Final Fantasy XII is the Game of Thrones of the series. Never before have you seen political maneuvering like this in a FF game. With the game starting as your whole nation becomes a puppet state of an empire interested in war with the nation behind yours, you are quite literally the underdog in many situations. Tensions have escalated with the empire using Dalmasca as a punching bag, looting Rabanastre without any consequences. There are a lot of characters that are introduced to you during the game, all with their own allegiances, ulterior motives and grand strategy. It might feel like a lot to absorb at once, as you watch the machinations of two empires, a resistance movement and a neutral state all playing for their own gain.
If you can keep track of the moving pieces, there is a lot to enjoy as you watch a realised world move ahead, often without any recognition of your own actions. It is only much later in the game that your actions truly intersect with the grand schemes in place, meaning the early sections can seem overly complicated and unnecessary until the true hands are dealt. Ivalice feels so much more realistic a world thanks to activities and characters acting out independently of what your characters are doing, a pitfall that many RPGs suffer as the world seems to revolve around the actions of some village boy with a special sword.
Ivalice feels so much more realistic a world thanks to activities and characters acting out independently of what your characters are doing.
Giving yourself the gambit
Any talk of Final Fantasy XII would be remiss without dedicating time to its sublime Gambit system used in combat. Fights in this game are fairly fast paced and often brutal. Fights also happen in the field rather that in separate battle screens, meaning you could mistakenly hit a trap or upset extra enemies while fighting. Unless you use the wait system to enter in commands, everything happens in real time and you won’t feel like you have enough time to control all three characters at once. No, this doesn’t mean you have an AI doing the work for you as you control one character. Instead, you can set up gambits for all your characters to help them survive and flourish in battle. It also takes a lot of the repetition out of grinding through a dungeon, especially if you play using the remasters handy speed-up button.
Gambits are basically a string of if-then statements you can set for your characters. These can be something as simple as attack an enemy that you see, or drink a potion at low health. Whenever a gambit happens, the system resets to the top-most one, going through until if finds an if-then statement that can be fulfilled. By clever positioning of gambits and using the correct conditions to trigger them, you can make your entire party self-sufficient, if you want. Or you could just make sure that the healer is always operating efficiently, so that you can focus on stealing items or killing things. Learning how to use gambits might seem daunting, and in the beginning you have very few gambits until you buy the other target options. It costs a lot of gil, but you want to get on that quickly.
For example, you are fighting in an area with enemies that like to blind you. You don’t have enough accessories to make everyone immune to blind, so you give your healer the Party: Status: Blind > Blindna gambit. Now to make sure your healer doesn’t cast blindna when someone is at really low health, we put a healing gambit in the slot above it: If anyone’s HP drops below 40%, the healer casts Cure. A third gambit is to attack the target of the party leader, so if nobody is blind, and nobody is below 40% HP, the healer smacks things.
Another character has Party: Status: Silence > Echo Herbs as their first gambit to help out for the one monster in this area that can silence the party. This means even if an enemy is around, the character will now use items to get rid of the silence effect, making sure your healer can always heal.
As things progress the gambits get more intricate as you unlock 12 per character, and it is up to you to decide if you want certain buffs recast during combat, or if they should only be cast before or between fights. Don’t be afraid to move them around or delete a gambit, as they are easy to set up again and one set of gambits might be perfect for one dungeon, but terrible for another. As long as your black mage isn’t casting Flare on the enemy with Reflect, and your healer isn’t mistakenly casting healing magic on the enemy, things should be pretty easy to get used to. The finer details come over time and as you unlock all the gambits and spells. Does this sound rather technical and tactical? Having the Final Fantasy Tactics team handling the game definitely brought in some of the depth and strategic thinking across into this main series title.
Puzzle me this
The tactics and brain teasing doesn’t end in the gambit system. A lot of the dungeons in FF12 are layered with massive areas locked off until you get a key in an unrelated area, or until you solve a riddle related to the dungeon. Some of the critical path through the game makes you pay attention to your environment, and something as simple as a hidden path might be what you need to progress. Just keep an eye open, as you might feel really smart solving a puzzle and unlocking a new area in a dungeon, only to be greeted by monsters 20 levels or more stronger than you. A wise party goes nowhere without Libra active and an eye on new creatures. Rare spawns or a hunt creature spawning might ruin your day if you don’t pay attention. Thankfully The Zodiac Age autosaves as you move into a new section of the map, making that game over screen a lot less frightening.
You might feel really smart solving a puzzle and unlocking a new area in a dungeon, only to be greeted by monsters 20 levels or more stronger than you.
Along with the much needed autosaves is the speed up feature that improves grinding and long treks immensely. The areas you traverse are impressively large and respawning monsters, rare monsters, changing weather and respawning chests will have you investigating sections again and again for loot. To help with this, the game lets you toggle a sped-up version, moving either at double or quadruple the speed. The music stays the same regardless of the speed you play at, so you get to still enjoy a freshly recorded orchestra version of the soundtrack. Just make sure you have your gambits set up properly and you know the area you are running around in, or you might doom your party to die at 4X normal speed. Personally I found 4X too fast, but I used 2X speed really often to cross vast distances or to make my way through easy fights that needed no reactionary command input. The game took 40 hours to complete, with a fair dose of grinding required in parts to get enough money for new weapons in the store. It isn’t an untoward amount of grinding, but there are times when you just need to retrace your steps or go do a hunt or two before continuing onward.
FF12’s biggest failing is in its dialogue and voice acting work. While some voice actors really seem to get their parts, like Gideon Emery as Balthier, some characters just fall flat. In the case of Ashe it feels like the dialogue was written by several people and instead of giving her things to say during emotional sections, she spends a lot of time gasping and sighing instead. Some of the accents are horribly done, bordering on racist imitation rather than adding to the breadth of the world of Ivalice. The Marquis, considering how many lines he has and his position in the plot, has a terrible, faltering accent that comes across more as someone mocking another nationality than a character from a different nation.
Final Fantasy XII should have been the swangsong of the PS2, but its release window somehow ended in it being overlooked by many fans of the FF series, which is a right shame. This remaster gives FF12 the chance it deserves to be seen for what it is: one of the greats in the FF series. Improved spell effects, the details on those amazing weapons and armour are now finally where they should have been all those years ago.