Final Fantasy XII isn’t one of the more popular entries in the series, but to mark the 11 years since its initial release, Square Enix has put out a remastered version titled Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age.
What makes this remastered release so interesting? Well for one, there’s a huge change to the game's class system, which gives players more options to create gameplay roles for their characters. For another, it includes some tweaks and mechanics to help newer players ease into some game design decisions that were made in an entirely different era.
To study some of these changes, and discuss why Final Fantasy XII evokes fond memories for certain game developers, we took time today to stream the game on the Gamasutra Twitch channel with freelance game composer Jesse Harlin and Eon Altar lead programmer Joey Wiggs (who have fond memories of the original game. If you missed it, you can (and should) watch the full discussion up above.
But in case you too are trying to find hope in the ruins of a conquered kingdom, here’s some brief observations about the game's design that are worth studying.
It’s a realization of some of the series’ design goals that go back to the first Final Fantasy
As both Harlin and Wiggs observed, Final Fantasy XII was sort of a ‘peak’ Final Fantasy in certain ways. Now that game battles were out in the world and free-flowing, the illusion of random encounters had finally been stripped away and made way for a free-flowing adventure that had always been promised since the first Final Fantasy. In a way, this wouldn’t be possible without the game's then-controversial Gambit system, which, several years later, holds up in several crucial ways.
The Ivalice setting, and how different games use it, is a great case study for how Final Fantasy sequels are made
The setting of Ivalice is a recurring kingdom in certain Final Fantasy games, but its traits and history vary from game to game, like many Final Fantasy stories. However, the traits, themes, and design elements that do jump across the series are worth paying attention to, including the political conflicts of these games, the species that were introduced in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, and characters like The Judges who play a different role in each Ivalice game.
Because these elements keep reappearing, but don’t fulfill the same role in each game, you can use them as a microcosm of how the Final Fantasy series keeps changing settings, characters, and tone, all while keeping a distinct vibe that feels “Final Fantasy” in nature.
It’s a last look at a time when the industry thought the future of game would be giant, giant worlds
As we discussed toward the end of our stream, Final Fantasy XII exited development right at a time where open-world MMORPGs were thought to be the future of the business. Then the iPhone came out and literally everything changed overnight. Even Final Fantasy games shifted their development style after this, so XII becomes an artifact of a very specific era, not just another notch on Square Enix’s wall of sequels.
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