Game Review : Final Fantasy XII
by Michele Christopher
Nick is the guy behind the FTTW comic strip The Back Forty
"Final Fantasy XII--Hooked on Final Crack"
Around 11:30 last night, a horrible noise came from my stomach. The sound was coarse and muffled, like an underwater earthquake I saw on the Discovery Channel once. Once the pain hit, I realized what it was. I was hungry. I had been playing Final Fantasy XII for almost eleven hours, and I was hungry. Oh, God, what have I become? At 28 years old, I am once again Hooked on Final Fantasy.
I wasn't always like this. I bought the damn game expecting (like many of you) to pop the thing into my PS2 and experience the End of All Things Good About Final Fantasy. I was buying this game merely to complete my collection, and would at least start a game as a formality, with no commitment to finish the thing. I had harbored this notion since I first saw what the battle system was about. It looked like the thing would actually play itself with minimal input from the player. For those "non-gamers" who may still be reading this: imagine it was as if you were about to sit down to play solitaire, and suddenly you realized all you had to do was shuffle the deck and then the cards would start dealing themselves, and you became a spectator of your game of solitaire while the cards themselves carried out the game. In other words the game was Destined to Suck. In the package with Dragon Quest 8 ( a fantastically awesome old school RPG--NES whores represent) there was a totally incomprehensible FFXII demo. My fears had been confirmed.
I went and picked the thing up on release day, and popped it on my shelf, and there it sat for three days. Finally, Friday night I picked it up.
Only the story kept me engaged through the first two hours of the game. I fumbled through the game mechanics, wondering how I could make sense of this mess with three characters when I couldn't figure out what was going on with only one. I never really got frustrated. After all, I had been expecting this for months.
Then they killed My Guy.
The Guy (his name was Reks) I was moving around on screen, my character, the one I had actually considered trying to build up a few times before going into "The Throne Room" was stabbed to death by his commanding officer. I can't believe they killed my guy. But the thing is, I'm a Shakespeare buff, so suddenly the story about a king and lowly soldier killed by a traitor became interesting, so I kept playing.
In hour two, I became the guy who was My Guy's little brother. He was...well, he was a Final Fantasy hero. He was a little girly man without a proper shirt, immaculately coiffed in the middle of a mystical desert. His name was Vaan, prounounced like Vince's last name and not the big brother of the VW minibus. This was about the time Friday night I went for the tequila. To deal with the horror of this game, I needed margaritas, Metallica, anything to take the edge off the Japanese RPG cliches.
The Metallica never materialized, however, as in the margarita-enhanced world of the 5th Dimension, I found the music amazingly pleasant. Somewhere halfway into the second hour a huge dinosaur ate me. That was pretty awesome. I deserved it, really. I mean, it had a Green life bar, which means it won't attack you unless you mess with it. I messed with it, it ate me. Seems fair.
I don't know when I made sense of the battle system and suddenly found it fun and efficient, and not really dumb at all, because after all, in any party-based RPG it's not like you can do anything you can't do with this system. Did I REALLY have total control over all my characters in FF9? No, not really, and battles did degrade into repetitive button-mashing. This just makes things faster and less annoying. One thing I DON'T like about regular RPGs are the random battles. You're in an empty countryside, getting where you're going and then--for no reason whatsoever--there are now up to 8 enemies, some of them HUGE, in your way. Why? Where were they hiding? In FFXII the enemies are always visible and therefore they become another obstacle to overcome.
I'm about 15 or so hours in now, and I've finally hit the Wall--that place in every game like this where you hit an enemy that is beyond you and you have to backtrack and build up before you move in again. Ironically, this enemy is actually called the Demon Wall. I must beat him. I could probably skip him, but earlier in the game, the Salamand Andise wiped out the whole party twice. I can't have that again. So I'm stuck outside Rabanastre killing low-level punks until I'm powerful enough to take out the Demon Wall in King Raithwall's tomb. Then I'll get the Dawn Shard, and at that point, my geekiness will have reached such a pitch that I will never again know the Touch of Woman. Ah, well, I'm too pudgy to attract much anyway these days. Now where's my tequila...
Nick Krohn wants to know who the hell dresses these guys...