It's about damn time. The Japanese FF12 demo was last seen during E3 over a year ago, after which FF12 inexplicably disappeared off the American map. Now packaged with Dragon Quest VIII is an English version of the demo with the Japanese voices.
Since Final Fantasy X, fans who wanted a new and 'true Final Fantasy style' role-playing game have been waiting patiently. The series had taken off in different directions after FFX; Final Fantasy XI was an online MMORPG that catered to the hardcore, while FFX-2 was a cash cow sequel that catered to the complete opposite. For years there was nothing in between, and Final Fantasy XII's constantly changing release dates raised concerns that the game was never going to be complete.
Worry no more because the game's development is complete. Anyone who was turned off by FF11 is treated to a refined, offline version of the gameplay. Final Fantasy XII combines everything good about the gameplay in FFX and FF11, then presents them with a refreshing Mediterranean spin on the Final Fantasy Tactics style.
The opening trailer depicts the crux of the story: the Archadian Empire from the Ordalia continent invading the peaceful kingdom of Dalmasca. As Dalmasca tries to fight off the Empire, several battles are occurring at the same time. There are soldiers on the ground, dogfights in the sky, and skullduggery in the castles. The amount of work that went into animating the "high volume" scenario makes it worthy of a few watches to absorb every nook and cranny.
Several clips containing short dialogues by each of the key characters are shown between the war scenes. By piecing them together, one can get a vague idea of the storyline. Clearing the demo shows another trailer that includes scenes with the ominous Judges, such as the one by Yoshitaka Amano on the FF12 logo.
The Phon Coast (Wait Mode)
Two classical FF modes of play are available in the demo package and each has its own objective. Each mode takes place in a miniature version of an area in the game - a dotted yellow line sections off access points to other areas. The on-screen map is similar to that of FFX; it indicates the direction your character is going and any points of interest are marked. Controls for movement and menus are similar to that of FF11, however several buttons are unused. The buttons could have been assigned to zoom functions (for better camera freedom) or a lock-on button that allows your character to continue running or walking as you access menus. The controls may change in the final game, so whether or not uses for the buttons will be implemented is unknown.
The Phon Coast is reminiscent of FFX's Besaid Island (without the relic machines) and FF11's Valkurm Dunes (without the blinding white sand). It's a choice location to display the warm setting of Ivalice. Characters available in this scenario are Vaan, Penelo and Basch. Accessing the menu pauses the game, which is why it's called 'Wait Mode'. You can spend as much time making decisions as you wish, however the pausing can slow the game's pace down far too much for simple areas. The Wait Mode seems best used on situations such as bosses.
The Stilshrine of Miriam (Active Mode)
The Stilshrine of Miriam is not as interesting as the previous area, but it contained some impressive spins on old FF monster designs. Where the Phon Coast's monsters looked mostly the same as their old counterparts, Miriam's Bombs and Gazers had impressive effects. Characters available in this scenario are Ashe, Fran and Balthier. The 'Active Mode' forces players to make more use of the Gambit system, but the AI could not be reconfigured any differently than the default Attack/Cure in this demo. It's likely that the finished game will have several settings for Gambit system to suit the needs of players, so that constantly switching between characters isn't necessary.
No longer do players deal with loading times or random battles which occur on a separate screen, which takes away from the feeling of exploring an environment. Certain monsters will only become aggressive if you wander within a predetermined radius near them, so it's possible to navigate around enemies and avoid battles altogether. Fleeing from enemies requires pressing and holding R2 as you run away. Like FF11, enemies will respawn and constantly running from multiple enemies can create a train.
The battle system is much like any MMORPG where players choose to engage with a monster on the field. Instead of having other players controlling your party, you may swap between characters whenever you wish. If you don't feel like swapping, the AI can control your team with an ON/OFF option named 'Gambit'. Unlike FF11, where you must place your character at the correct spot to do an action, FF12 automatically moves and places your character where necessary. This includes moving the character as they cast magic and bringing them as close or as far as they need to do damage. Colored lines indicating who is targeting what allows players to know exactly what is happening, while a log allows players to know what they've missed.
After a battle, you may pick up spoils by walking into them. This is not like treasures, which come in various forms. Treasures look like part of the area's design, they don't stand out like the never-changing treasure chests of old FF games. Coming close to a treasure causes an indicator light to pop up on top of the currently controlled character's head, and going beside the treasure gives the player an option to pick it up.
Aside from the hefty amount of treasures and items, each character is given a set of spells that show off the variety of magic available. Spells aside, the characters' weapons and stances resemble jobs from FF11: Vaan a Thief, Penelo a Ranger (bow), Basch a Samurai, Ashe a Knight, Fran a Warrior, and Balthier a Ranger (gun).
The demo has two new and unusual summon creatures that most likely are based on Middle Eastern or Judaic mythology. 'Hashmal' and the demon 'Belias' (the same names appear in the form of 'Hashmalum' and 'Velius' in FFT) were monsters known as Lucavi.
Summoning an Esper is very much reserved for bosses. It requires full MP, which can be charged during the normal course of a dungeon as MP is refreshing itself at a constant rate. When summoned, a cutscene occurs and the stage is reloaded in the background. The other two members of the party disappear while only Summoner and Esper are displayed on a differently colored version of the area. Like FF11, the summoned creature follows and attacks whatever you do for a very limited time (perhaps the higher your maximum MP, the longer it stays) unless you choose to dismiss it. It's not known why the party must disappear when an Esper is called, but it could be due to the polygon count. Nevertheless, the summons of this demo are very strong, have tons of HP to tank with and have little chance of being killed.
Magic has been separated into four types this time: White, Black, Time and Green. White contains the restorative and holy spells, Black contains offensive elemental spells, Time contains specific effect spells that are both supporting and offensive, and Green contains the status boosting and weakening spells. Elemental weaknesses are listed beside enemies' names and specific magic is stronger during certain weather. Using magic results in a charge animation where your character is casting. After the spell there is no cool-down time, your character is free to do another action.
The monsters in the FF12 world are possibly carrying over food chain behaviors from FFX and FF11. Elements that spawned in certain weather are now known as Wyrds, while some monsters will actually fight each other. It reminds me of an early FF11 trailer, where a large Gobbue ate little Mandragoras - hilarious but unfortunately it didn't happen in the finished game.
As with the enemies, magic, and summons, there is likely a balance to be found among the other aspects of Ivalice. There are several races which have their strengths and weaknesses, while each empire is home to different cultures. There are also several levels of technology that seperate the countries. As with previous Final Fantasy games, there are universally sought after magical runes and substances such as Magicite and Nethicite; ancient items that will both seperate and bring the world together in the end.
Although the demo did not have much to show other than gameplay, the outlook looks promising. There is much room for this group of ragtag adventurers to develop in the midst of an intricate war story.
Title: Final Fantasy XII
Platform: Playstation 2
Final Fantasy XII Demo