The exploration of Ivalice has been super interesting so far. The game gives you an effective impression of allowing you to go where you want, although your progress is actually fenced in once you wander a little further. And it does feel quite a bit like an MMORPG, presumably FF XI, which I haven’t played. Because it felt like an open affair, it was a disappointment to see that I could only upgrade stuff once before the story progressed; I got a bit carried away with leveling my character and now I have more gil (money) and licence points (experience points) than I can use. You still need to watch your step: the areas you can access include nasties which can eat you for a snack (most recently werewolves). And indeed, I’ve died three times already – something I really don’t expect from a Final Fantasy game’s first hours, but I’m welcoming the need to stay awake.
The story hasn’t much engaged me yet and my current task seems trivial – sneaking into the palace to steal something of value. The goal of becoming a sky pirate seems worthy, though. All of the characters are likeable, which I find a little surprising, albeit in a good sense. I’ve been roaming the desert in search of a magical stone I need to get access to the palace, learning the party system and upgrading my character. And when I say roaming the desert, I understand how that might sound boring, but it’s such a cool desert to roam. There seems so to be so much to explore that I’ve had to bypass much of it in order to stay focused; interesting sights are beyond every corner. I’m trusting that the story will eventually take me to most of it.
The menu system’s level of polish continues to please me. The one thing I don’t like is the need for going through four button presses to issue a command to heal someone, but I guess that’s what the gambit system is supposed to deal with. But things like automatically equipping better equipment you’ve bought are a joy.
Then there’s the audiovisual execution. The English dubbing is very good, the narrator in the intro is so far the only voice I haven’t liked. Music is all right, very Final Fantasy, but not particularly noteworthy. The graphics have never been less than excellent. The visual design is flawless, the attention to detail can be overwhelming, the animation is very good – the only thing that lets it down is the PS2, which just can’t handle that many polygons, but they’ve really put all of that power to good use. Everything that matters is in order; you can see far, but the processing power hogging character models only appear when you’re closer, but it’s never a problem. I especially like that you can see architectural and landscape details a long way away, even if you need to cross several independently loaded zones to get there. So you’re never stepping into the dark and wondering what’s beyond the loading screen.
And there’s the character design, which I just adore. The costumes are inspired and bold, animated with lavish – like the characters’ hair. This might be the most hair-centric game in existence, with interesting, animated haircuts all around. The central character Vaan is a little boring though. What is it with lead chracters in RPGs, is there a law that they can’t be interesting? There’s just no edge, no character to speak of thus far. Each one of the supporting cast is vastly more engaging. I can see that someone might like their avatar to be a blank canvas they can project themselves unto, but to me, that’s just lazy design. If you want to go the carte blanche way, then give me more options to customize the avatar.