Final Fantasy XII Preview Redux
I'm about nine hours into Final Fantasy XII, and so far it's been pretty good. Story-wise, it's kinda slow and I haven't yet been blown away by any developments in the plot. I have met most of the game's cast of playables, including Vaan, the ambitious youth who wants to be a Sky Pirate and fight for the freedom of his occupied land of Dalmasca; Balthier is an actual Sky Pirate whom Vaan meets up with a ways into the first real foray, while Fran is his Viera (a rabbit-eared female) companion/sidekick. Finally, there's Basch, the disgraced Dalmascan officer who apparently assassinated the king of Dalmasca near the beginning of the story. A lengthy dungeon romp and then an even lengthier trek through a desert didn't give any big revelations on the story, but it did give me quite a bit of appreciation for the new gameplay mechanics.
Like an MMORPG, FFXII sees you and all your active characters running around in large environments and engaging in combat with foes that are visible right from the start- no more random encounters that pop up out of nowhere, no transitions into 'battle mode'. Since everything happens in pseudo real-time (going into the menu pauses the action, thankfully), the game introduces Gambits into the game so you don't have to micro-manage every action of your party. Basically you can program your characters to do specific things on various situations, ranging from 'Attack nearest foe' to 'Heal any Ally who goes down to less than half of his Health'. It's a pretty efficient system and makes combat quite seamless, so you can literally just sit back and just point your characters in the direction you need to go and little else except pick up the occasional treasure that enemies drop.
On occasion, super-powerful enemies appear, which can KILL your supposedly mighty party if you're not careful. At these points, when regular magic or attacks can't faze the enemy, you can use Mist Quickenings. Similar to Limit Breaks in previous FFs, these spectacular attacks require a full Magic Point bar and some agility with the buttons on your controller. Knowing which button to press and having a bit of timing will allow a character to rack up lots of hits, inflicting TONS of damage on his target. Multiple characters with multiple MQ's working together can chain together humongous amounts of damage. This is of course limited by the need for full magic bars, but if there's a Save Point nearby (touching which replenishes all your HP and MP instantly), you're pretty much invincible. Kinda cheap, but so are the enemies in this game so it's fine. Heh.
So far I'm enjoying the gameplay aspects of FFXII- levelling up, hunting down monsters for bounties, MMO-style and upgrading your skills and abilities on the new License Board mechanic (like FFX's Sphere Grid, but simpler). The story... well, it hasn't picked up yet, but it surely will... once I actually try to push it forward. More on my adventures in Ivalice as it happens.