Dr. Cid or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love FFXII

Ok, maybe love is not the right word. More like appreciate. Anyway, off we go!

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I first played Final Fantasy XII back on the PS2 when it came out back in 2006. Back then, I actually thought it was a pretty bad game and never finished it, playing 22 hours and stopping at some point after the Henne Mines if memory serves. To some extent, I do still think it is a pretty bad game. Nevertheless, I recently decided to give it another shot by doing some strange .iso merging and playing the International Zodiac Job System version of the game. I soon found out what kind of difference a silly subtitle can make.

Now, the main difference between the original version and the International Zodiac Job System version of FFXII is just that, the Zodiac Job System. The Zodiac part is more of a lore thing honestly, but basically it adds a job system to the game, allowing each character to have one of a dozen jobs, each representing one Zodiac sign. These range from your basic FF jobs like white mage to more unique classes like the Ulhan (kind of like a dragoon but without jump and with black magick instead). Each of these jobs has their own unique license board, which brings up the first major point where my opinion of the two different versions of the game differ; the License Board as a whole.

The original License Board was kind of a mess
The original License Board was kind of a mess

In the original version of FFXII, everyone has the same License Board, which mostly consists of large sections that consist of all magicks, all weapons, etc. The licenses for these magicks and gear are what allow you to use them on that specific character. This means that all characters can, in theory, can use all magicks and top level gear in the game. At first glance, this may seem like a positive. However, it is not presented well, and can very easily cause confusion, as having free reign to move about the board with every character makes it very easy to create an imbalanced team, especially in the early game. Also, the open nature of the original license board leaves you with a general lack of direction, not knowing which licenses you should be getting.

With the introduction of a job system, each job was granted its own unique license board. Obviously these are more limited depending on the job, but they also have a strong sense of direction to them. If you go up this one narrow path, you can unlock more armor. If you down this other narrow path, you can unlock more powerful magicks. It is less prone to confusion, and helps you get a sense of just how you are going to be building that character. There is still a good deal of flexibility in these boards though depending which routs you choose to go down in which order. Also, you have to decide which quickening (more on those in a second) slots you want to use on each character, as certain licenses are locked behind certain quickenings, and while there are four quickening licenses on each board, each character can only use three.

This is Ashe. Ashe is pretty great.
This is Ashe. Ashe is pretty great.

The way I see it, everyone has roles in mind for each character as they get them. “I need a ranged damage dealer of some kind, I think that will be this guy/girl”. Both license systems allow for this. However, the above job system streamlines the process and prevents you from getting licenses you don’t need for that character. Want a magic user that can both deal damage and be a fairly good healer/support? You do not have to waste time trying to figure out the critical path on the license board, you just simply just have to select the Red Mage for that character and the board you get will set you on the right path. It really is an easy to use system that also allows for a good amount of depth and customization. For instance, Ashe, my Samurai, did an extreme amount of damage because I chose to focus on new weapon and increase damage licenses, but was very squishy because I did not have enough license points to unlock the armor that was in shops.

Quickenings are basically your big, crazy, tear a whole in the space-time continuum attacks. In OG FFXII, the availability of these attacks in combat was based upon your MP. Unlocking each one added to your max MP and segmented your MP bar. If all the bars are full, you can use the most powerful attack. Only one third full and you can use the first level attack, and so on. In International, quickenings are given their own energy bar that fills are you hit and kill enemies. This eliminates situations where you cannot use a quickening because you do not have or do not want to waste MP (a pretty precious resource in this particular Final Fantasy), or you cannot cast any spells such as Cure or Raise because your quickening wasn’t quite enough to finish off the boss. It may make MP management a little easier, but I see it as making it way less frustrating.

Outside of those relatively major changes, there are some minor quality of life changes that also drastically improve the experience. Throughout the main story, several characters join your party temporarily as guests. In OG FXII, these characters are completely under AI control. In International, they function just like another member of your party. You can give them direct commands and edit their gambits just like anyone else. This also applies to summons, and the summons’ special attacks can be used at will.

In addition to these party changes, a special “acceleration” button has been added to the game. By pressing L1 at any time, the player can toggle the game’s speed, speeding up combat and movement or slowing it back down to normal. This speed up running from A to B so much, and also makes it super quick to grind up a few levels if you need to. Be careful though, as leaving this on during boss fights can lead to bad things real quick!

One thing that the International Zodiac Job System of Final Fantasy XII does not change is the story. All the characters and plot points are the same, which is my next topic. The main plot of FFXII is disappointingly straightforward for a Final Fantasy game. It is a relatively basic political drama with some extra crystals thrown in because, hey, Final Fantasy. The plot or writing isn’t offensively bad by any stretch, but it is nothing really memorable either.

This is Vaan. Vaan is not as great.
This is Vaan. Vaan is not as great.

As forgettable as the main plot is, the cast of characters of FFXII is quite the opposite, both in a good way and a bad way. Balthier is the truest of gangsters, Fran has some pretty kickass moments, and Ashe has some pretty great sassy one-liners. Panelo doesn’t talk enough to really get on my nerves and Basch is even a decent “ex-soldier looking to restore his honor” archetype. This leaves us with Vaan, “main character". I am going to start a new paragraph for this fucker because I feel he needs his own.

I am just going to say this straight. I fucking hate Vaan. Vaan sucks. Vaan is the worst. He might be my least favorite character in any story I have gone through ever, and is almost definitely my least favorite video game character of all time. You may be wondering why. Let me tell you why. He has a stupid pig face. He never wears a shirt and has poorly drawn abs. His voice acting is kind of terrible. Every single time he opens his mouth, he fucks something up. It happens so often that even some of the other characters seem to get tired of his terrible fucking ideas as the game goes on. There is a very specific moment near the end of the game where Ashe (the true main character as far as I’m concerned) is trying to make a tough decision. Vaan seems to take exception to what she is doing and tells her so, and Ashe simply responds with “Do not interrupt me, Vaan” without so much as turning around to look at him. That is my favorite moment of the entire game, simply because someone finally got mad at Vaan and told him off, something I had been doing since I started the game.

In the end, original FFXII and the International Zodiac Job System are technically the same game, but they could not feel more different. FFXII feels like a concept, while International feels like the more focused full realization of the concepts introduced in the original game. You can see what they were going for with the original license system, but the International version gives it purpose and direction. That along with all the slight changes perhaps did what I thought would be impossible back when I first played Final Fantasy XII. They managed to take what I still to this day think is a pretty bad game, and make it one into that is actually a fair deal of fun to mess around with and play through, and one that is definitely worth your time.