I'm amazed at how well Final Fantasy XII has aged. Of course, when you compare it to the PS2 original, it becomes clear there has been some trickery going on. Textures are improved, resolution is upped, the entire interface has received an overhaul. And yet, it feels like this is the same old Final Fantasy XII I reviewed ages ago for a magazine.
Search a little bit deeper and other stuff comes up. This game has the new License Boards; chequerboard menus with it's grid filled up with skills, of which you can buy more as long as they're adjacent to the ones you already have. And instead of sharing one giant chequerboard, ever character has its own. It used to be different, but the memory is hazy.
Likewise, the CGI cutscenes are a bit of a weird memory. Weren't these supposed to look... good? They absolutely don't these days. Well, they're passable, let's call it that, but it's nowhere near as beautiful as the actual spruced up in-game graphics. Despite the in-game geometry being anything but up to scratch and the draw distance for enemies being laughably short. Again that hazy memory of how this was supposed to be stupendous back in the day.
Those enemies also highlight an issue I had completely forgotten about: models are reused with new colour palettes all the time. Especially when visiting multiple unlocked areas in a row, it becomes almost laughable. Making it feel like there are only a dozen or so you actually fight against.
Despite those weird conflicts between memory and reality, its Gambit-system remains intact and, most importantly, fun. It's a peculiar kind of fun though. The type of fun that these days would be associated with grandiose designs in Minecraft, or the entirety of SpaceChem, or the success of Factorio.
Gambits are very basic scripts you can attach to your characters connecting conditions to those unlocked skills: See an enemy? Attack it with your sword. One of your allies' health drops below half of its maximum? Use a potion to restore it. Fighting an enemy weak against fire? Cast a fire spell on it. These tiny "if-then" rules can be outfitted on all of your team members and putting them together, sat in front of a dangerous opponent, while watching your machinations come to fruition is superb.
It makes Final Fantasy XII weird in that you play it correctly when you don't actually have to do anything. Combined with the MMO-trappings of not having turn-based battles, it feels like you are programming your own bot to complete the game. And therein lies the game's relevance today. As games become more and more about being shown the result of your actions, rather than focussing on performing them, Final Fantasy XII shows the interaction can instead be moved upfront. With Gambits serving as your proxy. It makes Final Fantasy XII a modern game that was almost 15 years ahead of its time.
Another thing that pops out is the English translation and its voice acting. Alexander O. Smith was responsible and it shows. Gone are the anime type trappings of flat voice not being really into it and instead characters feel more rounded through their voices. The texts themselves have a certain degree of wordplay besides awkward literal translation and it almost elevates the entirety of the all too clichéd FF-story of political machinations, confusing pronouns, and evil empires.
Really enjoying this replay as a result and it really shows why Final Fantasy XIII turned out as it did. The team probably took the wrong lessons: adding more machinations, more pronouns, and more empires on top of a Gambit system that lost its programmable aspect. It makes Final Fantasy XII even more of a shiny bauble.