Final Fantasy XII is like fine wine, it gets better with age.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is the remastered version of the 2006 PS2 game Final Fantasy XII. It includes a new job system, upscaled graphics, a high speed mode, trial mode, a re-recorded score, and some slight changes to the gameplay balance. Final Fantasy XII was the most controversial Final Fanasy I have ever seen. It was lauded by critics, won game of the year awards, and was the 1st Final Fantasy and not to mention PS2 game to ever received a perfect 40 score on the Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu. At the other end of the spectrum, most of the fans just hated it.
It was the 1st main Final Fantasy game that deviated from the classic turn-based battle system; going for an open world, real-time MMO style battle system. It had the most non-fantasy like story in the franchise with how it is more about political strife rather than world meets end scenario. The game also had very similar plot elements to Star Wars and is considered the Star Wars game of the Final Fantasy franchise. It was without a doubt a great game and it still is, but it had its fair share of clear flaws back then that still persists today.
So let’s take a look at the game back in the day before we get into the new age.
Before the Zodiac Age
Final Fantasy XII was a game that felt significantly different from the previous Final Fantasy games. When I 1st played it in high school, I was amazed at how different and fun the combat system was. The amount of detail of the various races as well as my foes, the landscapes, and the architecture of the cities, and how relatable the story is compared to the previous installments.
The story plays out with Vaan, an orphan trying to sneak into the palace of Dalmasca. On the way, he meets a sophisticated Sky Pirate and his sexy partner, a fugitive princess, a royal traitor, and Vaan’s childhood friend. This crew of asymmetrical cogs are thrown into the political conflicts of the Archadian Empire and the search for the lost relics that can grant them the power to overcome the almighty powers of the The Emperor and his Judges.
So let’s take a moment to talk about Balthier, yes he gets a section that is dedicated to him. Balthier is the aforementioned sophisticated Sky Pirate with a voice of such a high class caliber done by Gideon Emery whose performance just melts you away. Aside from the charm, he also has a lot of character relevant to the plot background, humorously witty dialogue and he could’ve stolen the game if he was the main character. Add to the fact that he has Fran, a Final Fantasy playboy bunny, as his partner and you have yourself one of the most memorable characters in the series.
The voices in the game was superb. The voices gave life to the characters and races in such a way that it made the game feel so alive. Such were the accent variations that it greatly enhanced the experience of the game. It felt as expansive as seeing the different places of the world thanks to the range and quality of the voice acting.
The combat system uses a mechanic called gambits. It is basically a programmable automative battle system. The game does well in drawing out the strategic programmer in you by setting up the conditions in which you and your allies execute actions in the battlefield. If enemy HP = 100% use steal, if ally HP = KO use Phoenix Down, else enemy lowest HP = attack. Yes there are a lot of if else functions and it is fun to do them. Master the gambits and you would have yourself an automatic juggernaut that only requires you to move the characters.
The License boards was how the game handles upgrade. You basically need a permit to be able to use fire, fira, firaga, and all those other spells, that includes weapons, summons, and character specific limit breaks as well. Master the board and you’re a walking tank, dps, and healer. While certainly a new take on the series, it felt lacking and less rewarding when compared to the sphere grid in Final Fantasy X, but it made up for it a bit with how clean it was overall compared to the messy sphere grid.
The summons were certainly different this time around. They are called Espers and summoning them requires certain levels of MP as well as sending two of your allies to the bench. They are supposedly powerful in nature but fail to compare in terms of functionality and overall damage output when compared to a full party of three, but it does make immersion look cool at least. The game also makes you work hard for them since you have to defeat each one before they submit to you and aside from the ones encountered during the story, many of them are quite hard to find and significantly strong enough that diversified strategies are a must.
Then we go to the game’s fun side, hunting and looting. I have never had so much fun in any game with sidequests and looting specific monsters as much as I had with this game. Hunting requires you to look for specific and distinct monsters in the hunters board in the hunter’s guild which you need to first join. There are specific scenarios to make the marks come out and there will be hints upon taking the request. Whether it be a snowstorm, sandstorm or even killing a specific number of 1 type of enemy, it makes the game feel so alive.
The looting system is setup with you selling your loot to any shop you can find and every shop has a unified bazaar. The bazaar grants you an item or sets of items depending on specific loot that you sell and how many did you sell. Some of the game’s rarest weapons and armors can only be obtained through this system which makes it extremely rewarding.
Another thing to note are the Judges. They are generals of the Archadian Empire and have very distinct looks to them. Their armor plating is very intricate in design and they just ooze the intimidating presence one would expect from them. They could be your Fantasy versions of Darth Vader if you like but they just make it so much cooler. Not all of them are evil as well which goes to show that they put some thought into these armor plated icons.
Ushering in the Zodiac Age
Now that it has aged well, it is time to welcome it into the new age with a new light shedding unto its seasoned title.
So now let’s talk about the new changes.
The world was perfect, they just made it more perfect. Final Fantasy XII had one of the most diverse environments I have ever played in the PS2. It even featured a weather changing system where the enemies will change and the rare ones come out as well. With the updated visuals, it looks even more alive than it used to be.
The new job system was something I found very different. Prior to the Zodiac Age, I could make my character anything I want to be, but with the job system, my characters are now limited to 2 jobs. Which isn’t so bad since it’s better than having 1 job like every other RPG game that has a class/job system. It does make for some fun combos like having a tank be the offhealer with Knight and Monk as the jobs. The license boards are cut into different pieces depending on your assigned jobs which simplifies the process of getting permits.
The fast forward button is perfect and changes the game a lot especially if you learned how the gambit system works. You can decide to go through everything as 2x or even 4x the normal speed. Not to worry though, the music is not included in the fast forward package allowing you to enjoy the music and autopilot grinding in a relaxing fashion. The feature eliminates any sense of boredom you get when going through the empty dungeons, towns, and the grind fest especially when you’re looking to get that 50 chain trophy.
The Trial mode is where you can challenge a plethora of enemies that are ready to make you wish you had grinded more. This is where your mettle will be tested since this mode requires a high level party. It has progressively harder enemies and you can even face enemies that you never fought in the game before like the silent but kind Judge. Not to worry though, all your loot and license points carry over to the story. This mode gives you an alternative challenge instead of fighting one of the hardest bosses in video game history.
The new age also comes with new spells, weapons, and armor. You now have new toys to play with if you’re a veteran of this game. Since it’s been powerfully updated, you might need to check these shiny new toys out first.
The game also added an auto-save feature so if you don’t have a UPS, you won’t need to worry about the electricity and your decision to save later causing you to quit the game. You will also be able to control party guests and espers unlike the previous age where they ran rampant on their own with their own gambits. This means you now have access to their unique skills and can dual-wield (for certain characters)!Now let’s talk about the bad.
The story is great and engaging at first but loses its momentum towards the end but overall makes for a good narrative. One downfall to the story to me was that there was no hint of romance anywhere. I could have just gotten used to the romance since VII, VIII, IX, and X had it while older ones like the 1st Final Fantasy game didn’t, but it was one thing thing that felt essentially lacking to me.
Then we have Vaan, he is what you would get if you made an extra into a main character. Sure, he’s good overall with stats and can fit any class but he adds nothing to the plot. He is empty and doesn’t grow at all. He may be the main character or view point character but he is still a character in the game regardless. The side characters showed more emotion and growth compared to him.
His childhood friend Penelo is even worse. She is literally just there. She contributes nothing overall just like Vaan, but atleast Vaan had a bit of background. Vaan and Penelo felt like they were just added so that the game can have party switching and not have a 4-person team throughout the whole story.
So do we get “it”?
It’s time to answer the real question for those Final Fantasy XII veterans. “Do we still need to skip those treasure pots to get that spear?”. And the answer is no, you no longer need to skip them because the Zodiac Age gives you a few alternative ways to get that legendary spear. So go ahead and sate your OCD of opening everything in the game.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age allows me to experience the world of Ivalice all over again and it felt fresh and exciting at the same time. It brought back the sense of nostalgia while not making it feel redundant overall. It has proven that it was and still is a huge leap forward in the RPG genre. The game fills me up with the sense of adventure just like it did before. So don’t be afraid if you hated it at first. The 2nd try could be the charm you need to create your ultimate automative RPG instant kill squad.
Played on a PS4 Pro.
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