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Episodes 101 & 102: Final Fantasy XII

Final Fantasy XII has been my favorite entry in the series ever since I first played it in 2006. 11 years later, after replaying it via the fantastic Zodiac Age remaster...well, it's still my favorite. It definitely still has its foibles, some of which are alleviated somewhat by the new version, while others stand out a little more because of the quality of life changes Square Enix has made to this version of the game. But I still love it, warts and all.

Something I really enjoyed with this playthrough was the chance to explore a beloved game in a new way. The job system variant of the gameplay that we in the West were finally able to experience with The Zodiac Age added a whole new level of strategy to license board decisions and combat. I found that story beats and major characters resonated with me in ways they hadn't 11 years ago. And I also made an effort to get through side content I had never managed to complete in multiple PS2 playthroughs, such as getting all the optional espers and finally taking on superboss Yiazmat.

Now, if we could just get a Switch port...

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age Screenshot

Final Fantasy XII is a phenomenal game. Whether or not it's one of my favorite Final Fantasies changes day to day (it and XV often find themselves battling for space in my imaginary top five list), but there's no denying the unbelievable artistry on display here. Not only was XII incredibly ahead of its time, foreshadowing the trend towards more open, real-time RPGs popularized by Xenoblade Chronicles and such, but it also set a new high-water mark for storytelling in the genre. With a more mature tone drenched in the sort of political intrigue Yasumi Matsuno is known for, and a cast of largely well-defined characters, this is the sort of direction I'd like to see Final Fantasy XVI take, one day. And it must be said, the additions made to The Zodiac Age really enhance the experience, particularly fast-forwarding. I had a blast playing this again for Retro Encounter, and I look forward to many more hours in Ivalice as I try to hunt the remaining Espers and maybe get Black Hole to trigger.

Seriously, though, what is up with Al-Cid's glasses?

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age Screenshot

Final Fantasy XII didn't get a fair shake back in 2006. Whether this was due to fans not being receptive to change, the fact that it was released so late in the PS2's life cycle, the departure of director Yasumi Matsuno halfway through, or (most likely) all three of these possibilities, there's no denying that XII was and still is a wonderfully forward-thinking, daring, and pleasurable experience. Its melding of iconography from The Phantom Menace and Aladdin sounds like a match made in hell, but its incredible writing, devotion to its setting, and fantastic characters manage to weave a charming tableaux that puts it a cut above many JRPG settings to this day. I loved XII at the time, but revisiting it with the Retro Crew via the stellar Zodiac Age has made me realize just how few games have topped Final Fantasy XII's writing.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some superbosses to attempt and fail.

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