During my blogging hiatus, I revisited Final Fantasy XII with its Playstation 4 remaster.
For the longest time, FFXII was my least favorite in the series, much to the chagrin of my sister-in-law who is a huge fangirl for the game. Anytime I brought up my hatred, I’d get a side eye from her, whereas most of my other friends who happened to be Final Fantasy fans never even touched XII when it originally came out on the Playstation 2. After playing it again, I can safely say that Final Fantasy XII is pretty okay.
My history with the original goes back to Blitz: The League, an arcade-style football game that has absolutely nothing to do with Final Fantasy or Square Enix. “Back in the day”, my friends and I would meet after school to play Blitz. On one occasion, a friend who I eventually served as Best Man at his wedding, got so excited in a Blitz win that he jumped up. In so doing, he ended up pulling the console down onto the hardwood floor by a connected controller cord (praise be to wireless). Thus ended our time playing Blitz and my time being a Playstation 2 owner.
A year later when Final Fantasy XII came out, I couldn’t afford to purchase a new Playstation 2. By then, I had mostly moved onto being an Xbox fanboy. Still, as Final Fantasy X and X-2 faded into memory, my need to play the latest and greatest Final Fantasy game increased. Plus, it was set in the same world as Final Fantasy Tactics, my absolute favorite Final Fantasy game.
Through shame and guilt, I made my friend loan me his Playstation 2 until I could finish Final Fantasy XII, which contributed to the first reason why I disliked the game: I rushed it.
Final Fantasy XII is not a game you should rush. With its open world setting, a real contrast to Final Fantasy X, it had an exploratory quality that the series had been missing for some time. Plus, the extra boss fights are both easy to miss and fun to do, so a large part of the game can be ignored if you aren’t looking beyond the plot.
As I previously mentioned, Final Fantasy Tactics was and is my favorite Final Fantasy game. Final Fantasy XII shares the setting of Ivalice, but is set in a different time, in a different part of the world, and all of its callbacks to Tactics are done through flavor text. In other words, it was not a successor, spiritual or otherwise, to Final Fantasy Tactics. This was the second reason I disliked the game.
Despite not being another Tactics, FFXII does have better characters. Sure, the plot was terrible in comparison, but that’s true of 99% of video games because FFT really was that damn good. I didn’t even mind Vaan, though I was pretty tired of the teenage boy shtick for Final Fantasy leads and would’ve much preferred any of the game’s more mature characters to be the sole focus.
For my final reason, I point to the combat. Final Fantasy XII was a huge departure since you only control one party member at a time, though you can switch around. Combat is still turn based, but it takes place out in the open world, and the game promotes automating most of it to the Gambit system. Gambits work as a sort-of customizable AI mini-game that allows you to set conditions for how the AI should play your party mates.
In 2006, I hated gambits, so much so that I refused to use them. Instead, I micromanaged everything in combat, rapidly switching from character to character, queuing actions and hoping for the best. This made Final Fantasy XII harder, but when compared to my more recent play through, far less enjoyable.
Part of the beauty of Final Fantasy XII, much like Bravely Default, comes from powering up your party, creating unique combinations, and finding ways to automate things for efficiency. By skipping over that entirely in 2006, I really missed out. Playing the game as intended and using gambits to their fullest is so much more fun. I loved farming and grinding so much that I did every achievement but kill the secret boss Yiazmat because fuck a boss that takes hours (not hyperbole) to defeat.
I loved Final Fantasy XII this last time around. It is a great example of marrying classic Final Fantasy with a then-modern twist (MMORPG-esque open world, revamped approach to combat, etc.). I hate that the series has only moved further away from its roots, but FFXII was a happy compromise if only I had recognized that fact then rather than last year.
Why then do I say it is only okay?
Because the plot sucks, most of the characters would be better off in a narrative that wasn’t “crappy Star Wars”, and it wasn’t Final Fantasy Tactics 2.
Sorry! Some things don’t change.