Of all the different genres, RPGs are the type of game every journalist fears covering during E3. With its flashing lights, blaring music, and attractive women all vying for your attention, E3 is certainly a unique experience. Hopping from booth to booth, kiosk to kiosk, all the games eventually run together as you try to put just five minutes into a title, hoping to do the game justice in your nightly write-ups. Maybe, if you're really lucky, a developer will be on hand to walk you through the demo, pointing out intricacies and features that would otherwise be left unseen. So I was understandably a little apprehensive when approaching Final Fantasy XII.
As I picked up the controller at an empty kiosk, my fears soon dissolved as I was immediately engrossed by the demo. The graphics are gorgeous, and the improved facial animation system allows for an amazing expression of emotion, even when you're on the E3 show floor. Without spoiling anything, I'll say this - at the end of the first chapter, I was ready to go home and play Final Fantasy XII for the next week, and this was the first game I touched on the third day of the show. It was really that good.
To be fair, there have been those that strongly disliked Final Fantasy XII. Their reason for dislike is actually the same reason I like it so much - the battle system. For those who have played Final Fantasy XI, the battle system should seem quite familiar. Those who haven't, such as myself, may require a brief tutorial.
Gone are the days when you would randomly encounter enemies. Now you can see them, on-screen, before the fight. Even more exciting is that the fights no longer occur in a seperate engine. As you approach an enemy, pressing O brings up the combat menu. Through this, you can target the enemy and choose your attack. Your character carries out the action, and you wait for the ATB gauge refill before choosing another. Integrating the exploration and combat engines gives FFXII a much more cohesive and connected feel when compared to previous offline titles. Finally, after 10 games of the same battle system, some innovation! A change! This alone was enough to renew my interest in the series.
By no means was the FFXII demo short, either. I put thirty minutes into it and barely scratched the surface. Rough estimates say that the demo had between three and five hours of playtime. Based off this, many have speculated that the demo may make an appearance in either OPM or as a pack-in with another Square Enix title later this fall.
I'll be honest - Final Fantasy XII was my game of the show, and easily the most promising RPG I've played since Knights of the Old Republic. If you've ever been a fan of the Final Fantasy series, be sure to give XII a try when it hits later next year.