FinalFantasy12(1)

Genre: RPG
Year: 2006
Developed by: Square Enix
Published by: Square Enix
Platforms: PS2
#331
Feeling Like: Last Call

I see a lot of love for Final Fantasy 12 online, even more so since the release of the HD update, Zodiac Age. That’s awesome. I love when fans get excited about a series, particularly one that fills me with nostalgic glee.

That being said, it’s one of my least favorite entries in the longstanding role-playing series. However, it’s also like pizza – bad pizza is still pretty good, certainly better than nothing. There’s a ton that I loved, but also quite a few changes that didn’t sit right with me. Maybe I’ll throw it in the oven for a few minutes, that’ll help.

Mmmm. Food. You’ve heard of  a compliment sandwich? It’s a method of giving both positive and negative feedback, in a particular order, so the recipient is more likely to listen to the advice and less likely to take it personally. I think.

Final Fantasy 12 deserves a few compliment sandwiches. I don’t want to be too hard on it, I clearly enjoyed it enough to put at 331, but I can’t avoid revealing a few fundamentals that weakened the entire experience for me and prevents it from being a great game.

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Like a proper shirt for Vaan

Here we go, compliment: the locations are stunning. The main city of Rabanastre is gorgeous, complete with an amazing theme. It submerges you in the atmosphere. Everything here is well done, the markets, the trees, the townsfolk, the secrets – it’s all you can possibly want in a fictional city and remains a highlight of the game.

Feedback: All the characters look too same-y. I get that they’re trying to stay consistent with the world of Ivalice, but I wanted more variation in the facial designs. One of the most important factors in RPGs for me is the group. I like different, clashing personalities in my troupe, and I didn’t get that here.

Compliment: There’s so much to do, especially in Rabanastre. Side quests and monster hunts in particular, this is certainly the first time I felt that a Final Fantasy game had a touch of an MMO akin to World of Warcraft. The gameplay certainly leans more towards that kind of style, with free reign being given at all times while fighting enemies and nary a turn-based moment to be found. It also has the advantage of making the world feel more alive, like you’re a small cog in a giant machine, rather than the only star of the show.

I’m not sure which style I prefer. On one hand, I still love the cliche plot of a chosen one, and how you’re destined to save the planet. Power fantasy and all that. But there’s also something appealing to just being another face in the crowd. You’re a part of the story, rather than the story being you. Events can happen without your direct involvement. Final Fantasy 15 did this kind of story, but not without faults.

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The HD remaster is brilliant. Hard to believe this is a PS2 game originally

My lasting impression was that Final Fantasy 12 did all the little things right, but the big things wrong. I’ve come to switch my position a bit. The world itself is fresh and gorgeous. The combat is pretty great, and totally new to the series. My biggest problems lie with the characters and story.

I don’t get any personality from any of the protagonists. The villains, Judges, have a terrific visual design but they don’t live up to any kind of expectations. They’re not memorable. There’s no “big” moment or cutscene that resonated with me. Everything feels muted in a way. Learning about how many of the development team members left halfway through productions makes me forgive some of the transgressions – it’s a miracle the game came out at all the way it did.

FinalFantasy12(6)
Balthier (right) is by far the most interesting person in the game.

I really did love the combat system, even if I prefer turn based as a rule. You only control one player actively at a time, but you can choose who the ringleader is. Nice touch. You can switch out characters in and out of your party at any time. Awesome. You can assign specific commands to each party member via “gambits”, or actions you want your party members to take. This is an amazing touch – since you don’t control all party members at all times, it’s crucial that they behave the way you want. Your party members get poisoned? Well, you’ve prioritized that they use an item to heal their poison right away. Are they all healed up? Great, time to attack. Who do they target? Up to you.

The freedom of what you want to equip on your buddies, how they act in battle and the specific combat role you can assign yourself is thrilling. Seeing a fight go perfectly because you’ve anticipated all the potential disasters is addicting. I slid into a white mage/buffer class, so I’d let my two fighters go berserk and whack away at enemies while I played den-mother and kept them from getting into trouble. I’d never done that in an RPG before, but it certainly opened up new possibilities for me. Let others do the damage, I’ll just stay in the back here and make sure you’re sword swinging the best you can.

FinalFantasy12(5)
B-bomb!

Like many other JRPGs, Final Fantasy 12 is huge and almost too much in terms of creative content. Where do I start? How do I finish? They missed the mark in a lot of areas, but the battle system is so innovative that it almost solely makes up for any shortcomings.

What didn’t help my feelings on the game is that it’s the last game I played with Fuzz at Mount Allison before we graduated. We knew the end was coming, five years together playing games creates a certain type of friendship – also alcohol, energy drinks and staying up way too late to avoid doing assignments strengthens those bonds. We were both massive RPG fans, and would often play single player adventures together and take turns. This increased any amount of fun I was having, as I knew getting lost or stuck was half as daunting with a friend by my side.

We ran through Chrono Cross, Suikoden 2, Suikoden 3, Final Fantasy 9, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Final Fantasy X, Skies of Arcadia, Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, Baten Kaitos: Origins, to name a few. And, of course, Final Fantasy 12. It was really different, perhaps too much so at the time. We wanted comfort food, instead we got a sophisticated meal. I specifically remember Fuzz hating the fact that treasure chest loot was randomly generated. I didn’t like how the subtitles didn’t indicate who was speaking. Now, that’s a nitpick for sure, but with exams coming up and us officially entering adulthood on the horizon, tensions were higher than normal. The end was nigh. A Final Fantasy, indeed.

FinalFantasy12(2)
I am addicted to Final Fantasy logo art. Fantastic.

 

We trudged on and completed the game, but I’m certain we didn’t give it a fair shake at the time. Too many things were happening, too many changes all at once. This wasn’t the final, best version of the game either. I’m confident with clearer eyes and a more sober disposition, Final Fantasy 12 would have appeared much higher on the list. Instead, it succumbs to a slightly agitated point in my life and so it remains at 331.

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