Final Fantasy XII divided fans like perhaps no FF game before it, and there is a case to be made for both it being a disappointment and a gem.
By David Harth
Published 5 hours ago
Final Fantasy is one of the most beloved RPG franchises of all time, with fans and critics alike praising the games. Like any game series, some installments are more beloved than others and FF fans can be quite divided when it comes to reaction to the games. One of the games with the biggest mixed reactions was Final Fantasy XII, the last FF game of the PS2 era.
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While the series has been through a lot of changes since its inception, FFXII represented a lot of differences that would be a harbinger of what was to come. While some loved it, others have a much worse opinion of it and there are flame wars about it to this day.
After the more Asian/Pacific islands motifs of FFX, Square Enix went another direction with FFXII. Setting the game in its go to world of Ivalice, art designer Hiroyuki Ito and his team of artists— Akihiko Yoshida, Hideo Minaba, and Isamu Kamikokuryo— based the design on Arab motifs, giving the game a wonderful aesthetic.
The game is gorgeous, especially the Zodiac Age HD remaster for PS4, XBox One, Switch, and PC. Its unique aesthetic sets it apart from other FF games, giving it a unique flavor that is quite memorable.
The FF series is known for its powerful summons and after how well incorporated Summons were in FFX, fans were excited to see how they would work in FFXII. The game called its summons Espers, much like in FFVI, and did a great job of incorporating them into the game’s lore— even breaking tradition by making them entirely new instead of the same summons as always.
Unfortunately, the Espers in the game were pretty useless. Instead of doing powerful attacks, players would take control of it and it would fight for them. It was okay, but they weren’t extremely useful and most of the time, it wasn’t worth using the Quickening gauge up to get them.
Square Enix has gotten a lot of use out of Ivalice since it created it for Final Fantasy Tactics, setting multiple games there— including ones outside the FF series like Vagrant Story. Putting XII there was a great idea, as the world is full of potential for amazing stories. XII used the setting to perfection.
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In XII, Ivalice feels like a living breathing world, full of powerful secrets, a place players can get lost in. There’s a portentous sense of history to the world and the games devs and writers used the setting to their advantage, stuffing the game with interesting lore and beautiful new locations to explore.
FFX kind of spoiled fans during the PS2 generation, as it was full of amazing characters, ones that stayed with player long after they played the game. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case with XII. While the game had some great characters, and Vaan was a mediocre yet likable protagonist, there wasn’t very much special about the main cast.
Each of them had their predetermined role in the story and it was all perfectly fine but for years, FF games were known for their characters being memorable and well developed, even the ones that weren’t fan favorites. XII’s characters, for the most part, are forgettable and one dimensional, with most even believing that Vaan shouldn’t even have been the main character- it’s more Ashe’s story than his.
The Square Enix dev team made XII as the MMO XI was being made and looking at the game’s design, and it’s plain to see that they tried to incorporate as much MMO-style gameplay into XII as possible. While it wasn’t always great, one of the places where this really shined is the game’s hunt system, which allowed players to make more gil by hunting down by dangerous beasts.
For many players, the hunts are their favorite part, beating out everything else in the game. The progressively harder challenges of the hunts really tested players and their mastery of the game’s systems, making for a fun addition to the game.
One of the big problems with XII’s progression is that it pretty much revolves around money. In previous game, players earned ability points to unlock spells, special skills, et cetera. In XII, they unlock new skills and powers on the License Board but then have to buy those skills and abilities from stores. The Gambit System’s best Gambits have to be bought.
The game’s dungeons are long, plodding affairs that leech curatives and MP, forcing players to use more gil to replenish supplies and expensive and rare artifacts to get back to towns to do so. Everything has to be bought and money is hard to come by, forcing players to engage in side content whether they want to or not.
While most of the characters in XII are generic, boring, or sometimes both, Balthier is a ray of sunshine. The sky pirate captain gets all the best lines, has one of the game’s most interesting stories, and steals every scene. Unlike most of the characters in the game, Balthier stays with players long after they’re done playing.
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No character in the party can match Balthier. His sarcasm and wit buoy the group and take scenes that often be pretty dry or too serious and add some humor and charm to them. He’s the heart and soul of the game.
XII’s setting is amazing but the story isn’t. While the game’s boss is one of the series’ best, the game’s story is generic at best and is more than a little indebted to Star Wars. Pitting the party against an all powerful, evil Empire with a princess, roguish pirate and his nonhuman first mate, and a wide eyed boy from the desert, the similarities are hard to escape.
For a lot of gamers, the story just didn’t grab them and even the ones who enjoy the gameplay have a lot of problems with the game’s narrative. While it has its bright spots, it doesn’t do anything new and is as generic as they come.
While the game’s overall story isn’t exactly brilliant, XII does an amazing job of making Ivalice feel like a living breathing world in a way that the series hadn’t done in ages. X’s Spira had some great lore but it never felt like there was enough people living there for it to even have a viable gene pool. Ivalice in XII was completely different.
The cities felt like actual cities full of bustling crowds and the world’s lore shone through in all kinds of interesting ways. Ivalice felt alive in a way that other FF worlds just didn’t.
XII tried to give an MMO experience with a single player game but still kept the party system of previous games. It did this by giving players a choice on how to play the game— either controlling each character during battle as always or using the Gambit System— buying Gambits to program the characters to perform certain actions at certain times.
However, they also made it so the Gambit System was the only way to actually play the game well and triumph, forcing players who actually wanted to play the game and not have the game play itself to use it. It was weird that they even gave player the option to control the characters at all because they made sure it was the least-efficient option.
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About The Author
(1180 Articles Published)
David Harth has been reading comics for close to 30 years. He writes for several websites, makes killer pizza, goes to Disney World more than his budget allows, and has the cutest daughter in the world. He can prove it. Follow him on Twitter- https://www.twitter.com/harth_david.
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