Phenomenal game in almost every way!
One of the best Final Fantasy games ever made, especially compared to all FFs released after FF9. I'll begin with the weaker points of the game and go into what I liked most about it.
The narrative is something different for this series. Some like it, some don't. And while I absolutely loved the stories in FFs 6-9, I can appreciate the change from a character-centered story (wherein character development plays a huge role) to a plot-driven story wherein the focus is on the dilemma our heroes face in general. The effects of the war are seen and felt all throughout the land of Ivalice, and even the main characters feel the gravity of this war as they trudge along trying to find a way to stop it. And though this game in particular gets some flack for this, it's really not dissimilar from all other Final Fantasy games. Your characters never REALLY make a difference until the very end where they kill the bad guy. What peeves some FF fans is the lack of a love interest or bonding between party members in general. It's just not that kind of game.
As mentioned earlier, this particular FF is not about character development. Indeed, the characters are already legit and focused on the larger problem before them, rather than the need to make some fairly obvious realization about life or love so that they may grow up and become normal *zips lip* They do each have back stories and you see some changes in them, but there's not a lot of content there. Still, they're generally likable and certainly didn't annoy me like the characters in FF10 and especially FF13! That's partly due to superior voice acting, but mainly due to their personalities being just a little bit more believable/relatable.
I was never bothered by any of the music, but it's not all that memorable either. It was primarily done by Hitoshi Sakimoto, who also did the music for Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story. True he is no Nobuo Uematsu, but he didn't disappoint as far as I'm concerned.
This game is simply beautiful. Even after playing Xbox 360 games for a long while, I'll return to this game and still be quite impressed with the level of detail they put into the environments all around. It's one of the few things even the game's critics agree is really nice!
This is where FF12 shines brightest. There are so many good things to say about the gameplay I am 100% positive I will leave something out. But here goes anyway!
The gambit system is remarkable. What it is, is a way of programming your characters so they will do just what you want WHEN you want, in battle and out. You can prioritize every action. For example, you can make it so your white mage (or whoever you've taught white magic to) only cures characters whose HP falls below 70%. You can make it so characters automatically cast buffs like Protect, Shell, or Haste on themselves when they wear off. These are very simple examples, but the possibilities are endless.
The battles themselves have a much smoother flow to them than ever before or after. Instead of the game interrupting you every few steps to drag you into an entirely different screen where you fight enemies you didn't even know were there, you see the enemies beforehand and have a fighting chance at avoiding them or getting the jump on THEM for a change. And the battle doesn't require loading. The battle and field screen are one in the same. So it plays like a real-time combat sort of game, but is in fact still turn-based (You and your enemies are still waiting for gauges to fill before you can attack, cast a spell, etc.) And instead of having to sit through another couple screens after the battle so the game can tell you how well you did, it simply tells you what loot you picked up (if you pick it up) in the corner of screen and displays the exp and license points where the enemy fell. Very cool.
The License Board system is also a better way of developing character skills, stats, etc. than Final Fantasy games have ever seen. It's a lot like the Sphere Grid in FF10, only you get a lot more freedom from the very beginning so you can start putting each character in their "job classes" (if you prefer to play that way) and of course can teach everyone the same and equip them with the same stuff if that's more your cup of tea. Plus, it's just more simple to navigate. Having to waste a sphere every time you want to "back track" on the grid? Fail.
Exploration. Especially compared to FFs 10 and 13, this game is a lot less linear! In fact, much of the vast world is opened up to you quite early in the game. It's almost overwhelming how many different locations there are to explore. There are plenty of secret areas, too, that have to be unlocked one way or another. It's the last Final Fantasy game to do this right, so far. Here's hoping they come back to it someday!
There is one thing I didn't like and must mention. Finding certain items in chests, trying to steal certain items from enemies, or trying to get enemies to drop certain items can be a pain, particularly if you're one of those who must have at least one of everything in the game. Everything is on a percent chance system so that some items give you literally a 1 in a 100 chance to acquire them (or worse). Other than that, I can't think of anything bad, and certainly nothing that made me want to stop playing!
This game is quite amazing. I couldn't possibly rank them, but this game belongs in the group of my favorites in the series: FF6, FF8, FF7, and FF9. 12 is a must have, especially if you miss a little thing called FREEDOM in your RPGs ;)
There is no blood or gore in this game, but there is the level of violence you can expect in a knights and dragons sort of game (some of which is indeed between humans not just monsters). There are some mystical themes that involve demon-like creatures, but it doesn't go too far into that (with devils or gods, etc.) Worst thing about this game, IMO, is that one of the regularly playable characters (which you don't ever actually HAVE to have in your party but will show up in many of the cutscenes) is a female who is permanently donned in what could only be described as a dominatrix outfit. No joke, the back of the outfit is only slightly less revealing than a thong. So yeah, now you know.