Spawn Point: What to know about Final Fantasy XII

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This is Spawn Point, where we take something from the world of gaming and explain what it is, why it’s worth your time and how you can get involved. This week, Final Fantasy XII is coming to PC – a whole 12 years after its release on PlayStation 2. That’s good, it’s one of the better ones. If your idea of Final Fantasy is boring turn-based battles, well, that’s fair. But this one is a little different.

Go on then, what’s this one about? WAR. Plus some other things. Rogueish airship captains, a princess, an orphan, a resistance, and some scary judges in big armour. This is all expected from Final Fantasy. But in tone it’s the closest the series ever got to being Star Wars. It’s a swashbuckling fantasy tale. More Stardust than The Hobbit.

Oh cool, does it have a woman who’s also a star? No, but it does have an emotionless rabbit woman in a leather bodice.

Uh, excuse me? She’s called Fran and she’s co-pilot to Balthier, the gentleman sky pirate and de facto protagonist of the game. For the sake of the JRPG, she fulfils the role of slim girl in impractical clothing. For the sake of our Star Wars analogy, she’s Chewbacca.

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Wait wait wait, what do you mean this Balthier guy is the “de facto” protagonist? Right, yes. You play as Vaan, a blonde orphan with dreams of sky piracy in the magical world of Ivalice. But mostly, he’s just along for the ride, like Luke Skywalker. The rest of the gang are more interesting and fun. Through hijinks and plotstuff you eventually learn that to save the world you must find the–

Wait, don’t tell me… the crystals. Yes! The ancient magicite contains–

Great destructive power, right? Are you reading my notes!?

I don’t need to. Every Final Fantasy is the same. Ah, well, it’s true that the same elements repeat themselves in the series. But I like to think of Final Fantasy as comfort gaming. It’s like having a nice long soak in a bathtub full of warm, soapy tropes. Yet in many respects, the twelfth instalment breaks away from the older games in exciting ways.

Oh neat. How? It lets you control the camera.

Revolutionary. More significantly, it doesn’t have random encounters.

Ooooooh. In previous games your screen freezes and you get launched into a slow battle of menus and sub-menus. But in the world of Ivalice, you can see the enemies before approaching them. Battles are normally telegraphed and you get time to prepare and know your enemies, even consulting a bestiary. It still often feels clunkily JRPG-like because your actions are still determined by menus rather than buttons mapped to sword swings. But fight to fight this was a massive change from the previous games. And that style of battling stuck around, even until Final Fantasy XV.

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Okay, I’ve seen some footage and it seems… overwhelming. I can see that. But much of this colourful on-screen furniture is helpful. For example, lines are drawn between people and creatures to show who is attacking what. But much of this busy screen is redundant, since the real fighting takes place outside the battle.

Ah yes, in the minds of the combatants! No. In the configuration screens.

Oh. I mean the “gambit” system. Basically, you program your party members to fight in specific ways. It’s comparable to Dragon Age’s tactics. In practice this is another menu where you’ll spend time between fights tinkering with ‘<’ and ‘>’ symbols. But fill in these gambits correctly and you can automate the fight with satisfying precision. You can get your healer to cure anyone whenever they fall low on health, for example, or program your black mage to attack enemies weak against ice with Blizzara.

That sounds like there’s no game left. It depends. If you’re into JRPGs, it’s oddly refreshing. If you’re into programmable AI, it’s great. If you want to hit things with your sword, one hit at a time, in the ponderous fights of old, well… you can always interrupt the gambits at any time. Taking control of a character will always put your decisions before the automation. Or you can turn them off completely. However, it’s designed in a way that expects you to do some if-then-else-ing.

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I’ll admit it, I like Star Wars. But I really can’t be bothered with all the grinding. That’s okay, many Final Fantastics feel the same. Howe–

Hang on. Final Fantastics? It’s what Final Fantasy fans are called.

It’s bloody not. It is on the websites I visit. Anyway, for anyone who despises the grind, the remastered ports have always understood that many players will be returning for the story, not the game. So they include built-in cheats you can activate at any time. Final Fantasy XII is no different. Basically, you can fill your bank account full of gold and your skill tree with XP from the first moments. And if you really want to rush through the brawls and see the environments and cinematics, there’s a button to double the fight speed.

So this is the original game? Not quite. Its full title is Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age. In other words, it’s the remastered version that came to the PlayStation 4 last year. It’s got a bit of a reworked class system and HD textures that some would say look worse than the original. But yes, the original is intact, although we don’t know what the PC port is like yet. It also features hunting huge creatures as a profitable pastime.

Oh! It’s like Monster Hunter! Why didn’t you just say so! Uh, it’s like Monster Hunter inasmuch as it is sometimes about killing large things for loot, yes. But y–

I love Monster Hunter! OK, but listen. The monster hunting is only a very small part of it. For real dino bashing, there’s Monster Hunter World, but you’ll have to wait until Autumn to play that on PC, even though all your console mates got it last week.

Aw, that’s aaages away. It’s shorter than 12 years.

Final Fantasy XII is out on February 1 on Steam

45 Comments

  1. Spacewalk says:

    What’s the belt rating on this one?

    • Xerophyte says:

      Vaan has an OK belt game, but his abs beat them 5-3.

      Unlike most of the post-6 Final Fantasies the character designs are by Akihiko Yoshida who also headed design for Tactics, the other Ivalice games and 14. This difference doesn’t imply any tendency towards practical fashion and about half of the main party looks totally ridiculous. Fran’s fighting bondage negligee was mentioned. Ashe, the main heroine of the game, fights for her desert nation’s freedom in thigh boots and the world’s smallest miniskirt. There’s also a lovingly rendered pirate lady who wears her underwear over her daisy dukes for some reason.

  2. Viroso says:

    Don’t believe in Ondore’s lies.

  3. Someoldguy says:

    Any word on pricing? The PS4 version appears to be available for around £12.

    • Avioto says:

      I’m not sure about that wacky currency you guys are using, but in euros/dollars the full price on Steam is probably going to be 50 bucks, and during launch (1-8 feb) there will be a 20% discount.

  4. Demios says:

    There’s no “de facto” protagonist, if there were it would be Basch.

    • MrCrun says:

      Yes he is, I know because he himself said so. I only wish the game had recognised that. It didn’t though.

    • habeasdorkus says:

      Wait, I thought the protagonist was Ashe. And she’s a woman, too! But either way she and Basch are the protagonist/deutagonist of the game.

  5. TheOneFlow says:

    I honestly felt like XII was one of the worst entries in the series. The gameplay is fun enough, the production values are high enough, but it’s got to be the most derivative, long-winded nonsense story Squenix has ever produced. (Which is saying something, these people are out there)

    • Mara says:

      Hah, interesting. 12 was also one of the worst entries I’ve ever played but for entirely different reasons. I hated that the limited gambit system didn’t let me optimise a strategy to my heart’s content (even after acquiring all the slots), and that there were random drops inside chests (I vaguely recall hearing this was reworked for the rerelease though).

      You’re not wrong on the story being a mess though (especially the characters being practically paper-thin), but I feel like I could have endured that if the gameplay had been more to my liking.

      • lanster27 says:

        I agree based on what I remember 5+ years ago. Story was confusing and boring. No personality to the characters due to weak voice acting and dialogue. Combat was refreshing but got boring quickly as each zone was quite big, healing was required every 1-2 battles, and camera control was a mess. I think I got to ~20 hours before I gave up and went back to Last Remnant, which had similar theme but better story and tighter combat.

      • emertonom says:

        Yeah, the limits on the gambit system irked me, too. It felt like a half-measure: that the system existed at all was a concession that the combat was, otherwise, a bit tedious and fiddly–but it granted you the necessary bits to automate those tasks at an incredibly slow drip, and never really seemed expressive enough, so you wound up forced to do the fiddly tedious bits anyway.

        I still admired the idea, and thought it had a lot of potential, and I got through the game partly because it automated *enough* to make things a little less exasperating. But it felt like it really stopped short of what it could have been.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      Interesting! I thought FFXII had one of the most coherent stories of the series!

    • Ur-Quan says:

      Hmm interesting. Personally I think 12 had one of the more straightforward and coherent storylines of the series. Now 13 on the other hand made me feel like I didn’t even understand the language they are speaking with all the poorly explained bogus terms like falcie and lcie and what not.

    • Brendan Caldwell says:

      Interesting!

    • Esin12 says:

      I’m interested in how interesting this all is…

    • emertonom says:

      “it’s got to be the most derivative, long-winded nonsense story Squenix has ever produced.”

      I think Kingdom Hearts 2 tops it.

  6. Doug Exeter says:

    I loved this FF. Its the only one I’ve ever beat. I liked all the characters except for the cardboard cut out posing as a character, Vaan. The story was kinda muddled but the characters writing and voice acting was top notch, I wish they would have tied it all together better.

    I’ve always hated the turn based styles of the old ones so I was all over it when they broke away from it. It came out roughly when HD big screens were becoming common in homes and it was mindblowing to play it on. Ah memories.

    • theoriginaled says:

      Vaan is a lot easier to swallow when you realize he’s not actually a character. He’s a plot device. Without him there going “wait, what’s going on” every 5 seconds the other characters would just speak past the player and you would never know whats going on yourself.

  7. hernique says:

    Damn Brendan this was a fantastic read

  8. MisterFurious says:

    “But in tone it’s the closest the series ever got to being Star Wars.”

    Even closer than VI? It was pretty much “Star Wars” with the Joker replacing Darth Vader. It even had Probe Droids in it.

  9. batraz says:

    I’m not sure about the smart-ass writing style ; I mean, are japanese games so much more ridiculous than other games ? I would take a FF short over a Skyrim helmet anytime, and I would be proud to do so.

  10. Whelp says:

    If the skill system is based on the Zodiac Edition, I might actually play it. The original PS2 version’s class/job system didn’t really click with me.

  11. Apologised says:

    Calling FF12 one of the good ones is so egregiously incorrect that it borders on fake news.

    The last genuinely good FF we’ve ever gotten was 9. Not counting Dissidia’s or those two Rhythm games, which technically aren’t JRPG’s*. Everything after that has been mid tier to outright poor. 10 had a good battle system but was let down by a weak and predictable plot. 11 was an idea too soon for it’s time (like RE:Outbreak and the PSP:GO) 12 made the combat system a muddled mess that doesn’t come into focus until fairly late with a storyline made up from the plot section of Star Wars’ entry on wikipedia.
    13 was a hot mess and exhibit A in how far they’ve lost their touch after the merger with Enix, 14 is… by all accounts doing okay these days? Actually has a nice sense of humour, is trying out new things and is at the right time for a console online game to work? Good for them?
    15 was okay. Not amazing. But okay.

    If you want good Final Fantasy action on PC; 5, 7, 9 and I think 4 are all available on Steam. Not sure about 6 though, and it really should get a pc port someday as it’s one of the best ones.

    If you want good squaresoft in general… then you need to find a way to play Chrono Trigger somehow, because they never topped that game, and they never will.

    *Still worth a look though!

    • FroshKiller says:

      How does it feel to be so wrong that you don’t have a prayer of convincing anyone?

    • Ur-Quan says:

      I’m probably going to be skinned alive by fans for saying this but: I still don’t understand why the hell Final Fantasy 7 always gets mentioned as one of the best of the series.

      The story was one huge hot mess, the characters flat stereotypes, the battle system ok but rather unoriginal and god I hate the metric ton of dumb minigames they shoved into the game.

      Also one day I’d really love to meet the person that designed the staircase part at the Shinra building. ´

      • LegitChamp says:

        I think there are a couple reasons why 7 is so well regarded when it comes to stories.

        1) Massive massive graphics upgraded compared to previous entries. 4->5->6 the graphics only got slightly improved, “cutscenes” (such as they were) were limited to the camera moving around while you lost control. 7 takes cutscenes to another level.

        2) Storytelling improvements. I don’t mean the story itself was better or worse. But communicating that story was 1000x better than it was in previous entries. Play through them again but trying to focus on how the story is told as if you were a new player. Everything is abrupt, nothing is really developed, no leading the story. Everything is anti-climatic. So much of the story requires the player to project emotion into it because the graphics/writing isn’t really able to show that emotion. Celes opera scene, for instance, is considered one of the most moving scenes of the entire series. But I don’t think that emotion that is associated with the scene is very well expressed by the game. Kain’s betrayal was obviously significant and, I think, basically unheard of in a JRPG at that point. But the game didn’t really do a lot to build up his character and the character’s relationship with Cecil to make you FEEL that betrayal. A lot of that emotion was projected, kind of read between the lines.

        3) For many, it was their first played of the series and things like main party members dying or flawed protagonists were pretty unexpected. I mean, I can’t think of many JRPGs I played around that time or before where the main character wasn’t some super do gooder paragon of human virtues (with maybe a trickster streak to make him human). Outside of the FF series, obviously. So here comes a game where your character seems like this total badass but, in reality, is actually mentally unstable and weak. I know when I played it I was completely blown away with all the revelations as the story unfolded and I went through literally the entire game convinced Aerith was going to come back.

        • Zelos says:

          I think calling 7’s graphics an “upgrade” over 6’s is a stretch.

          I’m sure at the time many people were amazed by the 3d graphics, but retroactively it’s pretty clear which one wins that comparison. FF7 is the ugliest game in the franchise, discounting the NES titles.

    • gwop_the_derailer says:

      10… was let down by a weak and predictable plot.

      Err, no.

    • Esin12 says:

      Naw. X was fantastic if you got past Tidus’ awkwardness. The story and atmosphere of the game still resonate pretty heavily with me even 12 years later. XI was great for what it was, and is still one of the most unique MMOs of all time in my opinion (I have a very deep personal connection to it though, so I could be a bit biased). I’m kind of excited for this PC release of XII, because I played it for a little bit on PS2, but never quite got into it. Would like to give it another shot. I can’t really speak on anything after that though (I heard XIII was garbage).

    • geldonyetich says:

      It might surprise you to learn that peoples’ opinions vary about their favorite and least favorite Final Fantasies. Final Fantasy 12 was one where fans were divided on more than many entries, owed primarily to the gambit system, which you’d either like or hate.

      Personally, I thought 12 was pretty alright. The gambit system acknowledged that maybe they ought to be doing things a little differently now that they’re into the double-digits of sequels. The world was interesting, and it was more of an open-world experience than the games that came before it. Storywise, I’ll agree, it was a winding mess… a bit of a Final Fantasy hallmark, really.

      I enjoyed it more than X, which was beautiful and well-balanced but had characters whose overplayed tropes made them utterly unlikable, and the way the story unfolded was a bunch of nauseatingly self-entitled self-graduation on behalf of the developers where the players were given a peek almost as an afterthought. Alas, that mistake was repeated in XIII. They were games for the fans designed as though the fans deserved contempt. Yet, X and XIII both got sequels.

      Some people actually really like Final Fantasy 8. Hard to believe, I know. But Final Fantasy 9 was SquareEnix demonstrating some humility by going back to their roots when that didn’t go so well.

      • abstrarie says:

        8 was cool because of how much you could break the battle system. You could set your characters up in clever and interesting ways with GF junctioning. The game was a lot more fun if you tried to ignore the OP limit breaks and took the plot for what it was.

    • abstrarie says:

      The only thing egregious about the statement is that 12 is clearly THE BEST one. I have no time for people who don’t like it’s battle system as it is completely brilliant (it really needed to add in another layer of if/and/or logic though so you could better automate for changing battle conditions). The story is meh, quickenings should be entirely removed, and I am always embarrassed by the stupid outfits the main cast is saddled with (except for my main man Balthier of course), but every other aspect of the game is the pinnacle of the series thus far.

      • lordcooper says:

        I left the game running during a boss fight to go and make a cup of tea, when I came back it turned out I’d won.

        I’m biased against games that don’t actually require my presence.

        • geldonyetich says:

          Non-involvement in games in a problem, but if you think it through a little further, in Final Fantasy XII’s case it’s really not that simple.

          First off, we’re going to run with the assumption you actually told your party what to do. You programmed the instructions into the gambit system that happened to be what you needed to defeat the boss. In that event, have you really left, or were you actually just off-screen when the participation you left behind defeated the boss?

          Second, if it’s really that easy to defeat a boss in a JRPG, was more participation really necessary? In other words, had you been there, and what you were going to tell the game to do was so obvious that the gambit system could do it for you, was it not more efficient and reasonable to simply let you off the hook? It is a question that points a finger at a fundamental flaw in RPGs in general, where obviously you’ll cast heal when you’re injured, obviously you’ll use the attacks that the enemy is least resistant towards, so where is the choice really? How necessary were you ever?

          A game that acknowledges that simply allows you to make these decisions ahead of time. That’s what the gambit system did. It breaches the delusion of participation in a game which is so fundamentally easy so as to require non-participation. This leaves you free to make what few decisions really do require your presence… or perhaps to simply not be present at all.

          Of course, you might just blow off the wall of text above as a bunch of pseudointellectual garbage. That’s your choice. However, there is one problem with making that choice, and that’s if what I’m saying is true.

          I believe it is. Final Fantasy XII was an acknowledgement of a problem with the core formula of Final Fantasy that the designers detected and tried to rectify with the gambit system. Honestly, more RPGs ought to have done the same, instead of just Dragon Age. Maybe not go full on Progress Quest, but closer to it..

          • abstrarie says:

            While I completely agree with you, you can actually take this logic even further down the rabbit hole and say: if I know I am in an area with fire weak enemies, why do I even have to set up a gambit “cast fire on fire weak enemies”? It is obvious I am going to do that, so isn’t this just a more abstract but still meaningless choice? Even if I want to kill guys in wacky ways just for shits like casting reverse on them and killing them with potions, isn’t my main goal to “kill the bad guys”? Why not just skip me setting up all that reverse nonsense and have a gambit called “kill guys in silly way”?

            The answer is of course that the real fun of FF12 is trying to cobble together somewhat complex decision making out of very limited parts. Setting up what you think is the perfect gambit setup only for your healer to heal the enemy because your party is wearing reflective armor or your thief continuously trying to steal items from enemies that don’t have any are annoying problems that are fun to try and solve and that don’t always have perfect solutions. If your party can get through a complex fight without any intervention from you, that is the most satisfying thing in this game to me.

        • abstrarie says:

          You either

          A. Were fighting one of the very easy bosses that just basic gambits could take down.

          B. Programmed good gambits around a strategy to defeat the boss.

          If A is the answer, then I assure you there are fights that require your full preparation. If B is your answer, then the interaction was you coming up with a plan. A shame you didn’t hang around to see it successfully executed. I find that part fulfilling.

          In most FF you see an enemy that is weak to fire, then you click on the fire spell. Or you see a guy low on health and click the heal spell. Your level of interaction is basically playing a slow thinly veiled game of Simon says. Gambits reduce that tedium and allow for battles to be faster and have more stuff going on as the computer doesn’t have to worry about keeping pace with a player. You are still making decisions, just before the battle instead of after.

          Anyway, like it or not I far prefer this type of battle system over stuff like 15 or Xenoblade where your whole party is on auto battle accept for your main character so you have little to no control over strategy.

  12. Merus says:

    The Zodiac Age re-release, which the PC version is based on, has had a fairly substantial balance pass that eliminated nearly all of the issues from the original – the game has a more even difficulty, the character growth system is more interesting, chests, sidequests and stores were all changed, and the game no longer has any permanently missable items or enemies* thanks to the newly added ‘fight 100 things in a row’ mode. Given how notorious some of FFXII’s issues were (I think most people have heard of the Zodiac Spear, which in the original was only available if you didn’t open four random unmarked chests, and in the re-release as a sidequest reward) this is basically necessary, even though Robert Yang is disappointed that Vaan’s abs aren’t as egregious as they used to be.

    *Okay, one sidequest asks you to choose between a few different rewards and you can’t get the other rewards any other way, but this isn’t my definition of missable.

  13. Chillicothe says:

    The first Matsuno Game to hit PC where they are truly at home.

    It’s a tragedy that so much from this game and others has been so erratically learned from.

  14. Pizzzahut says:

    So, really… why would someone not just use a PS2 emulator rather than pay $50 for this?

    • Kinsky says:

      Mostly the balance tweaks as well as the ability to pick a second license board, which is pretty big. As somebody who played the original PS2 international version I can tell you that the ability spread on each job board is pretty jank. You can easily ruin yourself by picking the wrong combination of jobs for your party (which you can’t re-pick without starting a new game or using a GameShark or similar memory editing tool), a problem that is further compounded by the way party members are occasionally removed from play by story events (whoops you don’t have a White Mage anymore). Here’s a wiki link for reference.

      For the uninitiated: The original PS2 international version still has all the English voices intact, only the interface is all in Japanese. However, there’s a patch that edits an ISO image of the game to replace all the JP interface text with English. If you can (LEGALLY) get your hands on a copy of the original FFXII International Version, all you have to do is rip it straight to ISO (PS2 games don’t use any proprietary encoding or anything, they’re just straight DVDs), download and run the patch, and load it into an emulator. Simply bumping up the internal resolution produces the majority of the visual improvement seen here, minus the artificially sharpened textures and higher resolution interface elements (and I assume the removed LOD dropoff, which is pretty brutal in the PS2 version due to its video memory limitations); example screenshots here, here, and here.

  15. Kinsky says:

    Balthier is not the de facto protagonist. There are no protagonists in FFXII. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that everyone is a protagonist. Traditionally these sorts of games orbit around one main character, and all other party members, if they have a backstory, are simply side shows. Vaan is the first character you’re introduced to in FFXII, so the natural assumption is that he’s meant to be the main character. However, the story is structured more like this:

    Vaan’s life sucks, but instead of dealing with it he just lashes out and causes trouble/danger for everyone who’s taken responsibility for him. However circumstance brings him into the company of an array of other people who all have fucked up circumstances of their own. The story develops them all simultaneously as you would expect it to develop a main character; rather than having one breakaway “oh look we’re at my home town this is how everyone I knew died lol okay back to the main story”, every character is changing and growing during the entire course of the narrative, and Vaan is one of them, observing how everyone else deals with their problems, supporting them in his own little teenage street rat way and maturing as a result of the experience.

    It’s brilliant, and also has one of the realer attitudes I’ve seen about the political intricacies and costs of war, leagues beyond the scope of the average Final Fantasy plot (the fate of Vaan’s brother is pretty grim for the series, even after Final Fantasy X). And to top it off, the dialogue and voice acting, though a little tropey in parts, are otherwise extremely good, especially for their time. IMO regardless of whether or not you like the combat system, FFXII is definitely the peak of the series.

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