This, unfortunately, is where things start to fall apart between Square Enix and myself. To me, the last great Final Fantasy game was 8, and the beginning of the end started with Final Fantasy 12.
Final Fantasy 12 was a game closely tied to another game, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, which appeared on the Nintendo Gameboy. FFTA, in turn, was spawned from the excellent Final Fantasy Tactics, which appeared on the Sony PlayStation (PS1). I cannot sing the praises of the original FF Tactics enough! At times very, very difficult, it was, indeed, a tactical game. If you can find a copy I would highly recommend purchasing it or, if it is downloadable from the PlayStation store, get it. Even better, if you own a PS Vita, see if the revised version, Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, is still available for purchase.
Enough about that – back to the task at hand.
Final Fantasy 12 shared the same races and settings as FFTA and it was quite a departure from the normal setting of the previous games. The world of Ivalice is set in a more Middle Eastern environment, with sprawling cities inhabited by different vendors, desert wastelands that go on for miles – like I said, quite a different setting.
FF12 centers around a young man name Vaan, who lives on the streets of Rabanastre as a bit of a vagrant, but who dreams of becoming a sky pirate. Running the streets with him is his best friend, Panelo, a young girl orphaned when her parents died during the war. While pilfering goods from the royal palace Vaan comes across the goddess magicite, a treasure apparently wanted by a number of people, as, nearly immediate after swiping it, he is met by two others who want it, the pirate Baltheir and his sidekick, Fran (a cute bunny-girl known as a viera). From there they meet other party members and partake in a quest to save the world (pretty typical, eh). I almost beat this game, but wasn’t able to before my old PS2 memory card was destroyed and I lost the saved game.
FF12 had some really good things going for it, but I think some of the choices made by SE caused some problems. A short list of good/bad things:
- No more random battles! FF12 used the Active Dimension Battle (ADB) system, a system very much modelled after FF11 with a few improvements. This meant that monsters could be seen on the landscape and you had a choice in whether to engage them or not (well, unless they were blocking your path). Battle lines would now tell you what monsters were attacking who and who your party members were attacking. By default the system was semi-automated. Your party would automatically deliver weapon attacks, but you could, at any time, issue commands for them to take certain actions. You could also issue them Gambits, which were preset rules for certain actions. For example you could assign a party member the rule to use a Potion item whenever anyone in the party had hit points less than 50%. It was unique, but unfortunately led the way for later problems (coming up later).
- Back to the three party member limit, but you are able to swap other party members in and out during combat, including those who have been KO’d. All party members must be KO’d to get a game over.
- You can get more experience and items if you kill chains of enemies (Battle Chain). Defeating many monsters of the same type quickly creates a battle chain that progressively garners you more stuff. Taking too long to defeat the next monster in the chain, or killing a different type of monster, will break it.
- Characters gain experience points from defeating monsters, but defeating bosses gain you License Points (LP). LP could be used to move your character around the License Board. The board looked like a chess board and every square has a different something attached to it: an ability, a license to use a piece of armor or a weapon, a stat bonus, etc. Moving a character on the board would unlock the contents of a square.
- Summons (called Espers in this game) were gained by defeating them or obtaining them from the license board. I recall that they weren’t very powerful. In previous games using a summoned monster on a pack of random monsters most certainly meant their death, but not so in this case.
- Unfortunately powerful monsters would seem to single out and target one of your party members, meaning you often had to have someone on standby just to keep curing/healing them, which made play really disruptive. I didn’t like that at all.
Although I never beat the game I really wanted to. Being the second FF game on the PlayStation 2 it really did look absolutely incredible. The sound was good and some locations were works of art! Dozens of people walking around, lots of movement and tons of conversations going on amongst the people, really cool stuff.
FF12 spawned a sequel for the Nintendo DS called FF12: Revenant Wings
Ugh….this is where the Doom Train starts to derail (a little FF humor there).
Final Fantasy 13….I don’t even really know where to begin with this. As of this moment I am actually playing through FF13 on my PC, the game having been ported by SE quite a while ago. Let me tell you, it is a chore, to say the least. Though the foundation of Final Fantasy started to shake back with FF12, FF13 is the game that has been that same foundation crumbling. Personally I feel the game has done more harm than good to the series overall.
The game takes place on Cocoon, a place hovering above the world of Gran Pulse, essentially cut off entirely. Both Cocoon and Pulse are ruled over by large beings known as Fal’cie (pronounced fall-see). Cocoon is deathly afraid of Pulse and any exposure to a Pulse Fal’cie will result in a person being purged, ie: killed. Fal’cie can select a human and, by branding them with a special mark, can turn them into L’cie (pronounced luh-see), which grants them enhanced powers and abilities, including magic. Once branded a L’cie will be given a Focus. Failure to complete ones focus turns them into a Ciet’h (see-th), a mindless monster doomed to wander forever. Completing ones focus, however, transforms them into a crystal, with the promise of eternal life.
The story centers on a female soldier named Lightning. Through a series of events revealed as the story progresses Lightning’s younger sister, Serah, has been turned into a L’cie by a Fal’cie that ended up in their home town. Afraid to tell Lightning, Serah instead tells her fiancé, Snow, about the problem first. Unfortunately when the military shows up to purge the area, Serah gets taken up into the Fal’cie (they are very large) and both Lightning and Snow follow after to save her. Along the way they pick up a couple of extra people who all have stories of their own that are tied into the mysterious appearance of the Pulse Fal’cie. Serah completes her focus and is turned into a crystal, and, in a fit of rage, both Lightning and Snow attempt to kill the Pulse Fal;cie only to be branded as L’cie themselves, along with all in their party. From there they must find their focus and complete it before they turn into monsters, but along the way they find out that being turned into a crystal doesn’t mean death, and that L’cie who have completed their focus may be able to come back. Uncertain of what their focus is, they opt to destroy the government of Cocoon, the Sanctum, and the story goes on from there.
Its not as confusing as it sounds, but the game engine itself has some inherent problems. These problems, combined with actually storyline problems, make the game difficult to play:
- None of the characters are likeable, as it seems everyone is whiny and mean. Lightning has a witch of an attitude, Snow seems like he has a better attitude but at times he whines like a girl, Sahz is mopey and angry, Hope is angry and weak (though he tries to do better, but still comes off as weak), Fang is very masculine for a woman (her attitude, not her body) and Vanille is very annoying (she is supposed to come of as kind of innocent I guess, but she doesn’t). Not one of the characters is really likeable! Compare this to Final Fantasy 6 where every character had different personalities, some dark and brooding, some light hearted and care free, some wise. It’s depressing!
- The combat system is not fun. FF13 combat puts you in control of a single character, with the other two characters controlled by the computer. Each character has a Role that pretty much tells them what to do. These roles can be changed by using a Paradigm Shift. Unlike FF12 you cannot issue commands to anyone but the character you are controlling (the party leader), and even that is painstakingly slow. The best thing you can do is issue a command to auto-combat which makes the party leader select actions based on what’s best at the moment for their role. Not only that, but characters can perform so many actions on their turn based on how full their action bar is, but at the end of their turn the bar is mostly empty and it takes quite a long time to fill back up.
- Performing a Paradigm Shift causes all your characters to go into an animation during the change, but the animation does not stop enemies from attacking while you wait. The first shift you go through shows each individual character animated in separate scenes, which takes up a lot of time in the middle of combat. Subsequent shifts show everyone going through their animations at once, which is helpful, but still annoying.
- Since you only control the party leader your main concern is to keep them alive! If the party leader goes down its GAME OVER! Even if the other two party members are still alive and untouched! I have no idea why they did this after the method in FF12 working out well!? It’s extremely annoying!
- Enemies will target a single ally and smash them! Weaker allies are targeted often and their ability to sustain damage is very low. As a result you spend a lot of time trying to keep THEM alive instead of trying to keep your party leader alive! It is not uncommon to see a magic using ally with full HP get dropped to the floor by a single attack. If they are in a non-healing role and you have to perform a Paradigm Shift to get them into a healing role you are pretty much hosed, as the animation disruption will leave them completely open to attack until the shift is complete!
- Summons (called Eidolons in this game) are weak! I have had situations where I summoned an Eidolon and had it beat the crap out of just regular monsters, go into Gestalt mode for more, STRONGER attacks, then finish with their finishing attack ONLY TO HAVE THE ENEMIES STILL STANDING! And summoning isn’t cheap either, as it can only be done with Technical Points, which are replenished after combat. The better you do in combat (finish faster, score more damage points per second, etc.) the faster they replenish. But you can only have a maximum of 5 at a time, with summoning taking 3! You will likely not be able to summon two battles in a row.
- Stagger: the majority of larger enemies don’t take much damage until you hit them enough to put them into Stagger. This causes them to take more damage and enables you to use certain abilities during combat (such as Launch). The problem is that it can sometimes take a lot of work to get an enemy there and once they are staggered there is a time limit on how long they will stay that way. If you don’t do enough damage in time they will exit stagger mode and you will have to work to get them back there again. They still take damage when they are not staggered, but it isn’t often enough to make much of a difference.
- Weapons and accessories can be upgraded, but require materials to do so. Simple materials will add points towards the next level, and will eventually add a point bonus. Advanced materials will greatly increase the points towards the next level, and are best used AFTER basic materials to take advantage of the bonus. However, FINDING either type of material is hit and miss because you don’t always get spoils from enemies. You can buy materials in the shopping module, but money (Gil) is EXTREMELY DIFFICULT TO COME BY! During my current run through the game I have found the easiest way to get cash is by selling needed items like Phoenix Downs (these revive a fallen ally, and are critical to have on hand) or to sell items that drop only from human type enemies (namely Credit Chips and Incentive Chips), but you don’t often fight these types of enemies, so it still becomes very difficult to advance your equipment. In fact, during my run through the game I found a spot where I can run back and forth, fighting soldiers over and over again. I have spent well over ten hours in this one spot, gathering chips and selling them, then using the money to immediately buy materials and upgrade my equipment. My current weapon for Lightning, the Axis Blade has been upgraded to well past level 20, and it is STILL UPGRADEABLE. This has come at a great cost to me. In fact, in ten hours time I have not was not able to upgrade all my characters equipment to a sufficient level because I got tired of spending all my time in one area.
- The game seems EXTREMLY LONG. I have played FF13 once before, long ago on my PS3 and I know that I am not even to the point that I have left the world of Cocoon and headed down to the surface of Pulse, which is another entirely different section of the story, yet I have been playing for hours and hours and hours and hours. The game seems to move far too slow! Ten minutes of combat, twenty minutes of cut scene. Ten minutes of combat, ten minutes of cut scene. It is painful!
There are more things I can list that are wrong with the game, but I have gone on long enough. FF13 spawned two sequels, FF13-2 and Lightning Returns. I am hoping, beyond hope, that these two games will pull everything together and redeem the time spent investing in the characters (story-wise, I mean). I am currently playing 13 more as an effort to be able to finally beat ALL the Final Fantasy games (I have many to go, as I have not beaten some of the older ones), but I certainly would never recommend 13 as a game for a new RPG player to cut their teeth on. I have not played either sequel, but have purchased them for my PC.
Interestingly enough, the fashion company Louis Vuitton has recently acquired Lightning as one of their models. A virtual model, yes, but a model nonetheless. Kind of odd, but I guess someone out there really likes her.
Wow, that was brutal. Take a deep breath and relax – redemption is coming. The next post will be about one of the greatest Final Fantasy games since 6, FF14!