The Player

by Marty Demarest & r & & r & FINAL FANTASY XII RATED TEEN, PS2 & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & B & lt;/span & efore I tell you how I killed that pumpkin head, I want to grab the bag of treasure he dropped. This tangly, dark knot of forest is crawling with the gaping jack o' lantern scarecrows, and I don't want one coming around that mossy tree root while I'm sorting things out.

The treasure he dropped is only a piece of fruit. It's the sort of thing I could sell for a few gil to Luccio, the caravaner who's set up shop back in the mountains. The last time I went to him, I sold him three "screamroots" that I had pickpocketed from a bunch of pumpkin heads before I killed them. He bought the roots and mixed me up a box of medicine.

I require plenty of medicine to stay alive in Final Fantasy XII: healing potions, elixirs and restorative magic spells. The first license I bought when I started adventuring was the Cure spell. (Here in the world of Ivalice, one needs a license to wear each hat, wield every dagger or cast any spell. Perhaps this level of bureaucratic fussiness has something to do with the recent takeover by our neighboring kingdom...)

The last license I acquired allowed me to swing the sword that slew that pumpkin head. It's a special sword, forged of icy steel with a crystalline star spiking out of the hilt. Called an "icebrand," it sends shudders of frozen pain through cold-sensitive enemies. They simply wither up and die.

The icebrand that I have in my tow-headed hero's hands is much more effective than the quaint "onion arrows" my willowy and well-endowed archer has in her quiver. But even if the pumpkin heads were to surround her, whaling on her while she carefully shot them, the princess Ashe is under strict orders to Cure anyone on our side. That's how I kill pumpkin heads: as a team of complex characters, empowered by all the individuals that I am.

THE GOOD: After squeezing every nuance out of turn-based combat, Square Enix wisely chose to allow their flagship role-playing series to try a new battle system. Fights occur in real time, without swooshing out of the gameworld into an isolated theater of battle. I still fight enemies by selecting actions from menus, then waiting for my orders to be carried out. But the ability to move around a 3D environment while the battle is happening keeps the game flowing.

THE BAD: Final Fantasy XII's real-time battle system forces me to stop and start fights whenever I want to give a character a different battle command. This can slow things down, but the game incorporates a system of auto-commands that can control my characters for me, keeping the game moving through large doses of small skirmishes. Collecting these commands and implementing them, combined with the need to develop my characters by collecting weapons and accessories, makes the game's character development system an occasional, epic chore of managing an inventory of items and strategies.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Final Fantasy XII tells the series' most subtle story, embodying me within the lavish tapestry-world of an overthrown kingdom and weaving me into the plot with a blend of heady character development and seamless combat.