New approach, familiar roots
When you first think of Final Fantasy, you expect an immersed and deep roleplaying experience that is created by its fun gameplay and stellar graphics and presentation. This time around, the creators of FF12 take a different approach to the gameplay and storyline which results in an interesting position.
The story, is unlike the previous counterpart FFX, it involves a more darkening plot and mood as a princess, Ashe, strives to take revenge upon the empire that wronged her. In a more political tone, the story has a lot of deception and secrecy. The storyline in itself does not stay from the initial path, which was the revenge part. It offers less immersion due the lack of plot twists and you never quite feel connected to the character you are playing. Vaan, who is the supposed main character of FF12, plays less of the role in the storyline than the other characters in your party. The feeling is that there is not much character development throughout the story to justify the games plot, which is probably why there is a sequel (FFXII: Reverent Wings) to tie up other loose ends, so I'll forgive if there is a justification.
On part of the gameplay, the developers in its execution are obviously experimenting with the tried and true FF formula which was the active battle system. This time around, the developers have implemented a kind of MMORPG kind of system to let the battles play out. Gone are the random encounters (thank god) and welcome the monsters who are displayed on screen. From the battle menu, you can pull up many options to decide your strategy. There is that kind of MMORPG-esque feeling to it as those who are familiar with the aggro system is directly implemented in here. The monster sees you, it locks on to you, and it attacks you. The same goes for you. Further to customize your battle experience is the Gambits system. Gambits offer a way to utilize tactics for the characters in your party and assign them things to do. Though, the drawback is, if you plan out your Gambits correctly enough, you're taken out of the gaming experience as you let your characters AI do the work for you. The addition of the License Board comes with some mixed results. I hated the Sphere System in FFX, so I welcomed this idea with open arms. The ideal is to pick the direction that each specific character will play in the game (battle mage, healer, tank) but it never ends up to be that way. By the end of the game, you will most likely have characters that are the jack-of-all-trades. Aside from that, I had a few arguments about the positioning of the licenses. The real feature that comes out of the game is the Mist system, which are basically limit breaks or overdrives. By pressing a specific button, you can combo mists with other characters in your party and create a big frenzy. It really comes in handy during boss battles. The espers I found useless however. It is clearly evident that the creators were experimenting with its audience on part of the gameplay and it comes out with a good ideas and execution.
The graphics and presentation are as to be expected from a Final Fantasy game, top notch. The cutscenes either involve real-time or CGI sequences. The game is beautifully represented in the areas it portrays. The sound is on part, lacking. In comparison to previous FF games, I expected a wonderfully created soundtrack but alas I was given looped sequences of music. I can tell by the lack of Nobuo Uematsu that the game lacked a good tune. The music was forgettable by the end of the game. I'd expect FF12 to be a good 35-40 hour game for those that dive deep into it, it provides lasting gameplay if you choose to take up the sidequests and whatnot.
In summing up this game, the developers took a different approach to a game that has a consistent formula and I applaud their efforts. In its experimentation, it brought upon some good mechanics and features in RPG's that could certainly be developed upon and utilized again. While the shortcomings in its storyline, the gameplay proved successful for a different approach.