Sequel Slump: Final Fantasy XII

Beginning with Final Fantasy X-2, Square-Enix began to explore expanded universes for certain entries of its Final Fantasy franchise, most of whose installments took place in entirely different dimensions. The year 2006 saw the debut of the much-anticipated Final Fantasy XII in Japan and North America, the title seeing mostly positive critical acclaim. The next year saw the release of a direct sequel for the Nintendo DS, Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings. With this writer having analyzed possible sequel slump between Final Fantasy X and its own direct sequel, he now will take a look at the transition between the twelfth entry and its sequel to see if it demonstrates sequel slump.

Gamers got their first look at the English version of Final Fantasy XII through a demo disc included with the North American release of Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, the gameplay in this writer’s mind bearing some resemblance to that in the Growlanser franchise, with commands having charge times before and after use in a sort of real-time tactical battle system. The actual English release of the game saw a great expansion of this system, with A.I. commands known as Gambits playing part when certain situations for the party of three playable characters occur, for instance, having Vaan steal items from enemies when they’re at full health but executing normal attacks when antagonist HP falls below that threshold.

Behind the Gambit system is the License Board that all characters share, where the player can use points obtained from killing enemies to expand ally range and obtain permission to equip more powerful items and unlock additional Gambit slots, for example. The updated rerelease of the twelfth installment, Final Fantasy XII International: Zodiac Job System allows characters to have different classes and thus differing License Boards, although unfortunately, North American gamers would miss out on this version of the game, and will continue to unless Square-Enix decides to release an HD version of the game, possibly depending upon how well the HD versions of Final Fantasy X and X-2 sell.

Other aspects of the twelfth Final Fantasy alongside its gameplay received decent acclaim as well, such as Hitoshi Sakimoto’s sweeping epic soundtrack, the voice acting, the HDTV-compatible visuals, and the storyline with a translation bearing a Shakespearean flavor. Granted, Final Fantasy XII was not without its share of criticisms, such as the general laissez-faire disposition of combat, the lack of diversity concerning the License Board system (which the so-called “International” version rectified), and not enough story scenes. Even so, many considered the twelfth game to be a swan song of PlayStation 2 titles.

The following year saw the release on the Nintendo DS of Final Fantasy XII’s direct sequel, Revenant Wings, which borrowed from its predecessor in areas such as the gameplay, the sequel largely being a tactical RPG with real-time combat that made especial use of the stylus. Story-wise, the portable title did a decent job continuing its predecessor’s plotline, with old and new faces in the mix. As has been the case with most Final Fantasy titles, perhaps out of critical fear of inflaming tensions with rabid series fanatics, Revenant Wings debuted to general positive reviews.

Is the direct sequel to Final Fantasy XII every bit as enjoyable as its prequel? In that case, the answer is definitely a matter of opinion, with this writer feeling that Revenant Wings was with its share of flaws, for instance the unfriendliness towards dextral gamers that had to use the same hand to wield the stylus and press the Nintendo DS’s face buttons to perform sufficiently in combat, whereas sinistral players could use the stylus in their left hands and keep their right hands free for button pressing when necessary. There also was the matter of the balance of gameplay and rough execution of the title’s alleged rochambeau formula where certain units headed by primary protagonists were more effective against certain other unit types while weak against other unit types, the setup not necessarily working as desired all the time.

This writer also found issue with other areas of Revenant Wings, such as the tedium of setting up units before battle, a flaw native to other tactical RPGs, the recycled soundtrack from the game’s predecessor (although it is a good soundtrack nonetheless), and occasional graphical slowdown and pixilation. Granted, he did find some positive elements of the game, such as the acquisition of experience for the main characters even upon defeat, and relative decency of the storyline, at least when compared to the previous direct Final Fantasy sequel, X-2, although in his opinion, these positive points still weren’t enough to make game enjoyable.

In the end, the transition between Final Fantasy XII, one of this writer’s favorites of the legendary franchise, and its direct sequel, Revenant Wings, demonstrates, at least in his opinion, a bit of sequel slump, given the enjoyability of the first game’s diversity and its sequel’s lackluster tactical combat, although this writer will freely admit that he doesn’t tend to enjoy even the most highly-acclaimed titles in the genre. The two games are part of a greater subseries of Final Fantasy known as the Ivalice Alliance, although the chronology of titles in the brand is somewhat ambiguous, and it would seem that Square-Enix has moved on to other Final Fantasy subseries such as Fabula Nova Crystallis, and likely won’t return to the world of Ivalice unless they decide to do an HD rerelease of Final Fantasy XII.

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