Final Fantasy XII

    Final Fantasy is a series noted for four major elements: great stories, superb gameplay, very human characters and graphics of sheer wonder.

    Square Enix (formerly Square Soft) has been very successful with their flagship series, though some of the recent installments have left the FF faithful in dismay: the first direct sequel in the series, FFX-2, was a downright embarrassment, marred with cheesy stories and an underwhelming plotline that was, for the most part, destroyed for long-time fans by poor graphic design, low-rent reasoning and an underdeveloped story.

    Then there was the all-online installment of XI, a “too-weak-for-many-of-the-hardcore-fans” sequel that failed to find a real connection with the series.

    Many fans found the next installment, FFVII: Dirge of Cerberus, to be a weak follow-up, in part because the initial story’s main badass, Sephiroth, was entirely excluded.

    Each of these additions for the past three years has been deemed too synthetic to provide a superb back-story or even make for a reasonable game. However, the upcoming release of Final Fantasy XII promises to rectify these shortcomings and will return to a more traditional Final Fantasy, complete with a solid battle system, a gripping story and a fine cast of intimate characters with whom fans can find solidarity.

    Vaan, the lead character of XII, is an orphan who’s been living in the Archadia Empire, a major governing body within the world of Ivalice, the setting for XII’s story. He’s something of a throwback to Zidane, the loveable, rambunctious thief and lead character from Final Fantasy IX. They’re both very energetic and take a freewheeling approach to life, living by the philosophy that you should never be tied down to one place or person. Vaan’s overall importance to the story becomes questionable and for the first time in a while, Square has as an original RPG idea, via creating a lead narrative voice that isn’t the obvious protagonist. Rather, the gamer is able to enjoy open-ended gameplay (the first in the FF since FF Tactics series that completely lets go of linearity and puts most all of the direction for the game in the hands of the player) and find a main hero in whichever character they most relate to.

    Among the other main characters are Ashe, a self-confident yet confused princess of the Dalmasca Empire, which was overtaken by Archadia before the events of the main game, Baltheir, a sky-pirate who distances himself from the war between Archadia and Dalmasca, and Basch, a former Dalmascan general and this installment’s major badass. There are some flashbacks and memories that explain the bitterness between the two kingdoms and players will likely find a certain connection with either of them, depending on their own viewpoints concerning such conservative vs. liberal wars.

    This war mentality was among the main goals in mind for Hironobu Sakaguchi, the “godfather” of Final Fantasy and (of course) the producer of Final Fantasy XII. His intentions for this game were an incorporation of his own feelings about the battles currently occurring in the real world and what it means when people choose sides over ideas that often begin with frivolous reasons, reasons that are distorted and morphed into battles of pure instinct. Similarly, each of the lead characters is rumored to be vaguely based upon personal but anonymously credited friends of Hironobu-san.

    FFXII is set to be released on Halloween, and for the FF faithful, this is likely to mean less trick-or-treating and a lot more time spent developing a deep story of war and confusion during a time and place so different from our own that it could consume anyone willing to buy and play the game. It will be released in two editions: the main edition ($49.99), consisting of the main game over a single DVD-ROM, and the Collector’s Edition, which will package the game and a slew of fanboy favorites in the form of interviews with the developers, a history of the series which details both the history of the FF games and its prevalence in this release (and an exclusive soundtrack!) over two DVD discs. The Collector’s Edition will cost an extra $10, but for any hardcore fan, the extra dollars are promised to be more than well worth it.

    Overall, this is a game and experience promised to be worth the attention of any Final Fantasy fan or newcomer. The characters and story are sure to ensnare both new fans and the original, hardcore faithful elite alike.

    There’s an early sense of pure gaming that is an art, a recognition of every emotion felt by all gamers (and human lives, be them artistic spirits, logical minds or emotional cognizance) that will find solidarity within this game. It’s worth a pre-order for current fans, and curious gamers should at least look into the game.