Final Fantasy XII: Zodiac Age is a high definition remaster of the original RPG Final Fantasy XII. The game was developed and published by Square Enix and was released for the PS4 in July 2017.
Final Fantasy 12 launched way back in 2006 on the PS2 and whilst it was critically acclaimed across all circles, it has acquired a reputation for being grouped in the later more polarizing FF titles amid the fan-base. And for good reason: it was the first title in the series to almost diverge 100% from classic series staples. More specifically, it abandoned the turn based/ATB gauge combat in favor of a single-player MMO-like fighting system and encouraged open world exploration much more than the previous titles. The story/ themes also took a 180 degree turn from the last few titles, with less focus on themes like romance, destiny, ancient gods etc. etc. in favour of a more grounded, politically charged space opera with an extremely large cast of characters.
Whatever you may thought of the game back then, there’s no denying that It was one of the single most impressive technical feats ever achieved on a PS2, with not only cutting edge visuals but a humongous world to explore with and unmitigated amount of detail. Add to that extremely high quality FMV’s and cut scenes with Hollywood calibre voice acting, and you had one of the technical crown jewels of Sony’s 6th generation juggernaut. Making gamers all over wonder exactly how Square was able to fit it all in one disc.
Some of the complaints fans had with the original release were addressed with the ZODIAC INTERNATIONAL release, which however was only released in its’ native country of Japan. Now however, Square has decided to have the rest of the world have a shot. Called the ZODIAC AGE, the game follows the success of the FINAL FANTASY 10 remaster and now presents itself as Square Enix’s fully realized version of the game.
So is it worth it? Read on to find out.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
STORY AND NARRATIVE:
FINAL FANTASY 12 takes you to the world of Ivalice, first seen in FINAL FANTASY TACTICS and Square’s other less talked about masterpiece VAGRANT STORY (why is that anyway?). It’s the first Final Fantasy game that takes place in an already pre-established world and somehow, that doesn’t seem like a detriment. It was fun to see Ivalice in a higher pixel count in 2006, and thanks to Square’s excellent visual update in 2017, it still is (more on that below)
Here though, the focus in on a rag-tag group of rogues who’re out on a mission to save the empire of Dalmasca. If you’re looking for another classic protagonist on the level of Cloud, then forget it. Vaan is a very weak, mediocre character on his own and is hard to really connect to. He’s your basic angel-haired anime archetype who likes to display his emotions by yelling them verbatim at other people. The strength of FINAL FANTASY 12 lies in the overall group he’s with. Like SEVEN SAMURAI or FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, this games’ strength lies in its’ numbers.
In fact the games’ most memorable characters are the ones that are around Vaan. The most memorable being sarcastic space pirate Balthier and his Fran (aka this game’s version of Han Solo and Chewbacca) who steal the show. They’re so great that I’m surprised Square Enix hasn’t milked them the way say, they have Sephiroth. The rest of the cast also display characteristics of flesh and blood individuals enough that you can easily go along for the ride. It’s a fairly straight-faced tale, with little time for stupidity and goofy nonsense. Vaan may be a weak protagonist but he isn’t insufferable as Tidus. So that alone gives it an edge over FINAL FANTASY 10.
In fact, the game liberally borrow elements from popular fiction like STAR WARS, VALERIAN , SEVEN SAMURAI, A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE (yes) etc.in order to form its’ core narrative. Large scale empirical conflict, political machinations, double crosses, revenge are all present and accounted for. There’s nothing you haven’t seen before here and the narrative can be spotty and fractured at times, but it’s still great. With a sense of raised stakes, high-flying heroism and plenty of epic confrontations befitting of a large scale summer blockbuster.
All in all, it’s a great ride that occasionally grinds to a halt (more on that later) but still manages to deliver the goods.
Gameplay And Mechanics
Here is where this game turns into a hot button topic among series fans.
FINAL FANTASY 12 was probably developed as a revoke to all the criticism that 10 got (for being too linear) and some of what Square learned from Final Fantasy 11’s MMO fiasco. This time though, they mostly were able to develop the game they wanted with these said lessons. FINAL FANTASY 12 is a very successful blend of an open world RPG and a good narrative driving the momentum but it had some issues in its original release that were irksome.
Namely, the character leveling up was too damn absurd. The goddamn licensing board may sound cool in theory but in practice, it was the actual opposite. It was baffling to have to unlock an ability/ skill using your experience points and then have to buy said ability from a store to fully utilize it. Not only that, all characters shared the same licensing board, which made the whole thing too confusing and often a chore.
The ZODIAC AGE fixes it by giving each character its’ own licence board. With a specific job (i.e class) each character can master. This is a great improvement and makes leveling up much less tedious. Since you already have a pretty large Party in the game, this was a wise move. Plus, each character can also master a second job, just in case you want to fill the weaknesses in your party for tougher fights and dungeons. It definitely is an improvement, though the license board system kind of feels dated at this point.
The second most polarizing aspect of FINAL FANTASY 12 was the ‘Gambit’ system. To explain this in simple terms, these can be described as a set of in game paradigms that the user can customize/set for each character, which dictates their behavior throughout combat. This was a very polarizing system back in the day, with some series fans claiming that it ‘automated’ fights in many ways. Personally, I found the system very entertaining and rewarding if you dug deep into it for higher level play and tried to take on secret bosses and tougher targets. It’s still entertaining as hell and can be incredibly gratifying to see your team clobber a tough target with the right Gambit set. But some of the frustration is understandable.
The third and final polarizing aspect was the nature of the game itself. It’s a game that often plays tug-of-war between a forward-moving narrative and open world exploration (as we discussed earlier). The game world is absolutely massive in size with so much to see and do aside from the main quest. In fact, the MMO- esque nature of the game kind of not-so-secretly encourages you to go out on your own and explore. The problem is, that often you’ll spend hours doing stuff like Monster Hunts, grinding etc. that once when you return to the main narrative, you might have forgotten what exactly happened the last time. Bear in mind, this was during a time when modern -day open world RPG’s were still in their early stages and FF 12 occasionally failed to nail that balance.
Graphics Sound and Performance
The lighting seems tweaked and the textures seem sharper. The color scheme also seem much more varied that it’s PS2 incarnation. The game seems much moodier and atmospheric during the dungeons (which sometimes could look drab in the PS2 version) and the (already great) character models look even better. This was a game that looked much better than what the PS2 could handle back in the day, and whatever graphical imperfections came out as a result (the low resolution for one) have now been fixed.
The result is a game that looks as visually appealing as most titles out in the market (whilst obviously being technologically inferior). If a little much push in technology was all it needed to restore FF 12 to its’ true visual glory, then the question remains as of why Square Enix didn’t remaster it the last generation of consoles. It’s a testament to the outstanding work done by the company in 2006, that somehow managed to extract visuals out of the PS2 that were far beyond its’ capabilities. If nothing else, this game sure managed to live up to the series’ reputation of always being on the leading edge of technology.
The music has also experienced an overhaul, which is a great thing. The game in its’ day featured one of the weakest soundtracks in the series (something that has been acknowledged by the makers themselves) and failed to often stand out against your generic orchestral JRPG scores. The new rearranged music sounds great and gives the game a sense of grandeur befitting its name. The PS2 soundtrack could often feel like a pantomime and while the music is mostly the same, it’s tweaked in smart ways to sound more operatic. Which is to the games’ benefit.
So is FINAL FANTASY 12 one of the best Final Fantasy games? No. That’s a mountain too high to climb.
It, however is a genuinely great entry in the series that’s worthy of the name. It kept up the series’ tradition of always re-inventing itself and taking risks. It may have went a few steps too far in some aspects, but it’s still a great game that went under-appreciated in its day. Why people consider the awful FINAL FANTASY 10 a ‘fan favourite’ and try and downplay this game is something I never understood.
It’s one of the better open world RPG’s of it’s time and still is now. It delivers most everything RPG fans like in a game and still feels experimental and ambitious. This game was the precursor of games like XENOBLADE CHRONICLES and even last years’ FINAL FANTASY 15 (in some aspects) and while It’s not an essential purchase for those who’ve already experienced it for 100’s of hours, newcomers should feel no hesitation in jumping in.
FINAL FANTASY 12: THE ZODIAC AGE offers a great restoration of one of the most underrated games in the series. Giving an ideal opportunity for curious newcomers to jump in as well as series fans to add it to their collection