Wot I Think – Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

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There’s a race of beings in Final Fantasy XII called the Bangaa. They have the snout of a crocodile, the squat of an ape and the arms of an entire gymnasium. Their ears are colourful leathery drapes, their lips adorned with piercings and trinkets. One of them, a shopkeeper called Migelo, resembles a rehabilitated Watto. Others are menacing bounty hunters. But they all have strange voices. Not otherworldly or fantastical, I mean strange in the sense that the voice actors can’t decide between a Scottish, Jamaican or West Country accent, and often speak as hackneyed villains. In a lot of ways, these scaly people encapsulate how I feel about this late-to-the-PC-party JRPG. They are both good-looking and incredulous. Flawed works of biological art that I can’t help but like, even when my better judgement often says “no”.

It’s difficult to describe the joys of a Final Fantasy to those who only see the flashing colours and bright numbers, the sewer levels and the prison escapes. The twelfth incarnation holds few surprises and its age shows. You are tasked with killing a fetch quest of rats within the first half an hour. That fifteen – sorry, XV – of these monstrosities of language and graphics have been brought into existence is sometimes baffling. And yet to me playing a Final Fantasy game is still a happy experience, like putting your sticky fingers deep into a pick ‘n’ mix of sugary JRPG nonsense. Here’s the liquorice katana. And look, a strawberry crystal. I will probably feel sick after this, because there’s always too much in this bag. But will I stop scoffing these chocolate chocobos? No.

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To explain some basics, FFXII takes place in a world where Star Wars collides with Aladdin. You are Vaan, a skinny orphan thief with big dreams. You make friends with sky pirates, rebels, a princess and, uh, a rabbit woman in lingerie. The usual cast. You get into trouble early, and are thrown into a sandy prison pit, where Balthier (Han Solo with a better vocabulary) chides you for reacting in horror at a dead body. “Relax,” he says. “It’s just a corpse.” Between the scene-setting and quest-getting you’ll be fighting men in armour and hunting monsters in a semi-open world. It’s tropey, dopey and sometimes mopey, and shares the curse of the RPG in general: your adventure only really begins when you escape your hometown.

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In this way (and others) it is a time vampire. It takes about 4 hours just to get to the interesting cogs of the battling – the gambit system. Fighting slimes is not turn-based here, but it isn’t exactly real-time either. You program your warriors and mages to follow set instructions, called ‘gambits’. For example, you can tell your black mage to target fire-weak monsters with a big flame, or your white mage to cure anyone who falls below 30% health.

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These are simpler examples. Later, you’ll buy gambits that let you target enemies who pass a specific threshold of health or magical power, or gambits that will help automatically rid your mages of the pesky ‘silence’ status. The game at this point becomes about balancing and tweaking these simple ‘if-then-else’ lists to deal with new enemies. A mimic queen absorbs lightning, so you’d better swap one gambit for another. A flan creep makes everyone blind, so you’ll have to invent a new gambit to cope. You’re essentially an off-screen engineer, fighting every boss with a bunch of magic Roombas. Although that sounds ridiculous, it’s more interesting to me than the old method of punching through turn-based menus. And if it really irks you, you can turn it off completely. There are other things to know about classes, battling and baked-in cheats, but I’ll let our Spawn Point article explain those.

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Twelve years after it’s appearance on PlayStation, however, the gambit system remains an odd halfway house. It seeks action-heavy combat yet never truly leaves the old way of the series behind. This is FFXII’s defining characteristic. It’s an RPG encased in amber, caught between the classicism of previous games and the action of the new age. It’s perhaps more interesting as a piece of history, a transitory relic for completionist fans (or a warm soak for trope-bathers like myself) than a game for those seeking an entrance or re-introduction to Final Fantasy. Alternatively, it’s a good place to discover wonderfully over-written bestiary entries. Eg. the “mighty cockatrice”.

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The world itself elicits mixed emotions. The palaces, streets and deserts often feel indistinct, thanks to simplistic, maze-like level design. There’s a lot of map-checking and less learning your way around by sight. The old marketplaces and cobblestone villages of FFVII and its generation were static but they were beautifully illustrated. Here, the best art is relegated to the character design, the scaly Bangaas, piggish Seeqs, cat-like Revs and antagonistic Judges.

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Not that the edifices of this Arabian Nights styled world are artless – every tile is covered in looping, geometric designs – but the way its bazaars and aerodromes are put together often feels less hand-crafted and more MMOish.

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There are other off-putting elements. Despite it being one of only three Final Fantasies I have actually seen through to the deicidal end, it still drags its heels getting to the good parts, serving up long corridors or monster-peppered forests to roam and grind within. To make the most of the tale, it takes setting your pain threshold for this merciless, old-fashioned RPG design to ‘high’. My own threshold when it comes to Final Fantasy drops off at ‘Any part of FFXIII’ and those knowledgeable about the series can decide for themselves what that means.

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To grant further context, the way I feel about Final Fantasy is how I imagine others feel about soap opera. It’s a sweet-smelling heap of biowaste, but I’ve been wading through it too long to imagine living any other way. I still smile at all the badly translated jibes, I still get invested when Vaan leaps on a prisoner’s cage and shouts “You killed my brother!” Or when this group of misfits strap themselves into the cockpit of an airship in a clear nod to the seating arrangement of the Millennium Falcon.

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The sky cities intrigue me, the kidnappers goad me. The empire, against which your band of outlaws is pitted, enflames my childish sense of justice. I see the recurring characters of Biggs and Wedge as the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of gaming, and understand myself to be an absurd person who now writes apologia instead of reviews. Sorry.

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In summary, I’d happily recommend FFXII to a particular type of person. This Star Aladdin tale is simplistic, bright-faced and sodden in the familiar grease of the series. I wouldn’t hand it to anyone seeking an entrance to this sugary universe (for that I’d still tell them to brave the middle-aged editions VII, VIII or IX, which – despite their age – remain the best chance a non-follower has of understanding the Final Fanatic). It’s also absurdly overpriced at the time of writing, costing £35, which seems steep for a game as old as The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. But when a sale comes along I will be the first to invite all ye completionist trope-soakers to partake, to wade around in this sweet trash heap one more time, listening to the guttural Scots-Cornish-Caribbean of my old friends, the Bangaa.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is out now on Windows via Steam for £34.99/$50/€50.

62 Comments

  1. neuroxia says:

    I was really interested in trying this but that price is ridiculous; That’s as much as Final Fantasy XV;

    • Zelos says:

      Yeah, but at least it’s better on every front except the graphics. FFXV is pretty but it sure doesn’t have anything else going on.

      This *is* a remaster and not just a port of the original game. It includes multiple changes and additions we hadn’t officially received in english yet. I bought it for $50 on PS4 and feel like it was absolutely worth the price, though I am a bit annoyed at the recent trend of remasters in general. I’d rather we just wait longer and see real remakes.

      FWIW it’s pretty easy to find the standard box ps4 version for $30 or less, so it’ll probably go on sale at the first opportunity.

      • Someoldguy says:

        Even the PS4 limited edition version is available for under £17, so I’m surprised it’s not under $24 in the States. Games are very rarely priced better in the UK. This definitely seems priced to grab the maximum cash from those who just won’t wait, with big discounts around the corner for those who can. Most computer game publishers seem to be adopting the pricing model of furniture stores, where everything is permanently 50% off after the minimum statutory time it has to be listed at full price.

    • Avioto says:

      40 bucks for at least 40 hours of gameplay. Seems like good value to me.

      • TrynePlague says:

        There’s alot more than 40 hours here. It took me 230 hours to get to the end back on PS2 when it first was released. That’s 0.15 £ / hour.

      • jrodman says:

        I think it’s easy to get stuck on the idea that a 40 dollar game from 10 years ago should cost 10 or 15 now. It’s not a law or anything.

        Despite really not liking the gambit system that much, I might buy it to noodle around in if it didn’t have obnoxious third party DRM.

    • malkav11 says:

      There was a window where Greenmangaming had it for $40, and a coupon that knocked it down to $32 or so, which is about where I would have priced it at launch if I were them, and as high a price as I was willing to pay. Unfortunately that seems to have been time-limited. :/

  2. criskywalker says:

    I intend to play Final Fantasy VII which I have on Steam, but never got to get into because of its awful graphics and weird JRPG peculiarities.

    After that I will probably play X/X2 which are much cheaper and I heard is a really good entry and then I’ll buy XII when it’s on sale.

    Only after that I will get XV, which will be quite cheap by then.

    • Zelos says:

      I’d suggest 4, 6, or 9 as better entry points than 7; as you say the graphics are god awful. All three of the games I suggested look better, and 6/9 are both arguably better games. Even 4 has its own strange camp.

      Then, if you enjoy whichever it is you’ve played you’ll know if it’s worth delving into FF7 or not.

      • BooleanBob says:

        Better yet, just play Chrono Trigger instead!

        • digital_sneeze says:

          Or Chrono Cross. No random battles, no level grinding.

          • GeoX says:

            Chrono Trigger > > > > > Chrono Cross

          • digital_sneeze says:

            That’s a common error. I won’t hold it against you though.

          • skyst says:

            They’re not all that similar. But CT is the better game.

          • GeoX says:

            CC isn’t bad in itself. But as sequel to CT…it suuuuuuuucks.

          • jrodman says:

            They are fairly different games.

            They are both fairly unchallenging, and both have twisty storylines that play with special mechanics.

            Chrono Trigger has a small cast of characters who are well defined (if cartoon simple) and interact in satisfying ways. Chrono Cross has an endless array of collectable characters, most of whom will not stand out from the crowd.

            Chrono Trigger has a storyline that I’m sure you can poke holes in if you try; causality and time travel are always messy, but as a player hangs together and makes sense. Chrono Cross has a story that never quite coheres. It has a lot of stuff going on that never made sense to me in multiple playthroughs, but if you don’t focus too hard and enjoy the kind of twists square put out in the era, you should enjoy it anyway.

            Chrono Trigger has a straight ahead combat system. Chrono Cross has a couple of twists that aim for a more tactical feel. As usual, many fights are so easy those rules don’t matter, but you might have fun with it regardless.

            Those seem like the main differentiators to me. It’s hard for me to imagine someone who likes this game style and enjoys one but not the other, really.

    • TrynePlague says:

      If you already have 7, then play this one. There is no bad game in the series. Just better final fantasies than others. I would only suggest to avoid 1 / 2 / 3 / 13. Don’t avoid 13-2 though, it’s fantastic.

    • noodlecake says:

      Play Final Fantasy VII first. It is the best and most ambitious of them all and the game that got me hooked on the series. IX is probably a close second, and then VIII and VI are decent too.

  3. Nemo1342 says:

    I found this review oddly irritating. Reading the review, I got the impression that Mr. Caldwell regarded writing it as a bit of a chore. A necessary formality that needed to be filled out with enough words to pass it off as complete, without really engaging with much with the substance of the game. The descriptions run along the surface of the game, making vague commentary without engaging with specific criticism or praise for elements in a real way.

    Final Fantasy XII is a great and odd beast, and in its way, an important turning point in one of video game history’s most important series. It’s a shame that it’s first release on PC didn’t merit a little more engagement from one of PC gaming’s preeminent sites.

    Also, and this is a little persnickety, but saying that you would recommend FF VII, VIII or IX as an entry-point for a FF newcomer strikes me as insane. FFVII is fair, for obvious reasons, although despite it’s popularity it’s one of the weaker entries in the series. FF VIII is a really strange and interesting game, but it’s also one of the least friendly to newcomers, and would be one of the last of the modern games I would recommend to a new player. FF IX is superficially a decent choice as it is, systematically, one of the simpler entries in the series. However, it’s also the game most nostalgic, designed in large part for people who grew up on the series. If I were really recommending a FF to a new player, I would actually pick either game on the other side of this list, VI or X, depending on the individual I was making the recommendation to.

    Anyway, I was hoping to read a thoughtful review of FF XII, and I was a little disappointed.

    • Sarfrin says:

      It struck me as a thoughtful review by someone who’s played a lot of FF games. As someone who’s not played any, it was useful.

      • Ashabel says:

        As someone who has played a lot of Final Fantasies, the most uncomfortable thing about this review is precisely imagining people who never played any of the franchise and found it useful. It’s a review that spends a lot of time talking about the usual excesses of the franchise while reviewing a game that’s always been treated as a red-headed stepchild and kicked around by the fandom for being too uncomfortably different from the rest.

        To put it nicely, reading it feels like listening to someone who pretends they have a doctorate on a topic they’ve only read a single wikipedia entry about. It’s clunky at best, misleading at worst and embarrassing at all times.

        • kwyjibo says:

          I imagine people who haven’t played Final Fantasy can understand that “it’s a sweet-smelling heap of biowaste.”

          • Ashabel says:

            And it’s going to be their loss because the game is anything but that.

            But hey, at least Brendan got to puff up his little chest and and pretend how he’s so above all those stupid Japanese games, amirite?

          • lglethal says:

            I dont really get your complaint Ashabel, the review came across as pretty clear and succint to me. I’ll summarise for you – If you are a fan of FF you will enjoy this. If you are not a fan you wont enjoy this. If you’ve never played FF, you might be better off starting with one of the other FF entries in the series.

            Brendan comes across as someone who loves the series and recognises that it’s full of a lot of guff, but enjoyable guff at that. But he’s pretty clear that this is not really a game for people not already invested in the series. It’s pretty clear, and I really dont see any problem with the way the review is written. It’s nice and easy to read and communicates clearly. That is what i want in a review…

          • MultiVaC says:

            Yeah, I actually think it would wrong to not explicitly call out the prevalent bullshit in the Final Fantasy series at this point, especially when you have games like Dragon’s Dogma that are very distinctly Japanese in style and mechanics, but are also actually outstanding games among their contemporaries. Final Fantasy really does get away with a lot thanks to fans’ good will towards the series.

          • Ashabel says:

            My complaint is that both your counter-arguments showcase how much of Brendan’s review is completely misleading as far as the game’s content goes, and is basically a huge pile of self-indulgent gibberish.

            In case if you missed the sentence from my first comment – Final Fantasy XII is almost completely nothing like the rest of the franchise. It was developed by people who were previously responsible for a spin-off title that was also thematically nothing like the rest of the franchise, and ended up barely resembling the other games. It tosses most of the series’ “hero’s journey” approach for the sake of a war drama narrated from the perspective of a character who is more or less a bystander, and plays more like a prototype of Dragon Age: Origins than any of the Final Fantasy games. It’s almost completely its own beast in terms of art, story and gameplay, and has been treated with suspicion, distaste and scorn by the vast majority of Final Fantasy fandom because of it.

            Brendan spent an entire article ranting about how all the Final Fantasy games are similar and come with a specific kind of luggage, while reviewing a game that was notoriously an experiment that came out wildly different from the rest of the series and is wildly divisive among Final Fantasy fans because of it.

            Being “pretty clear that this is not really a game for people not already invested in the series” is complete madness when it comes to discussing Final Fantasy XII because the vast majority of hardcore FF12 fans are in fact not invested in the rest of the franchise.

            Claiming that “it would wrong to not explicitly call out the prevalent bullshit in the Final Fantasy series at this point, especially when you have games like Dragon’s Dogma that are very distinctly Japanese in style and mechanics” is similarly insane when it comes to discussing Final Fantasy XII because it’s a title that barely resembles the series it originates from.

            And the fact that Brendan manages to sell an image that this game is tonally completely in tune with the rest of the franchise is precisely why I’m calling his review a pile of self-indulgent wank.

          • kwyjibo says:

            The game is biowaste.

            Brendan likes it, but knows that it is just irresponsible to recommend Final Fantasy 12 to anyone, in particular people who haven’t played anything in the series.

            It’s like a junkie who knows not to recommend methadone, despite finding it incredibly moreish.

            Final Fantasy 12 does not respect your time whatsoever, and is full of useless garbage grind. Entire chapters just should not exist.

          • Ashabel says:

            @kwyjibo

            Your post doesn’t actually address anything I said. At best you’re trying to be pretentious by parroting Brandon’s use of “biowaste”, at worst you’re being obnoxiously provocative.

            That said, Final Fantasy XII doesn’t require any grind whatsoever; it has such an enormous swath of side content that you sort of naturally grow strong enough for anything the game throws at you while you clear it out from bottom to top.

            Next time you claim the game is bad, you might provide a reason other than you personally being bad at it.

    • noom says:

      Meh, I like Brendan’s writing.

    • Godwhacker says:

      Seemed thoughtful to me; aware that FF has become bloated and mired in its past, aware that a lot of things have happened since the original release, but also capable of seeing how it can be enjoyed. I’m sure the original reviews are available online if you want to read them.

      The last FF I completed was 8 when it came out on PC the first time, which I loved but was aware had rather a lot of filler; I played 9 some years later, and found I no longer had time for all the bullshit. I’m sure there’s fun to be had with this one, but I’m happy to leave this in the past.

    • Hand me an 8th says:

      Brendan is my favorite writer on the site. I’m a FF fan and I found the article pretty funny and informative enough. I agree with his game recommendations. To me your comment sounds like you’re just upset he didn’t give the game as much praise as you do. That’s fine – I like the game too, but I’m not offended by his opinion.

  4. kwyjibo says:

    This was the last final fantasy I played, I got sucked in somewhat with it’s pleasing +1 of progression, until I took a step back.

    I was at a place called the Phon Coast killing enemy crabs and then I thought, “why is this in the game?”, “of what narrative importance is this entire region?”, “what did I achieve in the last region?”

    Yep, sucked into a load of garbage once again thanks to the primitive primate brain. It’s just cruft, the game is just full of filler, don’t waste your time, it’s a trick.

    I probably should have stopped playing a lot earlier when Lando Calrissian betrays you to the empire in the sky city. (This actually happens)

    • Yglorba says:

      Someone I know once described FF XII as an MMORPG simulator. I think that that hits the nail on the head. It has a huge amount of grinding solely for grinding’s sake – huge areas and sections of the game that feel like they’re there solely to you to plod along as you’re making your way to an MMORPG’s level cap. The way the story is stretched thinly over the massive landscape is reminiscent of MMORPG plotlines, too, where you occasionally check in for some bit of plot between the endless grind.

      I don’t quite mean grind in the traditional sense of walking back in forth in one spot fighting the same enemy formation forever, of course; this is more of a post-WoW grind with lots of bits and bobs and quests you can do on the way. But the overall impact is the same.

  5. Frank says:

    “costing £35, which seems steep for a game as old as The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.” — Oblivion’s recent Nintendo port is priced at that point as well.

  6. digital_sneeze says:

    “To explain some basics, FFXII takes place in a world where Star Wars collides with Aladdin. You are Vaan, a skinny orphan thief with big dreams.”

    Probably worth mentioning, because he’s a faily naff character and one of the often-cited criticisms of the game, that Vaan isn’t really the protagonist. Not even the deuteragonist. He’s the character you play in the opening few hours of the game, who fairly soon into it gets shunted to the back and rarely comes to prominence in the story again as it becomes focused on some other characters. Might be remembering all wrong of course but worth bringing up because it always felt a bit wrong to characterise the game by Vaan’s existence in it.

    I always liked FF12, even back in the day. The music, the autumnal visual palette and even the combat did good things for me, not to mention it’s huge size. Story isn’t bad, and a fair amount more mature than some of the FFs (though I still think Vagrant Story is the truly great Yasumi Matsuno story).

    • geldonyetich says:

      Probably worth mentioning, because he’s a faily naff character and one of the often-cited criticisms of the game, that Vaan isn’t really the protagonist. Not even the deuteragonist. He’s the character you play in the opening few hours of the game, who fairly soon into it gets shunted to the back and rarely comes to prominence in the story again as it becomes focused on some other characters. Might be remembering all wrong of course but worth bringing up because it always felt a bit wrong to characterise the game by Vaan’s existence in it.

      As someone who is currently playing through the recent PC release, I’d say you’re partly right.

      Where I’d disagree is that Vann factors largely into virtually every cutscene, so you can’t really say he gets shunted to the back. His brash, young, naive street rat pretty boy arse is shoved front and center every time something happens, and he has a few choice words to say that drive the scene, sometimes heedlessly in the wrong direction. Somehow, this story is told from his perspective.

      What you might be remembering is that he technically doesn’t need to be there. He’s a weird sort of tag-along to everybody else’s adventures. None of the conflicts are technically his. However, he nevertheless ends up being more than a deuteragonist, a primary conflict solver, largely just happening to be at the right place at the right time.

      He’s a good self-insert for the player, a headless tag along from another world who is playing the game and solving all the problems in it. Oddly enough, I think Penelo is his gender-flipped self-insert equivalent, yet a distinct character. This duo is a rather clever device.

      • malkav11 says:

        My understanding is that he is the result of creative interference from management and was not intended to be the protagonist or the player stand-in of whatever sort originally. (Unlike something like MGS2, where you really aren’t the driving force of the story even though you’re told you are.)

        • digital_sneeze says:

          Yeah I recall that too, something about needing a pretty-boy (bishōnen is it?) to drive sales. The game would have lost nothing for his absence.

          I guess it’s been a while since I played it then as my only real memory of him is staring at his backside when you’re shoehorned into controlling him in towns etc.

          • Kamestos says:

            I seem to remember he is also pretty much the strongest character by end-game in both physical and magical skills/spells.
            That may have changed with the whole jobs mechanic though.

        • a8a says:

          It was a little more interesting than that – originally the main character was supposed to be Basch, and there was some resistance from the studio because they thought an older main character wouldn’t resonate with the target audience. At this early stage the plan was to do a much more small-scale single location game akin to Vagrant Story.

          It was a somewhat tortured development, though, and it took several iterations before it all came together – the turning point being when they visted the FFXI dev team and decided to do an about turn on the scale and openness of the world. This is also what inspired them to tell the story from the ‘witness’ perspective, and as a result the plan became for the player to create their own avatar in the world similar to in a MMO.

          They moved away from this again a bit later in development, although you can still see the DNA of those choices in the game. The default male and female avatars ultimately became Vaan and Penelo.

  7. Chillicothe says:

    One of the things to keep in mind is that this came at the end of the JRPG Golden Age (after this it became minor miracles to get more adult narrative fare in the genre), the pseudo-MMO design foresaging an entire army of disassociated descendants, and the Gambit system for doing something that is still to this day only used in small partial measures, never explored beyond what came so many years past (and most of those are RTwP-derived).

  8. thekelvingreen says:

    It feels a bit too much like a single-player MMORPG at times, and the final section of the game is rubbish, but my gosh I loved playing FFXII.It’s my favourite of the series so far, but I haven’t got around to IX yet.

    • digital_sneeze says:

      You should play it. Just finished it again for the first time in a few years, over the course of a couple of weeks on my PSP as it looks prettiest that way. It still holds up really well, if you can tolerate the glacial pace of the battles. Just super charming and the pre-rendered backdrops are like paintings.

  9. juan_h says:

    The oddest thing about FFXII is that it had a sequel on the DS which is, of all things, a sort of a squad-based RTS. I know this because I own it and played it right up to the, yes, deicidal end. Looking at screenshots from the original game and especially from the remaster is strange for me because I am used to seeing these characters as tiny, super-deformed, cartoon sprites.

    • Jekadu says:

      The sequel is such a strange, wonderful little beast. It’s basically all about doing Vaan and Penelo justice as characters. The graphics are really simple chibified sprites that somehow manage to capture their 3D counterparts perfectly. I am especially impressed by how Quickening attacks have basically been redone shot-for-shot using sprites.

  10. DeepSleeper says:

    Did I really just see someone refer to Final Fantasy XII as “badly translated”? I can’t cope with the depths of that level of wrongness.

  11. geldonyetich says:

    That fifteen – sorry, XV – of these monstrosities of language and graphics have been brought into existence is sometimes baffling

    Quite a bit more than that, actually. There’s many spinoffs (such as Crystal Chronicles and Tactics), sequels within sequels (e.g. X-II), and other oddities (Advent Children, Vagrant Story, Fabula Nova Crystallis: Final Fantasy, Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII).

    Also, careful calling some of the most advanced graphic games ever made for their time and currently, “monstrosities of […] graphics.” Monstrosity implies not just size but unsightliness.

    Now, calling them a monstrosity of language is fair enough, there is a translation barrier, and I think some of the subtleties of ideas they have for a story do not always make the leap between cultures, or else some of the stories are just nuts. (SPOILER example: If I understand FFXIII right, it’s about a band of infectious magical plague bearers breaking out of the authorities’ attempt to confine the outbreak, only to succumb to their disease, but powering through and curing themselves in the last minute through the power of friendship.)

    To explain some basics, FFXII takes place in a world where Star Wars collides with Aladdin.

    I do rather enjoy the parallels between Star Wars and Final Fantasy FFXII, granted it’s only a passing resemblance, as there’s no R2D2 or C3PO in FFXII and no Penelo or Basche in Star Wars.

    Twelve years after it’s appearance on PlayStation, however, the gambit system remains an odd halfway house.

    I rather like it myself. Maybe I’m becoming a jaded old repeat RPG burnout, but I welcome any system that lets me automate trivial fights so I can get to the ones that require my involvement. It greases the grind.

    • vecordae says:

      I do rather enjoy the parallels between Star Wars and Final Fantasy FFXII, granted it’s only a passing resemblance, as there’s no R2D2 or C3PO in FFXII and no Penelo or Basche in Star Wars.

      Vaan and Penelo actually fulfill a similar role to R2D2 and C3PO narratively, being otherwise unremarkable common folk who get swept up in adventures of generals and princesses and the like. The dynamic between the two is generally similar as well, with Vaan being the more impulsive R2D2 to Penelo’s cautious, thoughtful C3PO.

      What FFXII lacks is a Luke, at least a living one. Vaan isn’t a hero. His character arc doesn’t follow the Hero’s Journey. While there are similarities in how they are used to tell the story, they don’t fulfill similar roles within the context of the story itself.

      In a lot of ways Basch is Obi-Wan. He’s the defeated warrior called back to action for the sake of the princess. The difference is that lack of a clear Luke analogue, freeing Basch from Obi-Wan’s mentor role and kind of saddling him with picking up the narrative slack. The similarities are a bit clearer in the prequel trilogy where Obi-Wan is a full-fledged general and isn’t carting Anakin around, I think.

  12. logizomechanophobe says:

    Was that curious Rosencrantz and Guildenstern reference in the review every bit a nod to Vagrant Story as was the Final Fantasy XII’s own Cockatrice bestiary mention of Merlose?

  13. Alberto says:

    The most important feature they added, aside from the gambit system (which I enjoyed a lot) was the “run and avoid random monster encounters” button.

    • malkav11 says:

      A couple of the earlier FF games (VIII, for example) had ways to turn off or greatly downscale random encounters. I wish they all did. The frequency of them is why I had to stop playing FFVI and really don’t think I could go back to any of that era of the series.

      • jrodman says:

        For me, at least, that particular game had a one-two punch of frequent encounters, and a sense that they didn’t matter.

        In a game like dragon quest 1, or wizardry, you can at least be convinced (if you are a certain kind of person) that these encounters have some risk and are helping to advance your goals. In Final Fantasy 6, I felt like they were just wasting my time.

        I know eventually they can count for points to master some stuff, but for some reason the connection wasn’t at all there. I think there’s a lot to be said for starting out a game of this style with a sense that you can die to encounters.

      • Yglorba says:

        Bravely Default allows you to adjust the monster encounter rate (all the way down to 0%!) any time you want. You can also turn it up to 200% if you decide you want to level grind (or if you’re just a masochistic nutter who wants encounters every few steps everywhere you go.) It’s a very nice feature. It also let you turn off XP growth for people interested in low-level runs; I wish more games came with “play it however you want” customization like that.

        (I recall the original System Shock, for instance, let you independently adjust the number of enemies, the time limit, enemy respawning and the puzzles, from extreme all the way down to disabled entirely. So depending on how you adjusted things, it could be a mindless Doom-style slaughterfest or an exploration of a vast, empty abandoned station full of puzzles.)

        One thing I dislike about a lot of modern difficulty settings is that they don’t make it clear exactly what they’re changing when you adjust them – will “hard” add nothing but boring grind? Will “easy” make the enemies so trivial I might as well not play, or make entire game features irrelevant? And so on.

  14. Turkey says:

    I’ve heard there’s a club later in the game where the Bangaas hang out and do the mash.

  15. jrodman says:

    I am split between two reactions. First, I am sad that I have some of the same kinds of opinions printed above about certain games in the series being acceptable and certain ones being unacceptable. I guess changing your mechanics and style around a lot makes for disagreement.

    At the same time though, I feel sort of glad that I don’t feel the need to argue about my opinions about these games. They’re just for me, really.

  16. Massenstein says:

    This was the only final fantasy I ever played more than few hours, back in ps2. I really liked the combat system and also how encounters worked; that I could actually see the enemies and just physically run away from them instead of being surprised by a battle transition and having to mess with menus to escape.

    And the world was… nice. MMO’ish sure but there was enough to sell it to me. Character design just always irked me and that’s been the case with all FF games. And the game was so grindy I eventually gave up. But I still have more fond than bad memories of it.

  17. FecesOfDeath says:

    The Gambit system is basically the primary inspiration for the Tactics system in Dragon Age: Origins.

  18. abstrarie says:

    Saying that this game is anymore of a pile of biowaste than say…any other videogame really is being a bit dishonest with yourself. Do you share this opinion about stuff like the Witcher or Slay the Spire or whatever? Because pretty much all games have either a silly “serious” storyline or gameplay that involves rolling dice while running in a hamster wheel. The whole hobby is biowaste, and this JRPG variety of it doesn’t stink anymore than the rest. Your analogy about not being able to stop scarfing down chocolate chocobos even though you know it will make you sick is how I feel about any game I get addicted to.

    On a side note, I want to stop playing/thinking about Dragonball FigherZ. Someone help me.

  19. jgthespy says:

    One thing I really appreciate about these remasters is that they include a fast-forward button. It’s a good tool to help out with the grindiness without changing the actual game. It works particularly well in XII given that you can program your entire party to fight automatically.

  20. Ragnar says:

    As a huge fan of Final Fantasy, I was really disappointed in 12.

    The writing and story is probably some of the best of the series (make of that what you will), but the levels and combat made this game fell like a single player MMO. Huge maze-like levels with nothing of interest filled with sword-sponge enemies.

    Maybe I was too good at the Gambit system, but the result was literally watching the game play itself. And combat feedback was so poor, that if something abnormal happened, I didn’t know what it was or why.

    The 2-3 hours between save points at the end game dungeon can go take a hike.

    The final boss fight was 30 minutes of a repeating cycle of 4:30 of watching the game play itself followed by 30 seconds of mad scrambling to heal everyone because something happened to drop everyone to near death.

    Complain all you like about 13, and the Internet sure seems to love doing so, but 13’s combat was a fantastic evolution of 12’s Gambit system. 13’s combat was fast, frantic, strategic, and exciting (and challenging on the bosses), and felt like a breath of fresh air for the series. 12 made me feel like a programmer, 13 like a general. I’ll replay 13 over 12 any day.