Final Fantasy XII Hands-On

We delve deeply into the world of Ivalice for our preview of the fully voiced and translated Final Fantasy XII.

After a seemingly interminable wait, the latest adventure in the long-running Final Fantasy series is at last poised for its English-language release. Arriving in the wake of the well-received Final Fantasy X and the massively multiplayer Final Fantasy XI, Final Fantasy XII blends seamless real-time combat with the traditional cinematic fanfare and gorgeous lands that fans have come to expect from the franchise. Our time with the North American release version of the game let us more fully explore the game's new "gambit"-based battles, its license board upgrade system, its expansive world, and, of course, its new English translation.

Square Enix's latest role-playing epic marches closer to release, now in English.

The game opens with the kingdom of Dalmasca, which is wedged geographically between two large empires, being threatened by the advancing Archadeans to the north. The king of Dalmasca sends his armies to press back against the onslaught, only to have those forces--as well as the lady Ashe's husband, Rasler--killed or driven back. The Dalmascan king is then killed while attempting to sign a capitulation treaty, Ashe seemingly commits suicide soon after, and the kingdom is seized by the intruders. Two years later the uneasy peace in the occupied capital of Rabanastre is broken by resistance activity that rolls up a number of unwitting participants, including war orphan Vaan and the legendary sky pirate Balthier and his serious-minded partner, Fran. While we didn't get too deep into the story, there's enough conspiracy and conniving, ambition and nobility, and betrayal and redemption even early on to promise quite an adventurous ride.

The English script and speech fit the game quite nicely, the first because it's deftly written and the second because the voice acting is uniformly very good. Not only is the delivery smooth and natural despite the antiquated English and the heavy political meanderings that some characters dish out, but the actors for each member of the main cast that we've heard so far are solid individually. The deposed princess of Dalmasca, Ashe, has a strong and commanding voice that befits a leader of an underground resistance movement, while main character Vaan sounds both young and eager without squawking and overplaying his part. Balthier's actor, with a slight English accent, relates the infamous sky pirate's cavalier attitude and easy sarcasm particularly well. The speech in Final Fantasy XII seems confined to cutscenes and story sequences and enhances the atmosphere whenever it's used. The atmosphere is one of unrest and political upheaval that fits the contentious world of Ivalice that we first got to know in Final Fantasy Tactics and sets the stage for some larger conflicts.

The key part of any adventure is exploring the world around you, and we got to spend a lot of time tinkering around with Final Fantasy XII's battle system. The game's various areas are divided up into generous zones with loading screens between them, but that's the only loading that happens in a given zone, as all battles are fully real-time and integrated into the world around you. You'll move in a group, with a leader character (usually Vaan, though you can swap leaders whenever you wish) taking point and up to two party members behind you, though you'll sometimes get a "guest" character for a fourth slot. As you roam around, you'll be able to see your enemies wandering around the zone, and if you want to fight them, all you have to do is approach them.

The gambit system takes away some of your direct control, but it comes in handy for your strongest foes.

What your character and your party do then is to a large extent determined by gambits. The gambit system is based on artificial intelligence commands that you set for each character (you can even set your own). Gambits consist of two options: a target and an action. For example, if you set a gambit for Balthier that starts with "Foe: party leader's target" and ends with "attack," then Balthier will attack any enemy that you have the leader attack. Likewise, if you set up bunny-eared Fran with a gambit that starts with "Foe: nearest visible" and ends with "fire," upon attacking enemies, Fran will choose her closest target and cast the fire spell on that target. That's fairly straightforward, but you can also set fancy gambits like "Ally: HP < 20%," "cure," which would cast the cure spell on allies whose health is at less than 20 percent. You can set multiple gambits on each character, and since characters prioritize gambits based on their arrangement (they will always try to do the action on top of the list first if the conditions are right), you can create custom gambits for those who will be primary healers, those who will attack first and then heal after battle, those who will use items, and so on.

While gambits seem to make most early fights against monsters pretty brainless, we found that as we progressed into the game and encountered larger groups of stronger monsters who would repeatedly cast bad status effects on us, gambits were often a lifesaver. It's possible to play without gambits. You can turn off all a character's gambits from the battle menu or open up the main menu and turn off individual gambits in your list, but given the real-time nature of the fights and the number of things that are going on, having a good list of smartly arranged gambits looks like the way to go. This is particularly true for the game's bosses; those we encountered were ruthless. Even with gambits set, we still found ourselves micromanaging targets and certain actions where we didn't have a suitable gambit set (you'll find or buy additional gambits as you play), and even changing gambits midfight, so it seems like you won't just be setting gambits and then sitting on your hands most of the time while your characters run around and do all the work.

The license board system enables you to use a variety of weapons, armor, spells, and skills, but you'll still have to buy them from a vendor.

Final Fantasy XII also introduces a brand-new upgrade system called the license board. Accessible from the main menu, the license board looks like a giant checkerboard for each character. Each space on the board, when purchased using license points, will enable characters to learn certain skills or enable them to use certain weapons and armor. If you purchase the "White Magick 1" square for Vaan, he'll be able to learn the spells "cure" and "blindna", which heal allies and blind enemies, respectively. If you purchase the "Swords 1" square, he'll be able to wield the broadsword and longsword weapons. The interesting and sort of counterintuitive thing about the license board is that it grants you the ability to learn skills, but not the skills themselves. If you want Vaan to cast cure, you still have to purchase the cure spell from a shop before he can cast it. Likewise, if you bought a longsword at the weapon store and want him to use it, he can't equip it until you've also purchased the proper license. We ended up hoarding both money and license points to ensure we'd be ready to pick up the skills and items we wanted.

Each time you purchase a license, you unlock the licenses in adjoining squares. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to where the squares are placed, except that weapons and armor are in a different section of the license board than spells and abilities. There are also special squares on the boards for "quickenings" and "espers." A quickening is a special attack that's specific to each character, and there are 18 quickening spaces scattered around the board. The trick is that only one character can learn a quickening on a given space (while the characters have their own boards, the layout of the licenses on each board is almost the same), so if you purchase a quickening for one character, that spot on the board disappears on all the other boards. Esper squares appear when you defeat monsters called espers in the main game--these are the Final Fantasy summon monsters. Just like with quickenings, only one character can learn to summon a given esper, so once someone purchases an esper square, it disappears from the other characters' boards. There's almost a bewildering variety of licenses to learn, which should allow for pretty free customization of your characters, assuming you have enough points.

The world of Ivalice looks and sounds breathtaking.

The world of Ivalice looks and sounds great so far, like the floating land of Bhujerba, which is framed in the giant, glittering wings of the valuable magicite stone that is its primary export, and the expansive Dalmascan sandsea, which ripples and shifts with waves of pure sand. Bosses are also generally imposing and good looking, such as a stallion rendered entirely out of crimson flame or a giant tortoise with a glistening opalescent shell. The music, which is composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto of Final Fantasy Tactics fame, is extremely reminiscent of that game, so much so in certain areas that you might have to shake yourself out of a Final Fantasy Tactics reverie more than once.

Final Fantasy XII breaks from the role-playing norm with its battle system and upgrade mechanics. The series has always fought to make each entry distinct, and at least in that, Square Enix has succeeded here. However, there are still all the trappings that you would expect from a Final Fantasy game: an involved narrative, a beautiful world, summon monsters, and even chocobos and moogles. The 12th installment in the not-so-final fantasy promises to be an interesting one, and we'll bring you the full story in our review closer to the game's release.

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Discussion

232 comments
LoganZRun
LoganZRun

I dont know if any body else noticed , but wheres the in-game voice acting ???????????, i hate reading text while im trying too get into a game, ithought final fantasy X had set the standard and yet here we go with no in game voice acting...(sigh)

Karribuhater115
Karribuhater115

Hmm, it seems a little overrated to me, but in all honesty this could just be down to my sheer hate towards Square Enix since they have the game in English, we in the UK were supposed to get a release close to America and once again we're getting shoved back. It'll be Kingdom Hearts 2 all over again and at £40 which I suspect they'll have the nerve to price this at despite it being a PS2 title, i'm not particularly excited about it. ...yup, i'd put it down to my hate of Square Enix though, lol. I mean why are we getting Dirge of Cerberus this month but we have to wait till next year for the actual decent Final Fantasy, I don't want Dirge of Cerberus or anything else FF7 releated.

tidusmen
tidusmen

FINAL FANTASYYYYYYYYYYYa X!!(!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) man final..... words.............people............ can't say ............ a thing .............ohhhhhhhhh......why in europe final is lunched at february whyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!!! ok thys is time when I will destroy PENANCE at last I do thys for Final Fantasy and (Final Fantasys;)

Shiftus
Shiftus

GameSpot, a review maybe?

simmie7
simmie7

i Got it this morning !!!! Can't wait to play it !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

JimmeyBurrows
JimmeyBurrows

amazing! less polygons used on the characters and yet its still got the greatness that is the graphics of final fantasy games... cant wait i think i should move to america 'cos it's only 4 months 'till i can get this game!!!! over here.

not-e-n-e
not-e-n-e

This game definately has the potential to be better than ffX which was an awesome game!

Nawras
Nawras

I almost cry every time I hear Ivalice. FFT has so many fond memories I can't wait to get my hands on FFXII

raisinbren
raisinbren

should be great... hmm i think i'll book a day off on the 31st...

Cloud_Striefe
Cloud_Striefe

this game makes many diferrent to the rpg lover....... Final fantasy... always make a change in rpg so Square-enix Coollll

ryanthegamer
ryanthegamer

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audioust
audioust

Should be another good one. Cant wait for the 31st.

termadoyle
termadoyle

just got the full english version. (don't ask how) the game looks amazing. the gambit combat takes some getting used to though. love it so far.

WisdomLink
WisdomLink

Looks like it'll take full advantage of the ps2. Visuals are great like the rest of the series :D but have to see if the gambit battle system will be good or not...

walkair
walkair

I don't get why don't trees shake in the game.Sometimes the game looks dead,with trees and bushes not moving.I'm starting to think that my version of the game is not the complete version...

blackwing837
blackwing837

Im glad I put money down for a preorder for this game.

friscom99
friscom99

final fantasy kicks ass and this game will kick ass too! I been playing Final Fantasy games ever since the first one on NES, and I have yet to be let down! Well besides FF: Mystic Quest and FFX-2 hehe... Mystic quest was horrible, but I beat it! But I believe it was an american developer who made that game? cant remember. And X-2 actually is a good game, I just couldn't get myself to play it for more than 5 hours... But When I played this game's demo disc that came with Dragon Quest VIII, I was hella feeling the battle system! I didnt think I was going to like it till I actually played it. Now I'm counting the days till halloween!

archeon_1
archeon_1

I don't think that SE would put this much anticipation into FF XII if it wasn't going to be any good. Obviously i'll have to wait until i actually play the game to judge it. I played the demo for this game (it came with Dragon Quest VIII) and im pretty happy with the battle system, and the way it feels. I highly doubt that it's not going to be a good game.. Almost every single Final Fantasy is in the top 100 games of all time (and a few are in "my" top ten as well)... this will be a great game, as well as a conclusion to the better Ps2 games.

DaSupaFilipino
DaSupaFilipino

game looked beautiful, though the feminine looking male character, was a lil much. i heard characters can be changed even the main character for a group, which is good. im hoping the game keeps me interested, because I dont play 11, and X-2 I just didnt bother with after it just got... well yeah. im sure the game will be fun.

GirlUntold
GirlUntold

This is the game that will make me re-buy PS2. All I needed to hear was that it combined all my favorite features of the FF games and I'm hooked. I'm a tad skeptical on the battle system, but by the way it looks, it seems that it'll be less burdensome than random encounters, something I've always disliked.

BJPeters02
BJPeters02

If you haven't played the game you cannot comment on wheather is is good/bad... it hasn't been released yet.. hold your opinions untill then if you like FF games thne you'll get this game and most likely it'll be a hit... when havnt't SE released a new FF game into the franchise and it not been a hit? This game is highly anticipated and SE has never let any of us down. Hold your opinions untill the game comes out then feel free to post how much the Gambit system blows or how it's the most amazing game ever... Fav FF's .... X, VIII, VI, VII, Tactics

TheRealMagnus
TheRealMagnus

The biggest question i keep coming up with, and i know it has probably been answered i just can't see it, is this. I've played the game from the Dragon Quest VIII pre-game show. However i have yet to see how they incorporate Judges into the game. I know the story takes place in Ivalice but i thought that was made up from FF Tactics Advanced. Or am i getting stories mixed up? If i am, I'm sorry. Still i would like to know if, and what the judges are going to play in this game

jeganterry
jeganterry

i've played 6,7,8,9 and 10. all had fun game plays and a good storyline. and im hoping 13 would be better. Just like d rest of you, im waiting eagerly too. lol the gambit battle system doesnt sound soo bad. if you understand it well, then it will b like commanding an army with everyone on d battlefield following your preset orders. you just have to get used to it and with d custom gambit system, a pro wouldnt have any problem beating the game in a week or so....

pakao
pakao

The game is g r e a t. In the beginning just build your main character for a few hours then the game should be normal. But if you start to follow the main quest instantly you will find it hard, so on with the side quests. lol.

tristanerojo
tristanerojo

the english version for ffxii is already available in asia. at least i'm already playing it. its doesnt say demo when you play so im sure its the full version.

walkair
walkair

The battles are great:))At first it looked like graphics are poor but when you play a while you can see that graphics are great,only complain is for anti-aliasing but it's not the games fault,it's sony's cause ps2 can't handle it.

walkair
walkair

Ok,just wanna say what i don't get is,how am i playing the american version of final fantasy XII right now,if it's gonna be released on october 31?

play_and_sleep
play_and_sleep

I'M DYING FOR THIS!!! Right now i'm enjoying Xenosaga3 (AMAZING story!!!), but i'm really so excited for this 12th installment of Final Fantasy.

iDShaDoW
iDShaDoW

can't waittttttt... need a new good rpg to play

isaac_van-mosly
isaac_van-mosly

i have to say this game looks like it will be incredible. my two favourite final fantasy games are 10 and 7 which are probably the two greatest games i have ever played and i think that 12 is going to be just as good or maybe even better.

robroymcgregor
robroymcgregor

Looks to me as if this is gonna be an Epic of Epics, from reading all the snippets I have been able to gather FFXII is gonna be a real humm dinger. most of us are gonna enjoy this new game with great pleasure I am sure and all yer worries about one thing and another will be laid to a slaughtered rest. Why pick on bad vibes before you have even seen the game in full swing, I Bet most of you Guys and Girls won't be able to put down the game pad, yer gonna be hooked from the very first time you experience the game. As suggested it's out for release 30th October 2006 and not before time either, got to hand it to Square this time round this is s Big Winner. Enjoy Enjoy Enjoy Regards to all...........................Rob

Fyernix
Fyernix

So im guessing us Brits wont get it til another 5 months or so... Im sick of waiting for PAL release. I mean the American Language is English, so technically why cant UK have its own release date seperate from Europe

oath_keeper20
oath_keeper20

FINALLY!!! i've alreday pre ordered this game and i can't wait for it to get to my house! HURRY UP!!!!!!

JonathanTav
JonathanTav

After All the damn waiting i did for this game it better b good. Ppl even started calling it Final Fantasy: WHAT THE HELL IS TAKING SO LONG! LOL Now my only problem will b finding time for it. I mean, between Scarface, MK:Armageddon, and NFS:Carbon, Final Fantasy is gonna b the 1 that takes up the most time. Sum 1 gonna have to get neglected. DAMN YOU FALL VIDEO GAME SEASON....DAMN UUUUUUUUU!

neilcollins
neilcollins

I have high expectations for this game. I loved the demo and preorder the special edition! ^__^ I don't know why people get so angry everytime a new Final Fantasy is lauched... Final Fantasy is not medieval since Final Fantasy V ( 6 and 9 were more steam punk and vitorian than anything, 11 resembles industrial revolution, 8 was nowadays technology-like with a twist and 7 was almost Cyberpunk) maybe tactics was medieval... But... Anyways... Final Fantasy has its own identity. Its not about medieval fantasy. Also, everyone knows that the next version will be tottaly diferent from the last one. So stop moaning! If you don't like XII, try XIII, if you don't like XIII, try XIV! I don't worry! I didn't like FF9 (but I bought it and played it because I'm a obsessive game colector. =3) but I didn't worry. I was sure that X would come. The fighting system is fine. You can CHOOSE wait and active mode. Wait is just like atb. I liked active best because I play FFXI and also because I don't have the time nor the patience to wait in long battles that I hadwhen I was younger, so I'd rather play with the active mode. Also, I apreciate that you use all your MP when you summon. That way you won't be overusing the summons and also they last for agood amount of time but the summoning animation, althoug impressive, is not as long. And that's a good thing. But HEY! That's just me! ;) Everyone should play their game the way that feels the best! So NEVER let anyone tell how you should play. Tips are ok, but the decision is yours alone. Also, is good to not be afraid to try new ways of playinf once in a while. ^^ So calm down ppl... If you are unsure, rent it or borrow from a friend to try it. You don't need to spend money in a game that you think is not for you. Really... You don't have to play it just because everyone else is playing. If you are unsure, wait to try it, then buy it only if you like it. =)

xche78x
xche78x

havent played it yet but anything final fantasy from square is another worthwhile addtion to the franchise. any change have been thoroughly researched and discussed by square officials so its definitely for the better. thank you square for bringing us high quality rpg that always surpasses the norm. looking forward for the next chapter FF-XIII (one of the reasons a person will buy a PS3 even @ obnoxious price.

Rosvald
Rosvald

I Know Change can be frightening. this game is going to be a little unusual to what we FF fans usually used to work on. But I think this change is moving forward for the better... I know many may agree. I just hope the game is worth the waiting...

drumboy54321123
drumboy54321123

This looks amazing, yes its probably not what we are used to but people always doubt changes, we are soo used to seeing the same system its ncie they try something new, and im sure in time people will see why this new system is good and its nice for a change.

aki_mizuo
aki_mizuo

i've played the game and i must say it's worth the wait...

sk8rjr
sk8rjr

Hi there. Not to rain on anyones parade but this doesn't feel FF to me. The Gambit system, although innovative, really, really seems to make combat much more boring then traditional turn-based or ATB system. Its basically Kingdom Hearts without the fast gameplay and coolness. I loved every final fantasy before this. I even enjoyed both Tactics. The two styles on the demo were the: Classical Style!: Game waits for you to pick commands! I pretend to have free mobility but this is really just a taste of what good RPGs are! ActiveStyle!: The same thing as mentioned above, only the monsters don't wait! Try and program your party members to be a unified monster slaying force while the Malboro behind you proceeds to violate your rectum while YOU flip through menus! This isn't fun guys. Its beautiful to be sure, but its not FF. FF combined a good fighting system with an awesome story. This is KH2 with better graphics and much less fun... Lets pray its been improved otherwise it'll suck.

kenerhai
kenerhai

oooooooooo i cant wait to get my hands on this game!!!

FstBrk342
FstBrk342

shaping up very well so far, im eager to get it

paul_eku
paul_eku

Ive played this game and it is quite fun. The intro sequence is amazing to look at and the story is well done. Of course, i havent beaten it - but just to let you know. The leveling up system is quite different. It reminds me of Final fantasy 10, but with a slight twist. I think everyone will be (as far as ive seen) pleased with this game. Dont compare every final fantasy to 7 - because that debate will rage on forever. ALl said and done, this is a good game. As far as the "plays itself" debate - you CAN have other people in your party (including yourself) auto-attack what enemies you have targeted. They perform attacks depending on what you set their aggressiveness to. There is the option to turn this off and to each turn per player manually. This is made for more intense fights where you need characters to attack faster than you can command them. YOu will need to use potions on them anyways. The only thing i dislike right now is the camera x axis is inverted (left is right/right is left) which drives me crazy. I cant seem to fix this.

Ariolander
Ariolander

Bah FF fanboys. A game that plays itself? No thanks I already bought Advent's Children and I thought the story on that last one was pretty weak.

manapsal
manapsal

this might be in my top 3 ff's with X and VIII

NWA_31
NWA_31

This. Is. Gonna. OWN !!!