Final Fantasy XII is the best example I could give anyone to support the expression "Change is good." Because, let's face it: the last 10 games in the series derived more or less of the same boring pattern; moogles, Uematsu, turn-based role playing, spiky hair, fanfares... You know the rest. So would it be too much to try to mix things up for once? Taking such a bold move towards the biggest RPG series in history is a very risky decision, especially with fans being divided between moving on and sticking to traditions. And even though Final Fantasy X, in all its glory, diverged from the series' traditional roots, it only did so in small steps, now paling in comparison next to its direct series follow-up (sorry, XI) Final Fantasy XII.
The entire universe of Final Fantasy XII draws from the world of Ivalice found in former Final Fantasy Tactics games, which already puts a heavy influence on the game's art direction, score and most importantly, script. What script writer Matsuno managed to create, was a living, thriving world that not only came off as a pretty realistic recreation of a war-torn society, but perfectly mimics human characters and their motivations. At first glance, character models in FFXII have very distinguished faces that look like they were painted in lush watercolors. It was an intentional stylistic choice by character designer Akihiko Yoshida and adds to the bits and pieces that make the game feel more out of the surreal and fantastic.
Matsuno has written the most un-clichéd RPG story in recent years, managing to avoid many of the stock narrative pitfalls that plague so many RPGs. For example, it may take you a while to figure out who the main character is, but to be honest, Final Fantasy XII doesn't have one, but several. Like most Matsuno scripts, there is no monolithic good or evil, but people that can indulge either side, with human motivations. The villain can show kindness and sincerity just as much as the hero can grow selfish in his thirst for power (though nothing as exaggerated as destroying the planet). Each individual has a personality that you grow to understand and, by the end of the game, get really hooked on. The story was also stripped of any complicated political nonsense. It's pretty much like Star Wars, minus the forgettable mess about intergalactic laws and such.
...Final Fantasy XII is a must-have title for the PlayStation 2, even for those skeptical of RPGs.
Subtle aesthetic touches to many parts of the game you'd never notice (like the tapestry in certain shops, foliage outdoors, brick patterns in a temple wall and even the textures found on NPCs) is ridiculous. Every sound effect and illumination is rendered painstakingly to create a rich, believable world. Because of this, most of the towns in Final Fantasy XII actually feel like they're brimming with life from every corner. Just the bazaar of Rabanastre is a perfect example what everyday bustling life in the city would be like.
Hitoshi Sakimoto’s score is composed of pronounced symphonic arrangements and percussions which make the game feel surreal and fantastic, so comparisons to Star Wars are well-founded. The musical style chosen for this game is spot-on, since something more simplistic would miss its mark, and fail to recapture the livelihood of Ivalice and its lower states.
Combat in FFXII remains the most striking change in the series, by dropping random encounters altogether. Not only that, but all battles are now real-time with a hint of menu use, if you wish not to program your characters to the letter. The Gambit system offers a clever way of assigning tasks to your party members (composed of three players), automatically vetting them decisions based on depending circumstances. Some would call it lazy or just plain boring, but there is some fun to creating your own débrouillard party. It's so seamless, in fact, that it makes you wonder why it hadn't been done sooner, since most Final Fantasies are heckled at for being nothing more then a mashing of the cross button.