At the tail end of the PS2 era, Square Enix released Final Fantasy XII, a game that pushed what was technically possible on the console at the time, and even with the release of the PS3 just a few months later, sales of the game didn't dwindle. FFXII is still in the all-time top 10 best-sellers on PS2, sitting just behind Final Fantasy X, and with last year's FFXV introducing many new players to the majestic worlds of Final Fantasy, which gems from the past might newcomers to the series have missed out on?
FFX and its sequel have already been re-released and the complete rebuild of the legendary FFVII is not far off now (fingers crossed), meaning modern players can now experience some of the series' standout episodes, and Final Fantasy XII is certainly one of them. The game's reception back in 2006 (early 2007 for the EU and US) wasn't without controversy, but then again what Final Fantasy game hasn't had that? Many complained about the combat system moving from turn-based to an active battle setup, and a complex license checkerboard rather than a skill tree left some players feeling that the game had strayed too far from traditional RPGs into MMO territory.
To rub salt into this wound, only a year after the game was initially released, Japan received an updated version called International Zodiac Job System, which boosted the amount of licence boards to a whopping twelve, one for each sign of the zodiac. The ability to control guest characters, a 2x time boost while pressing L1, and a Trial mode which consists of 100 boss fights to help earn your characters extra items were all added to the game, although the West never received this updated version. All of these updates are now present in the new Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, and they're certainly welcome.
Our story takes place in Ivalice, a world of magic and airships, where the earth is rich in Magicite, an ore imbued with magic that is used to power vehicles and grant users the ability to cast spells. Torn apart by the war between the Archadian and Rozarrian Empires, the smaller countries in Ivalice struggle to survive. Caught in the middle of this war is Dalmasca, a small sovereign state where our hero resides. Vaan is an orphaned street urchin who dreams of being a daring sky pirate. Teaming up with his best friend Penelo, who has also lost her parents to the war, they meet a loveable rogue of a sky pirate called Balthier, who sees himself as the leading man, and who is accompanied by Fran, a Veira, a race of tall, rabbit-like humanoids sensitive to the Mist (Magic). There's also Basch, a fallen knight of the Dalmasca army. This unlikely partnership embarks on a quest to rescue Princess Ashe and with her help restore sovereignty to Dalmasca.
It's worth noting that the story does have some parallels to Star Wars, but in no way is it a copying it; it's more a testament to how great classic storytelling is, and as we know Star Wars took inspiration from Akira Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress. We don't want to spoil any of the fantastic narrative, as it will keep you intrigued and entertained for the many hours of play, so let's move on to movement and battle.
Ivalice is pretty much open-world, not so much like FFXV but more a huge collection of mini maps interlinked with passages that help make up larger maps. Dotted around these are blue save crystals that you can not only save your progress with, but that also replenish your health and magic. Moving from map to map does require a small load time but, thankfully, these have been greatly reduced from the PS2 days, down to just a couple of seconds in which the game also autosaves your progress. Movement over greater distances can be done via orange save crystals, however. These are less frequent than the blues, mainly one per region, and they require a teleport stone to use. When roaming the areas on foot all active members of the team are visible on screen and gone are the days of random encounters popping up when you least expect them.