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Bravely different entry to the world-famous series of Final Fantasy. Despite minor flaws, it's a fine RPG.

Final Fantasy XII, the famed swan song of the Black Monolith. For starters, I should state Final Fantasy -series has always been one of my all-time favorite game franchise and thus I laid huge expectations to this one. Not all them were claimed, yet it was an enjoyable ride through the wondrous world of Ivalice.

The game itself starts from the royal city of Rabanastre and the capital of small kingdom of Dalmasca, where royal weddings are held. However, soon after, a war breaks between two grand nations of Archadian Empire and Rozarria. Unfortunately, Dalmasca lies between the two and becomes their warzone. The Empire occupies Dalmasca, kills their king and leaves the land in turmoil. In this war-torn city, a young street urchin Vaan begins his foolhardy effort to enter the castle and steal something valuable. Indeed, he manages to grab something of value beyond his imagination, giving a start to an adventure filled with twists and turns. Our path leads us from ochre deserts to snowy mountains, from deep mines to city nested among the clouds. And beyond.

Of course, this is not a journey for Vaan to take alone and soon he's accompanied by a cast of memorable characters. Penelo, a kind-hearted girl and Vaan's friend since years back. Balthier, a sky-pirate with seemingly eyes set on fame and fortune, yet carrying a heart of gold. Fran, a Viera and Balthier's companion, mysterious yet reliable. Ashe, young princess struggling between her duties to the throne and loss of her beloved prince. And lastly, Basch, sworn guardian of Ashe and a man of utmost loyalty. All of these characters have well written personalities and you'll grow keen on them. Only Penelo feels like she doesn't contribute much to the story, but that won't really matter in the end. Also, the voice actors have done a splendid job for each and every one of them (I'm looking at you, Vanille).

One thing that drastically changed from previous instalments of the series, is the very gameplay itself. No more will you face your foes in a separate battle screen, neatly standing in line. This time all the battles are fought on the same environment you tread to progress. It is a nice change from the usual random encounters, and you can always see what you are going to fight against, and flee, if you so desire. The fighting itself is also highly different, as you can directly control only one character, out of three in a party, at a time. The AI takes care of the others using the newly introduced Gambit system. Fundamentally, these Gambits are a set of simple commands (like "When ally health is below 50%, cast Cure"), which you can set and prioritize for each of your character. This being said, you could basically let AI fight all the battles for you, although in reality you need to do a little adjustment every now and then. Besides, it's more fun to call all the commands for at least one of the heroes.

What soon strikes you, besides the battle system, is the tremendous amount of things you can do. As usually, you can join a clan to do Hunts, which pit you against more stronger foes, but reward you equally. It is a great fun to track these beasts, come up with a fitting strategy and finally lay them to rest. You can also hunt some rare game for a Hunting Guild, which is more or less same deal as Hunts. Then, the enemies in FFXII won't drop money. Instead you'll get various kind of loot, which can be sold for profit. This loot can also be used in Bazaar, which lets you create new weapons, armors and such from the remains you'll be picking after the fights. Also, as is the case in Final Fantasies, you can collect summon spirits, named Espers this time. Fighting them is again fun, but it feels a little pointless, since you won't find yourself calling their aid but once or twice in the course of the game. A more useful trick, however, are the Quickenings, which are special attacks you can launch in the cost of sacrificing certain portion of your MP bar. These attacks do a great deal of damage, but the great MP cost renders them more or less useless late in the game, when you've obtained more powerful spells.

Ivalice has always been connected strongly to Job system. XII is a bit different from this, even though you could create a job for everyone if you so liked. For character development, a Licence Board is used. It's preset grid, with lots of locked squares. You can spend Licence Points to open a square adjacent to an already opened square, to get anything between boosted health points to an ability to equip a new armor. Indeed, every character can learn to cast any spell and every character can wear heavy armors etc. In the end, this encourages you to use only three characters thorough the game, since never you'll be forced to utilize the whole party nor you have to adjust your team in case you need Black magic instead of White and so on.

So far so good, right? Then why did I give the game "only" eight. The story, even though I like the certain maturity and complexness in it, tends to lose its focus from time to time. Not once or twice was I lost with the plot and whys and whos of it. Especially the very end of it feels like a useless addition and I wished it to simply tell us about bringing an end to the war, instead of introducing supernatural (even in terms of FF) events. Also, I wasn't a big fan of the battle system, granted it didn't bother me either. More than the old battle system, I missed characters with various skills. Now I made Balthier use guns because I thought they belong to him, Penelo to use White magick for the same reasons. I would've welcomed these choices as forced, so at some fights I would've needed to pick a different team. I did use all of my party, but that was more because of my own habits. A little annoyance was also the camera: why on earth can you not invert its axis. Or a better question, why's the axis inverted as default anyway. And one more thing worth mentioning: this game's treasure system is way too random. Seriously, every chest in the game's a wild card with fixed percentages of appearing.

In the end, I grew to like this game (cursed was the last dungeon and the endless floors, though). It is my least favorite Final Fantasy from the main-series, yet as an RPG it is a fine game. It is burdened with minor problems, but still manages to suck you in hours after hours.

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