Review by Roy_de_Lamort

Reviewed: 01/01/08 | Updated: 03/05/08

Which should you choose, FF XII or FF XII IZJS?

Final Fantasy XII: International Zodiac Job System

Introduction

Final Fantasy XII is the newest entry to mainstream Final Fantasy franchise. Due to immense number of changes and departures from the previous installments, it received very positive reviews and much praise from various gaming magazines and websites, yet reception from players was very mixed. Some praised the game for many changes, which brought a feel of refreshment to the series, some felt confused, and some bashed the game without mercy, citing numerous changes as what they believed to have killed the series' magic. Despite it, the game was one of the most successful RPGs on the PS2 in terms of sales and reception, and so Square-Enix decided to release a slightly revised version of the game, known as Final Fantasy XII: International Zodiac Job System. Fancy name, isn't it? But it is a new system of character development, which still relies on License Board, yet is more reminiscent of the classic class system, known from several other Final Fantasies.

In this review I will compare both versions of the game, giving you a hunch what is the difference between the two versions. Before I begin, I would like to stress that while attempting to be fair and unbiased, the following review will contain not only bare facts, but opinions as well. It may also contain spoilers, so if you have not played Final Fantasy XII at all yet, proceed at your own risk.

Story

The plot of Final Fantasy XII is one of the most heavily disputed parts of the game, since it departs far from the series traditions; instead of telling an emotional, character-bent story, it presents us with a complicated, slowly developing political drama, which may seem unappealing to many players; there are no complex character developments, no extensive romantic relationships, and the very conflict in which the characters are participating is perhaps the most unemotional in the series, being a political and military struggle between conquered and conquering, marking no clear line between good and evil, but rather between particular interests. That said, the plot is all substance, and no flash (on contrary to popular belief), but this is what may put off many gamers - the story lacks completely unexpected plot twists and mystic previous installments had in abundance. What should be admitted, though, is that the story, while confusing and very slowly developing, especially at the beginning, upon closer examination is clever, coherent and never contradicts itself. It also features several good plot devices, original solutions and a certain theme, around which the whole story revolves, thus making it more tied together. On the other hand, the story, while it DOES involve some powerful moments, somewhat lacks the emotional punch of the previous Final Fantasies, and may be considered hollow by players accustomed to stories from the previous games.

In terms of coherence, though, the game does an admirable job. The story is perfectly logical, realistic (as for FF standards, of course) and well-tied to the game world. The Ivalice we know from FF XII is detailed, vast world with it's own history, and seems not made only for the purpose of being a playground for the antagonists and the protagonists, but rather a realm which lives on its own, only hosting this particular story for the time being. This is a solution which feels very close to MMORPG style, and while it MAY put off some players, it does the job done, especially that the in-game menu contains a great bestiary, which covers every defeated enemy's background and (for more important foes) a sidestory. The bestiary is well translated, using various types of writing, which contributes well to it's quality, and very extensive. Involvement of various myths from game's fictional cultures only adds to the world's appeal. The story is exactly the same both in FF XII and IZJS, and both games present the same level. The story, though somewhat lacking, ultimately does the job done, and, if you can only forgive the game it's 'MMORPG-ish' feel and lack of more emotional touch, can be very enthralling.

The only thing that should be mentioned, apart from purely 'storylinish' stuff, is that the game features a bazzilion of subquests, which far outweight the main storyline (a little reminder - FFs up to FF X had a strong, main storyline and several subquests ) - the story sometimes feels like an addition to the in-game universe, instead of being the main feature. Now, this is something that powerfully undermines the very foundation of the series - it feels as if the team responsible for the game run out of ideas at some point and decided to feel the vacuum with a lot of 'go & fetch' or 'go & slay' sidequests. While Hunts are fun (even though the Marks are mostly improved versions of regular foes, with some notable exceptions) and quite challenging, the Phon Coast Hunt Club is easily among the most tedious and nonsensical quests I have ever come across in an RPG. The main idea is that there are some improved (and sometimes powerful) versions of enemies we fought during world exploration. It would seem as something that doubles the Centurio Clan Subquest and Regular Mark Hunts, but the problem here is that there are is no petitioners... which means we have no idea where the marks are or how we can find them. There is nothing self-explanatory in there - sometimes the enemy has a % rate of spawning in a certain place, sometimes we have to chain a number of enemies, so the enemy appears in a certain location, sometimes we have to kill all enemies, so the enemy appears in a CERTAIN AREA, of which we have no idea beforehand... but, we don't even know what or where are we looking for in the first place, so trying to exhaust every possibility in every location with every enemy can literally take ages, especially that there is little (if almost no) hints to enemy's type or whereabouts. The reward is also not worth it - a bunch of items which we can obtain way easier another way.

IZJS makes it more worthwile, as in that version rewards us for beating this abomination of a subquest with Zodiac Spear.

Story: 6,5/10

Pros
- Coherence
- Main theme, which nicely ties the plot together
- Some good plot devices

Cons
- lack of emotional punch
- Slow development and uneven pacing, even for a japanese RPG
- WAY too short storyline, WAY too many subquests...
- ...some of which are just tedious and superflous

Localization

What must be commented on, is the game's localization, which is by far the best found in any Final Fantasy game - Alexander O. Smith, who is the men behind the localization process, had done an admirable job. I haven't been able to find a single typo in the beforementioned bestiary, and neither in dialogues or equipment descriptions. A very strong point of the game is voice acting - the characters speak with various accents, which nicely reflects their fictional backgrounds, and sound natural, which contributes to overall feel of the world.

IMPORTANT:

However, those who are interested in playing IZJS will be given only half of the great localization, since this particular version of the game has voice acting from the original US release, yet all text is in Japanese. In this case, the game makes an extensive use of Kanji and various dialects of the Japanese language, so if you do not have good command of the language, you may have very hard time figuring out what does this or that mean.

Localization: 10/10

Pros
- pretty much everything; voice acting, great deal of attention to
details, overall quality.

Graphics

FF XII makes full use of PS2 technical capabilities. Character and monster models are detailed and well-animated, and locations are vast and full of life - from streets of Rabanastre, full of NPCS, which move around and seem to mind their own business, not only waiting for the main characters to talk to them, through vast wilderness of Dalmasca's wastelands and plains, to monumental buildings of Archades - everything is developed with great attention to details, and though NPC and monster models seem to be repetitive, they look natural enough to overlook it, at least when it comes to regular NPCs or 'cannon fodder' enemies.

Unfortunately, this may not be overlooked when we talk about boss battles. As we all know, every Final Fantasy game has a number of impersonal, monster bosses which serve only as a bigger nuisance for the protagonists' party. It's very common, but most times they have a distinctive look, and, as such, are one-of-a-kind. In FF XII, however, literally EVERY monster boss is simply a bigger and slightly modified version of foes we have already fought during exploration of a dungeon or the world map. Seeing that FF XII is overall a quality game, one starts to think how come such lame solution could have been overlooked... or approved.

That said, most boss battles (with notable exception of Esper fights and important storyline battles, which are quality struggles) are pretty uninspired, and considering the rest of the game, it is inexcusable.

IZJS was not improved in terms of graphics, but what I found awfully lame was that the new, uber-powerful weapons (Trango Tower sword and Saitengrate Bow)... are invisible. And silent. And invisible. Yes - they DON'T have any models or distinctive attack sound, so when you use the beforementioned bow, a character makes a move as if he or her were using a bow... and out of a blue a whooping > 1 000 000 HP of damage appears. This is one of the most lame things I have come across during my years of RPG gaming.

Graphics: 9/10 FF XII
9-/10 FF XII IZJS

Pros
- the overall location quality, details, animation.

Cons
- repetitive boss models
- IZJS's 'invisible' weapons

Gameplay

Gameplay brings perhaps the greatest deal of changes. First of all, random encounters are gone. All enemies now freely roam the area, and you can engage with them anytime you like, and the battle will take place directly on spot, without loading any battle screen. This solution is pretty convenient as it eliminates any random encounters which may only play on your nerves, but, once again, it gives the game a somewhat MMORPG feel to it, which may pretty much infuriate more purist players.

The greatest change of them all is appearance of the Gambit System. What is that? Basically, it allows you to shape your characters' AI to a pretty high degree, so they will perform certain actions without need for your input. Correctly configured gambits won't play the game for you, as you still have to move around on your own, or take matters into your own hands if things get ugly, but they make the game much less cumbersome and player friendly. The system may look confusing and complex at the beginning, but once you get the hang of it, it turns out to be a very handy tool, facilitating combat, and while the game CAN be played without Gambits at all, they spare a lot of trouble.

Yet another addition to character development system is License Board. Remember FF X's Sphere Grid? It is pretty much the same deal, only that you buy licenses for using weapons, magic and technicks there as well as some buffs, such as HP + 500, Strength Up, and so on, however, your characters gain levels of experiences as well, so it is important not to forget about either - lv 90 character with basic set of equipment and Licenses will be far inferior in combat than one with lv 40, yet best weapons and armor equipped.

The License Board allows for development of very versatile characters proficient in every possible weapon, magic or technick, but it takes time, pretty much the same way as it does in Final Fantasy X. Attaining every License may take long hours.

However, IZJS comes up with a different solution. Instead of having one License Board for every character, there are twelve; Knight, Breaker, White Mage, Time Mage, Machinist, Samurai, Lancer, Ninja, Black Mage, Red Mage, Archer and Monk - each with specialized set of licenses to choose from. For instance, Breaker excels at fighting with axes and using various Break techniques, and can quickly develop large number of HP, while Mages quickly gain access to magic and MP buffs, while maintaining low HP throughout game.

That system is pretty neat, but there are certain flaws. The job, once selected, CANNOT be changed. That said, if you mess up at the beginning and create an unbalanced party, you may end up being unable to use magic of some sort, or weaken enemies with Breakes (which is especially important in this version, since now even Yiazmat can be Sheared, Exposed, Addled and Withered). Game with such unbalanced party, while possible, may be often hindered by various difficulties, especially if you are unable to use Curaja or Arise. That solution feels like taken directly from... Final Fantasy I which was the only FF game up to date that featured selecting classes, but no possibility to switch them. That said the Zodiac Job System in that state feels completely out of place in a modern Final Fantasy or RPG, for that matter.

The second thing is that, with more specialized characters, you would expect the game to be more challenging than the original version, however, even though some enemies were empowered (Ixion, for example) the game is overall much easier, due to Quickenings which can be obtained much earlier, and a lot of HP buffs for certain classes. That said, when in the Mines of Lhusu we escape Ba'Gamnan, in the original each character has 200-300 HP, but in IZJS, a Knight may easily have >1000 HP, making the progress very easy. All enemies are also suspectible to Expose, Wither, Shear and Addle, which may make even Yiazmat ridiculously easy. Difficulty level-wise, IZJS is broken, making the game way harder where it should be easier (with limited class choice), and a lot easier when it should provide some challenge (i.e. initial phase of the game, due to possibility to quickly overpower your characters).

Another major change is that while in the original game every spell and ability could be bought at shop or from various merchants, now the most powerful or useful ones are found at treasure chests. Now, this is a major problem because of the vastness of every location. Unless you are willing to search every corner, you may never get to use Hastega, Curaja or Scathe... or Breaks, which may make things really ugly. The urge to find all these chests is not making the game better in any way, but adds even more running all over Ivalice to already 'walking-intense' game, which is simply tedious and repetitive.

Quickenings, while performed in the same way in both games, differ in terms of cost. While in original game Quickienings costed MP to be used, in IZJS each character may have up to three bars, which fill as the character is acting (attacking, casting magic, or even moving around). The latter way is more reminiscent of classic Limit Break or Overdrive system, and I personally think this one is better, as it limits use of Quickenings, even though they can be obtained earlier.

There is also a new option of speeding the game up by pressing L1 button. While not necessary to play the game, it can really make things faster, especially while using Auto-Level trick or fighting enemies such as Yiazmat. This feature may really save much time.

IZJS is much easier in yet another area. The damage limit was completely removed, thus allowing you, under certain conditions, to deal >500 000 of HP of damage with a SINGLE HIT, when you are using Seitengrate Nothing. Think about most bosses going down with a single hit.
The final major additions to the game are Trial Mode (a FF XII version of Soul Shrine, where you fight progressively stronger enemies on a 100 different maps, which also contain various treasures), a Strong Mode game (when you defeat the final boss, after the credits roll you will have an opportunity to begin a new game with all characters starting at lv 90, with possibility of gaining more experience) and a Weak Mode game (once you defeat the five Judges in the final Trial Mode battle, you will be able to begin a new game with no Experience gathering, which forces you to play with initial level (1,1,2,2,3,3) party through the entire game.

Unfortunately, while Trial Mode is a nice addition to test and hone player's skills, Strong Mode completely kills any remaining challenge the game can offer, while Weak Mode will be useful only for unofficial challenges, since it is so insanely hard, so they will appeal only to players who either want to quickly beat the game to get access to the most powerful bosses, or pull out some crazy stunt (on the other hand, doing 112233 playthrough is possible even in the original version).

Both versions also suffer from a certain flaw; many locations home deadly and annoying traps, which are activated by walking on them, and which range from mild irritation-inducing (Gil-stealing ones) to infuriating (huge damage against entire party, entire MP loss). Lo and behold - with strong defense and Protect Yiazmat's blows take about 3000 HP worth of (after using Growing Threat), while stepping on a trap can easily kill a character with a single blow - isn't that weird? Some booby traps are more dangerous than the mighty Wyrmgod. That said, we have to cast Libra and Float over and over, which doesn't make the game better in any way, but adds to tediousness of wandering over some locations.

The last thing worth mentioning (not in positive sense, unfortunately). That thing is Bazaar, which was, I guess, meant to replace Synthesis System, known from some of the previous Squaresoft and Square-Enix games. Yet, if it is really so, it fails miserably - the whole system is based on a premise of selling certain amounts of certain loot to unlock stuff you may buy - from bunch of potions to some powerful weapons (such as Tournesol, or one of two Masamune katanas available in the game). However, the key word here is... 'Certain', as we have no idea what are we going to unlock for selling which number of what kind of loot, which is extremely confusing and almost impossible to guess. More than that, obtaining proper loot is almost completely luck based (rare drops), which only adds to the system's unclear and unappealing nature.

Gameplay: FF XII 7,0/10
FF XII IZJS 6,5/10

Pros
- The system is flexible and not cumbersome (both)
- immense number of tactical possibilities (both)
- IZJS Trial Mode
- Speed-up in IZJS

Cons
- Traps (both)
- IZJS's chest-hidden magicks and technicks
- it's easy to screw the game up pretty early in IZJS
- IZJS is way too easy
- Luck plays to big role in both games
- Bazaar System

Music

The soundtrack is a powerhouse of the game. Hitoshi Sakimoto outdone himself creating the soundtrack for FF XII - every track is perfectly fitting the location, and some of them can be considered the most powerful tracks in history of the series, especially the epic Boss Battle Theme, or The Upheaval (Imperial Version), which are among the best battle themes I have ever heard. Non-battle tracks also get the job more than well done. What shouldn't be neglected, either, is Angela Aki's 'Kiss my Goodbye', which continues the tradition of every FF game having at least one vocal in a great way.

Music: 10/10 (both)

Pros
- An overall powerful soundtrack with few outstanding tracks.
Nothing to complain about.
- 'Kiss my Goodbye'.

Conclusion

While both versions of Final Fantasy XII are good games (despite various flaws), I would personally recommend the original version. IZJS is a shining example that more does not necessarily mean better, making an impression of something quickly put together with little testing before being released (or maybe rather, rereleased). The original version, while not flawless, is way more balanced and is much more polished. The decision is up to you, though - more or better? That's the key question here.

Final Score

FF XII: 7,5/10
FF XII IZJS: 7/10

Rating: 7

Product Release: Final Fantasy XII International Zodiac Job System (JP, 08/09/07)

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