I was given Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age on PS4 way back at Christmas 2017. It not long since finally finished playing Final Fantasy XV, and I was excited to dive into another of Square Enix’s beautifully crafted worlds. But it didn’t quite go to plan. I made it about three hours in, when I started having some real frustrations with the battle system. And then, I died, losing about an hour’s progress at the same time. I was annoyed and I gave up.
But when Final Fantasy XII was announced for Switch as part of that Nintendo Direct where Square Enix chucked as much Final Fantasy onto the system as they could muster, my interest was piqued once more. I’ve heard enough people who’s opinions I respect talking about Final Fantasy XII in such high regard, that I knew I had to give it a second shot, and find out if I had just had a false start with the game. That said, I wasn’t about to buy it on another system in case I still didn’t like it, so I booted up my PS4 and headed back to Ivalice.
This time, I’m pleased to say that the battle system clicked almost immediately. I started setting up gambits, and soon got the hang of managing my team from afar, letting them get on with the combat, and only intervening when I needed to.
For those who haven’t tried Final Fantasy XII, the gambit system is pretty unique to the series. It’s basically a series of conditional actions that you can customise for each member in your team, so they know how to respond in battle depending on the circumstances. You can then override these during battle to issue commands to any character in your party if you need to. Best of all, this means that your healers can be told to always heal party members when their HP falls below a certain percentage. This is honestly a blessed relief given how many JPRGs have CPU controlled white mages who seem to do anything but heal the party when needed.
Alongside this, the flexibility of the Zodiac system when it comes to setting jobs creates a lot of options when balancing your party. Each character has both a primary and secondary job, and you can choose any job from the 12 available. This gives a huge number of options and flexibility to customise your party and balance out the weaknesses of each job.
This is especially welcome, because the six playable characters in Final Fantasy XII: the Zodiac Age are some of the most interesting and compelling of any Final Fantasy game I’ve played (excepting maybe Vaan and Penelo). And the story is far from your archetypal Final Fantasy narrative.
The game is set in Ivalice, a world in which two empires are engaged in an ongoing war, with the small nation of Dalmasca caught between the two, and annexed by the Archadian Empire. Unlike the end of the world narrative that characterises most Final Fantasies, this is a story of politics and rebellions. It feels like it has more akin with Star Wars than the rest of the games in the series, and it feels fresh and different because of that.
But even though I was enjoying the story, I didn’t mind breaking it up frequently to explore the rich world of Ivalice and take on hunts, where you find and eliminate particular monsters for candidates. I’m not normally one for lots of side quests, but these hunts were addictive enough that I couldn’t help myself.
They also helped me to get something I found myself in short supply of: money. This makes sense in the context of a scrappy band of rebels fighting against a massive empire, but I more often than not found I didn’t have the gil available to upgrade my armour or weaponry. Whenever that was the case, I would head back to the main city to get some new hunts, mostly journey across Ivalice’s massive open world on foot (or on chocobo) to get enough loot to sell and fund my purchases.
The downside of all this was that my levels shot up and up throughout the game, and by the time I reached the final boss, I breezed through on my first attempt. As my husband will attest, I get immensely frustrated when I find a boss battle too hard in a JRPG. But there’s always an immense satisfaction in finally beating *that* boss after many hours trying. That’s a satisfaction I didn’t get with Final Fantasy XII: the Zodiac Age.
Despite that, I’m still happy to say that I was wrong. I judged this game harshly on my first attempt with it, and didn’t deserve that at all. I’m so pleased that I gave it a second try, and found a world and game rich enough that I spent 55 hours immersed in it. Final Fantasy XII: the Zodiac Age is a great game, and it deserves all the praise.