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Column: 'Critical Reception: Square Enix's  Final Fantasy XII '

Column: 'Critical Reception: Square Enix's Final Fantasy XII'

November 1, 2006 | By Danny Cowan

November 1, 2006 | By Danny Cowan
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This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Square Enix's Final Fantasy XII for the PlayStation 2, a radical departure from what many have come to expect from the long-running Final Fantasy series.

The Final Fantasy series has spent the past few years attempting to reinvent itself, as evidenced by its last few releases. 2003's Final Fantasy X-2 represented the series' first direct sequel, and Final Fantasy fans were divided when it was announced that Final Fantasy XI was to be an online-only MMORPG.

Final Fantasy XII may be a single-player experience, but reviewers claim that it often resembles an MMORPG in structure and in combat. Most feel that this is to the game's benefit, however, as Final Fantasy XII's current rating average of 92% at Gamerankings.com includes a number of impressive scores.

Justin Speer of GameSpy thinks that most of Final Fantasy XII's risky gameplay changes pay off favorably. Describing the title as "One of the best role-playing games to be released in years," Speer awards Final Fantasy XII a perfect score of 5 out of 5 stars.

Speer notes that many of the game's biggest successes comes with its completely redesigned battle system. "The 'gambit system' is XII's big innovation in monster-slaying," says Speer. "By using gambits, players create battle strategies for each character, removing the need to select each individual action from a menu."

Speer continues: "The result is that you don't need to bring up a menu for every time you want to attack an enemy or cast a spell; although you can play that way if you like."

The review also cites Final Fantasy XII's plot as one of its greater strengths, though all of Speer's praise comes with a warning. "Though it's without question a quality piece of software, the game may betray the expectations of some fans," says Speer, in reference to Final Fantasy XII's MMORPG-like structure and combat system.

Despite its overhauling of many elements that Final Fantasy fans have come to expect from the series, however, Speer believes that Final Fantasy XII remains a quality title. "It would be difficult to find a game out there with better production values," Speer concludes, "or that meets its goals so successfully while still introducing new ideas and innovations."

Games Radar's Christian Nutt enjoyed Final Fantasy XII enough to score it at 8 out of 10, but feels that many aspects of the game were disappointing.

"Though the tale is epic and the cinemas are excellent, the story is missing the emotional core that drove the previous games," says Nutt. "This is probably the first time a Final Fantasy story feels like a blockbuster movie - maybe even more than it feels like a game."

Nutt also takes issue with the battle system. He claims that while battles may "come off without a hitch," they often feel lifeless thanks to the large amount of automation employed.

"There's an odd sense of disconnection from the bulk of the battles," notes Nutt, "and you won't uncover some of the really useful Gambits - like ones that target enemy weaknesses - until late in the game."

Nutt concludes: "It's exciting to see Square Enix willing to take huge changes with its flagship series. Final Fantasy XII offers a lot of freedom, but that freedom sometimes feels very much like a lack of focus."

Andrew Pfister of 1UP.com looks at these changes differently. "To many fans of the series, Final Fantasy XII will not be true Final Fantasy," Pfister begins. "But [...] the changes ushered in by FFXII represent what Final Fantasy needs to be going forward."

In his 9.5-out-of-10 review, Pfister compliments Final Fantasy XII for its shift to a more MMO-like combat system. "Everything happens in the same mental and visual space," says Pfister. "There's no jarring loading screen of a random encounter, and the action doesn't jump from an overworld map into a stock battle background. FFXII is cohesive and consistent, and your sense of immersion in the game world is better for it."

Final Fantasy XII's plot is also one of its best points, according to Pfister. "Dense and often gravely serious, Final Fantasy XII's story is actually a refreshing change of pace for a franchise so heavily reliant on unexplained mystical energies as plot devices."

While critical response to Final Fantasy XII has been overwhelmingly positive thus far, several reviewers express concern over how the game will be received by series fans. Assuming that these fans are as willing to accept Final Fantasy XII's many changes to series conventions as critics have been, however, the title should meet with widespread success among RPG enthusiasts in the United States.


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