In my last post on Final Fantasy XII, I hated on Vaan a lot. Then, I discussed that entry with a friend (check out his amazing pop culture blog in which he argues for, among other things, improved dinosaur representation in media), and he told me he always viewed Vaan and Penelo as Shakesperian-esque witness characters who are present to bear witness to events that don’t really involve them; Ashe and Basch are the real main characters. I can get behind that idea. It doesn’t make me like Vaan any more, but I like that reading of the story.
I don’t regret all my vitriol for Vaan, but I should also confess to a grave error that didn’t help matters. As soon as that fancy Zodiac job wheel popped on-screen for the first time, about an hour or so into the game, I was so distracted by the shiny that I couldn’t figure out how to spin it, so I just blasted through the in-game text prompts and kept right on jamming on that “X” button until I had made Vaan’s primary class into the default job the wheel starts on: white mage. God shitting damn it.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with white mages; they’re useful at keeping your party alive, in fact. But you don’t usually want to make your main character into one. (Maybe my error in job selection contributes to why I’m so drawn to my friend’s interpretation of Vaan as not the main character).
My choice made the early game a much bigger pain than was necessary because Vaan was not self-sufficient in battle. Plus, with FFXII’s sexist character progression (male characters are naturally more biased toward physical stat development), Vaan is better off as a fighter than a healer, anyway. So I really goofed. Sure, he can out-heal any damage until he runs out of MP, but he’s increasingly having trouble finishing off foes.
Okay. Whatever. So, I made Vaan into a white mage. Fine. I can fix this, right? I’ll just pop that job wheel back open, give it a spin, and select a different job, right? It’ll be just like in FF Tactics where you could experiment and constantly mix and match jobs. This is fine.
I navigate back to the job wheel, and…nothing. Job selections are permanent. Well, shit biscuits. I’m stuck with this clown.
Now, sure, I could have just started the game over, but I really didn’t feel like sitting through the same cinemas (which I probably could have mostly skipped) or redoing the minor tasks I had already completed (which I probably could have knocked out in fifteen minutes) and I’m also obdurately stubborn like a moose blocking traffic on a Montana backroad. So I was determined to make the best of it.
So there I was: an hour into the game and already Googling how I could salvage this character. Well, there’s good news. It turns out, at a later point, you unlock a second job class, and that’s where the real magic of the game happens! Thank the Lord and thank Dr. Pepper! (Sorry, I was watching college football last night, and after the Dr. Pepper-sponsored halftime contests, the winners kept juxtaposing those two phrases. Capitalism is weird.)
What you really need to know about the FFXII Zodiac Age job system is that it’s hard to really screw it up. Sure, some classes naturally pair better than others, and a few combinations are almost necessary for taking down particular end-game bosses, but you can make just about any combination work overall. This system appeals to me a lot.
I mentioned that FF Tactics is my favorite game. That’s because 1) the story is phenomenally robust (and the PSP re-release with updated dialogue is worth every penny) and 2) the job system is also exceptionally robust. You select a job for each character, keep it for a while, learn some abilities from it, incorporate those abilities into your character’s permanent repertoire, and then change jobs and do it again until you’ve created the ultimate Frankenstein’s monster killing machine! Fun!
In FF Tactics, you can also break the hell out of the leveling system, which is another great joy of mine in video games. I liked to enter the battlefield, beat all but one of my opponents into oblivion, permanently weaken that last opponent’s attack down to nothing such that he would go hide dejectedly in a corner, then set my characters up in a cross pattern and have them beat the crap out of and constantly heal one another. With every action, they gained experience, and in a few hours, I could power-level my team into a monstrous fighting unit. If this sounds tedious, it kind of is, and I loved it! (I’ve played through this game three times, and every time, I tell myself I won’t level this way this time…I’m wrong every time.)
In Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, in which I did restart the game and remake a character, I figured out that you needed to attach some stupid, quotidian ability to your selected attributes. Then you can power-level your real abilities by performing much simpler ones.
In Guild Wars, I turned a ranger into a dodge tank. (Admittedly, that one went less well, but he could dodge about 80% of physical attacks most of the time). In Final Fantasy II (real 2, not FFIV with Cecil), I took to battering up my own team again. For every hit they take (from friend or foe), their HP and defense increases. These games all featured strict rule-based character progression, and I was happy to wheedle my way into the cracks and exploit the hell out of those rules.
So in FFXII, I’m actually trying to combat my compulsion to break the game’s character-building formula. I’m not sure if the system is exploitable, but if it is, I don’t really want to know how. That said, I did squee and bounce around the couch when I realized I could finally for the first time in my Final Fantasy-playing days, combine a red and black mage! That character is going to be a beast!
As for Vaan, my white mage, I decided to hedge my bets. His second job class is shikari, which is the ninja class. That’s what I selected for another character’s main class, and he has a ton of HP. I’m hoping this choice will balance out Vaan’s squishiness and general clothy inability to swing a blade effectively. So…I guess I made a white mage-tank? A cleric class? I haven’t progressed far enough to report whether it’s working or not, but it has been fun so far!
Ashe is still party leader, though.
Thanks for reading!
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