This year, we had the chance to attend SCEA's Annual Holiday Media Event in Toronto to check out the upcoming PSP and PS2 titles that will be released for this holiday season and the year to come. I had the rare opportunity to sit down and chat with a representative from Square Enix to discuss the upcoming Final Fantasy XII for the PlayStation 2.

After several months of teasers, rumors and previews, I got a first hand look at the long awaited FFXII. From the moment I walked into the dimly lit room, the first thing I noticed was the FFXII shrine (alright, it was really just a poster and an LCD monitor), but I knew right away that this title was not going to disappoint. With only a quick glance it was evident that this is one of the most graphically intense Final Fantasy games to date, and really pushes the boundaries of the PS2 hardware. The lighting and texturing of this rendition makes me wonder how it is even running on a PlayStation 2. Even sitting here looking back, I still can't believe just how far they've taken the graphics with FFXII. The developers have covered every angle to perfection, shaders are well utilized, and the overall graphical effects make the characters jump right off of the screen.

As the Square Enix Rep was showing off a few of the new levels, he also took the time to explain and demonstrate the new combat style for Final Fantasy XII. Unlike previous games in the series, you can really customize the combat style to your personal preference. In addition, the concept of Gambits has been implemented, essentially they are a list of actions and boundaries that are followed when entering an encounter, and can be assigned to each of your party members. For example, when I had a mage in my party and we encountered a monster, I could tell him with his first Gambit to automatically heal my party members when they fall to less then 50% health. I could then say, program a second Gambit to attack the nearest land enemy if and only if all of my party members have a heath of 75% or above. You are only given a small number of Gambits to start with, but you'll earn more as you progress through the game.

One of the things that make Final Fantasy XII different from its predecessors is the fact that you can select and choose which battles you want to fight before you take on the challenge. If you don't feel like fighting, you can go into 'retreat mode' and move around creatures to avoid confrontation. With this said, you can also disable Gambits altogether and play the game using a classical turn-based system. The game also allows you to use a combination of the two, with Gambits enabled, wherein you manually select the next action for each of your characters. The introduction of these Gambits it makes the combat in FFXII a lot smoother, as you won't have to worry about the health of your party members when trying to execute a combo power attack. As well, from what we've seen thus far, it seems to speed up the gameplay immensely.

Once we'd claimed victory in a combat session, we'd acquired enough License Points to obtain new features for our party members. If you haven't already guessed, License Points are essentially the replacement for Orbs in previous Final Fantasy titles. You can use these License Points to upgrade the number of Gambits for your character, improve their weaponry, or increase the power of their spells. This upgrade menu is quite advanced; it is of honeycomb shape with multiple sectors. Each sector is divided into smaller honeycomb shapes, each space indicates a specific upgrade to a skill set. The 'big' sectors are divided into specific areas of training such as Dark Magic, White Magic, Weaponry, and Gambits, among others. When you enter the menu, you start right in the middle, and as you progress outwards the smaller honeycombs become more tailored to the eventual skill set you'd like your character to achieve. These skills become more specific, and you can tailor them to not only fit your character, but also your style of play.

Final Fantasy XII promises to offer many hours of new gameplay, players can look forward to in excess of a hundred hours similar to past titles in the series. This one should be available in both regular and limited edition packages (the limited edition is set to include an additional DVD with 90 minutes of bonus materials, including developer interviews, and a full history of the Final Fantasy story). The latest entry into the famed Final Fantasy franchise heads to stores at the end of October, and for fans of the series this one is a must-have.