Acclimation in Ivalice
FINAL FANTASY XII: THE ZODIAC AGE is both familiar and strange, set firmly in the FINAL FANTASY tradition, but in many ways separate from it. This brief article offers tips on getting used to some of the ways FINAL FANTASY XII is unique among FINAL FANTASY titles.
Get This Party Started
For the first handful of hours of the game, while the story and characters are just beginning to come into focus, combat is basic and based around the abilities characters have innately. Not too far into the game, characters can be assigned permanent Jobs that determine which equipment and abilities they can use, defining their role on the battlefield for the rest of the game.
FFXII: The Zodiac Age offers up immense freedom in how you construct your battle party, but little in the way of explicit instruction on how to do so. With (eventually) six consistent party members and an on-field limit of three simultaneously, you can either plan for two cohesive three-person teams, or plan for being able to sub out single members as the need arises. Job assignments are forever, so you'll want to give your overall approach some thought. Think of party construction like XP parties in MMO games like FFXI and FFXIV, or even like how team roles break down in shooters like Overwatch and Team Fortress 2.
At a fundamental level, you'll always want the current battle party to be capable of healing itself and damaging enemies. This might be fulfilled by three fighters with very distinct roles (like healer/damage dealer/tank) or it can be accomplished by three fighters with hybrid sets of responsibilities. The potential is especially open now thanks to the dual Job system new to The Zodiac Age. Healing is fulfilled most simply (and most completely) by a White Mage, but other jobs can also handle healing duties (Red Battlemage in particular, also Knight or Monk with the right Espers assigned, or a Job like Machinist or Archer as an item-based healer, ideally equipped with Pheasant Netsuke). Black Mages are magickal damage hurricanes, while several jobs are focused on physical attacks (Bushi, Foebreaker, Shikari, and Uhlan). Several Jobs are a smattering of both damage and sustainability: Archer, Machinist, Red Battlemage, and Time Battlemage. A primary tank can be assigned consistently thanks to the Decoy spell, helping to focus enemy attention and allied healing efforts, and to take advantage of your best defense, evasion, and counter equipment. Knight and Monk are natural tanks, but Red Battlemage, Shikari, and other melee Jobs can suffice too.
Once you can assign a second Job per fighter, the team-building waters mentioned above are somewhat muddied. When deciding which Jobs to pair on a given party member, the most important considerations are Esper assignment and action load. Generally speaking, avoid pairing Jobs that both have lots to do; that character may get bogged down with an eternal slate of contingencies to deal with, never getting around to their core chores. Likewise, unless what you want is a totally single-minded Berserk machine, you'll probably want to keep low-responsibility Jobs like Uhlan and Foebreaker separate. This kind of combo won’t add much utility to the party beyond the power of stabbing everything. For a breakdown of which abilities Espers unlock on each Job, along with full License Boards, Job breakdowns, and lots more on Jobs and team building, check out the Zodiac Job System chapter of the official guide.
Loot and Scoot
The best early use of Gil in FFXII is to acquire as many drop-quality-boosting Grimoires as possible, along with all the Gambit conditions (now all available very early on, rather than being doled out throughout the game as in the original release). Long term, Gil is used mainly to upgrade equipment, acquire new magick spells and technicks, and to replenish the party's stock of disposable items like Potions, Phoenix Downs, Remedies, and whatnot. Later in the game, some of the rarer packages available in the Bazaar or from the Phon Coast Hunter's Club merchants can be quite pricey indeed. The primary driver of the party's pocketbooks will be sellable Loot, a class of item which comes to hand throughout the adventure simply by defeating foes. With rare exceptions, the only purpose of the sellable Loot item category is to be sold. This fills the party's pockets with discretionary income, and unlocks rare purchasable Bazaar packages when the right Loot combinations are sold. Potential spoils from the Bazaar include many of the game’s best items. Check out the guide for a complete list of Grimoire unlock conditions and Bazaar package recipes.
Of the many departures from other JRPGs taken by FFXII, the presence of Gambits is perhaps most notable, and remains unique to this day. Gambits are basically a programming language that allow you to outline simple scenarios in which allies take automatic action. Damage dealers can be told in advance which enemy types to prioritize, and what to strike them with; healers can be assigned orders of actions to deal with KO'ed, injured, and enfeebled friends. Party members begin with only a couple Gambit slots available, so only two commands can be assigned, but more Gambit slots can be unlocked as each ally's License Boards are filled out. The more Gambit slots are unlocked, the more complex and varied your ally's Gambit palette can become.
Simple tips for the Gambit system go beyond the scope of this article, and you'll likely continue learning little nuances and tricks, and refining your own Gambit ethos, all the way to the end of this epic adventure. For much more on Gambit-building, along with full lists of all Gambit conditionals, check out the Gambit chapter of the guide.
Burning for You
FFXII's gear progression is painstakingly balanced so that you'll find yourself on a steady upward climb of capability throughout the quest. New weapons, armor, accessories, spells, and technicks are most often gained by being thorough checking treasure chests in new areas, but many are also dropped from defeated foes, especially rare game enemies. Completing clan hunts also often rewards rare or unique spoils. But the biggest leap you can probably take through the course of the game around this steady upward climb is by snagging a Burning Bow for an Archer very early on. Depending on how quickly you plow through early-game events, between 5~15 hours in you'll be tasked with heading far west, past the Dalmasca Westersand and into the sprawling Sandseas. At this point, at the far western edge of the Westersand, you can find a specimen of the roaming, non-aggressive avian Dive Talon species. This creature is almost certainly too strong at this point to take on head-on… but you can probably defeat it with a Quickening chain that ends with a bonus Concurrence effect. And, luckily, there's a Save Crystal just past the zone line to the west, providing a place to instantly refill Mist Charges between Dive Talon Quickening kills. Depending on your luck, farming Dive Talons for fun, profit, and Burning Bows may take quite some time, because the drop rate is extremely low. But if you get lucky here, your Burning Bow-toting Archer will become your best damage dealer for a long time hereafter.
Like the "notorious monsters" that can be found roaming the world in certain conditions in FFXI, the land of Ivalice here contains many amped-up versions of regular creatures. These can be distinguished from their run-of-the-mill counterparts by their unique names. They're also almost always a lot bigger than other examples of their species, and more dangerous to boot. When scanning them with the Libra technick active, enemy data like HP totals will remain a mystery. These special monsters come in several flavors: rare game (rare monsters with specific appearance conditions, sprinkled throughout the world for flavor and to hoard special drops), trophy rare game (rare monsters who also drop Trophies that go toward the Phon Coast Hunter's Club sidequest), hunt marks (ferocious notorious monsters with bounties issued through notice boards found in towns throughout Ivalice), and elite marks (the nastiest of the nasty, legendary beasts targeted by bounties issued from Montblanc himself, Clan Centurio's leader). Thanks to the new autosave system unique to this release of FFXII, you can be bolder than ever before when confronting these heavy-hitters. In older releases, taking swings at these big baddies could involve lots of preparation and long treks from the nearest Save Crystals. Here, if you recently passed through a dotted zone line and initiated a loading screen, you're good to go. Take a swing and see how you do -- if you bite of more than you can currently chew, all you've lost is a few steps of walking time.
You’ll also see many of these ferocious monsters in the sprawling Trial Mode included with The Zodiac Age, where they’ll also have drop/steal results that differ from the main game. See the guide for much more on rare game, clan hunts, and Trial Mode!