The Ranking Final Fantasy series moves to number XII, the last Final Fantasy to appear on the PlayStation 2 after it came out five years following the release of X. That was a long time to go without a new Final Fantasy game, depending on how you feel about X-2, but most players were occupied with XI during that span of time.
Here’s a look at the various box art the game released with.
Japan release box art.
NTSC (North American) art.
There was also a Collector’s Edition but not being in the North America when the game released I wasn’t aware of it.
PAL box art.
Like X, XII had an International Version released. Called the International Zodiac Job System this version is likely the best out of all International Versions released across the Final Fantasy series.
Unlike in the original release, in the Zodiac Job System version what abilities a character can learn and what equipment they can use is dictated by their job. Once the player chooses a job for a character, it cannot be changed. Each chosen job also corresponds to one of the Espers. Two major gameplay changes were found in the ability to control guest characters as well as using the R1 button to run the game at 2x the speed.
As war looms on the horizon, the mighty Archadian Empire beings a campaign to subjugate its neighbors. The small Kindgom of Dalamasca was one such neighbor, and it is here that our tale begins. In a fight for freedom, fallen royalty and unlikely allies must struggle to liberate their homeland. Trace the mysteries behind the Empire’s invansion and unmask the players in a drama of justice and betrayal.
GG: XII returns to the world of Avalice which Final Fantasy fans may remember as the setting for Final Fantasy Tactics, another great game that I spent many enjoyable hours playing. The story starts off with some heavy political messages and it’s in this world that we find our main characters. Deceit and betrayal find their way into the story at various points. This seems to be a grown-ups’ Final Fantasy. The world is fleshed out well, like X’s was, but has a much different feel. This is likely due to the colour pallet the creators went with. Instead of the blues of water and green of forests you find a lot of sand and dark shadows. I love the setting and find it fits perfectly with the events in the game. I also like the way the scenarios play out so you find yourself up against the judges one by one until the final battles with the big boys. It progresses at such a consistent pace but you also have freedom to go off on your own should you choose to as the gameplay isn’t anywhere near as linear as X’s. Grade: B plus
ASM: The return to Ivalice! As someone who loved Final Fantasy Tactics, seeing the world, designs, and music motifs return from the spin-off to the main numbered series was quite welcome. With that as well came a story that was more political based then any of the Final Fantasy games that had come prior, and felt at times quite Shakespearean. The story comes with some excellent world building, and character building, and only unfortunately falls flat a bit for the final third of the story, especially when it comes to the final villian, and the motives behind all the aggression (the Occurians). Regardless, the to-scale world, vast locations, and mostly fleshed out characters, really made XII stand out, even more than X, and definitely more than XIII. Grade: B plus
There are six main characters from which to make your three member party. Square followed up the voice acting in X by hiring theatre actors for XII and the difference is notable with the voice acting being fantastic in XII.
The proganist of the story, who if anything isn’t actually the protanist. While the story starts with him, it ends up really not being about him at all. – ASM
A fellow orphan and childhood friend to Vaan, she at first tags along with him on his little adventures and finds herself caught up a scenario she could not have possibly imagined. – GG
Basch fon Ronsenburg
Loyal commander of the Dalmascan army who, when our party meets him, is imprisoned for betraying the throne. – GG
Ashelia B’nargin Dalmasca/Ashe
The renegade princess of our story. Ashe is one of the strongest heroines to come out of a Final Fantasy, especially compared to the last four releases. – ASM
The self proclaimed hero of the story, Balthier the Sky Pirate is the perfection of the can’t-be-held-down thief archetype that SQEX has used time and time again. One part Locke, one part Zidane, all parts smooth operator. – ASM
The pirate’s Viera sidekick, Fran provides some calm wisdom to the younger party members and just flat out looks fantastic. You discover she has her own problems she’s dealing with. Or is it running away from? – GG
Doctor Cid plays the villian for the first time in FF history in a role similar to Cid from FFVI, but ultimately doesn’t end up turning back to the light side. – ASM
Highest ranked of the judges, those who command armies and administer justice for the Archadian Empire, Gabranth is one of the most important characters in the game, but how much so you don’t find out for some time.– GG
Ultimately, Vayne comes off as one of the weakest villains in my mind. While trying to be Kefka-esque, at the end he doesn’t feel like the ultimate threat, and the fight with him is somewhat anti-climatic. – ASM
Favorite Character – ASM – For me it’s a hard toss up between Balthier and Basch. I used them both consistently, and both were solid all-arounders.
Favorite Character – GG – I really like them all but if I must choose one I guess I’d go with Balthier. No, wait! Fran!
Least Favorite Character – ASM – Vaan. Simply because he is somewhat the weakest character story-wise. His stake as a whole was pretty non-existent compared to the rest of the characters. By extension, you could say Penelo, as she’s just tagging along with Vaan, but was definitely more useful.
Least Favorite Character – GG – As odd as it may sound it’s possible the character who you started off thinking was the protagonist, Vaan, is my least favourite. It’s really hard to pick a least favourite from this game with the characters being solid across the board.
Character Grade by ASM – A
Character Grade by GG – A
The Battle System
Square designed a whole new system (they actually spent the first couple years of development building the tools to allow them to build this system) called the Active Dimension Battle system. Parties once again consisted of only three members at a time but these battles were not random like RPGs as we knew them before. You could see the enemies on the map and decide if you wanted to take them on. After that the Gambit System kicked in. Similar to computer code you would assign commands to your characters wherein if a certain condition presents itself on the battlefield the character reacts in a certain way. You could prioritize them so that the commands you felt more valuable would have higher priority and be acted out first. If one was unnecessary during part of the game you could simply turn it that gambit off.
GG: I love the Gambit system! Yes, it had its naysayers amongst so-called RPG purists. ‘But random battles are a staple of RPGs!“. Well, actually those were devised as a way around the limitations of the equipment available at the time ‘Active Time Battles are more strategic!‘ Um, how so? Usually you are responding to a condition that happens in the game. A party member is poisoned so you use Esuna or an Antidote. That’s all that Gambits are. Ally = poison -> Antidote. I love how you have so many options here. It really makes the battles fast-paced and hectic. I would have my main party member with ‘Enemy = HP 100% -> Mug’ and then my support characters (who had all their curative stuff prioritized at the top) follow up with ‘Leader’s target -> Attack’. I’d also throw a ‘Party member HP = >70% -> Cure’ at the end of my stack so that at the end of every battle the members would throw low level cure spells around to get the HP quickly back up. If it was too much for you there was the ability to turn the Gambits off and you could take control of the action the more traditional way. The Active Dimension Battle system was so fast-paced but with the target lines for both party members and enemies it wasn’t hard to keep track of what was happening in all that craziness.
Seeing the HP bar above the characters heads gave you a way to keep track of party members’ health during the crazy action.
The ability to rotate the camera around during the fight meant you could be a bit of a spectator and watch your finely-tuned characters following your wishes in style. The menu was also quite straight-forward and easy to understand.
It all made for a very complete package that was a joy to use.
Grade: A plus
ASM: The battle system struck a chord with me, in that it felt more dynamic and interactive, yet fluid and fast. Having come off of FFXI, I was familiar with MMORPG battle styles, and it felt very similar to how we would fight, with picking our enemies, and making sure that we wouldn’t have mobs join in the fight. The gambit system was an excellent way to allow players to set AI for their teams, and it was amazing in that it actually worked quite well, and if anything, is one of the best implementations of AI for party characters I’ve seen to this date. While you could join in and command each character individually, the gambit system worked, and was just much more enjoyable and fit the world/field designs very well. Grade: A plus
The Character Levelling System
XII instituted a License Board for XII which meant you had to use license points accumulated during battle/gameplay to unlock abilties like magic or to allow your character to equip certain items. Each character’s board was the same which meant, if you wanted to, you could keep your party pretty uniform though most players opted to take their party members each in their own direction and make them specialized.
Even the ability to Summon Esper’s (XII’s Summons) needed to be unlocked on the license board. Corresponding to this some weapons could be purchased at different vendors in the game while the good stuff was only available if you sold the correct materials.
It took a lot of fighting, stealing, and grinding to get the stuff you would need for the greater weapons so even if you unlocked the license it could be some time before you had the weapon.
ASM: As much as I wasn’t a fan of the sphere grid, I was actually a big fan of the license board. This could be because it felt more tangible in being able to grind the license points and choose where to go, rather than needing to also grind spheres, or be gate locked. I am actually a bigger fan of the license boards from the regular version, as opposed to the job specific boards that the International Version came with, as there was more freedom in creating your own special “classes”. Grade: A
GG: This didn’t seem like a big change after the Sphere Grid so it didn’t take that long to get used to. Obviously the more you use a character in battle the more license points you have and the more you progress across the board and in the game. This meant if you neglected using a character they could lag behind somewhat. Fortunately, gambits made grinding a breeze. The lnternational Zodiac version of the game had 12 different license boards, each corresponding to a symbol of the zodiac and a job. Yup, there were 12 specialized jobs in that version of XII. As more strategic and deep as this change makes the game I also liked the original version wherein you could make anybody anything and switch them at any time. Because each character used the same weapon a different way I appreciated the ability to have, for example, a party member of three people wielding katana and compare their movements with each other. It’s those little details! Grade: A
The Limit Breaks
Called Quickenings in XII, Limit Breaks could be activated when your Mist Gauge reached at least one level. Each character had three different Quickenings at their disposal, each corresponding to a level of the Mist Gauge, and you could also chain them together in long strings, sometimes 20 Quickenings long, if you were quick enough with the button presses.
ASM: Limit breaks in XII are the weakest out of all the games in the series that have them, as it was a bit of a potshot at trying to button mash to get a good combo. Additionally, the actual Limit Break themselves didn’t always seem to make sense with the character. Vaan is tossing a ball of light because whaaa? Grade: C
GG: The weakest part of the game in my opinion. They took the button mashing of X to a whole new level. If you were quick enough you could create a long chain of Quickenings which culminated in an attack with devastating potency. The downside though is having to watch one of only three Quickening animations over and over and over again. I found it boring and quickly gave up on any intention to use them instead only pulling them out as a last resort. They sure were beautiful, though. Grade: C plus
Things went all unfamiliar in XII with the summons, now called Espers, being none of those we remember from the previous games. Instead, the Espers have their own backstory. Five come to you through the course of the game while Eight more are aquired through side-quests. Espers are summoned depending on your Mist Gauge with the most powerful needing three Mist Gauges to summon. Espers must be defeated in battle to obtain them. Once an Esper has been defeated, it appears on the License Board and any character can purchase its license. Espers are assigned to that specific character and once bought the Esper’s license disappears from everybody else’s boards. Espers also had their own powerful attacks, called Deathblows, if you managed to reach the point they could be unleashed.
ASM: The summons in XII follow Ivalice lore, so your main staples of Ifrit, or Shiva, Bahamut, etc. were actually regulated to being airship names. That in itself was cool. But the Ivalice summons that you could use in battle were not so cool. The usage followed the same style as X in that they would come out and join you in battle, but most of the time, I ended up not even bothering. Summons in XII were definitely a bit of an afterthought. Grade: C
GG: The summons in XII were such a departure from what we’d seen in the series so far though some can be found in Final Fantasy Tactics. Gone are old favourites and instead we get Espers that correspond to the Zodiac chart, most of which weren’t pretty to look at.
Did I mention this game was geared towards adults? Each summon lasts a maximum of one minute and thirty seconds and ends when either the summoner or the Esper dies, or the Esper uses its ultimate move. What I liked most about them was probably how you had to hunt them down and defeat them to gain their use. Despite not using them much they, like the Quickenings, looked amazing. Grade: B
Mini-Games, Sidequests, and Extras
XII had a such a huge, free-roaming world that it always seemed like there was something to do no matter where you went. The biggest sidequest in the game were the Mob Hunts which were a series of monster hunts throughout Ivalice.
They start out easy but ramp up in difficulty quite quickly with the final Mob, Yazmat, being a true test of your skills.
GG: I liked the Mob Hunts as a way to get some pretty fantasic rewards but also test my ‘coding’ when it came to the Gambits. In some battles if your Gambits weren’t set optimally you were toast. The stalking of Gilgamesh was also a lot of fun. Grade: A
ASM: Mob hunts! I found these addicting, and would challenge myself to go and beat them as soon as I could, for the experience and rewards. Grade: A
Most Memorable Moment
ASM: The judges and pretty much any moment with them.
GG: Fran going crazy when the magicite is being tested on the Shiva and the ensuing Judge encounter. The Gabranth fight was pretty cool, too.
Moment we’d most like to forget
GG: ‘I am Basch von Rosberg of Dalmasca!’ In a way, that kind of little errand was so Final Fantasy.
ASM: I honestly can’t think of anything.
XII so far stands alone as the only main series Final Fantasy that doesn’t involve Uematsu in the soundtrack which would seem like a loss for the score in this game however Hitoshi Sakamoto, Masaharu Iwata, and Hayato Matsuo do just fine.
ASM: Hitoshi Sakamoto had some big shoes to fill, and rather than try and emulate Uematsu, he went his own way, while respecting classic themes where required. This lead to a sound style that is most definitely not Uematsu when you think about it. Part of it could be that Sakimoto just came off more experienced with using more real sounding compositions, but I found the XII soundtrack to be fairly rousing, and loved a lot of the field themes. The tie in of using the classic FFT motif/riff also added to the world building of Ivalice. A solid soundtrack that fit the game, themes, and world. The vocal track, now a requirement it seems, was used more as a promo tool, rather than being a main theme of a character, or of the story. This makes me feel rather ambivalent towards it, as neither good, nor bad, but just there. In that way, the theme probably sold a lot better because it was marketed more as a J-pop song, rather then a game song like Eyes on Me or Suteki da ne. Grade: A
GG: XII seems such a departure after listening to Uematsu soundtracks for so long. The music quality is quite high and you can tell that the people involved are fantastic composers but it is just different. Gone are the lyrical songs that act as themes throughout the course of the game. Yes, XII does have a song, which plays at the very end. Kiss Me Goodbye is a nice track but as it comes in during the closing CG it doesn’t feel like it is really a part of the game the way Eyes on Me from VIII did. Still it’s full of great tracks with some of my recommendations being Speechless Fight, Clash on the Big Bridge FFXII Version, and Esper.
Part of me does pine for the Uematsu style of soundtrack but in a way, this score, like the game, is very much unlike all other Final Fantasy titles so is very fitting. Grade: A minus
GG: XII came five years after X and in that time pretty much everything we expected from a Final Fantasy title changed. What were your first impressions and did they change the more you played the game?
ASM: So I want to preface this with a few comments. First up, I’ll come out and say that XII is my favorite of the PS2 era Final Fantasy games. This has a lot to do with the fact that I was in Japan then working, and was able to experience a main number FF launch first hand.
It’s also the first FF that I end up playing in Japanese only, as at this point I’m fluent enough, and that the table had flipped in a sense that I had no method to play English games on my Japanese PS2. XII was like my PS2 era peak of fanboyism. I clearly remember the hype. Ivalice! The designs! The Judges!
The even better graphics! The swag! And the swag was real, like the potion cans and flasks (I had a full set!).
But what really got me was the gambit system. And that is thanks to the game that people over, Final Fantasy XI. See, I was a FFXI player, since it came out in the US. My first MMORPG, and I had been hooked, and played it hard core for more than 2 years (03-06), during my last year in college, my year as a JET in the boonies of Japan, and finally until I had to let it go because work and life in Tokyo was the priority. So coming back to a system that made it feel more MMORPGish in how your party worked resonated completely with me. And even though I preordered XII, I actually got up early and took the first train in to Ikebukuro so I could line up to get my copy at Bic Camera, because they opened 3 hours early at 7 AM to release the game.
And yes, I took the day off too. I was very into XII.
GG: I was in Japan at the time as well (though we weren’t acquainted yet, or were we?) and I saw the hype firsthand. It was quite the show.
So much swag! I’ll never be able to get everything but I did get the Ultimania books, both of them.
It was an adventure not only in the game but outside it as well.
ASM: We met back in 2008 or 9 I think. XII though was good times I know that. I think I had a few of the Ultimanias as well.
GG: I remember thinking that Square made s big jump with XII and the time the spent on the game really paid off. It seemed much more ambitious and mature.
ASM: The story certainly starts off and feels that way. I loved the game but the the story is kind of bait and switch. You start off think Vaan is the main character but really he’s a bystander who ends up not being much of anything. It is more about basch and crew. Which was fine with me though. That and the story sort of loses steam around the last quarter of the game. Regardless the systems, hunts, music, there was a lot that made it a great game in my mind.
GG: Yes, the story tries to provide twists which makes it feel like it wasn’t fully fleshed out. I would agree that is a weak point but I was so occupied doing other things that I forgot a lot of what I was supposed to be doing in my quest.
With the new battle system you didn’t often feel like you were grinding though you needed to do a bit of that if you wanted to switch weapon types. The battle system just allowed the game to flow.
ASM: That’s true, I spent a lot of time just out in the field fighting, doing hunts, etc. for some reason XII just didn’t feel grindy to me so I would spend a lot of time out leveling or doing the hunts then finally do the story.
GG: And while some complained about the lack of defined roles for the characters it meant you could make your characters be anything you wanted and even change your mind later. Of course, that meant needing more license points and thus more fighting but the combat encourages that. This alone was a big change from the feeling of past games.
ASM: It let you really take the initiative and decide what character was going to specialize in what. While the International Version introduced specific license boards that you couldn’t switch from, I actually enjoyed the freedom that the initial version gave.
GG: I liked the International Version at the time due to those changes but I’m a tinkerer who often changes his mind so the ability to change on the fly that the initial version provided I can appreciate more now. Especially if you want to see all the little details that went into this game such as different victory celebrations for each character for each weapon.
ASM: What did you think about a Summons and Limit Breaks. I will be honest, I didn’t care for the Summons, although if I recall quite a few were optional? Since the story was based in Tactics lore more than Final Fantasy I didn’t have many Summons that I could relate to. That and it was the Summon comes out for the party style similar to X. On LBs, too, I didn’t care for them either since it was a race against the time to get some sort of combo going.
I did love the battle system but didn’t care for those two components albeit you can say they are pretty much optional use.
GG: That’s exactly how I feel about those and my grades in those sections were lower. It’s interesting to note that each game has one area that disappointed it could have been done better. I guess so far we have seen a perfect Final Fantasy.
ASM: Hmm I would venture to say that the snes ones were perfect. Especially VI. But since those are outside our scope. I would venture to say that IX is closest of the batch that we are reminiscing about.
GG: I’d agree somewhat with that. I know VI had really strong characters so to bring it back to XII do you feel XII’s could hang with the likes of IX?
ASM: The characters were all good in XII. No fluff. Well aside from the fact that vaan and panelo serve to kick the story off and are then pretty much left to the side. I loved Baflear and Basch, and all the characters you came in contact were pretty fleshed out. In that respect I think it was well done. The world building too, felt even better than X to me.
GG: There did seem to be more major characters than in other games. Larsa and Vayne Solidor were major players with Larsa, and the pirate Reddas, joining your party for a bit. The judges were in there as well.
ASM: I loved the judges. I thought how they were implemented and the designs were wonderful. I love how they’ve even taken those design ideas and used them in later games (FFXIV and the empire).
GG: Now we’re talking. Many games in the series have you fighting a series of ever more powerful monsters. I actually enjoyed that some of the major battles in XII were against human, political opponents.
ASM: Very true. In that respect it was done very well up until the end.
GG: When we started playing XIV together it reminded me of XII in the way the players in the game were independent but everyone worked together, responding to the conditions battle, to bring about victory. If you’ve set up your gambits well your party becomes a cohesive unit and quite formidable.
ASM: Yep. I will admit this conversation makes me look forward to the new PS4 remake coming out next year.
GG: Indeed. If it’s anything like the X remake then it will be great. I’m thinking I should go back and play the initial version once more before playing Zodiac version again but the ability to run the game at 2x speed is really, really nice.
ASM: Yeah but I imagine the remake should give you the choice to choose which boards to use.
GG: I hope that is an option. For now I have both versions to tide me over.
ASM: How about the music? The song was decent, and Angela Aki was big at the time so it got some decent play in Japan. First non-Uematsu soundtrack too, and there was no regular battle music. But the field music was definitely good and had the tactics motif in it as well.
GG: I really like the music in XII but its quite the change after hearing Uematsu for so long. I don’t think it’s worse in any way, just different. The score matches the game very well with the big sweeping orchestral numbers.
And Angela Aki’s song only plays at the end if I recall so doesn’t impact the story in any way like we saw with the ‘songs as themes’ in VIII, IX, and X.
ASM: Yeah I agree. Now for a totally different tangent.
For some reason the opening cinematic always makes me think of the phantom menace, the design feels very Naboo and reminds me especially of the end parade of the movie.
GG: You know what. I can totally understand that. Maybe there is some cross-pollination there.
I never played XI so the difference between X and XII was massive for me but as a whole I loved the direction the series was taking. Then the difference between XII and XIII was again quite large.
ASM: XII was great and I was hooked on it when it came out. Having played XI, it came across well to me. As for direction, when you think about it, XII was a true final fantasy in that it was its own style and really didn’t it push it farther than that. Other than the DS semi-sequel, it didn’t overstay it’s welcome like you will see with XIII, and saw with X to some extent.
GG: Now that you brought it up it is interesting to note that every game after IX had a sequel of some kind. X had X-2, XII had Revenant Wings, and XIII, well, that’s next.
ASM: XII was the third peak of FF fandom for me (following VI, and IX) and this time I was in Japan to experience a launch first hand. I got in line! I bought potions (which came in really cool potion style flasks!) I was super hyped. I found the game to be immensely enjoyable, especially in regards to the battle system. The battle system and gambits really sucked me in, and I was always tweaking them to figure out how I could take on even harder enemies. A lot of this comes back from the fact that I had played XI extensively prior to XII being released, and had enjoyed the open world style that XI had, and seeing that again in XII really hit home for me. I spent an immense amount of time grinding because it was actually enjoyable, rather then even moving forward with the story. I would drop everything when I got a new hunt and just go at it. The story itself was more FFT with the political intrigue, that only goes off track at the end with the inclusion of the Occuria. The Judgemasters themselves were a great design, and super impressive. I still have my PlayArts Gabranth, and it is an awesome display piece. Still, one thing that I think I really liked about XII was that you were still only dealing with a small part of the world. It wasn’t about the whole planet, but a small centralized part of Ivalice, but to scale, that made it feel more expansive than the games before. XII is my favorite of the PS2 era, and is definitely worth a play if you haven’t tried it already.
ASM Final Grade: B plus
GG: Even after going back and looking at VII, VIII, IX, and X again I still realize that XII is probably my favourite. It released in Japan my first year there and I wasn’t going to wait for the English localization. I jumped right in and sat there with electronic dictionaries and kanji books trying to decipher everything that was happening. I was hooked despite how clumsily I fumbled my way through it. When the American version did drop I had a friend back home send it to me and I went through the whole thing again though this time much faster thanks to the English menus and the strategy guide. When the Zodiac International Job System version released in Japan I was right back there in Ivalice, enjoying the new changes and job restrictions they included but this time the cut-scene voices were all in English at least. I remember Mob hunting for hours and just running between the various areas exploring (and getting my ass handed to me quite often). Gambits challenge you to think in advance of numerous likely scenarios and prepare for them. I would have liked the Limit Breaks and Summons to be more impressive or, at least, more useful but that still doesn’t detract from the game as a whole (just the score in this review). I can’t wait for the Zodiac Age version to hit my PlayStation 4 so I can do it all over again.
2017 is soon right?!
GG Final Grade: B plus
Combined Final Grade: B plus