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January 2019

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: Feb. 1, 2018


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

by Cody Medellin on May 29, 2018 @ 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

The PC has become the platform for Final Fantasy fans who want their games in one spot. With the exception of the first two titles, all of the main games are on the platform, and while the spin-offs are barely here, the PC still has two good ones with World of Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy Type-0 HD. That said, the quality of each port has been all over the place, with the older ones being examples of rush jobs while the newer ones exhibit some care. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is a port of the PS4 game that came out a year before, itself a remastering of what was originally a PS2 game.

The story will feel familiar for a number of reasons. The world of Ivalice is in a constant state of war with the countries of Dalmasca and Arcadia. Through the execution of the king, Dalmasca is absorbed, and a new empire is born. Years later, we meet up with the orphan Vaan and his sidekick Penelo as the former dreams of being a sky pirate while the latter seems content to tag along. Before they know it, their dreams come true, as the duo get mixed up with real sky pirates while befriending Ashe, a princess who is also the leader of a rebellion that's trying to free Dalmasca from empire rule.

"Star Wars" allusions aside, there are a few elements that make the tale stand out. The first has to do with the setting. Prior to this, each game in the series was always in its own world separate from one another, with the only exception being the direct sequel Final Fantasy X-2. If you've played the beloved Final Fantasy Tactics, then you've already heard of Ivalice, so the place has some special meaning. This isn't lost on the developers, as there are plenty of nods to that game if you look hard enough.

Another interesting element is that you aren't the main focus of the story. Unlike other RPGs, where your plucky young character is the one who can save the world, you and your party are never placed in those roles. Instead, you go about your lives and perform missions that are adjacent to the bigger, world-changing stuff. Indeed, there are multiple times when Vaan feels more like the sidekick rather than the instigator. Depending on how much value you put on RPG traditions, this is either refreshing or unfathomable.

When the game was initially released, it introduced two major systems that were very different from what fans expected. The first is the job system, which will feel familiar to fans of the first few titles. By the time of the original PlayStation and especially with the PS2, the games in the series adopted a stance where specific characters always occupied certain roles, so you immediately knew who was going to be your healer and who was your warrior. Here, the roles are much more fluid, so if you want to, you can make pirate captain Balthir a pure mage instead of acting like a fighter. For those who have played the game on the PS2, the job system here is more defined thanks to a separation based on the zodiac signs. The fluidity remains, but the whole system is easier to navigate since you no longer have one giant board that everyone shares.

The other major system dealt with combat. Unlike most of the other games in the series, this one did away with the stop-and-start system of battle in favor of one that felt more like the MMO of the time, Final Fantasy XI. Players never left the overworld when they went into battle; instead, they ran around trying not to get hit before the active time meter filled up so they could attack. While you could determine who was going to be part of your party, you never took control of anyone but Vaan. Instead, you gave some basic instructions to your AI companions using the gambit system. Much like programming, you set up some basic instructions for your companions, and they ran through each one when the situation called for it. For example, you could set it up so that they can heal anyone in the party who's below a certain health threshold or have them switch from offense to defense if their mana hits a certain mark.

This is what drew most of the game criticism at the time, and for some, it remains a point of contention today. On the one hand, the system allows you to completely focus on the actions of one character, as the game does a good job of handling AI actions. Rarely will you ever curse at the computer for having your allies waste a precious potion or go after the wrong enemy. On the other hand, the automation means taking away most of the control from the player, so you may feel like you're simply watching the game play out instead of taking a more direct role in the action.

If you're already familiar with the game, then you'll appreciate the addition of a speed-up system. The gambit system makes this feature a perfect fit, since you can speed up gameplay up to four times the normal pace while the computer does most of the work for you. There's also the option to activate cheats, like infinite items and cash, so you can freely replay the game to see the technical upgrades and relive the story without having to grind for it.

The question for PC gamers is whether the port of the game is good on a technical level, and thankfully it is. Unlike the PS4 and PS4 Pro, the PC is capable of two big things that most gamers seem to be craving in their graphics: native 4K resolution and 60fps. For the former, that's attainable with high-end hardware while those going for 1440p or base 1080p can get away with using some low-end hardware to get there with other graphical flourishes that still beat out the console version. For the latter, the game looks better with 60fps, even if the genre doesn't necessarily need it, but the option for a locked 30fps is still available for those who want a more authentic experience. Best of all, the boost doesn't come with odd game pacing or animation hiccups, so it's worth checking out.

Beyond that, don't expect too many improvements in this area, as the textures are cleaner but not completely upgraded, while the polygon count also remains the same, so structures may look more angular than before. You should also expect the issue of characters fading into the scenery being very noticeable, something that's carried over from the game's PS2 days.

The audio, however, is exactly the same as the PS4 game, which is slightly improved over the original PS2 title. Dolby Pro Logic II has been upgraded to full 7.1 sound, and the beautiful orchestral soundtrack is better because everything sounds richer. This is especially true during battle sequences and cut scenes, as the booming score and clangs of swords do a great job of enveloping you in the fight. Meanwhile, the game now sports both English and Japanese vocal tracks, so fans of either language aren't left out.

As a game, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is quite good if you're open to changing up a long-established formula. The combat system can feel slower to some when compared to the old turn-based formula, but the Gambit mechanic gives the new system some depth. The same goes for the new zodiac job system, which is a throwback to the more classic games in the series while maintaining the more fleshed-out characters from recent games. The bevy of cheats and quality of life improvements make the old title feel good now, while the technical boost enjoyed by the PC gives it an advantage over its console brethren, even though it had to endure a longer wait time. Overall, The Zodiac Age is a game that genre fans will absolutely love.

Score: 8.5/10

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