I’ve completed another Final Fantasy, this time a more modern one, Final Fantasy XII. While I am knowledgeable about the series, I haven’t played a ton of them, but this is easily my favorite. I spent a month and a half playing through Final Fantasy XII in bits and pieces when I had the time and I’ve thought a lot about the game in the weeks since I beat it, what I’ve written are the my biggest takeaways from the game. I’ll talk about the world at large in Final Fantasy XII, Ivalice, the characters that form the party, the story very briefly, and the battle system. In general I feel Final Fantasy XII is a staple in the collection of anyone who enjoys role-playing games, and worth a look even for those don’t.
Final Fantasy XII takes place in Ivalice, a familiar environment for the series, home to the Final Fantasy Tactics games, as well as Vagrant Story. Ivalice spans many geographical regions, including many deserts, but it’s also home to snow covered mountains, tropical beaches, thick rainforests and more. Passing through these regions, I enjoyed not only the battles that took place in them, but marveling at the amount of work that went into making each location as detailed as they turned out.
Smack dab in the center of Ivalice is Dalmasca, home to Rabanastre, the city where much of the game takes place. Rabanastre is large, the largest city I’ve ever seen in a role-playing game, or any video game for that matter. Walking through its many areas, I viewed the beautiful architecture that it was composed of, reminiscent of a Europe of ages past. But Rabanastre isn’t the only large city in the game, there are others, but there is diversity in Final Fantasy XII; more common are the small gatherings of people, forming makeshift hubs, or villages in the heart of the wilderness, composed of foreign races.
After reading that the developers had visited Turkey and took an interest in European, Middle Eastern, and Asian cultures for the game, it’s easy to see that the influence has found a place in the game, specifically, much of Ivalice is set in a warmer climate, with Rabanastre being surrounded by deserts on all sides.
The vocabulary the characters often spoke with prompted me to look at some words’ meaning more than once and I’m not digging the game for it; I enjoyed hearing seemingly archaic words, broadening my own vocabulary; it’s something that helped reel me into the setting. Even though the game has an antique vibe, technology is everywhere. One of the first cut scenes in the game shows a battle raging with foot soldiers on the ground dressed in armor and swinging swords at each other; one side attempting to defend a castle-like structure with the other side attempting to capture it, meanwhile an aerial dogfight is going on between futuristic flying crafts, zipping about. This blend of swords and soldiers and futuristic sci-fi was an interesting juxtaposition of aesthetics.
Ivalice is a world built on the foundations of magicite; a magical crystal substance that holds power, power that inevitably will end up in the wrong hands. Long ago the Dynast-King Raithwall united all of Ivalice under his rule, with the help of magicite, bestowed to him by the mysterious Occuria, undying, god-like beings. The time of the Dynast-King Raithwall was thousands of years ago and current day Ivalice is on the brink of war.
The battle I mentioned earlier was between the Dalmascans, protecting Nabradia, the border between them and their attackers from the east, the Archadians. Archadia is a large kingdom, perhaps the most powerful at this time in Ivalice and they want Dalmasca. Why? Perhaps they want Dalmasca to allow them easy passage to a third kingdom, Rozarria in the far west. During the final moments of this battle, the king of Dalmasca has agreed to sign a treaty with Archadia, but he is assassinated directly after.
A couple of years after this, we are introduced to Vaan and Penelo, two orphans living in Rabanastre who both lost their parents in the war, as well as Vaan’s brother, who fought at Nabradia. Vaan has much disdain for the empire, after all the war took his whole family. Vaan doesn’t have much direction in life, he spends his days running errands for a shopkeeper along with other orphans of the war, but much of his time is spent stealing from others. His only real goal is to become a sky pirate and be able to live freely, going wherever he wants. Penelo seems to be the angel on Vaan’s shoulders, leading him out of trouble and attempting to prevent him from getting into any more. While Vaan has his goal of becoming a sky pirate, all it seems Penelo wants is to remain at Vaan’s side, and not lose anyone else.
Rabanastre is soon paid a visit by a member of the Archadian royal family, and the newest overseer of Rabanastre, Vayne Solidor, the son of the Archadian king. He is a charismatic person; as he begins speaking to the crowd of Rabanastrans, it’s apparent they don’t want what he’s selling, but Vayne is able to whip the crowd into frenzy and get behind his rule, at least somewhat, with a charming presence and an intelligent tone; he seems peculiar though. Vayne is tall, with long black hair, and a smile that seems… off, he just looks like an antagonist. After Vayne’s speech, Vaan decides to break into the royal tomb and steal something back from the empire and it’s during this escapade that he meets Balthier and Fran.
Balthier has a cool personality about him, he always appears to be in control of the situation; basically he’s the dashing pirate. His partner Fran is a viera, a woman with rabbit like features, including long ears and hair that practically flows to the ground. Like Balthier she also has a cool personality, never coming off as nervous. She definitely shows her smarts throughout the game, offering practical advice and necessary knowledge of magicite. As the game progresses Balthier comes to view himself as the leading man, and why not, being a sky pirate he has the airship that eventually transports the party, he shows an altruistic side later on and all in all, he’s just a fun character. And from the events that unfold, his past is brought to light and wow!
As they make their way out of the royal tomb, they soon stumble into a rebel group, headed by an unassuming beauty, who is later found out to be the princess of Dalmasca, Ashe. She is a strong-willed fighter who wants nothing more but to restore Dalmasca to the kingdom it was before Archadia took over. As the story progresses she has to find the strength within herself to do what she must; even though she is strong-willed, she has doubts about what she has to do, and whether she can pull off what must be done. At times she seems distant from the rest of the party members, almost focusing solely on what lies ahead for her, but with what lies ahead for her, who wouldn’t be focusing on that, after all, Ivalice’s future is practically on her shoulders.
Last, but not least, there is Basch, a former leader in the Dalmascan army, but now an outcast, as he has been charged with assassinating the king. The party finds him in prison, and while they know what he has done, they know they need him. But Basch does not have the demeanor or the attitude of a royal assassin; it becomes instantly apparent that this cannot be the man who murdered a king. He is a soldier through and through, showing respect for the rest of the party, and pledging allegiance to Ashe in particular.
There was a lot going on in the narrative of Final Fantasy XII, at times I felt overwhelmed, but I managed to sift through the dense amount of information and enjoyed the payoff. In the last ten or so hours of the game, all these story threads were coming to a close, and I didn’t want to stop playing; I was the most hooked to the game at the very end. I clocked in under 80 hours when I finally beat the game, and I still had plenty to do. I aim to replay Final Fantasy XII at some point, and I left plenty of side quests for that play through but I did an ample amount regardless. Final Fantasy XII is simply a massive game, with a massive amount of content.
I guess the only thing I haven’t talked about is the actual gameplay and the systems Final Fantasy XII employs. With each Final Fantasy, Square Enix implements a new battle system, or tweaks aspects of a previous one and Final Fantasy XII is no different.
Many role-playing games have plenty of areas to explore, and they’re usually broken up into towns, a world map that the party traverses, and dungeons. Typical of many RPGs, especially those from Japan are random battles. For instance, as I’m moving my party around the world map or a dungeon I see no enemies, but I’m randomly attacked and whisked off into a battle scene in which I choose the actions I want to take, and once I’ve won, I’m back to the world map or dungeon. Instead of random battles, when I wouldn’t know when I’d be attacked, Final Fantasy XII shows enemies while I’m traversing dangerous areas. This isn’t the biggest change however.
Just as random battles are common in role-playing games from Japan, so are turn-based battles, battles where everyone is allotted a turn, including the enemies. In games like this I would pick an action, my character would do that, and then the enemy would do the same. Instead of being whisked off to a battle scene in Final Fantasy XII, the party members begin attacking enemies whenever they’re in range, never being taken into a separate scene. Direct control was never taken away from me, I could move about and select the actions I wanted and when the battle was done, the party relinquished their weaponry and I continued exploring the area. This “Active Dimension Battle” system as Square Enix calls it requires real-time selection of actions, and as such, I didn’t wait for the enemy to have his turn and then take mine. I’d select an action for a party member to take, and then a bar would fill up and they would do that action, there are still elements of taking turns, but never losing direct control of my team went a long way in making me not feel limited.
Rather than entering in actions for each party member, I could assign “gambits” to them. Gambits tell the AI to “do this, if that.” There are hundreds of separate gambits and when paired up, they’ll tell an AI-controlled party member to do something. For instance, I could have Vaan use a potion on a party member when their health falls below a certain percentage, or attack only flying enemies. Each character can have twelve gambits assigned to them maximum, and they’ll follow them according to their priority. I felt as though I could pair gambits up for any occasion, even though I used fairly simple combinations, I knew I could get very creative with them. For the first twenty or so hours I assigned gambits to the two AI-controlled members of my party and chose every action for my main character, but I eventually had everyone using gambits. Instead of being a player on the field, I was more of a referee, changing actions when I thought something would work better or just healing somebody because I hadn’t told an AI member to watch out for a certain adverse affect.
With Final Fantasy XII, Square Enix developed Ivalice into one of the biggest and most detailed game worlds I’ve played through; introduced me to well-developed characters who did not seem like the played out caricatures I’m used to in role-playing games; showcased an interesting story, one that harkened back to the roots of Final Fantasy, with crystal-powered life, all the while, weaving an interesting mature tale of corruption and complex relationships. Lastly, I experienced gameplay systems that brought new elements to a genre I spend so much time with. For these things, and many smaller elements, Final Fantasy XII will be a game I gauge all others by.