I liked the ending. It was definitely on the better end of the spectrum as far as denouements in Final Fantasy games. Which kind of makes up for the fact that the last dungeon... wasn't.
Maybe it would have been clearer if i hadn't taken a really long break in the middle, but although i could tell the Lighthouse of Pharos was part of the endgame, i wasn't expecting it to be the _last_ real dungeon. (That might be considered a spoiler, but the game is four years old at this point, and i would have considered it more of a Public Service Announcement if someone had let me in on that little secret earlier =P)
So the ending was good, the credits were kind of meh, and afterwards i just basked in the Prelude Theme and Main Theme during the capture trailer for awhile, since i knew i won't get to experience them in FF13.
So what didn't i like? The list isn't especially long, but it's significant.
(though as usual i go into far too much detail about each element =)
I think there are four main components to Final Fantasy games that draw me in. One of those elements is the theme, which got addressed rather in detail on friday. The other three are the combat, the story, and the exploration.
The number one thing i hated about FF12 the most, and the thing that dragged the entire rest of the game down with it, was the combat.
The battles were boring as hell.
A significant factor in that boredom, though not the most important element, was the lack of distinct battles. Perhaps it is just due to decades of pavlovian training from almost all of the RPGs that have come before it, but there's something exciting about encountering an enemy, the transition to the battle, the battle music starting up, usually with a driving beat, and the eventual (or towards the end of the game frequently rather sudden) victory, fanfare and reward.
Despite the lack of all those things, i still kind of enjoyed combat for the first part of the game, since you spend a lot of that time on your own. When you're on your own you can pretty much do everything by hand. Most of the addictive cycle was missing, but i was still roaming around, finding groups of enemies, and ordering Vaan to slaughter them. It certainly could have been better with the addition of the above elements, but it was still fun.
Then i got a full roster of people. I tried to keep on playing in the old style, giving everyone specific orders as the combat progressed, but it quickly became apparent that that wasn't really a feasible long term strategy. Because the combat happens in real time and with free movement things quickly become muddled. You frequently can't tell what's going on when watching the action except in a very broad sense, and even if you try to watch the status bar it's still far too easy to miss something like someone with low health or a debilitating status effect until it's too late. So you are pretty much forced to set up Gambits.
I am a programmer by trade. I generally like programming. Sometimes i'll even do programming at home just for fun (though not as often as i'd really like, i keep spending the time doing things like playing Final Fantasy instead =)
I'm tempted to say that sometimes i've done programming all day and when i get home i don't want to relax by doing more programming, but i'm not sure that's really true. It may be a factor, but there have certainly been times where i've been tired of programming at work but still been interested in my own programming projects at home. I think the problem is simpler than that.
The "programming language" of the Gambits just sucks.
It's not really even a language, it's more of just a script. A linear bunch of "if then else" statements. At most you get 12 such statements, and ideally you'd want a lot more if you wanted to encode all the possibilities you can think of. As it is you can cover _most_ of the eventualities if you spread the tasks out between your three party members, but even then you can run into issues (you really want X to happen, but character #1 is supposed to do that and they're silenced, so you either have to issue the order to someone else directly or wait for character #2 to get around to casting Esuna, etc.)
Aside from occasional issues like that the AI is capable of taking on any of the non-boss characters, so all you have to do is move them around the map until they find some monsters, wait for them to kill the monsters, then move around the map some more until you find more monsters.
So once you've got everything streamlined you pretty much get to sit back and watch the AI play the game for you.
Or rather, boring with occasional periods of frustration. Perhaps i should view the occasional times when the characters run into situations that i didn't think to program for (or more likely just couldn't because of the limitations of the Gambits) as the glorious opportunity to step in and take direct control, but somehow when a system that i don't particularly like in the first place fails to do what i wanted it to do i just get frustrated.
I think there are two purposes to programming. It lets you create ways of doing things that people want to do but that aren't feasible without computer aid, and it lets you automate tasks that no one wants to do.
Using it to automate tasks that people like doing is kind of defeating the purpose.
So when i play Final Fantasy 12 I have to work in a poor language to eliminate the part of the game I want to do myself the most, then sit back and be bored and occasionally frustrated.
I thought the characters' personalities were interesting, but i was kind of disappointed with their graphical representation. First of all, they were all way too blonde. Second of all, they tried to give everyone tans, which makes sense since they lived in a desert i guess, but the implementation was a total failure. This failure was most spectacular in the case of Vaan's chest. If you zoom in you can see a horribly stark and mishappen grid on his chest which i think is supposed to indicate ribs, or muscles, or something. What it actually looks like is some kind of horrible skin disease. I mentioned something last night about hating the skin on the characters to shelleycat last night, and she said they looked fine to her. So i zoomed in on Vaan (for the best effect you need to get him close to a wall so the camera swings in close) and her response after seeing that was something to the effect of "oh god that's horrible, please make it stop."
Unfortunately, once you've seen that horrible texturing up close you can't unsee it. Even though it's not as obvious when the camera is far away you can still tell it's there. And there are hints of the same thing on most of the characters' cheeks, and on some of their arms as well. Maybe it was just that the camera didn't get as close to them, but a lot of the NPCs looked far more attractive that the player characters you were supposed to be empathizing with. I'm sure that massive horrific skin cancer is a concern for a bunch of blonde people living in the middle of a desert, but the visual effects of that poor lifestyle choice are not something i really wish to partake of in my entertainment.
I don't know about the technical details in regards to the graphics, but the the characters in FF10, and even a lot of the enemies, looked far more attractive than they did in FF12.
The general world was perfectly adequate. I thought the graphics were a bit washed out. I'm sure that was intentional, what with a lot of the areas being desert and all, but that aspect still wasn't particularly attractive to me.
Of course i also thought the world was rather more 3D than it needed to be, but that's just a peculiar predilection of mine. My parents have commented more than once that from the moment i started watching video entertainment i had a clear preference for anything animated, while my sister seemed to prefer live-action stuff. (I have of course done my best to try and broaden her horizons in regards to animation =) I seem to have imprinted on 2D cartoony images long before the NES and SNES were around to cement my feelings on the issue, which is why i was initially so disappointed with FF7. Ironically i appreciate FF7 more now that the graphics seem so cartoony in comparison to more modern 3D games. (The other big factor in the revision of my feelings towards it was the gameplay in FF8, which made me feel nostalgic for a more normal system like that of FF7s.)
I did enjoy having areas to explore and side quests to complete. I would have spent even more time doing that, except that my frustration with the gameplay kind of made completing them a drag.
(Edit: Oh yeah, i did have issues with the bounty system. Making the conditions for getting bounties obfuscated was bad. Making the system for tallying up/spending the loot to decide if you had unlocked a bounty really really stupid was worse. Doing both was atrocious. That was the #2 thing that drove me to start looking up stuff in FAQs. (#1 was of course the incredibly stupid requirements for the Zodiac Spear.))
The story was pretty good, though a little convoluted (though maybe it would have been less so if i'd finished it all in one chunk.) That's kind of in keeping with a game set in Ivalice however :)
Back to the ending again, the endings of FF games have always held a disproportionate weight with me. I wouldn't be surprised if that was true for a lot of people though. Just like making a good first impression is important, often one of the things you'll remember most about any kind of media is the last thing about it that you experienced.
Final Fantasy 12 did almost everything right for an ending. You fought the person you'd been expecting to fight for the past couple hours, after the fight you got a cutscene with a strong ending, and after that you got an actual denouement that gave at least a brief overview of what happened after the events of the game.
The only area where it fell down a little was the final credits. The music was kind of meh, and the sketch drawings in the background were kind of boring. I went back and checked, and the credits for most of the previous FF games had much stronger music for the credits, which explains why i was kind of underwhelmed. I think the credits would have been perfectly good if they could have come up with better music for it. Of course it would have been awesome if they could have come up with better music _and_ had something more interesting going on in the background. Just to favour my own biases, i wonder if this is a problem with the rise of 3D graphics? Perhaps coming up with new scenes just for the end credits is too much work, whereas with 2D sprites throwing something together was comparable easy. Although i do think that even just reusing a lot of clips from earlier in the game to go back over the highlights would still have been a big improvement over the sketches.
(Upon checking back, it seems like the FF12 ending music isn't particularly weak. The two things come to mind as i listen to it. There's not a lot of drums, and it's orchestrated. I think perhaps that chiptunes register a lot more with my brain than real orchestrated music. Like my preference for 2D this is probably something peculiar to me (and perhaps some other oldschool gamers =) and not something Squenix necessarily has a responsibility to address. I do think the addition of some more percussion would have helped though.)
All in all, despite a couple issues with the credit roll this was definitely one of the better FF endings out there.
I thought FF4 was also very good, despite complaints from some people about the end boss coming out of nowhere. You learn about the actual final boss hours before the end of the game, so i really don't consider it much of a surprise. Although it's often used in comparison in FF9, FF9 was a little weak leading up to the ending, but then totally falls down (literally as well as figuratively =P) for the final boss, whose existence isn't revealed before you actually fight him and isn't really explained after the fight either.
I think FF5 still ranks as the best ending in my book, though FF12 gives it a run for the money in every regard except for the credit roll. (Edit: Now that i think about it, they both used the exact same mechanic for the denouement as well. Coincidence? =) As weird as the character design for the final boss was (An evil undead tree, for those who haven't played one of the best FF games out there =) you know who it is you're up against and why for a significant chunk of the game. The denouement is pretty much identical in quality to FF12 in terms of letting you know the state of the world a year or so down the line (as far as i can remember anyways) and it had some awesome music for the credit roll. FF5 also started the (very brief) trend of having something other than a starfield or pure black to watch while the credits went by. Just showing off some Mode 7 stuff really, but still better than nothing.
I always feel a little torn about FF6. You are provided pretty much zero information about the state of the world post crisis. However in terms of music and character development it is a work of artistic genius as far as ending cutscenes go. And like FF5, along with having good credit roll music the Mode 7 airship scenes are more entertaining that vague brownish sketches.
FF7 also failed on post crisis information, and no, the Red XIII scene doesn't cut it. However unlike FF6 it didn't have a particularly artistic ending either.
FF8's ending i really don't remember. I'm not sure if that says anything about the ending or not.
FF9 had the aforementioned extreme issues with the final boss. I believe that other than that the denouement was decent. And now that i check, it actually did the "clips from prior in the game" thing during the credit roll too.
I loved everything about FF10 except for the ending. (Okay, and the lack of the main theme song :) The end boss was certainly predicted and explained. Despite that the final fight felt stupid and inadequate in ways that i'm not sure if i can explain. After that the immediate ending was pretty good, but the denouement was a little too short and focused (just the one speech in the one location.) And plain black for the credits, but at least it had a good song in japanese for it.