Final Fantasy XII is a weird Final Fantasy game, discarding much of what the series had established up to 2006. It boldly sheds the active and turn-based battle systems of previous mainline titles, and boasts a more modern take on combat that fell in line with what players had come to expect in 2006.
Perhaps this is where I should make it absolutely clear: I’ve never played FFXII prior to this re-release, but from the 12 hours I have played so far I have been blown away by how well the game holds up. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is based upon a Japanese exclusive version of the original FFXII (a ‘Director’s cut’ of sorts), that cleaned up the battle system and added a handy fast-forward button to help mitigate some of the slower portions of the game.
The combat is unlike anything I’ve played before and the characters are as charming and complex as ever. In fact, the only aspect of the game I’ve found myself really struggling with is the plot. There are a lot of different fantasy words tossed around, and right off the bat you’re expected to know your Archadian’s from Dalmascan’s. It’s overwhelming to say the least, but from what I’ve played, the game has begun to slowly clarify a lot of the words thrown at the player during the opening sequence, and I’m finding myself gradually becoming more interested.
Whilst the politically charged plot is doing a serviceable job of keeping me engaged, my party members are where I’m finding myself most invested. It’s going to be interesting to see how my stance towards the narrative changes as it kicks into gear, and how my feelings on the main cast develops.
A strong narrative is vital to any good RPG, but the combat of FFXII is where I feel the game boldly separates itself. While I understand FFXII predates the Xenoblade games, they are an effective and contemporary comparison for those unfamiliar with the combat of the original. Just as in those titles, your standard attacks are automated (with the attack command selected by default) and simply moving your character towards an enemy will execute a standard attack. With the click of a button, however, players can bring up a menu that allows for the casting of magicks and different battle techniques.
Sounds simple, right? Not quite. As you begin to assemble your party, a unique mechanic is introduced, the Gambit System. To put it simply: you choose a prerequisite, then the action to be carried out once those requirements have been met. This gives the player a great degree of control over how you want the party to act in a given situation. As players acclimate to this system, more and more Gambits become available to be selected at once, allowing for greater control over the party in a way that never becomes overwhelming.
One reviewer trope I’ve grown tired of is the “You have to play at least 7 hours before the game gets good”, but I feel like anybody experienced with JRPGs understands that these games can take a while to kick into gear. With FFXII, I found the characters and the world it presents drew me in early, but it wasn’t until roughly three hours in that the combat really began to click with me. I feel this was in part due to 1. The job system (I’ll get to it!) taking some time before it was fully introduced and 2. Not enough challenge being offered until I approached my first boss battle. You know what though? It did take some time to get going, but I’ve come to find the combat much more engaging than at first glance. It was quite the surprise to find the gameplay this fresh ten years after it’s initial release.
In The Zodiac Age, each of the six party members can have two jobs or classes that are your standard Final Fantasy fare: Black Mages, White Mages, Monks, Knights etc. Allowing each character to essentially have two different classes makes for some fun combinations like a White Mage gunslinger or a Samurai that specialises in black magic. Although I initially found the inability to change jobs distressing, In the end i’ve had a blast just messing about with the character archetypes we’ve become accustomed to. I don’t know, there’s just something about watching a seemingly meek character become a tank, or making the tank character into a White Mage, that’s endearing to me.
Of course, this being a Final Fantasy, you can expect some solid music to accompany the title. Though the score is solid, compared to other soundtracks in the series it falls short. It’s true, I am still early on in the game, but so far there haven’t been any tracks that stand out to me. Fans who fell in love with the original release will be quick to notice the fully reorchestrated soundtrack that is exclusive to The Zodiac Age. Fortunately for any nostalgic gamers out there an option is available to switch between original and reorchestrated versions at any time. I’ve found myself sticking with the new tunes, but I’ll be interested to see which version fans will come to prefer.
Those are my early impressions of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, despite having never played the PlayStation 2 release, I’ve found myself engrossed in the combat and playing around with the Gambit System. While still fairly early on in the game, the overarching narrative has yet to hook me, but the characters are charming and I’m eager to see how they play into the title’s larger machinations.