Final Fantasy XII: 5 reasons it was a game-changer for the series

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final fantasy xii retrospective characters

Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age arrives on Switch on 30 April, which gave us the perfect excuse to look back at some of the many reasons why we adored the game.

It incorporated some seriously innovative features for the first time, many of which have since become standard in more recent series titles, but it never lost the magic that made it feel like a Final Fantasy game. So here are five reasons why Final Fantasy XII was a (literal) game-changer for the series…

1. A nuanced story and complex cast

final fantasy xii retrospective balthier

Final Fantasy XII didn’t solely follow the story of a singular hero and his multiple sidekicks as they took on the forces of evil: instead, the six main playable characters (and some of the supporting cast too) had very different ambitions, and each got to be the hero in their own story. Even the villains had their sympathetic sides, and as far as the world’s story and politics were concerned, there wasn’t even an obvious good guy / bad guy scenario, making it very difficult to decide which side was actually in the right.

The main cast of Final Fantasy XII could slot pretty easily into the world of Game of Thrones: a wide variety of characters from all walks of life, who are thrown together on a treacherous adventure in a world of cutthroat political intrigue. If they want to survive, they have to learn how to set aside their differences.

2. A big open world to explore

final fantasy xii retrospective open world

Final Fantasy is a series known for its beautiful, immersive worlds based on a blend of magic and science, but Final Fantasy XII was the first game in the series to introduce an open world, made up of sprawling, distinct areas that had their own weather effects and were populated by noticeably different people, wildlife, and monsters. It wasn’t all seamlessly connected (remember, Final Fantasy XII was made for the PS2), but it was still large enough to easily get engrossed in exploration, and there were new surprises pretty much every time you revisited an area.

Where previous instalments in the series were much more linear by design, Final Fantasy XII made the most of its gigantic world by giving you plenty of time in between major plot points to explore. If you know that the next story point is located in a far-off city, you may as well take the scenic route and explore thoroughly on the way there, and in such a huge and dynamic world it never felt like a chore. Many side quests also sent you off to remote locations to hunt down monsters or secret bosses, which pushed you to explore every last corner of the map. Sprawling open worlds are something we’ve seen explored a lot more since, particularly in games like Final Fantasy XV, and that’s a pattern we really hope will continue.

3. Even better character customisation

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Cut from the original, but fully implemented into the Zodiac Age version of the game, is the revamped License Board and job system. Fans of the original game will remember that each character had a single License Board, which was a system by which you could choose which new abilities, equipment types, and so on to unlock as each character levelled up.

The Zodiac Age introduces a secondary License Board for each character, based on a job assigned to each character as they join the party. This allows for extra customisation to really build on each character’s individual strengths, and best of all, there’s no such thing as a bad combination of License Boards. In a nutshell, you get even more freedom to customise each character in whatever way you see fit.

4. A seamless new battle system

final fantasy xii retrospective battling

Traditionally, battling in Final Fantasy meant Pokemon-style random encounters in the overworld, marked with a transition to a turn-based battle accompanied by some fabulous fight music. Fortunately, Final Fantasy XII kept the music just as epic as ever, but shook things up quite a lot with a brand new fighting system: the snappily-named Active Dimension Battle.

For the first time, enemies were visible in the field, which meant they could be avoided (always handy for that post-battle limping between a boss fight and a save point), or actively sought out for side quests or EXP gathering. Allies and enemies alike could also roam freely in battle, meaning that you really had to pay attention to the range of different weapons and spells.

5. Gambits in battle

final fantasy xii retrospective battle

Meanwhile, the new Gambit system gave you greater control over battles than ever before. Through this system, which was a bit like basic programming, AI allies could autonomously perform different actions based on certain scenarios, like healing themselves when their HP dropped below a certain level, or casting a stat-boosting spell on an ally, in an assigned order of priority.

That meant that characters could actually change their tactics in response to things like the proximity of an enemy, or spells cast by friends and foes alike, meaning that if you set things up right, you never had to waste a single turn casting a spell on someone who’d just made themselves invulnerable a moment before. And if things did take a sudden turn south, you could always dip in and change things on the fly if you needed to. While we haven’t seen anything like this since, as Final Fantasy combat has moved towards real-time action, the Gambit system put a unique spin on the traditional turn-based battle format that was seriously good fun to master.

So there you have it: five reasons why we loved Final Fantasy XII. Are there any reasons why you loved the game that we’ve missed? Let us know!

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Whether you’re a seasoned sky pirate or a newcomer to the land of Ivalice, check out Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age for Switch now!

Get Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age here