Final Fantasy XII
Final Fantasy XII spent five years in development beginning in 2001 and was finally released in North America in October of 2006. The game was released on PlayStation 2 which is currently the only system on which the game can be played.
The game was re-released in 2017 for the PlayStation 4, titled the Zodiac Age, which included an updated job and battle system, new License Boards, and many of the other features that were found in the International Zodiac Job System version which had previously only been released in Japan.
Final Fantasy XII stands out amid Final Fantasy games as it differs quite heavily from previous installments in the series. The graphics and game engine were completely redone, the combat system is unlike any of the previous games and the setting strays away from the fantasy-style settings such as those in Final Fantasy VI, VII and IX.
The first thing to note about the game is the huge jump in graphics and the new artistic-style that the developers took in creating the game. While it is very dissimilar to Final Fantasy VII, VIII, IX and X, gamers who previously played Final Fantasy XI, which was an MMORPG completely unlike any other Final Fantasy games, will notice the similarities in character designs and settings.
The cast of characters for Final Fantasy XII is one of the strongest of any Final Fantasy games to date. There are no ridiculous and nonsensical characters like Cait Sith (from Final Fantasy VII) or Quina (from Final Fantasy IX). The main cast includes Vaan, Balthier, Fran, Penelo, Basch and Ashe. The only character who is not a human (referred to as a Hume in-game) is Fran, who is a Viera, and while her race’s attributes are very similar to elven races found in other fantasy-style games and literature, they fit well within the setting of the game.
The world of Ivalice has been seen in previous Final Fantasy titles including Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings. The scenery in the various zones look fantastic and work well with the story, although many fans complained of the story being too “political”. This doesn’t bother me, as I would prefer more of a politically-stylized story than one that is more fantasy driven, but it doesn’t work well for everyone.
Another highly polarizing aspect of the game is the use of the Gambit system which allows you to setup specific actions for characters that are completed only under certain conditions. For example, you can create a Gambit which causes your character to automatically use a Potion on themselves or a party member when their HP drops below 50%. The Gambit system allows you to build specific tactics around moves and focused a lot of the strategic aspect of the game into the preparation before a battle rather than actions taken during a battle. It did not work for every player of the game but I found it both challenging and rewarding; especially once you start to master the basic concepts.
This is also the first game in the series which removed the aspect of randomly encountering foes on the battlefield and being forced into a fight. Instead, monsters and enemies appear on the over world and you can now run right past them. This style has now been repeated in many newer titles in the franchise (Final Fantasy XIII and XV, for example) and finally removes one of the more annoying and unavoidable aspects of the game.
The game is not without flaws though. For example, there are balancing issues with a few of the characters. In the normal PlayStation 2 version of the game, Fran, Penelo and Balthier (to a lesser extent) are underpowered and it does not make sense to use them during a playthrough. Many of these issues have been corrected in updated versions of the game, such as the International Zodiac Job System version released in Japan, and will likely be corrected in future releases of the game (The Zodiac Age).
The game also suffers from problems with spell load times which can cause noticeable problems during faster paced battles. If you noticed this during you’re play through, don’t assume that your PlayStation 2 is broken like I did! This is an unavoidable issue that the game suffers from and that players have to suffer through while playing.
The game also employs a strange replacement to the Limit Break / Trance / Overdrive system – Quickenings. It can take a few tries to get used to Quickenings and to learn how to chain them together, which greatly increases the damage done, but the shear randomness of being able to hit the correct buttons in order and the length of time that the battle is halted while you perform a Quickening Chain is hugely detrimental to the overall experience. Quickening Chains can be used to make many of the battles easier but I avoided them entirely due to the boringness associated with spending several minutes staring at the Quickening screen.
The License Board system is somewhat unique. In the early stages of the game, it offers quite a bit of customization for each of your characters, but this tends to run thin later on in the game as all of the characters begin acquiring the same moves and Magick spells. The Zodiac Age (as well as the International Zodiac Job System version) will solve some of these problems by adding in character classes which will greatly change the mechanics behind a standard playthrough.
Overall, I truly enjoyed this game, and would rank it in my top 3 Final Fantasy games without hesitation. I highly recommend waiting for the Zodiac Age version to come out (hopefully in 2017) as it will included updated graphics and you won’t have to go hunting down an old PlayStation 2 just to play the game (or worse, having to emulate it). I definitely encourage all Final Fantasy fans to give this game a try. 10/10