In 2006, when I first played Final Fantasy XII, I thought it was just fine. In 2017, I realize how silly that was. Final Fantasy XII is not “just fine.” It is tremendous.
For the past week I’ve been playing an early English copy of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, the remastered PS4 version of Square’s PS2 role-playing game. I thought I’d play for an hour or two and then move on to something new, but somehow I’ve racked up close to 20 hours since last Tuesday. It might be the clean start, the new improvements, or the fact that the PS4 doesn’t have a lot of JRPGs like this—whatever it is, I’m hooked.
If you haven’t played Final Fantasy XII, you should know two things. One is that it’s an Ivalice game, which means it looks and feels a lot like Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, and (especially) Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2. There are certain trends to be found in every game by director Yasumi Matsuno, who left FFXII midway through production but whose hands were clearly all over this thing. From the major (a convoluted, Game of Thrones-y plot with lots of politics and backstabbing) to the minor (status effects called Brave and Faith), all of the Matsuno tropes are in here.
The second thing you should know is that Final Fantasy XII’s core gameplay is like no other role-playing game out there. It’s sort of like an MMORPG, except you control all of the characters. Instead of cycling through a party of three or four heroes and giving them all orders, you can plan things out in advance, using a mechanic called the Gambit System that allows you to put on your programmer’s hat and write some if statements. You might tell your tank to attack any enemy she sees, or tell your healer to cast Cura on any character whose hit points fall below 40%. You can experiment with these Gambits in creative ways. The more abilities your characters get, the more fun it is to try to transform them into an automated death squad.
If you have played Final Fantasy XII before, you should know that the PS4 remaster’s new features are essential improvements. The Zodiac Age has a new trial mode, auto-save, and a fast forward button that makes it way easier to navigate FFXII’s massive world (and makes the game’s monster hunting sidequests far more fun). It’s also got the top-notch job system from the International release of Final Fantasy XII, which never came out in the west, and you will no doubt be pleased to hear that you no longer have to worry about missing the Zodiac Spear because you opened the wrong chests.
Also, Square has overhauled the (lovely) visuals and re-recorded the (stellar) soundtrack. This is a legitimately great remaster.
Just everything about Final Fantasy XII is clicking for me. The Zodiac Age comes out Tuesday (July 11), and we’ll have more on the game closer to then.