Archives by Day

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 4
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: July 11, 2017


PS4 Review - 'Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on July 20, 2017 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is an HD remake of Final Fantasy XII which first introduced the Zodiac Job System, a 12-job character progression system.

Buy Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

Final Fantasy XII is perhaps the last Final Fantasy game to get a re-release. Every other game has been ported, remade or otherwise updated – even its successor, Final Fantasy XIII.  Like the recent remasters of Final Fantasy X and Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is not just a port of the original version. It's the updated International edition, which hadn't been released in English before, and it's also the best version of FF12 to date.

FF12 follows the story of Vaan, a young street rat, and Ashe, the princess of the conquered kingdom of Dalmasca, which has been taken over by the Archadias Empire. Vaan and sky pirate Balthier encounter a disgraced former knight, Basch. Along with a couple of friends, the group sets out to rescue Ashe and free the kingdom from the clutches of the Empire. Along the way, they discover that another power is manipulating things behind the scenes.

FF12 has an interesting story, but the primary cast is largely on the periphery of events. A good chunk of the game is spent wandering from place to place, where you interact with people who are more actively involved in the story than your main cast of characters. Half of the cast consists of hangers-on. Ashe, Basch and Balthier drive most of the events in the game, but Fran, Penelo and Vaan feel like they simply fill out the group. The pacing is also erratic, with long periods of downtime. It's difficult to judge the storyl flaws too critically in comparison to the last decade of Final Fantasy titles, but it's fair to say that the pacing can be a drag.

New to The Zodiac Age is a significant change to the license board system. In the original release, every character shared a single unified license board, and eventually, all characters could become all things. The Japanese-only re-release divided the license board into multiple jobs, each with its own specifications. Most are inspired by classic Final Fantasy jobs, though often with new esoteric names like "Time Battlemage" or "Uhlan." The reworked license boards are more specialized and focused, allowing characters to reach maximum power far more quickly and efficiently. The Zodiac Age adds a second wrinkle by allowing you to choose a secondary job along the way, allowing you to round out the weaknesses of each class.

This system is an improvement over the original; while it's more restrictive, the restriction makes characters feel more meaningful and distinct. You can create a strong three-person party and do fine, but you also have the option to swap your three main characters if you want to have a diverse party with different specializations. Some of the license board layouts are a little frustrating, so if you're not careful, it's possible to lock yourself of out an ability. It's rarely anything important or critical, but it seems like a needless problem to have.

The most defining feature of FF12's combat is the gambit system, which lets you set up conditional if-then statements to automate battles. You can set it up so your healer cures anyone below 30% health, your Black Mage is casting fire spells to target susceptible enemies, and so on. You can then set up priorities to cover most other situations. For example, I made a character who would always revive a dead ally, heal weakened allies after that, and throw out buffs if they had nothing else to do.

It's a convenient system that a lot of RPGs could use. The big flaw — if it can be considered that — inthecombat is that it's mostly hands-off. You set up your gambits, and the bulk of the fighting is done for you, with only minor adjustments to compensate for it. The new speed-up options prevent this from becoming as tedious as it could've been, but aside from a couple of high-end hunts, it's possible to automate combat. Do you enjoy the idea of setting up gambits and seeing them play out? If so, you'll enjoy thecombat. If you don't, then you might quickly find that it's repetitive since it "plays itself."

The core problem is that FF12 lacks the mechanical complexity of similarly designed games like Dragon Age: Origins and Xenoblade Chronicles. The basic Final Fantasy gameplay emphasizes repeating the same attacks again in straightforward damage races. Someone who plays FF12 can see the if-then statements as a convenient way to trim busywork, or as a flaw that reveals the general shallowness of the system. I think both can be true. In the best-designed boss fights, it's clear the automation is useful for allowing you to focus on the important choices. In the weaker ones, it feels like a waste of time.

The original FF12 had a bunch of annoying design decisions, and the updated version fixes some of them. Gambits, licenses and other mechanics have been reworked to be smoother and less tedious. The speed-up function makes a lot of areas in the game more enjoyable by reducing the amount of time you spend running around, and the new overlay map makes it easier to explore areas. Some extreme grievances, like the esoteric mechanic to unlock the Zodiac Spear, have been reworked. There are a boatload of improvements, but there are still existing and new issues. The Zodiac Spear might be easier to unlock, but there's a new hidden weapon that can be found in an invisible chest in an unmarked room with a 1% chance to spawn. Stealing is still tedious to automate, despite being one of the things that most needed to be automated. There's a small list of things that probably should have been fixed and weren't.

In spite of that, The Zodiac Age is by far the best available version of the game. Aside from possibly annoyances with the new layout of the license board, all features and mechanics are an improvement over the original. At worst, you're trading one annoyance for a roughly equal one. The speed-up feature alone makes this version worth revisiting, and the other changes make the game feel fresh.

There's a boatload of scontent in FF12. The original release could easily take you 100 hours if you intend to do every optional hunt and side-quest, and even with a massive speed boost, you can expect to spend a good 60 hours on the game. In addition, there's a bonus Trial mode, which lets you get special items and equipment and battle new enemies, and there are New Game+ modes and a variety of other minor additions. It's not quite as much extra content as Final Fantasy X's improved version, but it's enough to assure that you get enough bang for your buck.

FF12 was actually a better-looking game than the PS2 could handle, and a lot of the crisp detail was lost in the system's low-resolution output. The Zodiac Age looks great, bringing forth the high-quality models and details from the original game and finally letting them shine. There are some areas where it's weak, including some poor texture work, but it's impressive to see how good it looks for a PS2 game. Likewise, the voice acting has been reworked to sound less compressed. Considering the original voice acting was quite good and only dragged down by tinny sound, that's a big improvement. There's also a remastered soundtrack, but the original is still available.

All in all, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is a top-notch port. It won't make you rethink the game if you didn't enjoy it in the first place, but the majority of the improvements do a lot to elevate the game. The updated gameplay and visuals make the experience more fun. Only a few nagging flaws, most of which are a legacy of the original game, decrease the enjoyment a bit, but they won't sour the game for JRPG aficionados.

Score: 8.5/10

More articles about Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
blog comments powered by Disqus