If I could summarize this game into a few words they would be: Awesome, Hard, Complicated, Boring. Also, Forever as in it takes forever.
Embarrassingly (and yes, this is embarrassing because of how much I’ve loved the FF franchise for years), I’ve been playing the same game of FFXII for the last 4 years. This is unheard of for me, and its not as if I’ve played it once through already. Oh, no. This is still the first run. Now, this isn’t a testament to the game’s graphics, mechanics, or gameplay. There are many things I like about this game – the graphics are wonderful, and landscapes and music are gorgeous, the customization is totally new (equipment and weapons are not character-specific), and you can make the character into anything you want. Basch can fight using a gun, a broadsword, a katana, a pole, a staff, a bow and arrow, or even a hammer (this is what he uses in my game), and there are dozens of variations and levels for each of these weapons categories. He can wear armour made of gold, silver, silk, mud, leaves, feathers…ok, maybe not that last one. Simply put, the customization possibilities are nearly endless, at least compared with other FF games.
My favorite part of the game has to be the change in battle mechanics. The sequences are now in active time and are integrated into the screen/landscape you are currently in. No more random encounters with monsters, no more being whooshed off into another screen with the same repetitive music. Your party sees a monster and either chooses to encounter it or chooses to run by. Your characters can be implemented with Gambits (automatic actions) that make them act on their own, so its entirely up to you if you want one of them to immediately attack anything in view, or just run into another area. You can also set it up so that they automatically heal each other, themselves, or the party leader (who can be changed at any time) with a variety of magics under a bunch of categories.
As nice as this all is, this game doesn’t make anything easy for you. You need to earn License Points in order to access/learn/equip anything, and you can only get these by fighting. Alot. This is a game about grinding – you can’t even win gold unless you fight for hours in random fields and then sell the pelts of your kills to merchants. This can take a long time, and once you buy your coveted +58 Kogarasumaru, you can’t even equip it until you’ve earned enough License Points to claim that weapons category. If the character you want to give it to isn’t even close to that area on the License map, you’re screwed and have to give it someone else. This is probably why equipment is interchangeable in this game: if it weren’t you would never get anywhere.
Now here’s the rub. Not only is this game bloody hard, but its very easy to lose track of what you/your characters are doing from session to session. This wouldn’t be the case if the actual game was interesting enough to keep my attention for more than a couple of hours per sitting. Here’s what happens every time I play: I load up my file and spend the first 15 minutes trying to remember what I was doing when I left off. What I usually do is try to figure out where I am in the Main Quest and go from there. Hunts and side quests are largely forgotten, because in the grand scheme they don’t mean a whole lot, and there’s so much to do in this game I’m usually too lost insofar as the main storyline to bother with all the extras.
And here I get to the major problem, and it lies with the story: it’s boring. I cannot stress this enough. While many FF fans will complain that most games in the franchise are based around “some cheesy love story,” which is somewhat true – I would rather have that than the politically war-torn snooze-fest that this game offers. I won’t go into details, but I believe this story suffers mostly from its delivery and pacing. If it were revealed in a more linear fashion and from fewer perspectives, it could be more compelling, or hey, even interesting. The trouble is that everything in this game takes so long, so after 3 hours of battle grinding and several 8-10 minute back-to-back cinematic cutscenes throwing more plot at me, I usually can’t wait to find the next save point and put the game away for a few weeks (or months).
So what do I get? After clocking 70+ hours in this game, I still have no idea where the story is going, and believe me when I say the thin, wooden characters certainly don’t help. FF characters have always been largely beloved by fans, but with the exception of Balthier, the suave, sarcastic sky-pirate, none of the characters in this game are even remotely interesting/nor do they ever have much to say. They’re like pieces of furniture in your party, literally. The only plot point I’m even vaguely interested in concerns Basch and his evil twin brother (who doesn’t get nearly enough screen-time), but this is mostly because I just have a thing for family drama in games, especially when it comes to best-friends-turned-enemies twin narratives.
Overall, I don’t see myself commenting further on this game or even finishing it. From time to time I turn it on and do some running around, hoping something exciting will happen. I’m very much a completist when it comes to JRPGs (I clocked nearly 200 hours in FFX and let’s not get into the months I spent solely fighting optional bosses in Kingdom Hearts I & II). Sure, there are a hundred more weapons to get and a lot more ground to cover, but it just isn’t worth the effort. This isn’t a universal proclamation – I’m sure many people loved it, but then again, many people also read War and Peace for fun. I have yet to play FFXIII I or II (but recently got my hands on copies of both) and they’re next on my Square Enix list. Here’s hoping those narratives doesn’t suffer quite as much as this one did.