Just writing some quick notes of how I remember Final Fantasy XII from the PlayStation 2 before coming up to The Zodiac Age on PC in a few hours. Sleep is coming fast, so do forgive me.
I had the good fortune to have Final Fantasy XII come out on a day in which I took a break for a few days. I was able to clear my schedule and focus solely on playing it. To date, it is by far one of my favorite Final Fantasy entries. The characters and world building are some of the best, and due to the comprehensive lore in the Bestiary every monster fit in its environment.
This was a time in which I had my ear to the digital ground and learned of Square-Enix’s habit of releasing multiple versions of the same game, ordinarily adding new canon as they did so. Final Fantasy VII had the Ruby and Emerald Weapons, Star Ocean: ‘Til the End of Time had a Directors’ Cut, Kingdom Hearts had Deep Dives and Final Mixes (which continue proudly to this day…), and so on. Hearing about The Zodiac Age being released in only Japan for the PlayStation 2 left me somewhat distraught. However, as it changed how character growth was handled, I didn’t bat an eye at the time.
Now, looking at how all aspects of games are pieced together, I can’t help but be curious. As such, before the game hits the PC in several hours I want to distill my memories of the original. And then, we will see how I feel about the game as the creators’ intended.
(I am typing this from memory, and I am not too concerned with details. I aim for this to be a comparative piece.)
In the world of Ivalice, a war reaches it’s climax. At the middle is a young soldier named Reks. The remnants of a small detachment of fellow countrymen, they are left to storm the castle of their enemies. Led by Captain Basch Von Ronsenberg, they are successful, but Reks is caught in an web of intrigue. He is stabbed by Basch, and is the only witness to treason. He returns home a broken man.
Upon his death, his younger brother Vaan is left to trouble the streets of Rabanastre, a pickpocket. Seeing a fete for a new consul as an gil laden opportunity, we begin to follow this young man as he walks a web of his own.
This is one of the strongest showings in the Square-Enix library. Even after not having interacted with the game in over ten years I can still recall fairly well my impressions of the characters.
Vaan is your standard SE, teenage male protagonist. A bit pretty, a bit naive and clueless, but a good heart. He longs to be a Sky Pirate.
No one ever explained what was going on with his abdominal muscles. Basch didn’t have such a weird look to his. Was Vaan scarred? Eh… little things.
Vaan’s childhood friend. While, if memory serves, an orphan as well she keeps Vaan out of exceeding trouble. Still, she is a loyal friend and joins him on his outing which takes them further from their home all the time.
The Leading Man, after all.
I always wondered if this was some type of jest. Baltier has the charisma, backstory, and connections to the story to fit right in as the main character. To some degree, he is everything Vaan wishes to be, down to being a Sky Pirate.
Balthier’s stalwart companion, and high on my list of favorite Final Fantasy characters. She is wise and witty, knowledgeable of the world and its magicks and the development of its technology.
Something is special about Ashe. She is oddly dressed for a commoner and seems to know a good deal more than she lets on. (Even in my addled state I am trying to avoid spoilers.)
The once disgraced Captain sets out to protect the Lady Ashe.
As I said above, I remember how strong my impressions of the world were, enough to play the game twice. I will not do a deep delve here as it will be very similar if not identical to when I play the game later today.
Conversely to Theming, The Zodiac Age will be completely different mechanically, so I will jot down my memories.
The License Board was always a little odd to me. A friend who had the Final Fantasy XII players’ guide (remember when we bought those?) assured me that the characters had their specialties as far as weapons were concerned. I never realized or noticed this. As such, the characters seemed very similar to me. As in VII with Materia loadouts, VIII with Junctioning, and X with the Sphere Grid, it seemed to me that once you advanced your characters far enough they were more or less the same. This will not be so in The Zodiac Age.
Another shift is Mist Charges. In essence, these would triple your MP stores. Both times I played, I thought little of it. I realized, years later, that I could have opened Level 1 Quickenings (Limit Breaks of a sort), unlock level 3 Espers, and use that to increase my chain combos. Previously, I never relied on Quickenings. Leaving myself with no MP against a powerful foe did not seem wise.
Speaking of, I think I will actually be able to control the Espers this time around. These changes are welcome, as I used neither the Espers nor Quickenings to their full effects.
I look wholly forward to Gambits again. A triumph of the system never to be seen again. I had looked forward to Gambits, or something like it, becoming as much a Final Fantasy staple as The Job System. Alas, I was next met with Paradigms.
As with most all of the mainline Final Fantasy titles, each new game is a blank slate. Outside of the knowledge gained for setting up Gambits and other outside information (Quickening exploits, THE ZODIAC SPEAR, etc.,) there was no really boon to playing the game again aside from enjoyment. But if you dived deep, completed the Bestiary and Pirates’ Den, you knew what you were getting.
I have to close this article now, as I feel sleep coming to claim me. I just wanted to leave some signposts for my mind to follow of Final Fantasy XII on the PlayStation 2 before getting all into The Zodiac Age on PC. Wherever you choose to pick this title up, I hope the story is enjoyed by you as much as it was by me.