Final Fantasy XII

I set this game aside after becoming frustrated with what I later found out was the final level. I had moved through the game with few setbacks before running into all these high-powered mechanical units that were several levels above my party. Realizing that I would need retreat to spend some time leveling up, I basically called it quits.

FFXII is an impressive game, but it came nowhere close to the experience I had with FFX. Putting combat aside for the moment, I found the FFXII characters and storyline vastly inferior to those of FFX. Whereas FFX had an epic scale and made me feel a sort of beautiful melancholy, FXII felt more mundane and didn’t really draw me in.

Certainly FFXII is a more expansive and “non-linear” game. You have plenty of side quests, almost limitless freedom to travel, and an enormous world to explore. The environments are rich and immersive, and each area is a creative multimedia experience. The voice acting is good, and some of the characters are pretty cool. But without that emotional investment in the story and its participants, I guess the game fell short for me.

The combat system takes several large steps away from the traditional turn-based fighting that has been the RPG genre’s standard. Rather than random encounters where your party is abruptly transported to a turn-based battle view, monsters are just roaming around the world. Your party (3 active at once) will fight in real time, with no loading or screen changes, if you choose to attack or navigate too closely to a wandering beast.

You almost feel like you’re playing World of Warcraft, giving dangerous creatures a wide berth, cursing if you accidentally aggro another mob when already engaged in fighting.

Of course you need to control your party during all this fighting and this is were the “Gambit” system comes into play. Your “gambits” are basically lines of a very simple script that you assign to each character. The interface looks pretty cool, but what it boils down is something like this:

if (self.hp < 10%) drink potion; else if (ally.hp < 50%) cast heal; else if (leader.isTargeted) attack targeter; else if (!ally.isProtected) cast protect;

The conditions in the IF statements need to be acquired as you go through the game. You might pick up a gambit for "Foe HP < 30%", at which point you could incorporate that into the script. As a computer geek, I wish they had provided a little scripting language for people to use to control the behavior of their characters. Of course, then you might have the possibility of someone being able to crash the game, or even exploit a security hole. I felt really limited by the Gambit system because if it's simplicity. Being able to use logical operators like NOT, AND, and OR would have been useful, though maybe that would have added too much confusion. The system also had some implicit logic built in to some of the gambits. In my example, I had this: else if (!character.isProtected) cast protect;

You cannot really specify that because there is no NOT operator (and I don’t think there is a gambit for “Ally Status: Not Protected”). So what you do is make a simple rule that casts Protect on “Ally”. The game implicitly understands that you don’t want to cast that spell on an ally who is already protected. The system also appeared to have some intelligence to handle certain race conditions.

For example, let’s say your three active party members are all set to cast Protect on allies. If one member loses protection, then only one of the three will wind up casting Protect; you won’t see all three characters blinding firing a Protect spell at the same target.

On the other hand, if a character is set to Steal, then they will keep trying to steal from the same target even if they have already successfully stolen from that target. This is a problem because enemies will almost never have any items left after the first successful steal.

On the subject of stealing, I was a little annoyed that this was the primary means of funds in the game. If you wanted to have a bearable financial situation, you were almost forced to regularly steal from enemies in combat. Selling the stolen items would at least double your income compared to simply living off the spoils of fallen foes. This would not have been bad if one had more control over the stealing gambit. As it was, you either had to manually intervene or watch your one of your characters blinding snatching at an enemy’s pockets for an entire battle.

Returning to the Gambit system, it’s intriguing to analyze from a computer science point of view, but I’m not 100% sold on the idea. However, I did find Gabe’s positive thoughts on the subject to be interesting.

I agree that there can be a tedium to fighting through every random encounter of a traditional RPG. And yes, by constantly pausing the game you can effectively turn it into turn-based combat. If they add deeper control to the Gambit system, I’d certainly be willing to try it out again.

Still, I am somewhat enamored with the regular turn-based system. The cinematic experience, the potential for careful consideration, the feeling that each battle is a small puzzle, watching your characters execute intricate animations up close… I hate to lose these things to a more dungeon-crawler feel. Maybe I’m over-thinking, but perhaps the turn-based paradigm provides you with a deeper connection to your characters. You are explicitly assigning their actions and watching as they carry them out, seeing every blow they make and take.

FFXII is a magnificent game, and I played through nearly the whole thing, but I just didn’t have a vested interest in completing it. 8.5/10.

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