but as a standard RPG, it doesn't even come close to being good. Mainstream critics and final fantasy critics have all bashed on how FF sticks to the standard random battles and active/turn-base system. Well guess what? They got their change. I hope they like it, because I definitely don't. They asked for it and got it, I hope those same critics don't criticize FFXII for the changes, they ask for it so they should take it as a blessing, I suppose. Sorry, I have a bit of a problem with the changes.

The best way to describe the gameplay is comparing it to .Hack. If you played this game, then you would understand that it lends itself to a very boring system. If they really wanted to make real changes, then they should have made it to a real-time battle system similar to Star Ocean. However; they didn't, therefore making a game that will easily become boring and monotonous as .Hack. Sure, the story might make you keep going, but if the gameplay isn't there then what is it all for? Sure, I would have a problem if they made FF into an Action RPG, but if they're going that far for change, and then why not do it all the way? I know people will respond back by saying that RPGs turn base system isn't that interesting to begin with. That may be so, but look at games like Shin Megami Tensei, they use a lot of element affinity mechanics to allow a lot of strategy to be involved in combat. Shadow Hearts includes a great system like the Ring, which allows for more player interaction and involvement in combat, while still having the random battles, and turn base old-school feel. Instead of being innovative they decided to go the lazy way: no more random battles, instead replaced with an active battle system that makes Radiata Stories feel like Guilty Gear on HYPER MODE. Radiata had a stripped/dumbed down Star Ocean 3 battle system.

If they wanted to make it real time, then they shouldn't have to look far for an example. Look at Kingdom Hearts, which is good example of a real time battle system. Heck, the Tales series shows how to make a great real time battle system. All of which the developers FFXII didn't even pay attention or heed to. I don't mind if FFXII played exactly like Star Ocean 3, sure I would have called it cheap and lazy, but it would have been at least fun to play around with.

I guess the new generation of gamers (the hyper ADD kids hooked on GTA) has won. They have actually mutated a classic franchise to something I can't even look at any more. Maybe I'm exaggerating, I don't know. The changes are just not good. I could care less if they wanted to make it less old-school and bring the franchise to the 21st century, but this battle system is shallow. If the demo is any indication of its magic system and battle system, it tells me to expect generic characters that can do anything, meaning all characters will be replaceable. There are also no character specific skills, this is a no-no in my book. I don't know if it won't be seen in the final version, but maybe I'm taking this too far and being too critical on a demo of a game. Yet, to my knowledge the game is already done, all that’s left is some fine tuning and translation (maybe a world-wide release, not sure). If this demo isn't a good representation of how the real game will be then, Square should be ashamed of such a demo. Especially marketing it in such a crude/rude manner (sticking it on front of DQ8 cover and putting the manual in the case instead of DQ8 manual), they should have been more cautious of what they released.

The only saving grace of the demo is its interesting trailer at the end of the demo. It pointed toward a storyline filled political intrigue, hidden agendas, plot twists, and engaging moments. This trailer showed a world well fleshed out in all its intricacies. The art style is definitely something to get used to, but I find myself enjoying the pleasant city-scapes and baroque designs in architecture and machinery. The game gives an interesting Mediterranean feel to it, mixed in with Hindu motifs scattered about in temples and ruins. As far as style and art direction goes, the game already has high marks from me. My only problems with the visuals are the jaggy edges seen in-game during the demo and some drab low-res texture seen in the environment. While using a 56” HDTV with component cables I was able to notice many low textures used on the characters as well. In the case of Vaan (the main character), his chest is oddly shadowed which makes it look like he wearing something, but its actually a bare chest. I do agree that the new character designs are hard to get use to, but like all new things, you’ll get used to it with time.

Overall, the demo was a big let down. These changes in gameplay do not bode well for me, and probably for the majority of older fans as well. It’s unfortunate to write this, especially being a long time fan myself. Hopefully I'll forget about the demo, and actually buy the game and find out that all my fears were for naught.

-- Byrc

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Published on: 2005-12-12 (17034 reads)

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