After a dozen sequels and countless spin-offs, the Final Fantasy series has decided to reinvent itself in almost every way imaginable. Final Fantasy XII takes almost all of the RPG clichés and turns them on their side, creating a fresh take on the series that works surprisingly well. Gone are Final Fantasy's tried and true formulas, all of those standard conventions have been reinvented for this brand new adventure. With its amazing graphics, epic storytelling and brand new game play, Final Fantasy XII is the role-playing game you've been waiting for all year.
But all of you Final Fantasy fans shouldn't be too worried about this twelfth outing, the game play may have changed, but the overall feel of the game remains intact. You're still going to spend forty plus hours trudging through enemy filled battlegrounds. The story is just as long-winded and convoluted as it ever has been in the past. And yes, you're going to spend a lot of time leveling up your character in order to bring down the huge bosses found in the game. In a lot of ways this is the same old Final Fantasy you've grown to love over the past twenty years.
Final Fantasy XII begins with a lengthy cinema and back story, involving a large-scale invasion, an assassination and a suicide. Fast forward a couple years and we're introduced to Vaan, an orphan boy who spends much of his day stealing from soldiers and practicing his combat on giant rats. Vaan dreams of one day becoming a sky pirate, but for now he must settle going on doing simple tasks for the townspeople and staying out of trouble. Unfortunately staying out of trouble is not Vaan's forte, he's a curious guy who will do just about anything to obtain the treasure he is after. One of his daring stunts involves him breaking into the royal palace while they are hosting a giant welcoming party for city's new government. Unfortunately Vaan isn't the only person who had this idea; after dodging guards, fighting sewer creatures and finding the treasure, our hero is met by a couple of real life sky pirates that really want that treasure you found.
After running for his life, avoiding a few close calls and witnessing a giant explosion, Vaan ends up teaming up with these sky pirates and finds himself in the middle of an amazing adventure that will take you dozens of hours to get through. Along the way you will meet fascinating characters, do battle with huge enemies, and learn what it's like to be a real sky pirate. The game is full of adventure and intrigue that will have you on the edge of your seat the entire way through, but there's no reason for me to sit here and spoil the story for everybody. The plot hits on a lot of popular Final Fantasy themes, including political upheaval, religion, love, hate and revenge. It's a complex story that is ultimately darker and more mature than any Final Fantasy game that came before it.
The story works because you never really know what's going to happen next. You may have an idea of where the plot is headed, but every step of the way the Final Fantasy storytellers flip things and take you in directions you would never have predicted. Even though it touches on familiar themes, Final Fantasy XII comes off feeling fresh and original. The story is unpredictable and almost impossible to explain to somebody, you really have to experience for yourself to get the gravity of the situation.
It's also worth mentioning how fully realized every character is in Final Fantasy XII. While the game features a few characters I didn't care much for, none of them are so bad that you would want them completely left out of the game. Even the worst character ends up growing on you by the end of the game. Better yet, just about every character is introduced within the first few hours, which gives the game plenty of time to flesh them out and explain their motivation. There are more than a few times in the game where you'll actually have to reevaluate the people in your party because of the new information you get, people that you once thought were selfish and evil actually have a heart of gold, and vice versa. While I'm not a big fan of Vaan (who is the closest thing to a main character in this game), I did end up being surprised by how his story played out. Final Fantasy XII isn't about just one or two people; it's an ensemble cast that ends up getting a lot of screen time.
Interestingly this game takes place in a world you've probably been to before. Most Final Fantasy games seem to set up a new world for every sequel, but Final Fantasy XII takes place in the land of Ivalice. If that name sounds familiar then it's probably because that's where all of the action took place in Final Fantasy Tactics on the original PlayStation. The name may be the same, but the world of Ivalice is completely different than it was a decade ago when it was 32-bit. The Ivalice of today is full of amazing locales, European architecture and a whole lot of flying machines. In fact, the first few minutes of the game reminded me more of the recent Star Wars movies than Final Fantasy Tactics. Either way, you will not be disappointed by Ivalice, the diversity of the locations alone make this one of the most interesting games released this year.
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