Fi­nal Fantasy XII: The Zo­diac Age

The smartest game in the se­ries, Fi­nal Fantasy XII : The Zo­diac Age, has fi­nally made it to PC.

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - By Tom Se­nior

Dal­masca has been in­vaded by the forces of Ar­cha­dia and it’s up to a cou­ple of street urchins, a re­sis­tance leader, a knight, a sky pi­rate, and a rab­bit lady to save the realm. There’s an air­ship, of course, and there are Cho­co­bos—so far, so Fi­nal Fantasy— but look past the iconog­ra­phy and you’ll find the bold­est, most in­ven­tive game of the se­ries, pow­ered by a weighty squad­based RPG sys­tem and re­mas­tered to run at high res­o­lu­tions on PC.

Af­ter a brief scene-set­ting pro­logue, you start the game in con­trol of Vaan, a charm­less teen from the streets of Dal­masca. He’s hit­ting rats in a sewer alone, and seems de­ter­mined to give you the worst pos­si­ble in­tro­duc­tion to FFXII’s world and sys­tems. As you guide him around town and into the sur­round­ing deserts to hunt mon­sters you pick up com­pan­ions like Vaan’s street­wise pal, Penelo, and the fan­tas­tic sky pi­rate Balth­ier, whose open­ing line “I play the lead­ing man,” hints at a mas­sive lost op­por­tu­nity. Once you have a full squad the com­bat sys­tem oh-so-slowly re­veals it­self, and the fun can truly be­gin.

Fight­ing hap­pens seam­lessly as you wan­der around open ar­eas—no sep­a­rate bat­tle scenes here. When an en­emy at­tacks, ev­ery­one draws their weapons, then you’re free to give com­mands to any party mem­ber, which they ex­e­cute as soon as their cooldown timer has ex­pired.

How­ever, FFXII isn’t re­ally a game about mi­cro­manag­ing in­di­vid­ual ac­tions, but rather a de­sign chal­lenge in which you tai­lor the party’s AI to turn it into a self­sus­tain­ing death ball that rinses dun­geons with deadly ef­fi­ciency. You edit each in­di­vid­ual’s be­hav­ior be­tween bat­tles with the Gam­bit sys­tem. This looks like a list of com­mands which you can cus­tom­ize and then drag around to cre­ate an or­der of pri­or­ity. Let’s say you’re build­ing a healer. You might cre­ate a pri­or­ity com­mand that makes them heal al­lies below 20% health. Slide that to the top of the list, and they will per­form that ac­tion when pos­si­ble be­fore mov­ing on to the next com­mand. You can buy new com­mands from shops, which let you tai­lor the AI more in­tri­cately.

The Li­cense Board sys­tem adds to the ap­peal, al­low­ing you to cast any char­ac­ter in any bat­tle­field role. Each char­ac­ter gets to pick a board from a se­lec­tion of 12, each rep­re­sent­ing a com­bat archetype. You then use Li­cense Points to un­lock new squares on your board. These give you ex­tra Gam­bit slots, health boosts, buffs, and the skills you need to wear bet­ter ar­mor and wield bet­ter weapons.

Role call

The Li­cense Boards are skill trees, essen­tially. To­gether the Gam­bit sys­tem and Li­cense Boards make de­vel­op­ing a party a sat­is­fy­ing ex­er­cise. Even though Balth­ier turns up with a gun and Vaan has a knife, you’re free to throw out the game’s idea for each fighter en­tirely.

Fi­nal Fantasy XII’s great­est prob­lem is that it takes so long to get good. With­out the full com­plex­ity of the Gam­bit sys­tem be­hind it, com­bat for the first third of the game feels bor­ing. The plot front-loads a lot of repet­i­tive sewer sec­tions, and these boxy dun­geons haven’t aged well since the orig­i­nal came out in 2006.

The re­mas­ter coun­ters this with a fast-for­ward mode that lets you dou­ble or quadru­ple the speed of the ac­tion. This brute force gets you through the duller dun­geons quickly, and clips hours of grind­ing out of the game. Plus while the dun­geon lay­outs can be te­dious, FFXII’s ex­cel­lent art di­rec­tion still shines over­all.

Its open­ing third does it no fa­vors, and the con­fused plot never en­gaged enough to pull me into the in­terk­ing­dom squab­bling. How­ever, if you ap­proach Fi­nal Fantasy XII as a ve­hi­cle for party ex­per­i­men­ta­tion then it’s easy to fast-for­ward to the qual­ity ex­tracur­ric­u­lar stuff, like the hunt­ing lodge that lets you fight through a se­ries of in­tense mon­ster bat­tles. The Gam­bit sys­tem is so good it de­serves to be spun off into its own sub­genre. If you like the­o­rycraft­ing, clever lev­el­ling sys­tems and lav­ish worlds, this could eas­ily be your new fa­vorite Fi­nal Fantasy.

Fi­nal Fantasy XII’s great­est prob­lem is that it takes so long to get good

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