Meanwhile, your other warriors follow a system of ‘Gambits’; simple instructions that tell them to, say, attack your party leader’s target, aim specific spells at specific types of foe or heal any party member should they slip below 40 per cent health. By changing the order of gambits, you can instantly change that character’s priorities. Ingeniously, Square-Enix has even made Gambits part and parcel of your character’s progression. At first, Gambit options are limited, but further Gambits can be unlocked and purchased later.
This all happens on the License Board. FFXII uses a skill-tree – not unlike the Sphere Grid system of FFX – where license points acquired during combat are used to unlock skill squares on the license board. These may cover types and levels of spell, weapon skills, first-aid or combat techniques, attribute improvements or armour requirements, and unlocking one opens up adjacent squares to be unlocked in future. It’s a hugely flexible system, and one that allows each character to follow a particular path or keep their options open as you wish.
The overall effect is to turn FFXII into a fast-paced, slick and intuitive game, where all the aspects mesh together far better than before. And the good news is that it still looks and feels just like Final Fantasy should. Perhaps there’s a more apparent Star Wars influence than before, both in the cinematic style and the music, but the huge airships and ornate suits of armour we expect from FF are still very much on show. The fact that major names in the development team worked on Square’s underrated PSOne classic, Vagrant Story, also shows through in the character design and dense, ambiguous plotting, while the architecture shows evidence of a North African and Arabian leaning (though nearly all the major characters remain clearly European in style). It’s a heady mix, but one that creates a genuinely exotic and distinctive world, while remaining completely FF. Needless to say, the cut-scenes are completely awesome, even if they do reside in some hideous thick black borders.
Admittedly, some have complained that the tale feels rather low-key – more Phantom Menace than Revenge of the Sith – but the main cast is likeable, the side-characters interesting, and there is a great sense that the designers are asking you to think about the rights and wrongs of the situation. While at first it seems a simple tale of evil empires and oppressed kingdoms, the more it goes on, the more you begin to question your assumptions, with characters you see first one way, then another.