Final Fantasy XII
If you're the sort of person who thinks that every Final Fantasy since VII is merely "average", or that current Final Fantasy games aren't a patch on FFIV, prepare yourself to be pleasantly surprised by the latest entry in the series, Final Fantasy XII (that's 12, for those of you who don't read Roman Numerals). Square-Enix appear to have applied some of what they've learned from previous games and from their MMO this time.
Most people find grinding for levels or gil pretty tedious and boring, because of the necessity of having to kill the same mob or set of mobs over and over again, casting Cure or using a Potion when your HP gets low, and so on. In FFXII, there is something called the Gambit system, where you can basically select, from a predefined set of rules and actions, how your characters will behave during battle. Most of these Gambits can be purchased cheaply in shops, but some of them can only be found in treasure chests or by doing certain sidequests. The net result, though, is that with a properly configured Gambit setup, grinding is pretty much reduced to merely moving through the area where the mobs you want to kill are located, and letting your characters do the rest.
This does mean that the battle system ends up being more like FFXI than previous FFs, i.e. you keep attacking the mob until either it or you are dead, rather than having to select an "Attack" option from a menu each turn. Most of the time you will end up leaving your characters to fight for you, only bringing up the menu (which pauses the battle) for when you need to do something special or different, like using a Mist Knack or curing a status ailment. This may seem pretty strange at first, but once you get the hang of it (and get some good ideas for what your Gambit setup should be) it works really well.
Limit Breaks are gone, and instead we have Mist Knacks, which are not really the same. In order to use a Mist Knack, you have to have full MP. However, during the Mist Knack's animation sequence (which is about 4 seconds long) you get the opportunity to press a button quickly to use another Mist Knack (either on the same character or a different one) straight away afterwards, in a combo. If done correctly, Mist Knack combos can do incredible amounts of damage and are really useful for boss fights.
The Sphere Grid of FFX is replaced by the License Board. At the end of every fight, as well as the usual XP, you earn some LP or License Points. These can be spent on the license board to gain a license to use particular types of items or spells - however, you can only acquire new licenses that are adjacent to licenses you already have, and also (especially in the case of spells) you still have to buy the thing you got a license for. You can get an accessory (the Gold Amulet) which will let you get double License Points for every fight, but you have to get the right license (Accessories 8) before you can wear it.
The storyline of FFXII is a bit of a departure from the rest of the series too - it shows that you can still have an interesting and engaging FF storyline without it being about the end of the world. Some traditional FF elements are still present though - for example, there are airships (though to be honest they wouldn't look out-of-place in the Star Wars new trilogy) and a bloke called Cid.
As usual, there are plenty of cutscenes, but (thankfully) all of them are skippable and most of them (the in-engine ones anyway) are pausable, so if you die after attempting that tricky boss fight you can just skip through the cutscenes and have another go. They are all very well done though, and definitely worth watching at least once. If you want to check some of them out, you can find high-quality videos of them at playsyde.com courtesy of Blimblim and Maskrider from the Gaming-Age Forums.
Final Fantasy XII has recently been released in Japan, and is expected to become available in the United States in around October. Translations and FAQs are already available on GameFAQs though, so if you just can't wait to get your hands on it, you can import it now, though you'll need a PS2 capable of playing Japanese games to play it with.
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