Initially released in 2006, Final Fantasy XII was an entry into the Final Fantasy series that divided the fan base. It’s hard to find a Final Fantasy fan that ranks it in their top three games of the series, but those who did love the game, really champion what it brought to the series. Final Fantasy XII was the first representation of Square Enix wanting to appeal to the Western audience and they also wanted it to play more like their first MMO, Final Fantasy XI.
For that reason, Final Fantasy XII took a venture away from traditional turn based combat and introduced an active time system where you no longer have to transition to a battle arena to engage enemies. Now, as you explore you can freely approach creatures in your path and tell your character how to attack. As you advance through the game and gain a full party, you’ll be able to set default behaviors for them using the Gambit system.
The Gambit system is a means to set logic for the party members you’re not currently controlling so that they’re always contributing something valuable to a fight other than attacking mindlessly. For example, you can set a Gambit that forces an AI controlled character to Cure any ally that drops below 50HP.
Let’s say you want that same character to focus on healing your party before attacking enemies; well you’re also able to rank these individual Gambits so that they’re prioritized. Once the higher priority Gambit is fulfilled, the character would then get back to attacking the enemy. This is also a useful method for dealing with status ailments that enemies can cast on your team without you having to deal with it yourself. Remember in turn based games when your party had numerous status ailments and low health? This used to mean that you’d have to sacrifice your turn attacking to heal your team. The Gambit system gets rid of this annoyance by allowing you to set specific tasks to different members of your party, so you can have someone attacking at all times.
The Gambit system is something that is fun to tweak and experiment with. Before long you’ll enjoy sitting back and watching your party do all the hard work for you. It’s not as simple as letting the Gambit system play the whole game for you though, because in the later game, you’ll come across so many varieties of enemies that you’ll always need to tweak your approach.
When it comes to equipping your characters, you’ll need to ensure that you’re advancing their License Board. The License Board determines the level of weaponry that each character has access to. Before equipping items that you collect on your journey, you’ll have to make sure your desired character has the license to use it before you’re able to take advantage of it. At first it sounds like a daunting system to work with, but you’ll be on the move racking up License Points so much that it’s never really a hindrance.
Another thing that makes me think of Final Fantasy XII as a single player MMO is the fact that the characters are much like blank canvases. Unlike other mainline Final Fantasy games, there’s no real stand out characters; they’re actually quite bland. On a combat level, this means that you’re able to decide the main class of your party members before filling in their license boards for the first time. If you played the original game back in 2006 then you’ll notice that in The Zodiac Age, the job system has been overhauled to allow you to make each character more distinct. There are a total of 12 different job classes you can chose from each with their unique bonuses to your characters advancement.
Even with the main cast feeling slightly cookie-cutter, Final Fantasy XII‘s story has charm throughout its first half. Unfortunately, the original game lead Yasumi Matsuno had to bow out of development halfway through due to health concerns and this definitely shows in the game as begins to lose steam.
On the surface level Final Fantasy XII tells the story of an ongoing conflict between an evil empire called Archades and a resistance group led by one of the playable characters, Ashe. The main protagonist Vaan has little significance to the cast around him and often feels as though he’s tagging along for the ride.
Thankfully, there are fun diversions to steer you away from the sometimes questionable main story. FFXII has a huge number of hunts that involve defeating unique beasts for cash and items. A modern example of this would be the hunts in The Witcher series. Not only do these hunts provide some level of unexplainable satisfaction, but they also help you develop your characters more and figure out the best Gambit combinations. In typical RPG fashion, you’ll probably also get side-tracked and discover new things about the world of Ivalice.
When Square Enix puts out a Final Fantasy remaster these days, not only do they go out of their way to add a remastered version of the soundtrack – and you can choose whether you’d like the original or remastered version at any time – but they also include an option to increase the speed of the game. In Final Fantasy: XII The Zodiac Age, you can double or quadruple the speed; which makes the more slow and sluggish parts of the game more bearable. This is pretty much a deal-breaker for those wanting to have the Final Fantasy XII experience without it taking up as much time as the original.
In a year where we’ve been overwhelmed by fantastic RPG experiences, one may find it difficult to make a case on why you should play Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age. My case is that this game introduces a unique system – Gambits – that has rarely been replicated by other games in its genre. The closest example I can come up with is Dragon Age Origins‘ tactics system, but even that game was fairly niche at the time. It’s tough to find a combat dynamic as complex as the Gambit system in any other RPG.
Square Enix also deserves much credit for making a PS2 game so visually appealing in 2017. It’s sometimes hard to fathom the amount of work it must have taken re-texturing the environments and adding effects to the facials on each character model. It makes you appreciate just how well designed the game was, even back in its original form; and I’m sure nobody can complain at getting another look at Fran’s bunny suit in HD.
It may not rank as high on my list of Final Fantasy games, but within FFXII: The Zodiac Age is a unique experience that you won’t find in other JRPGs, even today.
This review was based on a physical copy of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age for the PlayStation 4, provided by Square Enix.