||[Jun. 18th, 2006|10:16 am]
I finished it last night. Finished the plot, at least, didn't finish all of the mob hunts and extra dungeons.
So, here's a view on the game as a whole, more or less without plot spoilers, but with comments on features of the game which could be extrapolated to be spoilers - namely things like length of particular dungeons, commenting about bosses, their abilities, and the changes to the system made while facing them, without discussing their identities or intentions.
In general, this game requires a lot of running. It reminds me a bit of FFX, in the sense that any location that you go to is a "dungeon" - there's no expandable overworld. However, areas in FFXII are much bigger than they were in FFX. There's a lot of travel between point A and point B - for example, person X says: "You need to go to B. To get to B, leave out of the west entrance and go through area C, D, and E. Area B is north of area E." This creates a more realistic world, but it can be really irritating from a RP gamer perspective. Often times there are crumbs of plot along the way to B, but aside from one or two exceptions, that's what they are - crumbs.
Unfortunately, overall that was the impression I got from all of the plot in FFXII. There were major events - of course - but for around 85 hours of gameplay, I really don't feel that I got all that much out of it. A significant number of hours of those 85 were spent running around doing things that were entirely unrelated to the plot of the game at large. I can't really put a number on the hours it would take to complete the game without doing any extra content. I know I would have personally found it difficult to do so, as much of the extra content was useful for levelling, getting license points, and getting my hands on items which made sections of the game much easier. (I'm not sure whether this was by design, but I took out a few of the bosses in a single Mistnack combo.) Also, I felt the characterization was weakly done. Typically by the end of an RPG, if I see a character in peril, I feel for them, I'm rooting for them, and if something happens to them, it hurts me. I enjoy reaching that level of sympathy. But whether because of my difficulty with the Japanese or something else, it never happened for me in FFXII. The most striking point in the game for me was when a minor character makes a sacrifice, which, in the whole of things, probably didn't mean much. But while a few of the major characters have reason to sympathize with this character as well, I wasn't sympathizing with their loss. I was sympathizing with that character's feelings at that point.
Despite my feelings of limited plot in general, they did keep the plot firmly on the front line at the end of the game. In fact, it was so on the front line it was a little jarring to me. The final dungeon is the shortest I've ever seen. The FMV leading up to the final dungeon was at least triple or quadruple the length of the time I spent walking in the dungeon. Overall, I approved of that. I don't usually like slogging through a dungeon that takes me hours, just to face a boss that takes me more hours, just to see an hour long FMV at the end - while I understand that the last dungeon should be significant, often times I know I kind of want to see the end of the game at that point, and I don't really like having to start in the morning on a weekend and finish sometime in the late afternoon. FFXII broke the mold, and I have to give them kudos for that. However, probably due to my more or less mastering the upper section of the license board and getting a few of the mob hunt only spells and items, the last boss was easy. Really, really easy. I didn't even have to switch out my characters easy. Even so, they pulled a few of the tricks that they had been pulling for the rest of the game, which made very little difference in the result of the battle, but left me cursing at the screen.
Certain bosses they made more difficult by tilting the conditions of the battle into their favor. Several boss fights take place in locations that have 'field effects', which might lock items or magic, or continuously decrease MP, etc. Other bosses, frequently in the final section of the game, get "barriers". Barriers are the worst idea SquareEnix could have possibly had. The field effects add some level of strategy to the game by restricting common tactics you might use and forcing you to come up with new ones, but the barriers are an excuse to make the boss invincible for five minutes while your party runs around uselessly, waiting for them to go away. Either you have to accomplish some step to bring them down (like defeating another enemy on the screen), or, more often, they're there for a certain amount of time and you just have to wait. This is quite possibly the cheapest, most stupid way for extending battles I can think of. I would have preferred that they just give the boss more hit points if they wanted to make it more difficult. I can't come up with a good reason why they would have done this, unless to actively frustrate the player.
Anyways, despite my criticisms, I did enjoy the game. It's just, I enjoyed it more as a game, but not so much as an RPG. I felt several things which I usually expect from an RPG were lacking. FFXII gives me the impression of a MMORPG with a coherent story. Most of what you get out of it is what you put into it.
I think I'm going to start Summon Night Ecstasy next. ^^ Play it alongside Shadow Hearts - From the New World. I seem to be getting good mileage from playing two games at once.