Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age on PlayStation 4
Final Fantasy has seen its fair share of divisive entries over the years, and one that falls right into that camp is Final Fantasy XII with its Gambit-based combat system and more political storytelling. Final Fantasy XII always seemed like an opportune title for a remaster, especially considering we never got the International Zodiac Job System version in the West. That’s exactly where The Zodiac Age comes in, finally bringing that version of the game to North America along with a number of enhancements and upgrades that help make the game much more digestible.
Certain aspects of the original Final Fantasy XII certainly dragged things down, like the sheer amount of battles and slowness of combat. Completing the various hunts in the game along with grinding through long areas could become monotonous, especially after you start doing it for hours at a time. Additionally, the need to constantly pull up an area map to figure out where you were going quickly got tiresome. Luckily, The Zodiac Age finds a great way to remedy both of these issues, with new features that are an absolute godsend.
In The Zodiac Age the L1 button has a fast forward feature, letting you speed up the game to 2x and 4x speed. This drastically cuts down on your time wandering around cities and grinding enemies, letting you speed through any area you want. The feature truly puts in perspective just how slow the original game could be at times, and having the option to pick between 2x and 4x helps you really choose the speed you want to play through the game. Strangely, the fast forward featured doesn’t work during the special Quickening attacks in battle, although it would certainly make selecting the next Quickening more difficult.
At the same time, The Zodiac Age now lets you seamlessly pull up the area map with R3, overlaying a translucent version of the map on your screen as you run around. I cannot overstate how simple but meaningful of a change this is, really making me realize how much time I spent just pulling up a map in the original. These two things alone, along with shorter load times, make Final Fantasy XII a much more seamless experience that lets you set the pace of your adventure.
Other changes, both big and small, in The Zodiac Age come with combat and customization. The original release of the game featured a License Board system, where each character had the exact same board and skills to use. The Zodiac Age instead uses the job system implemented with the International Zodiac Job System, expanding on it even more. Now, each character can choose one of twelve jobs that each have a unique License Board and skills to learn. These run the gamut from the basics like a healing-focused White Mage, to the Shikari which is focused on speed and light attacks with a dagger or Ninja sword. Once you’ve chosen a job, however, it can’t be reversed, so you need to plan carefully on how you want to build your party.
Luckily, The Zodiac Age adds on the option of choosing a second job for each party member after a while, opening up even more customization options. While this new system does feel restricting at first, it ultimately leads to more planning and strategy as you continue in Final Fantasy XII. It’s truly important that you give clearly defined roles to each party member, and know exactly how to use those roles. Enemies and boss battles have also been altered to a degree to account for the job system change, and encourage more strategic gameplay. Another small change allows you to directly control guest party members and Espers in battle.
It’s important to remember, however, that while these changes help make Final Fantasy XII’s battle more engaging, the heart of its combat remains the same. Gambits are used exactly the same, setting up specific strategies for your party members. If you’re able to set up your Gambits well enough, your party can almost operate entirely on their own. While I personally enjoy this aspect of the game, admittedly Final Fantasy XII’s combat isn’t going to appeal to everyone. If you absolutely couldn’t stand how combat played out in the original, there’s really not much here that’s going to change your mind on that fact. Still, the new Zodiac Job system definitely improves things by letting you assign specific roles to characters, instead of everyone feeling like a carbon copy by the end.
In my experience, combat remained fairly difficult throughout The Zodiac Age, reminiscent of my time with the original. If you’ve grinded a bit you shouldn’t have too much of a problem with the main story. However, some of the additional hunts provide a true challenge. Another feature included from the international version of the game is Trial Mode, a demanding gauntlet of battles accessible through the main menu.
Trial Mode allows you to carry over your party, items, and equipment from the main game, and you’re also able to take any rewards back later on. It’s an interesting mode that challenges your endurance and strategy, especially as you work your way to the upper parts of the 100 battles. There’s also an unlockable Weak Mode and Strong Mode, which slightly alter the game’s difficulty for you.
One thing these updates can’t fix, however, is the fact that sometimes Final Fantasy XII doesn’t do a great job of telling you where to go or what to do. You always have some kind of objective you can view, but oftentimes it takes a bit of wandering or trial and error to figure out how to get to an area or complete some strangely specific objective. For the most part, this isn’t a problem, but there are times where it can lead to frustration, like not being given clear instructions on how to beat a minigame.
For anyone that didn’t play the original, Final Fantasy XII takes place in the world of Ivalice, a realm torn apart by a war prompted by the Archadian Empire. The game starts when the Empire invades the small country of Dalmasca, and your party is made up of a ragtag group of misfits who each have some kind of meaningful link to the ongoing war and occupation of Dalmasca. The story easily remains one of the most engaging parts of Final Fantasy XII.
The narrative on display here is of a different breed than most Final Fantasy games, as it’s more focused on the machinations between each nation and how its citizens are affected, rather than honing in on the main party. That’s not to say that the party isn’t important, it’s just that the world at large is just as much of a focus. The political drama is continually gripping, while the world of Ivalice is filled to the brim with lore and personality, making it a joy to explore. The streamlined gameplay systems certainly help cut down on the amount of time between story segments, helping to keep you invested.
Presentation-wise, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age looks better than ever before. Just like Final Fantasy X HD, the graphical update does wonders for the game, and XII’s vibrant art style makes the HD graphics pop. Character models, particularly important characters, look especially impressive. Everything runs silky smooth as well, and I didn’t run into any graphical hitches or problems. The only strange thing I found is that the lip syncing is still off in some cutscenes, something that seems like an easy fix for such a high-profile release in 2017. It’s certainly never distracting enough to ruin the experience, however.
The audio of Final Fantasy XII has also been improved, with a stunningly re-orchestrated soundtrack. Final Fantasy XII’s music was always one of its strongest points, and The Zodiac Age remains no different with a diverse soundtrack that somehow sounds even better than the original.
If you absolutely couldn’t stand the gameplay of Final Fantasy XII, The Zodiac Age’s improvements may not ultimately be enough to sway you to the other side. However, the remaster makes some truly important quality of life changes to its design that results in The Zodiac Age being much more approachable. It is without a doubt the best version of Final Fantasy XII available, and a great reason to jump back into the expansive world of Ivalice again.
SCORE: 4/5 – GREAT