Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is Ruining My Life

At some point in the late 2000’s, I had a falling out of sorts with JRPGs in general and the Final Fantasy series, specifically. To the best of my recollection (and, since the covers the period of my life when I was finishing up college and immediately after, I grant that my recollection of those days is spotty at best), there was no specific triggering incident. This was a gradual falling out.

In the summer of 2007, I played through (and finally finished) Final Fantasy X and mostly enjoyed myself. It’s a fine game, after all; it may look like a self-parody of the series, and the voice acting may be largely execrable, but the combat is fun, quick, and intuitive, and the Sphere Grid (the game’s character advancement system) is pretty neat. There’s an lazy joke here, to the effect of, “Well of course you got sick of JRPGs after playing Final Fantasy X,” but that’s not what happened. But I distinctly recall that, by the end of 2008, no JRPG could hold my interest, and this remained the case for a long, long time. I started several, and finished none.

If you had asked me then what it was about JRPGs that rubbed me the wrong way all of a sudden, I doubt I would have had a coherent, holistic answer. Rather, I would have listed a series of individual characteristics that torqued my shorts. In many JRPGs (especially older ones), grinding is both a total necessity and a complete chore. Good strategies also seemed quite obtuse to my sensibilities. The harder boss fights were less a test on how to use new abilities than an a series of esoteric riddles, and let me tell ya, boy do I suck at riddles. Most side quest solutions and ultimate item acquisitions tended to fall under the same complaint – how in the world was I supposed to figure that out just by playing the game?

And, last but not least, I grew impatient with the cutscenes. Even in games that had pretty good stories, there’s a lot of cutscenes, and the games with not as good stories tended to take a lot of the wrong lessons from Final Fantasy VII‘s emo mind screw plot. Most JRPGs I tried to get into during this time featured at least two of these things I decided I didn’t like, and those that didn’t usually took one of them to the extreme. Dragon Warrior is as straightforward as games get and doesn’t have much in the way of cutscenes, but holy shit, you have to grind so dang much. I’ve always been intrigued by the Fire Emblem games, but their strategic depth, even in the series’ simplest titles, has always scared me off once I’ve sat down with them.

Eventually, I grew to appreciate JRPGs again. But even so, I had a robust fear of Final Fantasy XII.

Before it even hit store shelves (and this was 2006, so these are literal shelves we’re talking about here), one thing was known about Final Fantasy XII above all other things – this game is fucking huge. Most video game play times are inflated, to some extent – I’ve heard Final Fantasy VI cited as an 80-hour playthrough, but I don’t think I’ve ever put more than 60 into it in a single go-around – but when a game promises to take 120 hours to get through, it doesn’t matter if that’s an inflated number. Slightly fewer hours than 120 is still a metric fuckload of hours. The only way a game can reach that size is through having a paralyzing amount of stuff to do.

Indeed, when I had attempted to play the original PS2 version of Final Fantasy XII in the past, I’ve not gotten very far at all, having quickly succumbed to a sense that I was drowning. I was drowning in the amount of stuff to do, as the game has an entire super-structure of creature-hunting based side quests. I was drowning in tactical considerations, as the game’s character advancement system, the License Board, features a horrifying amount of potential build options for every character and forces the player to sort through them, somehow. And, to no small extent, I was drowning in boredom, because Final Fantasy XII starts off slooooooooow. This is befitting a game of its size, I suppose, but it’s easy to get scared off from a huge game when the initial sections don’t grab you.

Little did I know that the game had been given a deluxe re-release in 2017. When I first got a hold of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (thanks Tim!), I was a bit skeptical, as I didn’t realize what I had, exactly. I kind of figured it was just an HD remaster with maybe a couple of extra bonus things thrown in here and there, the sort of thing that mostly appeals to those who finished the original game but doesn’t move the needle for those that haven’t.

I was correct in inferring the game was remastered, but the vast suite of improvements The Zodiac Age boasts escaped my initial notice. The game still starts off slow, since there’s no way to fix that short of a full-on remake, but once I sat down with it and got a few hours in, it became apparent that every single aspect of game play has been improved. The original License Board has been reworked into the beloved Job System of previous Final Fantasy titles. Instead of being thrown into a deep end of seemingly infinite character build options, you pick a class (or ‘Job’) for each character which features a limited License Board, making informed decision making much easier.

I’m given to understand that the Gambit system, which manages and automates how your party members act in battle, has also been improved significantly. The idea is that you assign a set of tactics to each party member for them to act on, and when you need a specific party member to do something else, you can manually assign them a task. If this sounds a lot like Dragon Age: Origins, that’s because it is a lot like Dragon Age: Origins. While I don’t remember enough about the original Gambit system to speak to the changes made for The Zodiac Age, I can say definitively that its optimization for console play is miles and miles ahead of the tactical pre-sets in DA:O.

And so, now that I’ve come to understand the new License Board and Gambit System, and I’ve put enough hours for coll story things to start happening, I am completely fucking hooked. My life, once again, is over. Writing projects shall fall to the wayside, household chores shall be shunted into the abyss, and puppy playtime shall be severely reduced. I’m not proud of any of this, mind you, but it’s simply the way it is. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is garlic parm-flavored opium, and I can’t wait for my next opportunity to blow off my responsibilities so I can put a few more hours into it.

4 thoughts on “Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is Ruining My Life

  1. I’ve tried to play FFXII five times now, and every time I get to Mount Bur Omisace and just quit. I don’t know what it is, but I just can’t get past it.


  2. I made it to the final dungeon once…..but it is a SLOG and I gave up about 10% into it. The side-quests and clan stuff was way more fun than the main story. Zodiac does look way better though, thanks to Job System. I love FF job systems. I did enjoy many aspects of the game…if only it had a different main character….


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s