The first thing most fans comment on when someone asks about Final Fantasy XII is the game’s story’s relationship to Star Wars, even though the developers claim not to have been inspired by the sci-fi franchise. At least, that is what my humble circle of friends comments.
Final Fantasy XII is the second offline Final Fantasy to arrive for the PS2. At the time, console exclusive. The game took the voice acting standards initiated at Final Fantasy X to the next level and is enshrined as one of the best in the franchise.
The plot is also much more down-to-earth than famous JRPG tropes. Instead of teenagers trying to prevent some wannabe-deity from diving the world into doom, the characters are involved in various political intrigues that only Ivalice can pull off.
Bottom Line Up Front: Final Fantasy XII has all the franchise’s staples like monsters, mascots, magicks, and summons.
Twelve innovates on the notorious ATB battle system, expands the once-lost exploration in Final Fantasy X, and double down on the drama and voice acting in the cutscenes. It’s a PlayStation 2 powerhouse game that received an HD treatment for the enjoyment of players and fans on most existing platforms.
Final Fantasy XII World Settings
Final Fantasy XII is set in Ivalice, a recurring world of Square Enix’s game created by Yasumi Matsuno. Matsuno was also FFXII’s first game director and original concept writer before leaving due to health issues.
Ivalice is a medieval fantasy world inspired by Mediterranean cultures with some bits of technology, something familiar in Final Fantasy. In Ivalice, there are deities, supernatural phenomenon, and magic.
However, games in this world have plots that primarily involve political conflicts and not necessarily facing a cosmic being with cataclysmic tendencies – although that is what I imagine would happen if we die to the final boss. For instance, Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy Tactics take place in Ivalice.
In terms of origin, Ivalice was ruled by the godlike creatures named Occuria. They created 24 Scions based on the horoscope, twelve from the light and twelve from the darkness, with a thirteenth bound by the gods. The zodiac myth expanded throughout Ivalice.
At the same time, the Occuria resumed acting in the shadows, moving the plot in Final Fantasy XII. The Scions of Darkness became Espers, and the party can summon them after shoving their faces in the asphalt.
Ivalice also has its own diversity of races. Although not unique to its world, some are prevalent in it. Examples are the Vieras, Bangaas, Nu Mou, and Seeq.
Final Fantasy XII and The Zodiac Age Differences
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age was first released in Japan months after the original game, but it did not come to the western hemisphere on occasion. The HD version of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age was released internationally.
The Zodiac Age provided numerous quality of life improvements, but the Zodiac Job system is the most remarkable.
Each character could pick two of the twelve zodiac signs on the License Board. These signs represented a job within the Final Fantasy universe. Therefore, each character became unique and had a specific function, unlike the original version.
Other additions included:
- The trial mode, a challenge of 100 stages, each with its own combination of monsters and bosses.
- New Game+ to start the game with characters at level 90.
- Fast forward button to speed up gameplay to make the grind less tedious.
- And much overall quality of life and balance improvements.
I strongly suggest playing The Zodiac Age if you want to try Final Fantasy XII.
The character development in Final Fantasy XII is both strong and inconsistent. On one side, we have Balthier (Complete Balthier Guide), considered by many of the best male characters of the franchise and, by himself, the leading man of the game. On the other side, we have the most forgotten and close-to-irrelevant protagonist, Vaan.
Developers of the game said that Basch was supposed to be the protagonist. Still, they wanted a younger character and inserted Vaan. However, this information seems to have been compromised by miscommunication.
Originally, Vaan’s build would have been more rugged and stoic but was changed into a more youthful one. This appearance was rehashed to create the character Basch.
However, I would not be surprised if Basch were the protagonist. The middle to the endgame narrative concentrates more on Basch and Ashe than on our wannabe sky pirate.
The alleged protagonist of Final Fantasy XII. Carefree and cheerful, he is a 17-year old plague-made orphan who earns his livin.g by stealing from Archadian soldiers and as an assistant to Migelo, a wise Bangaa who helps the orphans of Rabanastre by giving them honest work. Vaan’s cherished dream is to become a sky pirate..
When Vaan tries to steal the Goddess Magicite from the treasury in the Royal Palace of Rabanastre, he meets Balthier and Fran. Together, they are unwillingly propelled into the political plot Dalmasca.
While at first, it seems Vaan is building up to be a decent protagonist, later on in the game, he is quickly overshadowed by the other characters with motivations that are intrinsically connected to the game’s plot. Since then, he is just… there, for the rest of the game.
He could pull out something like Star Lord did on Guardians of the Galaxy when questioned why he wanted to save the galaxy (change this for Dalmasca).
He answered, “Because I’m one of the idiots who live in it!” While not the most honorable of intentions, it’s more appealing and plausible to understand why he joined their quest rather than just because he’s the protagonist.
Penelo is a 17-year old girl and Vaan’s childhood friend. After Vaan became an orphan, he moved to Penelo’s household. However, the Archadian invasion took the lives of Penelo’s parents, and both were taken in by Migelo.
Penelo is the judgment voice in Vaan’s brashness and shares his dream – or just go along – of becoming a sky pirate.
Worried about Vaan infiltrating the Royal Palace of Rabanastre, she goes after him but ends up kidnapped and involved in a tangle of intrigue just like Vaan. Her predestined meeting with Larsa Solidor, a member of the empire’s royal family, helps develop her character.
However, in the same way as Vaan, she resembles more a civilian caught up in the political and military crossfire of intrigues than a key piece of plot evolution. If Vaan barely holds himself as a prominent protagonist, what to say about a character who serves as his supporter.
Ashe is a 19-years old princess, daughter of King Raminas from Dalmasca. Steadfast and proud, Ashe is the epicenter of the plot and has one of the most crucial roles in the fight for the liberation of Dalmasca and the fate of Ivalice.
At the beginning of the game, she marries Rasler. Although it seems to be a political marriage in appearance, the two were in love. However, in the battle of Nalbina Fortress, Rasler is shot and killed. With the fortress out of the way, the Archadia empire invaded Dalmasca, and on that occasion, King Raminas was assassinated.
After this, Ashe escapes and joins the resistance under the name Amalia, while the world thinks she has committed suicide. During her stay in the resistance, she meets up with the group, and they all set out to assist her in retaking Dalmasca from the empire.
Captain of the Order of Knights of Dalmasca, Basch fon Rosenburg is a 36-year-old man falsely accused of high treason for having murdered King Raminas. Determined, resolute, and loyal, Basch holds his head high despite many disowning him.
We meet Basch while playing with Reks in the prologue. After getting the impression that he is a traitor, we find out soon (still in the prologue, that’s no spoiler!) that it was all a ruse of the empire and that his twin brother was responsible for the unfounded accusations against his person.
Saved by chance by the trio Vaan, Balthier, and Fran, Basch joins them. When he reencounters Ashe, he promises to give her his full support to help free Dalmasca from the clutches of the empire.
The self-entitled leading man, and for a good reason, the 22-years old sky pirate steals the scene at several points in Final Fantasy XII, whether it’s for his quick-witted remarks or just challenging the obvious at crucial moments. Balthier sort of acts as a mentor to Vaan, who dreams of being a sky pirate and having an airship like his.
As a sky pirate, he lives alongside Fran’s faithful partnership. At one point, he tries to steal Goddess’s Magicite and ends up crossing paths with Vaan, later on mingling with the fires of the rebellion. He is one of the characters with a backstory that explains his affront to the empire, evidenced later in the plot.
Many refer to Balthier as Han Solo. With his airship and an animal-like companion, Balthier braves the unknown, constantly defying his odds, but in one way or another, coming out unscathed. Because as he says, the hero of the story always comes out in one piece.
Fran is a Viera, the bunny-like race and fearless companion of Balthier. Given her age – unrevealed, but thanks to the obtrusive Vaan, we know she is over 50 – Fran is the knowledgeable one sharing tidbit of information regarding the world.
Her backstory is relatively sparse, and no one really knows how she met Balthier. When we go to Eruyt Village, the home of the Vieras, do we get some, but still lacking, details about Fran. Like Vaan and Penelo, she is not intrinsically linked to the game’s plot but just along for the ride.
Fran’s meaningful participation involves Viera’s sensitivity to the Mist, a mystical phenomenon widely present in the world of Final Fantasy XII. The Mist allows magicks, the summoning of Espers, and otherwordly situations. Fran functions as a kind of thermometer detecting the oscillation and density of the Mist for the party.
The game begins with the political marriage of Ashe, the princess of Dalmasca, to Prince Rasler of Nabradia. The childhood friends nurtured a true passion despite many considering the politicking of their union.
Dalmasca and Nabradia are two small city-states between the two continuously-in-war empires, Archadia and Rozarria. In its warlike march, Archadia invades Nabradia’s Nalbina Fortress. Rasler, as its prince, takes arms to defend it. Basch, The Captain of the Order of Knights of Dalmasca, and other forces are sent to help Rasler.
Rasler is shot by an arrow in the battle, and although Basch rescues him, he succumbs to his injuries and dies.
With Nalbina Fortress defeated, Dalmasca is left vulnerable to Archadia’s advances. The empire offers Dalmasca terms to sign a treaty of peace, disguised as a request for surrender. King Raminas of Dalmasca accepts and goes to Nalbina Fortress to sign it.
Meanwhile, intel arrives for Dalmasca’s Order that King Raminas will suffer an attack by the empire. Basch mobilizes a small force to save the king. Among them is Reks, Vaan’s older brother. When Reks finds the king, he is dead, and Basch stands next to him.
Basch claims that the king betrayed Dalmasca by giving the kingdom to the empire, and he deserved to be assassinated. Basch stabs Reks, and before the footsoldier passes out from his wound, he glimpses another Basch. This one is held down by imperials and Vayne Solidor, son of the emperor of Archadia.
These events were recorded by Marquis Ondore, a friend of the now-deceased king Raminas. Ondore also reports that Ashe, grief-stricken, committed suicide, and Basch, accused of treason, was executed. Consequently, Dalmasca was forced to surrender to Archadia without any terms.
Two years later, the game puts us in the role of Vaan. He lives as Aladdin, with petty thievery to support himself as an orphan. His activities always receive a scolding from another orphan, Penelo, who acts as Vaan’s voice of reason. The protagonist thought about his dream of owning his own airship and becoming a sky pirate.
To do that, he willingly takes jobs hunting monsters, which is an excellent introduction to the game’s Hunt system.
Returning from the hunt, Vayne Solidor parades through Rabanastre and earns the people favors through a compassionate and motivational speech. Vaan isn’t gullible and still harbors resentment against the empire. To that end, he thinks it’s a good idea to steal from them.
Later that night, Vaan manages to sneak his way into the treasury of the Royal Palace of Rabanastre, and the shiny Goddess Magicite catches his attention.
Balthier and Fran, two sky pirates, also intended to steal the Goddess Magicite but find Vaan with his hand on the prize. At the exact moment, the resistance starts clashing against the imperial guards. The distraction helps Vaan slips away from the duo.
The struggle intensifies as an airship comes firing down at the resistance. Balthier and Fran fly in to save a distressed Vaan, only for the trio to crash into the waterway.
In the underground, they meet the resistance leader, Amalia. The party helps her out until being captured by none other than Vayne Solidor.
Penelo tries to barge in, but it’s irrelevant, like much of her participation in the game. The trio ends up arrested in a dungeon in the Nalbina Fortress. As with most JRPGs prisons, escape isn’t really a problem. Before escaping, you met a Judge, an infamous commander of the imperial army.
On the run, you see the Judge dialoguing with a prisoner, and surprise surprise, it’s captain Basch, alive and… not well. The Judge reveals himself as Basch’s twin brother before leaving.
At the sight of Basch, Vaan snaps and does a justifiable ranting which leads to a not-so-discreet but effective escape further down the dungeon. Basch is free of his shackles and joins the party, much to Vaan’s chagrin.
Basch explains that he isn’t responsible for any crimes, but his twin brother is. The latter conveniently framed him due to their resemblance. After escaping the dungeon, everyone goes their separate ways.
Vaan looks for Penelo, but she is nowhere to be found. When another mission leads him to the resistance quarters, he meets Basch again, who asks for his aid in finding Balthier. When the four members are reunited, you learn that Penelo was kidnapped by a bounty hunter to attract Balthier’s attention.
The leading man won’t let a damsel in distress, so you go to save her. Truthfully, Vaan had to bribe him with the Goddess Magicite, but let’s believe that chivalry isn’t dead.
Before jumping into the mines to save Penelo, you met a boy called Lamont. He shares a lot about the imperial army and politics and joins you.
Finding Penelo in the mines, you fail to rescue before she is taken by a Judge. The party avoids him, but Lamont, revealing himself as Larsa Solidor, Vayne’s brother, takes Penelo in and promises to keep her safe.
Fast-forwarding a bit, you meet Amalia anew, who proclaims to be Ashe, the princess of Dalmasca. From that moment on, everyone realizes that they are involved in the resistance fight against the empire more than they thought – except Vaan – and a quest to save Dalmasca and with her, Ivalice, begins.
Hiroyuki Ito, the creator of ATB (Active Time Battle) combat, returns as director and battle director, as does his established combat system. It was, however, redesigned to exclude random encounters in a battle system known as ADB (Active Dimension Battle), in which battles occur in real-time.
We control one party member throughout the game, but we can input commands to all present. To make battles even more seamless, we have the Gambits system, an AI system where we can program commands and reactions of the party members according to a specific situation.
For example, we can program a specific character to use a potion or cast Cure when someone has less than 50% of total HP. Or use a fire spell if the current enemy has been scanned and is known to have a fire weakness. This programming is incredibly customizable and can ensure that your characters cover so many situations that you don’t even need to input a command in battle.
At the time, I liked it because of the novelty of the battle system. When I played the HD version, I couldn’t help but draw parallels with mobile games with auto-battle. As soon as I set the Gambits, the battles automatically kicked off, and I hardly had to do anything, making the gameplay somewhat monotonous. However, with bosses or challenging hunts, you can’t rely on Gambits alone and need to adapt on the fly.
License Board is Final Fantasy XII’s progression system alongside the traditional level.
With each enemy defeated, you earn LP that can be spent on the License Board and unlock “permission” to use a piece of equipment, weapon, or magick (acquired by purchasing.) You also unlock passive abilities and Quickening, the limit break of the moment.
In the original game, each character operates the same License Board, which takes away some of the dynamism and versatility of your party. Luckily, Zodiac Age shines for everyone, and it features a different system. Each character can choose two zodiacs representing a Job from the franchise.
- Aries – White Mage: wields rods and can cast White magicks. Great support for the party.
- Taurus – Uhlan: wields a spear. With heavy armor, Uhlan can tank, hit hard, and is the only job that wields the Zodiac Spear.
- Gemini – Machinist: wields guns for damages and measures for buffs. Stylish, but not overall solid since guns don’t scale with stats.
- Cancer – Red Battlemage: wields Maces, cast low-level magicks, but the only with access to Arcane magick.
- Leo – Knight: wields swords and shields or greatswords. Standard job to tank with a sword or high damage with a greatsword.
- Virgo – Monk: wields poles and can fight unarmed. With high HP and evasion, Monk can efficiently function as a tank.
- Libra – Time Battlemage: wields crossbows and can cast Time magicks. Great role for damaging enemies over time and buffing party.
- Scorpio – Foebreaker: wields axes, hammers, and hand bombs. Foebreaker can tank, but their erratic damage, while good against high defense enemies, can bummer you at other times.
- Sagittarius – Archer: wields on bows. It can cause considerable damage from a distance since arrows can’t be blocked but suffer in bad weather (not really a major problem.)
- Capricorn – Black Mage: wields staves and can cast Black magick. Straightforward spellcaster from the series. High damage, low defense.
- Aquarius – Bushi: wields katana. The samurai job hit fast, and the katana scales with strength and magic. Pairing Bushi with a caster is ideal.
- Pisces – Shikari: wields daggers and ninja swords. Ninja equivalent, the swiftest job, which, counterintuitively, can be a great tank with its high evasion and use of shields.
Quickening is the equivalent of Limit Break in other Final Fantasy games. Each character has three Quickenings which are enabled by the License Board. Each attack is devastating in both damage and presentation.
After using Quickening, a timer pops up. If you press the button corresponding to another Quickening, the attack continues until the timer runs out. A finishing spell is delivered at the conclusion if you make a chain.
Since Final Fantasy X, Square Enix dropped off the world map, claiming it to be a feature that exponentially increases development cost. Final Fantasy XII doesn’t feature that world map overview either. Regardless, the exploration is almost boundless for those who want to explore the maps.
Controlling Vaan, it’s not odd to see someone venturing into the Dalmasca desert, only to find a not-docile Wild Saurian, watch the screen bathed in Game Over. Carefully done, the exploration pays off, as many treasures chests are tucked away in the most hidden corners of each map.
The hunts are the most prominent sidequests in Final Fantasy XII. As the name says, you hunt specific monsters and are rewarded when you defeat them. These monsters are called Marks or Elite Marks.
The player can begin a hunt by looking at a bill posted on a notice board. You need to talk to the pleader and then search for the Mark. After completing the quest, you go back to the hunt-giver and collect your reward.
Besides gaining EXP, LP, and the hunt rewards, hunting Marks is an excellent way to collect monster loots. Selling a certain combination of loots causes the bazaar on stores to craft equipment, usually better than those on sale. Just remember, you need the proper license to wield those shiny new boots.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age adds the trial mode extra challenge. The game loads a save of yours, as well as the level and equipment of your characters.
Despite my high level and high-end gear, I struggled to overcome the challenges, especially on the last floors, facing the thickest enemies.
On stage 100, you face five Judges simultaneously. Holy hell, what a messy and arduous battle. Gambits become practically useless since each Judge inflicts a different negative status on you or chunks an insane amount of damage.
All while buffing themselves and dispelling your buffs. It’s a slugfest carnival, but one you will have to face if you want that shiny platinum trophy. I must’ve died twenty times before recurring to a strategy guide and still continued losing until eventually, I was the one judging them to death.
Question: Who is the Protagonist of Final Fantasy XII?
Answer: Although Square Enix claims that Final Fantasy XII doesn’t have one protagonist and that the role is divided by several, Vaan represents the game in other crossover titles, such as Final Fantasy Dissidia or mobile titles.
Question: Should I buy the original Final Fantasy XII or Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age?
Answer: The Zodiac Age, period. The second version offers numerous quality of life improvements, such as feature additions and many tweaks that optimize the game experience to the maximum. Word on the street is that given the troubled development of Final Fantasy XII, Square has released two versions.
The first one, to meet the deadline. And the next one, The Zodiac Age, with enhancements and the allegedly only version that should exist.
Question: Are Balthier and Fran a couple?
Answer: If they aren’t, they do look the part. Unfortunately, the game shares no backstory about the two. However, spoiler alert, in Revenant Wings, the direct sequel to Final Fantasy XII for Nintendo DS, Fran’s feelings towards Balthier become more evident.
Question: Are Vaan and Penelo a couple?
Answer: Another millennial question eating away at fans’ minds. At first, Vaan and Penelo have a more sibling-like relationship, confirmed by the official Brady Games guide. But just like Balthier and Fran, in Revenant Wings, they both grow closer, and a romantic interest begins to erupt.
Final Fantasy XII is one of the best entries in the franchise. If you’re not bothered by the convoluted protagonism and the irrelevance of some key characters, the game has the potential to become one of your favorites.
The political plot is a breath of fresh air in a JRPG. While it’s not unprecedented, almost no one does it better than Ivalice. All in all, every Final Fantasy fan should try and play Final Fantasy XII. You won’t regret it and enjoy some of the best voice-acting in the RPG industry up to this day.
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