Feels like yesterday that Arnie Roth ‘leaked’ the news of a Final Fantasy XII remaster at a Distant Worlds concert, but that was 2 years ago. Since the release of the X remaster, fans have been begging for XII to receive the same treatment, myself included. I actually wanted to replay this game again not because I enjoyed it so much the first time around, in fact, this is actually one of my least favourite entries in the franchise, but I wanted to give it another shot, especially seeing as how The Zodiac Age brings along a plethora of additions and enhancements, that could potentially fix all the things I disliked about the original, and boy were the results surprising.

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Final Fantasy XII takes place in one of my all-time favourite video game worlds, Ivalice, a world shared amongst games such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story. The story here revolves around a kingdom known as Dalmasca, caught between two warring nations, Archadia and Rozarria. Dalmasca eventually gets occupied by the Archadian Empire, and though on the surface it seems like an alliance, there’s much more to it than meets the eye. The story’s main focal point becomes about the liberation of Dalmasca and the quest to unearth the truth behind the Empire’s actions.

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The story, while a huge departure from the Final Fantasy norm, is quite simply put, fantastic. The political intrigue is laid on thick but never to the point of overbearing and confusing. If you’re familiar with games set in Ivalice, then the pacing and presentation of the narrative should feel right at home. The world is constantly moving and the shadowy figures in the background pulling all the strings, be it from the Archadian Empire, or within the ranks of Dalmasca, are the true focal point of the tale. Their constant presence acts as a drawing point, making it known to the player that whatever actions your heroes do, it will always circle back to those in higher ranks. I love the fact that you’re always given just enough information about what is happening behind the scenes to pique your interest as you progress. I found myself trying to unravel the true intention of certain key players, and it was wonderful when all hands were finally shown in the climax and the true intentions of all were brought to light. There are a lot of finer nuances to the world and lore that are smartly fleshed out through NPC interactions. Some characters give insight into the history of locations and political figures, well others vent their frustrations at the current events, giving you an idea of the political climate and how it affects the citizens. It’s those little details that just make an already excellent story, that much better.

I love the fact that you’re always given just enough information about what is happening behind the scenes to pique your interest as you progress. I found myself trying to unravel the true intention of certain key players, and it was wonderful when all hands were finally shown in the climax and the true intentions of all were brought to light. There are a lot of finer nuances to the world and lore that are smartly fleshed out through NPC interactions. Some characters give insight into the history of locations and political figures, well others vent their frustrations at the current events, giving you an idea of the political climate and how it affects the citizens. It’s those little details that just make an already excellent story, that much better.

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The main issue I have with the story unfortunately are with the main characters. They’re not bad, really, but I find it hard to connect with them in the same way I do with the overall narrative. I think my grievances stem from the fact that there isn’t a well-defined protagonist in this game. Vaan, the character you control, is just there, kind of. He’s a simple street kid who got involved in a complicated war between nations. There is never really any relevance to his presence (for the most part) as the story revolves more around the legitimate heir to the Dalmascan throne, Ashe and the knight turned fugitive, Basche. There is an odd lack of focus when it comes to the main characters and their motivations, but it’s to be expected when the attention is on the grander scheme of things. At least Balthier is as charming as I remember him to be.

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Much like the story, the gameplay deviates from Final Fantasy norms as well. Mimicking a MMO of sorts, XII is a much more open and seamless game. There are no longer any separate battle screens, and combat occurs where you encounter an enemy. The flow of skirmishes are still governed by the established ATB system, where an attack commences only after a gauge fills up, and you can still bring up a menu to select individual actions for your teammates. Most of the staple magic spells, skills and items are all still there from your Firagas right down to your Megalixirs. It’s a strange feeling of unknown, yet familiar, and even though several years have passed, it still took me a while to adjust to this format. On a base level, there’s not much to say about it really, but it’s not a Final Fantasy game without some new and fancy gameplay hook, and this time around, it’s gambits.

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Gambits are essentially AI instructions you set for characters to follow in combat. These instructions are basic programming conditional statements where if said condition is met, an instruction, detailing a specific action will occur. For example, if an ally’s health is less than 50%, cast cure. While this kind of AI party programming is nothing new, it is the shear amount of conditions present in the game which sets this system apart. While you can only set 12 Gambits per character, you could still essentially account for a vast number of possible scenarios which could occur during combat. You could set up a Gambit to always cast an attack buff on the ally with the strongest weapon, while having another Gambit heal an ally with less than 100% health who has the skill Focus, which increases physical damage at full HP. This system allows you to put in place automated actions based on precise scenarios which make it possible to efficiently spec out each character’s role in combat. It’s a really fascinating system, but it’s one that I essentially hated when I first played the original.

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I love games that allow me to micromanage my team, and having the ability to fine-tune a character’s behaviour in combat truly is alluring, but it was the original Final Fantasy XII’s other major system which sullied this concept for me, and that was the License Board. This was essentially this game’s version of a character skill tree or even Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid. When you kill an enemy you gain License Points (LP) which you can use to unlock various nodes on the board, granting you access to new skills, stat increases and more. Present on the board as well were nodes relating to pieces of gear too, which meant that you had to unlock that node before you could equip that specific item. The problem with the original incarnation of this system is that every character’s board overlapped with each other, meaning every character would essentially learn the same set of skills and magic, and be able to use the same equipment, resulting in every character feeling exactly the same.

The problem with the original incarnation of this system is that every character’s board overlapped with each other, meaning every character would essentially learn the same set of skills and magic, and be able to use the same equipment, resulting in every character feeling exactly the same. This in turn, made the Gambit system feel soulless, as I felt like I was essentially programming a bunch of generic robots instead of individual characters. Thankfully however, the Zodiac Age introduced a new feature which completely changed my mind about the License Board, and even the game as a whole, and that’s character Jobs.

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Each character has to be assigned 2 jobs (with the 2nd job being available later in the game) from a selection of 12. These jobs range from classic roles such as Knight, Archer and Black Mage to more exotic ones like the samurai-esque Bushi or the Ninja Sword wielding Shikari. Choosing a job can be daunting at first but the possibility of having a samurai mage was enough to get me excited. This new introduction is by far my favourite thing about the remaster, well, next to the newly added option to speed up the gameplay with a single button press. Seriously, every JRPG needs to have this option. It worked in Bravely Default and World of Final Fantasy, and it sure as hell works wonders here during tedious backtracking sessions. The Job System breathed new life into the game, giving characters their own individual feel, making it easier for me to connect with them, even if it is only on a gameplay level. The only complaint I have with the new additions to this version is that the game has been made a bit easier. It takes away from the need sometimes to really strategize before

Seriously, every JRPG needs to have this option. It worked in Bravely Default and World of Final Fantasy, and it sure as hell works wonders here during tedious backtracking sessions. The Job System breathed new life into the game, giving characters their own individual feel, making it easier for me to connect with them, even if it is only on a gameplay level. The only complaint I have with the new additions to this version is that the game has been made a bit easier. It takes away from the need sometimes to really strategize before battle, but thankfully there is the new Trial Mode which pits you against enemies of increasing difficulty and some of the optional mob hunts are quite challenging too.

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Looking at the Zodiac Age, I sometimes mistake it for a remaster of an early PS3 game. Square really were gurus back then when it came to pushing the graphical boundaries of those consoles. The game not only looks beautiful from a purely graphical standpoint, but the art direction still holds up to this day and it truly is much more thematically consistent and enchanting than Final Fantasy XIII and even to a degree, XV as well. There are a few finer details that stand out, such as some really old-looking textures, but considering this was a PS2 title, I can’t really fault it too much. On the music front, the re-orchestrated soundtrack made me feel like I was sitting in the audience of a Distant Worlds concert and hearing the Rabanastre and Phon Coast theme again was just pure magic. On a whole, the presentation of the Zodiac Age is excellent.

After playing The Zodiac Age, much to my own surprise, my view of the game has completely changed. Sure, there are still some core narrative issues with the main characters and the game can be a bit too easy at times, but the new job system alone made this journey back to Ivalice so much more enjoyable and I have a newfound appreciation for this title. Whether you’re returning or playing this game for the first time, Final Fantasy XII is a JRPG that deserves to be played.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age managed to make me like a game I had previously written off. Who knew this game had so much life left inside of it. Few issues aside, this is one JRPG you don’t want to miss.

Last Updated: July 25, 2017

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
Summary
There are still some core narrative issues with the main characters and the game can be a bit too easy at times, but the new job system alone made this journey back to Ivalice so much more enjoyable. Whether you’re returning or playing this game for the first time, Final Fantasy XII is a JRPG that deserves to be played.
9.0
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age was reviewed on PlayStation 4
86 / 100

Umar Bastra

An avid lover of all things Japanese. I believe that love and kindness should always prevail above all else. I also firmly believe that Yamcha is the best character in the entire Dragon Ball franchise.

  • Matthew Figueira

    Nice review Umar 🙂 never played XII, really glad this remaster is getting such positive feedback. TAKE MAH MONEY SQUARE!

  • HairyEwok

    Only FF games I’ve ever finished was FF8 and FF12. And I’ve tried playing nearly all of them.

  • Hammersteyn

    I like that it has a fast forward feature.

  • Admiral Chief

    FF, not even once

  • Thanks for the review! I also didn’t enjoy Final Fantasy XII when it was first released and pushed it aside for other games (I might have gotten an Xbox 360 around the same time?). Playing it now, it’s a lot more enjoyable. Kudos for SE for implementing the fast forward feature and class system.

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