Ok, I am ashamed to admit it, I am an adamant FF fanatic and only got this once it was cheap due to lack of cash...I wish I hadn't.
The game, as you may have already surmised, is a direct sequel to the Ps2's FFXII, continuing the tale of Vaan and friends, who are now fully fledged sky pirates with their own ship. After a short introductory chapter in Rabanastre that teaches you the ropes of the game, you are whisked off to explore the floating world of Le'mures, broken up into 5 or 6 continents. So, let's attack this one by one...
Gameplay is an RTS STRATEGY, which you would know if you took the time to read the blurb or other reviews. Essentially your army and the opposition army both move and attack in 'real time' (not turn based!!!). You look upon the battlefield in a pseudo 3-D isometric view (similar to that of FF tactics) and must guide your army to victory against the enemies in a variety of conditions. Mission objectives are varied and range from saving hostages to eliminating all enemies, to navigating trap filled temples, or preventing destruction of an important crystal. Each of the important party members (Vaan, Penelo etc) is a group 'leader', who can themselves be guided to attack, heal, and capture important enemy summoning gates. Each leader can summon a small group of 'espers' that are theirs to command, and the stylus control works beautifully to enable you full and responsive control of all groups. You pan the battlefield with your D-Pad, and everything else is done with the stylus and allows for skillful and competent play...this game is one example of the stylus put to brilliant use.
Units are subdivided into melee, flying, and ranged classes, with a weapon triangle similar to fire emblem created (melee good against ranged, ranged against flying etc). On top of this, elemental weaknesses allow you to take further advantage (or vice versa, the AI is extremely intelligent!) Party leaders level up with successful victories, and can be outfitted with new equipment and skills as they gain experience.
The game is a definate long laster (true to FF's name), and contains about 90 missions, many of them optional sidequests to flesh out the story and your character's experience. The game weighs in at about 20-25 hours for an initial completion, partly owing to the difficulty of the game. This game is HARD...Enemy units relentlessly summon espers, and defend their summoning gates with their lives, sometimes venturing forth small armies to take yours and push you into a little corner that will become your grave. That said, there is no need for level grinding, and a good strategist will be comfortable with the level of difficulty.
Finally, and of some importance, is the presentation, where Square enix have outdone themselves. The graphics in game are gorgeous rendered environments in the same sort of watercolour style as FF12 (and in my opinion even more impressive!) The music and sounds are lovingly recreated on the DS speakers, and those who hear the Dalmascan estersand theme booming out of the DS for the first time will be gobsmacked. It may lack "ring of fates" fully 3D presentation, but it makes up for that with exquisite battlefield design and incredible cutscenes that trump any of the Ps1's FF's.
So, the question you ask is, what if I didn't play FF12? I answer truthfully, that it had a pretty bad storyline if there was one, so I advise you to quickly read up on it and if you are a strategy fan, grab a copy of this game (it has a deep story, a definite improvement over FF12!)
Overall, Square Enix have managed to create a sequel to FF12 that is challenging, beautiful, and squeezes in even more charm that it's predecessor.
Pure DS Gold, this one