Final Fantasy XII should have been the Final Fantasy game made for me. It had the director of Tactics, a fantastic new artstyle, and a complicated new battle system based around strategy and careful planning. I was super excited to play it, but I just never clicked with the original release. I spent hours playing it in college, but I can't say I was having a good time. I was bored in every dungeon, I ended up creating carbon copy party members with the exact same skillset (hammers and white magic, for those interested), and, after a while, I was just playing so I could see the ending. It all came crashing down during that final boss, however. I had zero trouble with almost the whole game, but I couldn't beat the final boss. I was tearing him apart, but the game's engine couldn't handle loading up multiple spells at the same time, so all of my white magic knights ended up dying as the PS2 failed to properly load their curaga skills. I raged out a bit, turned the game off, and never played Final Fantasy XII again.
Fast forward over ten years (and one attempt at the International Zodiac Job edition that ended in boredom again), and here I was with a copy of The Zodiac Age in my PS4. I was going to give it another shot, and I'm really glad I did. Granted, I was a little bored again at the start with all of the grinding and limited skills, but then I opened up the second job for every character and FFXII finally got gud. I felt empowered, I felt like there were limitless possibilities, and I fought all the way to the end and enjoyed every minute of it. It may have taken ten years and two re-released versions to finally take Michael Bay's Vayne down, but FFXII finally enthralled me the way I always wanted.
My experiences with Final Fantasy XII have been...interesting, to say the least. I first played the Japanese version near the end of my junior year abroad in Kyoto. I had only a little over two and a half years of language study under my belt at that point, so you can imagine how little I understood, but it was enough to get me by and great practice to boot. When I returned home later that year, I remember feeling less anticipation and excitement for FFXII's North American release than usual, and with good reason — I had already played the game once, after all. But when I actually got my hands on the English version of the game, I found that in some ways it was like a whole new experience, and not purely because I could follow everything a lot better.
The English version added dialects to every region, giving the world more weight as an actual place full of different cultures, and it also turned some text-only, player-driven sequences into full-blown voiced cutscenes. It was also interesting to see some of the localization decisions in the script, such as changing Basch's rank in the Dalmascan military from shōgun to captain, and of course the Shakespearean-inspired speech. These seemingly minor changes had a disproportionately significant impact on my second and successive playthroughs of the PS2 version of the game.
And this year, with The Zodiac Age remaster, I've had yet another new experience with one of my favorite entries in the Final Fantasy series. Managing the different jobs and making decisions about who gets what esper has added a whole new level of strategy to the game. This is also the version where I've finally committed to taking on all the optional super bosses, so I can finally tick Yiazmat and his 50 million HP off my bucket list.
Through every experience I've had with Final Fantasy XII, the core of the game has remained unchanged. I still love the characters and the world, adore the soundtrack, and dig the combat. I still see the weaknesses of the story and imagine what could have been. But most of all, I still love Final Fantasy XII, warts and all.