Make no mistake, Final Fantasy is one of my favorite video game series of all time. It's had its issues - up until recently most of its major installments have been questionable in terms of quality. Final Fantasy XIV was definitely one of the most disastrous releases in a long time. Final Fantasy XIII had so many issues that it deserves its own article. But there have been good games - the series didn't die with PlayStation One.
Final Fantasy XII was a fun, new kind of game for the series. It's characters compelled me, and its setting had that signature beauty that the series is known for. The battle system had its faults, but in the end, the gameplay had a simplicity and newness that the series desperately needed. It was definitely not traditional, and that both hindered and helped the game.
Now, years later, the Remaster has released and I've gotten the chance to try this game again and I can't help but wonder... why don't people talk about it more?
There is a lot going for this game, right off the bat. The License System was an interesting take on the skill tree - getting to choose different jobs that unlocked both unique abilities and stat boosts is not super new, but it's given a nice little refreshment in the game. And with the remaster, you're able to dual class, which (if you pick the right combos) can give your characters a ridiculous amount of power. This gives you a really good outlet for strategy, something that I feel got lost in later titles in the series.
Now the battle system, while filled with problems, also has its good spots. First, it's not turn-based. I don't hate turn-based combat, I understand why some games use it, but nowadays it really gets on my nerves. The monotony of it just bores me to tears. FFXII uses a different kind of system, and allows to move around the screen feely and attack whenever you want. When you target, you have to let your attack charge, and then you hit. It's not hack-and-slash, but it's not turn-based. Another interesting part of this new experience is the Gambit System: You were able to assign characters moves to use, and give them specific circumstances of when to use these abilities. We'll get into the caveat of this later on, but regardless - it's useful.
There's also a good amount of side quests and opportunities for exploration in this world. There are lots of secret bosses and espers (summoned creatures) that you're able to fight/collect throughout the game. There's also a bounty hunting system that gives you pretty good rewards, not just for bounties but for larger bosses that you fight throughout the game. It gives variety that was noticeably absent from FFXIII, and the series' more linear installments.
And finally, we have the story. The story is typical of a Final Fantasy game, but the strength in the characters. They're written well enough and acted well enough to carry along the very basic story. The chemistry between this cast of interest characters which features two sky pirates, a wannabe sky pirate, his best friend, a little prince, and a usurped princess. I found myself caring a lot about these people, and that's not something I can say about every single cast of characters Square Enix has produced.
See, here's the issue with Final Fantasy XII, and I fear that this may have been the reason for its downfall. You have to pay to use your moves when you want to use them. Through the Gambit System, you are able to assign moves and add qualifiers. Like, if I wanted to have Penello heal, but only when characters are less than half health - I'd be to make that happen. But only if I bought the 50%< Gambit from a store. The gambits are cheap, but it's annoying when a shop doesn't have them or you have somehow spent all of your money and need it.
And the worst part is that this is everything. Without it, you can't really trust the game to control your characters for you. They'll burn through MP, or they'll attack a totally different monster and leave you in the dust. I feel like they were trying to be too innovative, and change to much for no reason. Why was this necessary? You can't the question, because it wasn't.
I can't think of another issue that I have with the game beyond that.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Final Fantasy XII is a misunderstood that suffered because of one game mechanic that managed to ruin the experience some of the time. Unfortunately, when it comes to video games, you can't make that mistake. But I will say that this game deserves another play through. You learn to get over the Gambit System - and if you don't, that's understandable, but please try to give this a second chance.
It's definitely does better than Final Fantasy XIII, but I guess that's not too difficult to do.
Shann Smith is a lover of video games and has played RPGs since he could hold a controller. He is a freelance writer, playwright, screenwriter, and also writes the Video Gay-Mer column on Popdust! If you have any RPGs you'd like him to unpack, hit him up!