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Game Review

My introduction to fantasy role-playing games came in sixth grade. At a bookstore, I noticed a fascinating tome called the Fiend Folio detailing abilities of various monsters. I didn't know it, but the book was a Dungeons & Dragons resource. I bought it because the pictures were cool. It wasn't long before I became thoroughly hooked. I played D&D through high school before I realized it was consuming my life and decided to quit. (And even then, I didn't fully realize what I'd gotten myself into).

I say played, but mostly I just studied the game's systems. I spent more time reading about rules, creating characters, etc., than I did actually playing with other people. To me, mastering the system's intricacies was more satisfying ... and addictive.

Fast-forward 20 years to Square Enix's fantasy role-playing (video) game, Final Fantasy XII. As I prepared to write this review, I familiarized myself with its milieu (a word I learned from D&D). And I quickly concluded that the latest Final Fantasy entry not only offers a complex storyline and wide-open possibilities for character development, but it invites gamers into a rich world that can be completely engrossing for those tempted to escape into a fantasy realm.

War & Rebellion ...
Final Fantasy XII's plot, broadly speaking, revolves around war. The kingdom of Dalmasca has been invaded by its militant neighbor, the Archadian Empire. For 17-year-old Vaan, the invasion is more than he can bear. He's just a poor street thief (he steals from Archadian soldiers and returns booty to those who've been exploited), but he's determined to combat the interlopers.

In a raid on the palace, Vaan's path crosses that of Dalmasca's princess Ashe, whom everyone believes is dead. Soon, they're joined by a sky pirate named Balthier, his bunny-eared partner Fran, a Dalmascan captain dubbed Basch, and Vaan's friend Penelo. These six adventurers' fates are woven together as they seek to restore Ashe to her throne. To do so, they'll explore a world known as Ivalice in search of the Sword of Kings—the only thing that stands between Archadia and world domination.

... And the Resulting Fog
Given this expansive story, it's no surprise that gameplay is complex. As you work through a dozen chapters, time is divided between tasks necessary to advance the story and open-ended side missions. In many RPGs, you simply kill monsters, collect the spoils and purchase the resources you need. Not so in this game. In addition to finding the money to equip yourself with weapons, armor, potions and magic spells, you have to earn license points to activate new skills. For example, you might purchase a broadsword, but you must have enough license points to use it. The same goes for other abilities your characters develop. It sounds complicated—and it is—but it's what initiates the game's immersive experience. (And that's not necessarily a good thing. Read on.)

The combat system is similarly arcane. In each battle against your enemies—both human and monstrous—you can choose between weapons, offensive and defensive spells (known as black and white magicks, respectively), potions to restore health, etc. Feeling a bit lost? I'm not surprised. But even this brief overview of the game's mechanics is just a thumbnail sketch of its intricacies. Suffice it to say FFXII rewards strategic planning when it comes to developing your characters. For me, at least, this aspect was actually the most compelling.

"Gets a Hold of You"
Various Web sites and publications have hailed FFXII as the best role-playing game of the year for the aging PlayStation 2 platform. Gamingtarget.com sums it up well by describing it as "a masterpiece of epic proportions. From the innovative battle system to new ways of leveling up; the game gets a hold of you and never lets go."

Given such reviews and a groundswell of adoration from fans, it's critical to consider its downsides. The game's spiritual worldview, for starters, is syncretistic. At times it mimics Christianity, as characters offer prayers "in the name of the Father." But those prayers allude to a polytheistic world ("May the blessings of the gods follow your path for all eternity. ... Great Father, guide the spirits' return to the mother of all").

Just as in D&D, there's an overarching presence of magic (or magick). And the issue doesn't go away just because this game's magic is described in naturalistic terms. In it, everyone potentially has the ability to wield magic because, as the instruction book says, "MPs [Mist Points, which denote magic ability] gradually accumulate inside one's body through absorption of faint traces of Mist occurring naturally in the air."

The "black magicks" are used to injure and kill. And indeed, Final Fantasy XII includes quite a bit of killing. (The violence is bloodless and gore-free.) It also features what I'll call not-quite-fully clad female characters. Fran's attire, for example, might best be described as lingerie. Another content concern: a few non-player characters can be seen drinking in various taverns where you go to acquire information.

Compounding these issues is the fact that the game is so well constructed you don't want to quit playing (a success for the gamemakers; a decided downside for twentysomethings with jobs and teens who have homework). It takes a lot of willpower to shut Final Fantasy XII off after gripping the controller for hours—or even all day. And that's exactly the same dilemma I faced with D&D in high school.

Not everyone finds these kinds of games as engrossing as I do. But given this one's elaborately structured world, engaging gameplay and ingenious character development system, I think it has more potential than anything I've played recently to draw players into—considering its significant spiritual issues and content concerns—an unhealthy level of fantasy disconnect.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles



Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

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