(Don't Mention the Spear)
Less a review and more a love letter to Ivalice.
For those of you who have listened to our podcasts (if not, why not dammit?!) you will know I harp on about Final Fantasy XII like there is no tomorrow. This is definitely down to the games quality but in retrospect it fell in a great time in my life. I was at University, had weeks of free time in a summer break and it was the perfect way to spend a day hungover from the over excess of the student union the night before. So when I heard of the re-mastering of this game, which was a cornerstone of my gaming past, I was equally joyous and worried. I was worried that this game, so highly esteemed in my memory, could just be a product of being the right game in the right place and time.
Turns out it wasn’t just that and actually FFXII is awesome. The re-mastering bringing just enough changes with it to make this a noteworthy game to either return to or experience for the first time.
There aren’t many worlds or stories in my experience to match this games deep lore. The fantasy world mixes steam punk, magic and technology to great effect, resulting beautiful (even by today’s standards) cities and vistas, impressive sky ships and a divergence of different biomes.
Firstly, what I like about the story is that it brings together a rag tag group of disparate characters more believably than other party based RPGs. This is not a group of people brought together to “do what is right” or to “save the world” but a team of people brought together by necessity as a huge war rages around them with their own agendas. The game does a great job of reminding you that serious political wheels are in motion in the background but whilst your characters have their part to play, the world does not revolve around them. There are the usual twists and turns you would expect from a final fantasy game but in the end each of your team has a meaningful contribution and a solid backstory. Oftentimes in party games there are characters that end up side-lined, the fact that characters do not gain XP unless they are active in the party keeps you rotating and the game is a better product because of it.
In regards to levelling, this game (in my opinion) nails progression. Each of your characters will have natural strengths and weaknesses but with the jobs system, the game allows you to flesh out your party how you like. Usually you are able to do this with the main character only, but the game gives you the freedom to pick from 12 different jobs (and later you gain access to a secondary job for each to widen your teams skills) from the start. This gives you the opportunity to build the team you want based on your play style. Levelling up happens in two ways, firstly through XP which raises your characters level and base stats, and then License Points (LP). These are where your characters really take shape. License points are gained from slaying foes and allow you to purchase or unlock various level orbs. These will either unlock the ability to use weapons (Swords 1, Swords 2, Shields 4 etc), or unlock abilities themselves, either passive of active. Examples of passive orbs could be +500HP, or active orbs, spells such as Fira. The jobs you picked will affect what the license board will look like. For instance a black mage’s board will focus on damage spell abilities and light, mystic armour.
The combat in the game breaks away from the turn based history of FF and is more akin to an MMORPG or the likes of Star Wars-KOTOR. What differentiates this game and what I would say is the stand out feature all party based RPG games can learn from is the use of Gambits. A gambit basically lets you programme your teammates with simple functions. They are made up of a trigger and an effect. Simple examples are seen below.
Trigger - Party member <50% HP - Effect - Use Potion.
Trigger - Foe weak to Fire – Effect - Use Fira.
Whilst many games will have these functions built into the game behind the scenes, it’s the ability to micromanage these if you wish that I really love. If you find your mana points are low as your healer is constantly topping up the last 30% of health on your team, you can drop this to heal at <50% or <40% or any percentage you feel works the best. The list of gambit triggers is exhaustive so you really can not only choose the jobs, the weapons, the armour and spells of your team, but you can within a few minutes program how they act in battle. This may sound boggy but once you have sorted this early on there is little reason to change these (unless for example you have a black mage set to spam the battlefield with Fira when foes absorb this element etc).
The boss battles and hunts (optional bosses more or less) provide a challenge and are not your usual “hit it till it dies” affairs. The game forces you to really work out a boss’ weakness and exploit it to beat some of the mid-level and latter bosses. Sometimes with the hunts finding them is half the battle, for example some will only come out in certain weathers, or for example if your active team is only made up of female characters.
In regards to graphics the game’s HD overhaul gives a fresh layer to what was already a pretty game. I remember playing this on an 18 inch VHS combi TV so it’s a testament to how pretty the game looked at launch that it would stand the test of time on a 40 inch screen with few tweaks. The music, as expected from a FF game is phenomenal (the soundtrack was one of my favourites whist driving around in Final Fantasy 15).
It’s worth noting that this release of the game allows a double time feature when exploring or fighting and I’ll be honest I have played the majority of the game with this on. One of the trigger buttons easily puts you back into real time should you need to concentrate on a tough enemy but this really does allow you to concentrate the progression and grinding in the game without being a real time sink. Whilst my first play through was the other side of 300 hours completing all the hunts, my second play through came in around 80 hours with a solid amount of content completed.
If I were forced to point out omissions it would be that it’s not always obvious where you should be going or what you should be doing. This leads to some wasted time wandering around various areas hoping to find the next story cut scene. Similarly the hunts force you to first meet the person who posted the hunt and you are often given very little information to find them or the beast once you have been given it’s vague location. All in all though this is not a massive problem with the game.
Playing the final fantasy X re-master last year it was clear the game had aged and whilst still enjoyable there were a number of things that annoyed me about the experience when measured by today’s gaming standards. I feared this would be the same with the FFXII re-master however I can safely say this is not the case. The game still shines in a very heavy populated genre on the PS4. I would heartedly recommend this game to both FF12 newbies and veterans alike. Unashamedly I’m reviewing this through rose tinted glasses but I make no apologies.