Revisiting FFXII wasn’t really something I had been planning, if I’m honest. Squenix’s PS2 JRPG was a game I had owned for several years but never really played for more than a few hours. I had picked it up long after the sixth-generation had finished winding down, and only wanted to own it because I had heard so many good things about it. Apparently it was the best Final Fantasy game since VII, or something, but I have a taste for JRPGs that’s so narrow that revisiting FFXII – or even playing it for the first time – would be a challenge as I didn’t think I’d have the patience to get on with it. Sure enough, many attempts at playing the game left me struggling to keep up with the combination of realtime and paused-time combat, configurable Gambits, licence acquisition and so many other things. It didn’t take long for me to put it back on my shelf and consider revisiting FFXII when I could actually pay enough attention to enjoy it. Fast forward to 2016 and I’ve just completed it for the first time, and naturally I have a few thoughts about the game.
Revisiting FFXII and the Gambits
Revisiting FFXII was something I postponed for a while because I was so bemused by the gameplay mechanics. Take Gambits, for instance – they were introduced in FFXII and let you automate certain character actions based on given conditions. Rather than bog the player down in conditions and actions or threaten to automate the combat too much, they’re a nice way of streamlining combat and make keeping track of the real-time battles a lot more manageable. For example, you can set up a Gambit that makes a character automatically cast Cure when an ally’s health drops below a certain threshold, or if you have magic that removes a status ailment, you can set up a Gambit that makes a character use that magic when the status ailment is in effect on an ally. You’ll gain a few basic conditions for Gambits early on (setting up conditions where party members attack nearby foes automatically will be one of the first times you’ll touch the Gambit system), but you can buy more at stores and they’re so cheap that it’s often well worth doing. Eventually you get a really good Gambit setup (where elemental weakness are automatically exploited, status ailments are automatically removed, and so on) and the automation is so natural that it becomes surprising when a problem isn’t fixed immediately (e,g. when a new status ailment is introduced that you don’t have a Gambit for yet.) This makes Gambit management a pleasing process of adding and refining conditions as the game goes on.
Revisiting FFXII and the Licences
Revisiting FFXII also led to me getting to grips with the game’s other big feature: licences. At first I thought the licence board was horribly confusing and made no sense but on my latest playthrough it actually ended up being very rewarding. Winning battles in FFXII rewards you with experience – accumulated in the traditional sense to help characters level up – and licence points. These points are spent in a menu option known as the Licence Board, which sees players select squares on a chequered board to acquire licences for equipment, abilities or other bonuses and unlock further squares for acquisition. You can buy equipment and magic at shops around the game, but until a character has the licence for it, they can’t use it. As a result, you may come across powerful magic or equipment and then see how many squares need to be unlocked to reach the requisite licence – this way you can judge whether it’s worth picking up just yet. It’s a very rewarding system as you get the benefits of gaining access to a new perk *and* you get to see even better perks revealed and teased.
Revisiting FFXII and the grind
Of course, when revisiting FFXII I also had to bear in mind that this is still a Final Fantasy game and there will be times where you might stumble into a new area hopelessly under-levelled and have to retreat to somewhere that’s easy enough to be manageable but challenging enough to make the experience points worth getting. Even though the battle system is enjoyable enough to avoid feeling like a waste of time, it can sometimes be hard to gauge how levelled-up the game wants you to be at certain points. I believe there are certain licences and accessories that increase experience gains, so the game does offer to make the grind easier, but new areas and bosses can still be a shock to the system at first. The proximity and gambit driven combat at least make battles less of a nuisance than they were in earlier games, but if you’re revisiting FFXII you have to accept that you still need to do a bunch of battling in order to make progress. Personally the only thing that made the actual combat a bit of a chore was the absurd amount of status ailments to keep track of, but by the time they become a problem you’ve probably already bought the necessary magic and gambit conditions.
Revisiting FFXII and the world
Despite all the battling, revisiting FFXII wasn’t harmed by grinding too much because I still had fun exploring the world, going on adventures with my party, getting better gear and unlocking more powerful licences. The town locations are still enjoyable to explore and the dungeons can be intimidating but force you to make the most of your Gambits, actions and equipment. There weren’t really any characters who I thought were annoying or filled with emo angst (the main antagonist felt a bit too “pantomime villain” at times, but that’s to be expected), and any environmental puzzles that arose never outstayed their welcome (I spent too long trying to unlock the right path in the Sochen Cave but that was about it.) And the battling… well most of the time I only died because I hurried through areas, so any bad battles are due to my own impatience. In general, it’s a pretty solid JRPG. If you’re turned off by Final Fantasy games, just try and ignore the name – FFXII has enough unique ideas to be enjoyed irrespective of the series legacy. The only downside now is that you can only play it if you have the original disc, so start your petitions for a HD remake or PS2 classics release…