Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

  • Hi all,

    I just finished my first playthrough of Final Fantasy XII and wanted to share my thoughts with you all. I first tried FF12 back in '07, when I saw the steelbook on sale at Circuit City for I think $15. I got to the point where Basch joins the party, but put the game down shortly thereafter. I loved the visuals and the music, but the combat was way too slow for me, and I didn't understand the character progression or the gambit system. I don't know what happened, but over the last few years, I got the itch to try it again. With the release of the remaster on Switch, I jumped in. More than a decade later, I think I can say that I freaking love this game. That said, I think I love it beacuse of all the changes they made in the remaster.

    First, without the speed-up functionality, the game's combat is objectively too slow. I tried playing on regular speed for the first hour or so of the game and felt like I was losing my mind. The character progression is immensely rewarding, but without increasing the speed to 2x it would be a complete slog. But I did have 2x speed, and I also had 4x speed. And lo and behold, I think this is the best non-turn based battle system I've played in a JRPG. Keep in mind, I typically don't like ARPG battle mechanics - I feel like they get a little too button mashy. This feels like a natural evolution of the classic ATB systems from FF4-9, incorporating the seamless world in a way that feels natural and exciting. I also love the flexibility of the gambit system, and appreciate the battles that make you really think about how you set up your party. Some of the later hunts were especially good at this. That said, I don't understand why they specific gambits had to be purchased. It makes much more sense to me to just have them all available from the get-go, and removes some of the tedium of trying to grind up the cash to buy some of the more essential gambits. I also think they could build on the system by adding more conditionals (e.g. enemy weak to fire & enemy HP < 30,000 ---> Fira). Still, I can't remember why I had so much trouble with it back in the day. Maybe it was because I never had enough money. Have I mentioned how incredible it is to be able to speed up time in this game? My god.

    The revamped license board system was also a welcome change. I actually felt like I was building my character, and it made character progression choices feel much more meaningful. This is essentially what I had hoped for when I played FF10 last year - use the licenses to shape your characters' abilities, but maintain leveling for broader stat boosts. In general, the new license boards made each character feel much more unique, and helped me get invested in their general arc.

    I don't remember much about the quickening system in the original game, but I am very happy that mist abilities are no longer tied to your MP. I think the argument could be made that it makes the game too easy, but I probably would've never used quickenings if it meant I couldn't use magic. It would've crippled one of the big combat mechanics.

    Ultimately, though, I just really loved spending time in this world. The music is stellar, the art direction holds up, and you just really get the feeling that you're going on a journey. I know people shit on Vaan and Penelo, but I think they're perfectly fine surrogates for the player. Balthier has quickly become one of my favorite characters in video games, and I thought the reveal of his parentage was surprisingly well-handled. It wasn't a big deal, he simply tells Ashe as part of a story to help her along. Some of the plotting and the writing could get pretty clunky, especially at the beginning, but I still much prefer the style of storytelling we get in the world of Ivalice compared to most other Final Fantasy games. It was shockingly mature throughout, with only a couple big moments of anime melodrama. I do think the Ivalice games could tone down the excessive use of mystical terminology, though. I get that religion and mysticism is central to this world, but it's almost impossible to remember what all of the consonant-riddle proper nouns means when they're scattered across a 50 hour playtime. At least include a glossary.

    TL;DR this game is great, and I'm glad I gave it a second shot. Between FF12 and FFTactics, I really hope we get more games in the Ivalice Alliance. I'd love to see a game that takes place around the great Cataclysm, so we can see why the Viera, moogles, etc. disappeared from the world. Maybe one day they'll re-release Vagrant Story with a revamped combat system so I can get through that one, too!