It’s been more than 10 years since Final Fantasy XII came out and within that time frame we’ve seen the series as well as the RPG genre evolve and change radically. While it offers a fresh coat of paint and some new content, is it enough to stand on its feet in today’s gaming world?
Unlike the other main entries, Final Fantasy XII takes place in the land of Ivalice—a separate universe where games like Final Fantasy Tactics and the underrated Vagrant Story take place. While still a fantasy setting, Ivalice is a world filled with political instabilities and war. In Final Fantasy XII two countries (Dalmasca and Nabradia) are trapped between two regions (Archadia and Rozaria) who are at war with each other. Princess Ashe from Dalmasca decides to marry the Prince of Nabradia, Rasler, in order to make their countries stronger and put an end to the war. Unfortunately their power is no match and during the conflict Rasler gets killed adding insult to injury. Despite the game focusing a lot on Ashe and her journey of redemption, the game decides to shift its narrative to Vaan, a Damlascan street rat who seemingly has no purpose other than wanting to become a Sky Pirate. It’s during these phases where the game’s narrative sort of loses its focus and ends up being a journey for two characters with mostly two different objectives. The reason why this is so jarring is due to Square Enix execs forcing a teenage male protagonist (Vaan) as the lead which angered the creative director, causing him to leave the project half-way through production.
Despite that, Final Fantasy XII offers quite a diverse cast with pirates and fallen soldiers to name a few. People have often compared the cast and setting to Star Wars which clearly shows, especially during the opening war scene that looks like something straight from the movies. But it doesn’t feel rip-off by any means.
The gameplay and exploration is what truly makes Final Fantasy XII stand out. Often referred to as an offline MMO, the game lets you take on multiple quests in various towns, each of which offer a unique setting and tone. The most prominent are the hunting quests which are probably my favorite. You could spend hours ignoring the main plot to do these actives which is a stand out in a series that is known mostly to be linear or limited during certain sections. Dungeons are also equally massive allowing multiple pathways that offer great rewards. This is by far the most ‘RPG’ Final Fantasy has ever felt. However that doesn’t necessarily make it feel good. These dungeons and worlds can feel a bit too large leading with few checkpoints in between. These could lead to some frustrating moments where your party needs to heal or take breather only to realize that you still have ways to go before reaching the next save crystal.
The combat system is another game changer. Unlike the old turn based battle system, Final Fantasy XII is the first in the series to ditch it in favor of a more MMO twist to it. Enemies appear on the map and you can choose to engage or feel from them. The Gambit System is a means of letting you pretty much program your characters to take care of themselves during combat. If you’re good at it you pretty won’t even need to worry about pushing buttons unless you’re dealing with Quickinings (the game’s limit break mode that includes button prompts). Adding to that players will be able to switch their jobs now and it’s done easier thanks to the Zodiac expansion which was never released in English. It is easily the most flexible battle system in the series and knowing how to use it feels like a game on its own. On the other hand battles tend to feel a bit slow paced. Coming from the action heavy Final Fantasy XV, XII requires more patience. The remaster features a fast forward button which thankfully eliminates a lot of the tediousness and makes grinding a lot easier. But the fact you have a fast forward button sort of proves how badly paced the combat was.
Presentation wise Final Fantasy XII looks exceptional, especially for a PS2 game. The added HD textures and improved lighting with darker shadows really make each scene pop out. The remastered soundtrack is another great plus bringing a more realistic orchestra feel as opposed to the synth composed OST of the PS2. It’s by no means my favorite FF OST but it has a lot of great tracks that stand out. Sadly it lacks a 60 FPS frame rate and no pro support which is a big letdown considering how great KH 1.5 + 2.5 turned out (offering both 4K and 60 FPS).
Final Fantasy XII is certainly the most polarizing entry of the franchise. Many consider it the last true FF game with its emphasis on RPG elements, while others feel it’s a bit on the dull side. The heavy political story and plot ends up making it feel like you’re watching an episode of Game of Thrones (the boring ones with plenty of talking). The characters themselves are not inertly bad by any means, except for Vaan, but I couldn’t help feel a bit bored during most of the story. But even then with its gambit system and a vast world to explore, Final Fantasy XII is an entry that should not be missed.