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Final Fantasy Retrospective: The PlayStation 2 Years

Final Fantasy gains a voice, and faith in the series begins to waver for the first time.

Final Fantasy XII: Sorry to Keep You Waiting

Between the light-hearted sequel, Final Fantasy X-2, and the online-only XI, fans of the series were beginning to waver for the first time. A lot of hope and hype were heaped upon the next game in the series, as it had been positioned from its announcement as a more traditional Final Fantasy experience. Unfortunately, those fans would have to wait for quite some time to get their hands on Final Fantasy XII, and when they finally did they found a game that was anything but traditional.

Development on the twelfth game in the series began in 2001, not long after the core team had wrapped production on Final Fantasy X. The game was initially produced and co-directed by Yasumi Matsuno. A newcomer to the core Final Fantasy franchise, Matsuno had made a name for himself among hardcore gamers with his work on Ogre Battle, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Vagrant Story. Akihiko Yoshida worked on the character designs. Yoshida had previously worked with Matsuno on Vagrant Story and brought his unique baroque style to the game. Final Fantasy XII had a protracted development time. It was delayed four times, leading some fans to believe the game was either cancelled or in serious trouble.

Big changes happened within Square during the lengthy development of Final Fantasy XII. The company merged with its longtime rival, Dragon Quest developer Enix. Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of the series that saved Square from certain doom and the front man for the company since the ‘90s, gracefully stepped down from his position in 2003. Nobuo Uematsu contributed a single piece of music to the score of Final Fantasy XII. The last of the creators of the original Final Fantasy was gone, leaving it in new, although quite capable hands.

Yasumi Matsuno stepped away from the game in August of 2005, citing health issues. Hiroshi Minagawa, a veteran of Matsuno’s Ogre Battle team, stepped up to assume the role of co-director with Hiroyuki Ito. Square Enix promised players that the game was in the final stages of development, having only been shown in playable form for the first time mere months before. When all was said and done, fans that skipped the online game would end up waiting four years for their next Final Fantasy fix.

While Final Fantasy X had shaken things up by returning to a purely turn-based battle system, the designers on XII went in the complete opposite direction, crafting a real time combat mechanic that seamlessly integrated exploration and fighting. Like Final Fantasy XI (and any other MMORPG of the day), enemies wandered the landscape freely, and would engage the party when triggered. Battles occurred at once, with ATB timers starting immediately for all involved. Targeting lines would crisscross between attackers, letting the player know at a glance who was targeting who.

Though the player could pause the game and switch between party members at any time and manually select an action, that wasn’t the most efficient way to play Final Fantasy XII. Instead, players were encouraged to control a single character and utilize the Gambit system. This system allowed players to basically “program” their party members to perform actions when certain conditions were met. If a fire-based monster was encountered, the player could set it up so a magic user would automatically cast an ice spell. If hit points fell past a certain threshold, a healer would cast a cure right away, and this would supersede any other actions. This gave the battles in FF XII a very speedy and yet very tactical feel, and players that mastered the Gambit system could almost “break” the game, taking on monsters far tougher than anything seen in the series before.

After a handful of games that utilized the tried and true job systems that Final Fantasy was known for, XII once again dialed things back and had a cast of characters that could be molded as the player saw fit, much like FF VII and VIII. In addition to leveling up as normal, characters earned License Points. These were spent on the License Board, which resembled FF X’s Sphere Grid, albeit much more rigid in design. Characters had to purchase a “license” to use specific weapons or spells. These abilities were strewn about the board, so all of the characters became proficient in a little bit of everything, although specialization was encouraged.

The story of Final Fantasy XII was set in the world of Ivalice, which had been seen previously in Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. It was later revealed that Vagrant Story also took place in this world, and this was the first time that Square had set out to place a Final Fantasy game in a world that had already been introduced. The plot revolved around a war of succession with religious overtones, which was a recurring theme in Matsuno’s previous games.

The cast was a ragtag group thrown together by circumstance, and at least initially the main character of the game was set up to be Basch, the rugged and disgraced former knight. However, once the much younger character of Vaan was created it was decided that he would be the focal point of the story. This was attributed to the fact that Matsuno’s previous game, Vagrant Story, had featured an older, tougher protagonist and did not sell well. People within Square believed a younger, more anime-inspired lead would attract a larger audience.

Final Fantasy XII was released in Japan March 16, 2006, and made it to North America by that October. It was one of the highest reviewed games in the series, garnering a coveted 40 out of 40 from the tough to please critics at Famitsu. It was the first Final Fantasy game to earn that achievement. Other publications around the world praised the impressive graphics, serious story, and refreshing battle mechanics.

The reaction from fans was almost the polar opposite of the critics. It could have been the long development time and many delays, or the growing sentiment that XII needed to be the best game in the series after the polarizing games of X, X-2, and XI. Whatever the reason,  fans did not seem to connect with FF XII's MMORPG-style battle system, character designs, musical score, and leveling system.

In hindsight, Final Fantasy XII was a taste of things to come. If it had a long and tortured development cycle it was a walk in the park when compared to what would happen in the next generation of consoles.

Join us next time as we explore two of the most controversial games in the series.


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01/01/2013 at 02:10 PM

Good times ^^


02/24/2013 at 12:14 PM

Final Fantasy X was my very first Final Fantasy. Hell, you could even say it was my first video game period. And is still my favorite to this day

And what's really weird is, it was released on my birthday. Coincidence? I think not.

Jesse Miller Staff Writer

02/24/2013 at 12:20 PM

X seems to get a lot more hate these days for some reason.  When I originally played it, I loved it, and it's still one of my favorites in the series to this date.


02/24/2013 at 03:02 PM

I think XII is my favorite from PS2. I played that game the longest time just grinding. All the PS2 FF are great, even XI Online. Although I didn't spend much time playing that one. I liked them in this order : 12 > 10-2 > 10 > 11. 


02/24/2013 at 06:10 PM

I never understood all the hate FFXII gets. To me, FFXII felt more Final Fantasy than FFX did, even though that game is called the "last true FF game." Don't get me wrong, I liked X, but XII had so much more to do in it, had a very refined battle system that could have served as a template for future entries, and unlike X and XIII, you weren't rigidly locked into a long hallway. I wish they'd reassemble the XII team to work on Final Fantasy XV.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

02/24/2013 at 07:37 PM

I prefer X for its cast of characters and the strategy that comes with being able to plan out moves many turns in advance, but I loved XII as well. It also had a great battle system, and the world was a blast to explore, feeling almost as vast as XI's Vana'diel. But I didn't like any of the characters besides Balthier, and the License Board system didn't allow for a lot of specialization. By the end of the game, all of my characters were a hodge podge of abilities, which took away from any identity in battle they had.


02/25/2013 at 12:03 AM

Just love love love FFX. Great memories!

When the FFX HD version is released on the Vita, that's the day I get myself a Vita :]


02/26/2013 at 12:49 PM

My thoughts exactly!!!


02/25/2013 at 12:13 AM

Loved the article!

Julian Titus Senior Editor

02/25/2013 at 12:30 AM

Thank you so much! It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun to put together. I have a companion editorial going up soon, and I hope it sparks some great FF talk.


02/26/2013 at 11:00 AM

When FFX released I really enjoyed it. I didn't finish the game, simply because my end-game file was corrupted (sigh), but I really liked the game. The colourful world was a nice change of pace and it looked spectacular on the new PS2.

I bought FFIX, HDD and all and I was one of those that didn't get passed the trial period. It sounds weird, but even in an MMO, I prefer a solo experience.

FFXII was a great game, and I'm a sucker for Ivalice so that all worked for me. I enjoyed the Gambit system, although the License System was a little lacking.

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