Final Fantasy XII was released for the Playstation 2 on 16 March 2006 in Japan and 31 October 2006 in North America; Europe and Australia both saw a release in February 2007. As of March 2007, it sold over 5.3 million copies (source). For many years Final Fantasy XII was only available on the PS2, and only recently in 2017 has it received a HD remaster (which you can learn more about below).
Some background, to start off with: Final Fantasy XII is the product of Yasumi Matsuno, who also worked on Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, and Vagrant Story. While Matsuno left Square Enix in August 2005 (reportedly due to illness), his influence is felt throughout the game, and there are references to his other games littered throughout FFXII. Most notably, they share the same setting — Ivalice.
Ivalice is essentially the Final Fantasy take on medieval Europe — there are several large empires seeking to expand their territory and smaller sovereignties caught in the middle. There are many different races in Ivalice; humes seem to be the most common, but there are plenty of non-human races around, like bangaa (lizard people), viera (bunny-eared women), moogles, and many more. Though it seems to be in a medieval era, airships soar through the skies, and there’s plenty of technology to be found, particularly in the larger cities.
Final Fantasy XII is a story of war and political intrigue and revolves around a princess’s efforts to restore her fallen kingdom, with help from some unlikely allies. Like FFT, there’s a lot going on in FFXII — it’s clear from the very beginning that there’s more than meets the eye to many of the characters, especially those involved with the Archadian Empire. Indeed, unraveling these tangled plot threads is one of the most rewarding parts of the game.
The thing that sets FFXII apart from the rest of the games in the FF series is that there are no random encounters: when you enter an area with enemies, you can see them and decide to engage them or not as you want to, with the entire battle taking place on the same screen. It makes for an incredibly immersive feel, especially given that you can literally walk from one end of the world map to the other on foot, battling or not as you like. Since keeping track of a three-character party is tricky without the usual turn-based system, FFXII also introduced the gambit system, which basically allows you to set up exactly how you want your characters to behave in battle. Want your characters to automatically throw Phoenix Downs when someone gets knocked out? Want to automatically use Blizzara on an enemy that’s weak to ice magic? FFXII allows for all this and more.
FFXII also features the license board, which unlocks what equipment each character can equip and what magic and abilities they can use. Enemies drop LP, license points, and LP is used to open up spaces on the license board. The name “license” isn’t arbitrary: it reflects the fact that you need a license for something before you can use it. For example, even if you buy a Broadsword from a shop, if your character doesn’t have the right license for it, it’s just going to sit around uselessly in your inventory. Opening up the license board is also how characters unlock their limit break abilities, called Quickenings in this game (Mist Knacks in the original Japanese), and get various stat boosts.
Treasure chests are also very different in FFXII than in the rest of the series: in FFXII they not only respawn, but their contents are random. Some treasures are guaranteed to appear in certain places, but for the most part, whatever you get is whatever you get unless you feel like running back and forth to respawn them.
International Zodiac Job System
On 9 August 2007, a director’s cut edition of FFXII, Final Fantasy XII International Zodiac Job System (hereafter referred to as IZJS, because that’s a mouthful), was released in Japan on the Playstation 2. Ironically, it was never released worldwide.
As the name indicates, IZJS adds a job system to FFXII; the “zodiac” in the title is likely a reference to the zodiac signs in FFT. (And, you know, the actual zodiac, but it was a Thing in FFT.) However, unlike FFT, where you can change your characters’ jobs at any time, in IZJS you can only pick one job for the entire game, much like the original Final Fantasy. There are 12 jobs in IZJS, one for each zodiac sign, and each job has its own license board.
Various other tweaks were made to the gameplay, the most notable of which is that pressing L1 now activates turbo mode and increases the game’s speed. It is the greatest feature of all time. There is nothing like knowing you have to run all the way through Rabanastre again to turn in a hunt mission and then realizing that you can just hit turbo and bam, done — not to mention how much easier it makes grinding. Treasure spawns were also changed, and many of the game’s spells now appear in treasure chests. (Don't worry, they're fixed spawns.) There is no longer a damage limit, there are new gambits, and guest characters and espers are now fully controllable (including their gambits).
There is an extra mode, Trial Mode, which is a series of 100 stages against various monsters. Beating it unlocks New Game+ Weak Mode, where characters start at level 1 and never level up; New Game+ Strong Mode is unlocked by beating the game, and starts with all characters are level 90. Nothing carries over to these saves.
IZJS has only been released in Japan; however, like X-2 International + Last Mission, all of the cutscenes and spoken dialogue use the English localization. Given this, there exists a patch of the game to convert all of the Japanese text into English; you can find it here.
The Zodiac Age
In 2016, a HD remaster of IZJS for the Playstation 4 was finally (finally!) announced, with a July 2017 release: The Zodiac Age. TZA includes all of the improvements from IZJS and adds some tweaks of its own. Most notably, you can now use two jobs with each character. ...To be honest, I have no idea how it's going to work, but I'm excited to find out.
TZA also features a remastered soundtrack, trophy support (hey, motivation for me to finally beat Yiazmat!), and, of course, remastered graphics. If you never played IZJS, you'll find TZA to be a very different experience from the original game!
Currently, this fansite covers the original game and IZJS in depth; I'll add TZA-specific information after I've played through it. Since TZA is a remaster of IZJS, though, most of the gameplay section should still apply.
In 2007, a sequel to FFXII titled Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings was released on the Nintendo DS. It takes place a year after the events of FFXII and features Vaan and Penelo as the leads.
I got 10 hours in about five years ago and haven’t picked it up since. Give me another five years and maybe I’ll give it another shot. Maybe. Don’t hold your breath.