Final Fantasy XII. That name alone has either mad you squeal in delight or utter a profanity relating to fanboys. I happen to fall somewhere in between, which means I squealed a profanity loud enough to scare small children. No, really. I’m typing this at a McDonalds, and I just had to be escorted out by a full-grown man dressed as Grimace. My weekend has officially begun.
My precarious fascination of the Final Fantasy series has its roots in the earliest days of the series, way back on the NES. As my mother was three steps away from a Christian fundamentalist, I was not allowed to play games with any fantasy elements whatsoever. Happily, a friend of mine had a few Bible based games (as well as a stash of “evil” games) and I was allowed over at his house whenever I wanted. It was not unlike my first session with a Victoria’s Secret catalog, playing Final Fantasy for the first time. Darkened room, furtive glances over my shoulder, and the orgasmic payoff at the end.
From that point forward I was hooked on Final Fantasy, long after my fascination of Vicky’s Secrets wore off (oddly the same time I discovered the internet…) and I played every single one of them. Yes, even Mystic Quest. My favorite game of all time is the sublime Final Fantasy VI, a game I’d give a testicle to be able to play on my TV again. So with all this obvious love for the series, why am I hesitant about the next game?
Final Fantasy VII, the gateway drug for many a PlayStation console owners, was an excellent game in all aspects. It had the perfect amount of drama, humor and whimsy to keep the story interesting. The battle system kept the classic FF system, and gave it a decent upgrade. It also featured the single saddest moment in video game history, when Red XIII rejected Aeris as a mate.
Unfortunately FFVII was the beginning of RPG’s having an emphasis on video in telling the story. I like pretty moving pictures as much as the next barely evolved male, but certain games (FFVIII) used them too much. When you are telling the movie to hurry up, the player is away from the game for just too damn long.
As with every single successful thing is history, copycats came out of the woodworks. All of them featured a vaguely FFVII approach to the game, and more than a few copied the dramatic themes of VII. The worst however, was Square itself. Take one effeminate hero, one magical woman, add gruff comedic relief, truckloads of angst and you have every FF game that came after. I’m not saying that I didn’t like them, in their own rights, but the formula is growing a bit stale.
Perhaps knowing this Square (Enix) then released a couple of spin-off games that actually spoke of a creative thought in the communal minds, but were a little short on the fun. FFX-2 was a bizarre Charlie’s Angels/FF concoction that only went down smoothly with those select few who worship at the alter of Kitsch. FFXI was an admittedly well-done Everquest clone, which of course meant that the story element was lacking. Neither were true Final Fantasy games, and fans looked toward the horizon.
Yasumi Matsuno, godly director of Vagrant Story, Ogre Battle, and Final Fantasy Tactics, is helming the next installment, which makes everybody happy. If anybody could breath new life into the dying corpse of FF, it is him. From the information I’ve gathered, he is doing exactly that.
The biggest change is the battle system, one of the most stagnant areas of the FF series. No longer are there turn-based wait-a-thons. This time around battles are real time, and they happen on the field screen you’re currently on. No more jarring shifts from running through the fields, to fighting giant cactus plants. You are given control of one character, and the other two in your party run off of AI scripts, or specific commands you feed them ahead of time. If this sounds a little like KOTOR, that’s because it is. Also since the battles happen instantly, there is no ending fanfare music, or cute little poses after you defeat an enemy. Running away will also be just as hard as it was in FFXI, which is to say near impossible.
The story of FFXII take place in Ivalice, a world GBA owners should recognize. For the first time in the series, two games are directly linked via a common world. The Judges from the GBA Tactics game return as well, though to what extent remains to be seen.
The antagonist this time is the extremely effete Vaan, a wannabe air pirate. Becoming embroiled in a royal Civil War, due to the meeting with Crown Princess Ashe, Vaan has the chance to become the rebel he so desires to be. All together there are 6 different characters, which in typical FF fashion, are very outlandishly designed. There is Vaan, of course, and Ashe, the afore mentioned Princess. Balthier-the dapper gunman and Fran the Bunny Girl; sure to be the subject of a thousand distasteful fanfics. Penelope is Vaan’s nonromantic companion and Basch is an erstwhile Knight. Also listed in the character bios is Reks who is an unknown, and an evil Judge. As always the story elements are mostly secret, but I can tell you that while there is a war going on in Ivalice, the story is centered more on the concept of freedom, than war.
The same people who worked on FFX are handling the artistic aspect of the game, and it shows. “Subtle” is not a word that has ever been associated with the series and the garish designs and colors of this one are making sure that trend continues. The gorgeous backdrops are a little darker this time, with a definite tonal shift evident in the screenshots and videos.
What does all this mean for the gamer? It means that grizzled veterans and newbies alike will find something to enjoy about FFXII. With all the freshness being injected into this most recent installment, even I can’t help but get a little excited about it. The tentative release date is that of around Christmas time, though I’ll bet you 1,000 gil that it’ll be delayed until early next year. Look here for updates as they become available.