So here’s my idea for the next Final Fantasy game.
First, let’s revisit how I played Final Fantasy 12 initially. Overall, I assume my maiden playthrough of Final Fantasy 12 was pretty typical. I was confused by the gambit system at first, but the game very deliberately eases the player into learning how to control a three man band at all times, so it wasn’t so bad. In short order, I was very comfortable with the neophyte system, and, since I still had access to all the old Final Fantasy standards (curaga, blizzaga, fire monster summoning), it was just a matter of adjusting old standards to a fresh title. In a way, that is no different than any other Final Fantasy release, and, whether Tidus is using an If HP <= 60% gambit or not, he’s still swinging around a Masamune. By the end of Final Fantasy 12 (over a hundred hours by my own clock) I had thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and, unlike some other titles (Final Fantasy 15 comes to mind), I did feel like I understood the game, its ins and outs, and why I won battles against so many gods. Final Fantasy 12 was new and different, but, in the end, it was still Final Fantasy.
But, even after seeing Yiazmat buried beneath an ocean of dragon blood, there was still an unmistakable feeling that I had done something wrong. And it all started with Penelo.
I’m a Final Fantasy veteran, so, even with FF12’s new systems, I thought I had a pretty good grasp of how these things go. I looked at the main cast, and I mistakenly believed that I knew the stats of these characters as well as their personalities. Vaan would obviously have the speed and stamina of a thief, and Basch should be decked out like a knight. It’s so obvious! Now, with the glory of hindsight, we know that Final Fantasy 12 characters all start at about the same stat level, but back when the game was fresh, who the heck had time to look at a bloody menu for longer than seven seconds? Not this guy. And Penelo? I see you there. You’re the obvious white mage of the group. Come on, you have Rosa written all over you.
So, while I missed the detail of all the characters starting as nigh-blank slates, I did read up on the weapons system of FF12 beforehand. One item class that stood out was the axe, which could deal “variable” damage. This sounded perfect for Penelo! She was going to be a useless white mage, right? So her strength stat was going to be useless, so she may as well carry around an axe that could do random damage. Random means it could easily knock off a thousand HP or just one, right? A white mage barely does any damage with a staff blow normally, so if she’s potentially going to do nearly zero damage anyway, why not give her the option of occasionally scoring a useful critical? An axe-wielding white mage made so much sense in my head, it was practically cheating.
Those of you familiar with how Final Fantasy 12 actually works likely already know the punch line to my Penelo experiment. The license board of Final Fantasy 12, the only real way to advance your character’s abilities and stats, is fairly well designed. If you want to equip the latest axes, you’re also likely to pick up a couple of axe-based stat buffs, like increases in strength or armor weight. Stay on the axe path, and it’s not just about axe proficiency, it’s about becoming a golden axe hurling goddess. So, with Penelo following the way of the woodcutter, before I’d even reached the halfway point of FF12, my main strategy for random monster mobs was to cast berserk on Penelo, point her in the general direction of an enemy, and sit back as she bathed in the blood of my adversaries.
This quickly led to a large gulf between story Penelo, who appeared like this:
And Battle Penelo, whom I would imagine like so:
(The extra axe is in case the first axe breaks)
But that was Vanilla Final Fantasy 12. Final Fantasy 12 the Zodiac Age is a totally different beast with all new features. Now the License Board is separated into different jobs so every character doesn’t wind up homogenized by the time you’re boarding the Bahamut. In other words, it’s very much like Final Fantasy games of old, like Final Fantasy 5 or Final Fantasy 10-2, and you can designate Penelo to actually be a white mage or an axe-maniac. Very big difference between the two, and an endgame Monk-Penelo would be completely different from Mage-Penelo.
And here’s Mage-Penelo.
See the subtle differences? Liar! They’re the same! They’re exactly the same. And that’s a shame, because Final Fantasy has a rich tradition of function dictating form, and Dancer-Yuna is a totally different animal from Gambler-Yuna. Hell, even going back to the original, being blessed by a dragon could dramatically change everything from your hair color to your apparent gender. Penelo doesn’t change a lick whether she’s a warrior or a wizard, and, come on, don’t our jobs impact every facet of our lives? I know I’d be a totally different person if I’d been digging ditches for the last fifteen years (for one thing, I’d probably smell worse. Probably).
So here’s my idea for the next Final Fantasy game.
Let’s stick to an “old school” four person party, like Final Fantasy 5 or Final Fantasy 15. And, for the heck of it, let’s make ‘em typical FF archetypes, too. They don’t have to be some things in particular, just something recognizable for a Final Fantasy expert. One general wanderer hero, one grizzled old timer (maybe he’s thirty), one princess (royalty of some kind is a must), and a wildcard of some sort, maybe a moogle ghost robot. And the story is basic: there’s a sealed bad guy, some lesser bad guy is trying to release the big bad guy, and maybe there is some random betrayal where an anonymous secondary nerd gets possessed by the biggest bad and turns into Cyber Hitler or whatever. Basic conventional story all around, and the party learns a valuable lesson about (spins the Wheel of Climaxes) proper motorcycle maintenance. Roll credits.
But! Here’s what I want to see: a jobs system, and a jobs system that impacts the story. Basically, incorporate a WRPG-style morality system (or whatever we’re calling the basis of Fallout right now), but base it entirely on choices made in the job system. No, you don’t get an option between save baby and eat baby, but you do choose if your main dude is a fighter or mage-r. That princess character? By the finale she can be a demure white mage that is all about helping her teammates and her country, or a blood thirsty dark knight that is beating back the big bad because it looked at her funny. The veteran might be back in action exclusively to feel the joy of battle again, or be slowly sliding into his own retirement as a spoony bard. Is the hero a worldly blue mage, or a barely-verbal berserker? And, for that matter, your job choices could impact other, more traditional bits of a typical FF experience. A whole party of thieves might not see a lot of cooperation from the local merchants, and stick to a party of berserkers for too long, and you won’t even be able to understand the dialogue. Bartz smash!
And, to be clear, this game wouldn’t permanently lock a character into one job for plot purposes; however it would “remember” your choices, so, while switching from Geomancer to Fighter might be painless on the mechanics side, your hero might still miss his floppy hat for a few towns.
In my heart of hearts, I feel like this was always the intended future of job-based games like Final Fantasy 5, but the technology wasn’t available at the time. From the first moment of Final Fantasy 1, you’re choosing your heroes and their vocations, and it’s obvious that Fighter is not the same “person” as Black Mage, even if they’re working toward the same goal. Obviously, there couldn’t be 126 different plot configurations to fit Final Fantasy 1’s multiple choice parties, but that technology is here now. If a game can remember you pissed off a random merchant in the first town, it can certainly remember you were a blue mage for ten minutes. And, for that matter, if we get voice acting that can react to every damn thing Shepherd ever said for an entire trilogy, we’re definitely entitled to someone reacting to the fact that the princess is wearing a cat costume for some reason.
So, there, that’s my idea for the next Final Fantasy game. Expand the job system to encompass everything, and let Nu-Penelo be whatever she wants to be. Or whatever I want her to be. Or just give me a few more axe-wielding maniacs, Square, and then we’ll talk.
FGC #375 Final Fantasy 12 The Zodiac Age
- System: Playstation 4 exclusive… Until the PC version drops, at least. Obviously, any other Final Fantasy 12 versions are available on… what was the modern system of ten years ago?… probably the NES.
- Number of players: Multiple players are for other genres.
- Hey, what about modern job-based games like Lightning Returns or Bravely Default: Lightning is still Lightning when she’s wearing a bunny costume, and Tiz is still Tiz when he’s decked out like a monk. I want more.
- Favorite Zodiac Age Feature: Gosh, you get past the job system implementation (which, to be honest, doesn’t thrill me), and I can barely tell what’s been changed here. Fast forward is great, but it’s very finicky with the context-sensitive menu vs. exclamation point X-button problem, and having all the gambits available at the start from any given shop is… daunting. Oh! I know! The Zodiac Spear is no longer based on the most opaque treasure hiding ever, so that’s a plus.
- Most Missed: Where my Pirate’s Den, Square? I heard it was supposed to be part of a patch, but guess what, I don’t got no patch!
- How about Penelo: Playing through the plot more rapidly than my initial playthrough, I noticed that Penelo seems to be the only character that gives a damn about Fran having allergic reactions to magic/mist-rich locations. Vaan is an idiot, so he gets a pass, and Ashe and Basche have their heads so far up their asses that they barely notice there’s a party at all, but it really seems like Balthier should show a little concern once in a while. What’s the matter, sky pirate? Caring isn’t cool enough for ya?
- Did you know? Larsa does not have his infinite supply of potions in Zodiac Age, and all “fourth player” buddies really have no excuse not to join your party permanently. I don’t care if some of these characters are supposed to die! That never stopped the cast of Final Fantasy 4!
- Would I play again: I want to play my new Final Fantasy game, but maybe I’ll give this old one another try in a decade or so. I think I’ve killed enough Owl Man Creatures at this point.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Ghostbusters for the NES! Will busting make me feel good? Let’s find out! Please look forward to it!