All right here are some final-ish thoughts on Final Fantasy XII. I played pretty much all day yesterday. My last save game said that I played a little more than 50 hours but I know by the end of it there was at least another hour. As a big Final Fantasy fan this game is a little hard to review. Just about everything in it is what we come to expect from a Final Fantasy game and then some. The art design, graphics, CG cutscenes and sound are top notch and it’s hard to find anything bad about them. In this game they went the extra mile with the localization by adding sort of European accents to the writing and voice acting which allows to distinguish the regions of the world and give an extra bit of sophistication to it.

The new battle system I think works great and is a lot of fun to use once you get the hang of it and it’s hard to imagine going back to a turn based system for new Final Fantasy games. Though I think for remakes of older games like Final Fantasy III for DS or Final Fantasy VI I still won’t mind it. But for new games coming out for new systems I think they really hit this one on the nose. The realtime aspect also adds another level of tension to the boss battles which are also awesome because of how enormous they are and you can walk around them as you fight.

From a technical standpoint the game is really amazing and better than I was hoping for even after all these years. The music I was disappointed in though. They used the same composer as Final Fantasy Tactics and from what I’ve heard of both this guy has a very distinctive style. This isn’t necessarily a good thing. The music really takes a backseat in this one and even during large boss battles it feels very ambient. Not a single theme stood out as being even remotely hummable. Maybe the music wasn’t played loud enough or his choice of instruments doesn’t make the music pop, but it didn’t strike me as very impressive or up to the high standard of Nobuo Uematsu’s previous scores.

The other standout aspect of the Final Fantasy series is its story and characters. In this regard I think FFXII fell below my expectations. The series has never been one for too much subtlety in terms of the events that occur during the game. Most of the Final Fantasy games have huge moments that either end in a lot of people dying or half of the world being destroyed in one way or another. These are the moments that make you really really want to kill the Big Bad and save the world. But even without destroying the entire world the bad guys usually do something to make you hate them like dropping the plate of Midgar onto the people below in FFVII or Kefka poisoning the people of Doma in FFVI. Generally there’s some kind of mustache twirling going on or a real sense of danger that if you don’t do anything something bad is going to go down.

I didn’t get any of this from Final Fantasy XII and I’ll try to make this as spoiler free as possible. I think the plot of FFXII and the villain’s rise to power was more like Phantom Menace than A New Hope. In Phantom Menace, Palpatine rises to power through political means and no one is aware of what evil lurks beneath the surface. In A New Hope you have the Death Star which will blow you up if you don’t blow it up first. The villain in FFXII never asserts himself or demonstrates his power in any way that makes us hate him, or even know what the hell his master plan is. In fact he’s barely in the game at all.

Final Fantasy games also usually have some sort of magic power that the villain is trying to harness in order to take over the world whether it’s the magicite from Espers in FFVI or materia in FFVII. This is usually one of the ways the villain demonstrate how messed up the world will be if they get their hands on it. This game has its own magic substance but the most destructive thing you see it do is blow up some ships, not very impressive. I guess the overall scale of the story is just a lot smaller than what I’m used to from a Final Fantasy game. Fewer characters both playable and nonplayable and the villain exerts less influence on what’s going on in the world. It’s like how in some of the modern Bond films the villain was after money instead of trying to take over the world like in classic Bond films. Just doesn’t make you care as much when you’ve come to expect bigger things.

Characters I also found underwhelming. There are a couple exceptions, Balthier the pirate and Basch are given more backstory and Balthier gets the best lines because he’s the suave air pirate. Vaan doesn’t have too much motivation or stuff to do, Penelo is just there to quibble with Vaan. Fran is there to be a hot and sexy version of Chewbacca to Balthier’s Han Solo and Ashe is just the strong princess type who needs to rise to power with a little help from her friends. The ending with the character epilogues work fine for the story but ultimately left me cold since I wasn’t in any way attached to these characters like I have been in previous games.

Looking back I barely remember what happened during the plot of the game which makes me rank it low in my list of Final Fantasy games when strictly looking at story. My tentative ranking starting at best (of the ones I actually finished) is 7, 6, 9, 10, 8, 12. I still haven’t finished 4 but appropriately enough I’d probably put it in fourth. In terms of gameplay I might put 12 first because I think the mechanics are very well designed. Plus now that I’ve beat it I’m going back to do extra sidequests. I’m already hooked on hunting and can tell I’ll be adding several more hours to my play time just doing that.

Phew that was long.