Twelfth time's a charm.
There’s this little restaurant on the edge of the GR compound we frequent quite often. Each of us knows the whole menu, front to back. Every so often, though, they’ll pull out some crazy special that blows me away and puts the last ten grilled cheeses I ordered to shame.
Get ready for the tie-in. Square Enix has a special, and it’s a pretty good reason to send back your lame sandwiches. And lame analogies.
[image1]The world has been without a traditional single-player Final Fantasy release for a few years now. Square’s last hiatus brought us Final Fantasy VII, probably one of the most influential RPGs ever made. If I had to venture a guess, XII could very well do it again, delivering a new breed of RPG to the most ravenous fanboys this side of a certain militant cyborg.
Like the rest of the series, Final Fantasy XII takes place in its own unique universe, this time called Ivalice. The country of Dalmasca was subjugated two years prior by the Archadian Empire and is struggling to survive. A young Dalmascan man named Vaan meets Princess Ashe, the sole remaining heir to the throne, and off we go, determining the fates of nation and world alike.
I don’t know if it’s the transition from cute 16-bit sprites to fully-rendered cut-scenes or what, but from all the story bits I’ve seen thus far, FF XII aims to compound the mature themes prevalent in the recent titles, focusing more on human virtues and character development than on magic crystals and ambiguous representations of evil. This is Final Fantasy growing up.
But a far more burly push forward is the Active Dimension Battle system. It’s an engine that’s been in development for years now; a portion of it was even used to power Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Enemies are no longer randomly encountered or even engaged in a ‘battle’ outside of the world proper. You can wander freely in and out of fights, with all those familiar menus popping up at the touch of a button. You can spot baddies far off and plan your attack or evasion, or with the new Gambit system, run right in and start stompin’.
[image2]The Gambit system works like a set of macros, or “if-then” conditions that control a party member’s actions. You’re offered a set of conditions, such as ‘Ally HP <30%’ or ‘Enemy weak against Fire’ and allowed to set any action to trigger from that condition: spells, items, attacks, etc. Aside from simple stuff like having your allies heal each other automatically, it allows you to really tweak your juggernaut to your play style or to combat a specific enemy.
Now that’s tasty, but what’s delicious is the resulting sense of immersion. No longer do you have to wait for random battles to load as you simply try to make it through a zone. With combat totally on the fly, it’s like getting a huge, wasted chunk of my life back that I didn’t even know existed.
Speaking of wasted parts of my life, she’s a looker, too. All cut-scenes are cinema quality (imagine the FF movies), and the in-game modeling is very detailed. It would be wrong to say it won’t draw attention to the inadequacies of the PS2 - your HDTV will be sure to point out all the jaggies - but as far as PS2 games go, they don’t get much prettier.
I’ve been devouring the same turn-based, menu-driven RPGs for years, and I swear I could barely taste the differences anymore. But come October, Final Fantasy XII might just be the righteous lunch special to save me from a world fraught with mundane cheeseburgers. And chocobos.