previews\ Sep 29, 2006 at 8:00 pm

Final Fantasy XII - PS2 - Preview 3

Final Fantasy XII may very well be the most anticipated RPG of all time. It was announced so long ago that I can no longer remember the exact date. Yet once you start playing, you forget about all the delays, the anticipation, and the relentless urge to sink your time into another fantasy. You'll just sit back in awe of the intense and shocking opening cinema. Where will the game take us next? Is another tragic, unforgettable tale upon us?

I can't go further into the story than what has already been revealed. But I can tell you about the all new Clan Primer system, which has you hunting and killing monsters for gil, potions, and other rewards.

A beautiful bride...

Also new to the game is the License character evolution system. Similar to Final Fantasy X, the License system allows you to learn new spells (Magick), techniques (Technicks), and equip new items. This is done by cashing in your License Points (LP), which are earned in combat (along with health items and smaller-than-usual amounts of gil). Once a new Technick or Magick spell has been learned, three more growth slots appear. The way you choose to evolve your character affects the evolution choices you will be given in the future. This system is very broad and will likely take an entire game's worth of playing to complete.

Big changes are in store for the old-timers. We're used to a turn-based, point-and-click adventure that has followed the same set of rules for nearly 20 years. There have been differences in magic systems and job classes, but the game always felt the same. That was a part of the series' charm – that was its staple.

Final Fantasy XII is the inevitable radical redesign. To understand the changes Square has made, start by picturing Final Fantasy X. Take away any stagnant backgrounds and make every visible location interactive. Now scrap the point-and-click aspect, and replace with a semi-real-time system that feels like a cross between Zelda and Parasite Eve.

You now have the freedom to move about the area as you desire. Combat is engaged upon enemy sightings from either side. Either you'll see them or they'll see you. Like Zelda, all battles take place in the same location as the rest of the game. No transportation effect – where the screen shatters just before you get sucked into a special battle environment – occurs.

From the moment and enemy is spotted, players can press the X button to bring up a more traditional gameplay element: the attack window. Attack, item, and Technicks are just a handful of the options you'll end up with as the game progresses. For now, these three are all you'll need.

A troubled king...

Like Parasite Eve, you are not free to attack at will. The game is still technically turn-based, with an active time meter that determines when you can and cannot attack. Your enemies are subject to this system as well, preventing an endless array of button-mash attacks from being launched.

Once "Attack" has been selected, a blue line will be drawn between you and your enemy. This line indicates that a target has been set. When you see a red line hanging over your character's head, that means that he or she is being targeted.

At this stage in the game, attacks occur automatically. You set them up, walk over to the monster, and let the game do the rest. Players can use the time in between attacks to try and avoid retaliation by running in circles.

But wait! Running away does not (currently) seem to stop enemy attacks. There were several times when I was nowhere near an enemy and yet his attacks were able to reach my characters. When the enemy had a projectile attack, it made perfect sense. You can't escape their powers that easily. But for a close attack, the logistics just didn't compute. I'd be standing six feet in front of him, and somehow his bite would still reach.

Other times I'd be on the opposite side of a wall – still no luck in evading an attack. There's a block function, but I've yet to figure out if there's a specific way to trigger it, or if it's entirely random.

A powerful force...

Featuring the most unique combat system seen in a Final Fantasy since the release of Tactics, Final Fantasy XII is coming together like Aeris and the Lifestream – slowly developed but will hopefully lead to something beautiful. Will it have a story as memorable as Final Fantasy VII? A battle system as deep and challenging as Tactics? Monsters that are as cool as Final Fantasy IX's summon spells? Only time will tell. The sampling thus far has been quite delicious. Now I'm ready for the whole meal.

Get ready to feast on October 31st, 2006.

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