I could spend ten pages simply raving about how deep and complex the storyline is, but most people are going to be far more interested in the new combat system than the plot (at least at first). Final Fantasy XII does not play like your average Final Fantasy game, they've completely retrofitted the turn-based system and created something that manages to be easier and more difficult all at the same time. Gone are the random battles, you will never again be taken away from the world map and thrust into a turn-based battle. Instead you do all of your combat on the map itself, similar to how things worked in the online (and incredibly dull) Final Fantasy XI.
Another thing that is new is that you do not directly control all of your party members. Actually, that's not entirely true, if you want to you can micro-manage the various people fighting at your side, but the game seems to point you to simply controlling the party leader (which you can switch to whatever person you feel the most comfortable with). But just because you aren't telling everybody what to do, that doesn't mean they are just going to stand there and do nothing. Final Fantasy XII features a Gambit system that allows you to program in what each character will do before a battle. This means that you can give them tasks, such as only attacking the enemy that is closest or healing a team member when they are low on life. That's the simple explanation of the Gambit system, but as you play through the game you can program in a lot of extremely complex characteristics. You can really narrow in on what you want out of your party, which frees up your time to do what you need to with the one character you are controlling.
Even with a lot of different enemies on screen, it's usually pretty easy to figure out who is fighting what character. When a character is getting ready to attack a blue line points at the enemy they are going to attack, which means that you will some times have three or four blue lines pointing at once. A red line points from an enemy to the character they are planning on attacking, which means that you can get ready to defend, attack and prepare a healing potion for that player. When you push the "X" button you freeze everything, giving you some time to figure out who (and how) you're going to attack. At first this all seems a little confusing, but it won't take long before you are using the lines to your advantage and have a real sense of the combat. I'm still a bit mixed on whether I prefer the old style of turn-based combat or this new style, but I have to give Square Enix credit for trying something new that ends up working surprisingly well.
I cannot stress enough how refreshing it is to not have to deal with random battles, instead you will see the enemies long before you actually get close enough to battle them. If you don't want to deal with these battles then don't, all you have to do is hold the R2 button and run for your life from one area to the next. It's easy to see the influence Final Fantasy XI (and all other MMO's) had on this newest installment, but thankfully the enemies, quests and locations are a lot more interesting than the last online outing.
Another thing that is new to the series is the License Board. In Final Fantasy XII you don't just upgrade your weapons, armor and magic by leveling up your character, instead you have a Chess board that allows you to select what you want to spend your LP (License Points) on. You gain LP for every character you defeat, and you can spend that on everything from the ability to wear new armor to the level of your magic. Along the way you will also uncover different spaces that give you Quickening attacks, which work as limit breaks in Final Fantasy XII. When you use this Quickening attack you will be transported to a different screen where you have to push the button at the right time to trigger a more powerful attack.
The Quickening attack is not the only large attack you have in your arsenal, as you progress through the game you will find a number of different Summoning spells. Summoning works much like it does in other Final Fantasy games, but instead of one creature killing everybody and then going away, your summoned beast sticks around for awhile and helps you out in any way it can. While this is pretty cool, I found that the summoned creatures weren't always as effective as I wanted them to be. I ended up using the much more practical Quickening attacks more than anything else.
Although you will have access to more people, a party in Final Fantasy XII can only consist of three "controlled" characters. This means that you will have to sit a few people out until you need them. There are times when you will have more than three people in your party (and on screen) at the same time, but they are guests and you cannot control them in any fashion. While these guests are normally people that move the plot along, many of them end up joining your party at some point (so that you can actually control them). For the most part the three person party is adequate for what you are doing in Final Fantasy XII, but when you get that fourth person going it's hard not to get spoiled by the added power he (or she) brings.
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