Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age – Review

Final Fantasy XII was released over ten years ago on the PlayStation 2. It brought with it a new direction for the franchise. Due to it coming out pretty much alongside the Nintendo Wii and the PlayStation 3 a lot of people overlooked it but now that we have Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age on PlayStation 4, everyone should really play this game. Square Enix has done an amazing job on this remaster. It isn’t a simple port of the game though. For starters this is the international version of Final Fantasy XII and features the Zodiac job system. North American gamers have never seen this version unless they imported the game. This new version of Final Fantasy XII has also been re-balanced, which means that it will probably be a bit easier than you remember if you played it back in 2006, however, you will still get your tail kicked if you go into a high level area with low level numbers. There is also a new Trial mode which is separate from the main game and will give you a really tough challenge as you get into the higher stages. In addition to that there is a new high speed mode. These things and more make this the definitive version of Final Fantasy XII that J-RPG fans really should play.

Final Fantasy XII takes place in Ivalice, a location well known to longtime fans of the series. Your home kingdom of Dalmasca has been caught in the middle of a war with the Empire but instead of destroying Dalmasca altogether the Empire decides to occupy it with their own forces. The game begins approximately two years after those events and you can immediately see Imperial troops roaming the streets of your city. In fact at the beginning of the game your movement is fairly restricted. Due to an important figure of the Empire showing up in Dalmasca the Imperial guards have shut the gates to the city off for security reasons. I won’t get into many more details about the story here because I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t played yet but Final Fantasy XII is a game about trying to stand up against the Empire and reclaiming the kingdom of Dalmasca for its people.

You will start out as Vaan, a young street kid in Dalmasca who hates the Empire and dreams about being a sky pirate one day. He is a bit mischievous and is always seeming to get in some sort of trouble. Vaan has a friend named Penelo who tries to look out for you when she can and is worried that Vaan will get himself into some kind of trouble that he won’t be able to escape. Vaan has big plans though and on his way to steal something from the Empire he runs into two other people who had similar thoughts. They will eventually join your party and then as you progress in the story you will meet more people and gain access to different skillsets. There will also be people that pop up from time to time that will join your party in a “guest” role. Your standard party in the game is only three people at once but during those times where a guest is along for the ride you will have a four person party. Obviously the more people the better when you are getting in big fights so there were some things that I waited to attempt until I had three other people backing me up.

When you start up Final Fantasy XII you will quickly learn that this isn’t like other Final Fantasy games you have played. There is the Zodiac Job System that you will have to navigate as well as unlocking licenses for items before you can use them. The way the job system works is that you first need to choose a class. You can select from Knight, Machinist, White Mage, Archer, Time Battlemage, Monk and many more. Each class has its own perks as well as its own strengths and weaknesses so you will want to be careful what you select. If you choose to go the White Mage route, for example, you will eventually learn different types of white mage such as Cure, Regen, Dispel, Faith and many other magic spells. You will also have access to Mystic Armor and Rods as a melee weapon. If you choose the Knight route however you will gain access to Heavy Armor, different classes of swords, shields and much more. Ideally you will want to set up your party where the different classes compliment each other so you have your white mage there for healing purposes and your knight there to do some serious damage on the enemy, just as an example.

After you pick your class you will then learn about licenses. As a white mage you will have access to the cure ability, however, you won’t be able to use that until you have acquired the cure license. The way you do that is by earning LP points in battle and then once you have enough, going on to the job board and buying the “White Magick 1” license which grants you Cure and Blinda. You will need to do this for pretty much everything. I have a pretty amazing sword that Vaan is currently using in the game but that sword is in the “Sword 6” license. I had to earn the points and unlock ten different licenses before I got to that one. The licenses switched back and forth from swords to shields as I was trying to get to that particular license. It should also be stated that the job board is not linear. I had to go up and to the right to get the ability to use my current sword but I could have easily went down and to the left to unlock a spot on the board that would give my character an additional 150 HP. You will need to try and plan ahead and be careful in the moves you make. As you progress in the game you will eventually gain the option of picking another class, meaning you can have two classes at the same time. This is another big decision that you will have to make. Do you combine a Knight class with a White Mage class? Maybe a Red Battlemage and a Black Mage? There are a ton of options available to you. Once you pick your second class then you will have a second license board to work on. This is a big chance from how it used to be in the PS2 version of Final Fantasy XII, at least for the U.S. version. In that version you were only able to pick one job and once you did you were stuck with it.

The battle system in Final Fantasy XII was also a dramatic change. When it was first released it was a bold new direction to take and seemed to have some MMO tendencies. Now in 2017 a lot of people are familiar with it and know how to best utilize it. For those who aren’t aware you get to pick “Attack,” “White Magic” or whatever you want just like in previous titles but in this one your character is constantly moving. So while Vaan is charging up for his next move you can run right up to the enemy and get the right position to try and maximize the damage. You aren’t standing in a line waiting for the enemy to come to you. Additionally, Square Enix also unveiled the Gambit system in Final Fantasy XII. This is an interesting way to go about things and allows you to tell your party what to do before you are even in battle. Allow me to explain.

The Gambit system has certain parameters you can set. You can think of it like a set of orders for everyone to follow. For me I set up my White Mage to always try and cure someone who fell under 50% health during battle as her number one priority. If that didn’t apply to anyone then she would automatically go down the list to the second command which would be to attack the enemy I have targeted. Another great way to go about things is I would have my Black Mage immediately cast haste on everyone at the beginning of a battle while other members of my party were concentrating on taking out the enemies in front of us. You can switch gambits at any time and I would only do the haste command for big bosses but it helps to illustrate how powerful this system can be if you use it properly. You can have gambits active on every member of your party or only on the ones you choose. If you choose to have it on for every member of your party then you can sit back and watch as they perform the orders you gave them but you will want to pay attention to the ever evolving situation. If it looks like one of your party members has really low health you can override your own prior command and tell the white mage to use a stronger cure spell or maybe even a regenerative spell so that the ailing party member can slowly and continually regain his health points. You can manually control the leader of your party if you so choose and if you have the gambit set up to attack on the party leader’s target then everyone can open up a world of hurt on any enemy unfortunate enough to stand in front of you. This allowed me to go through normal enemies fairly quickly so I didn’t have to spend a lot of time trying to micromanage everything.

One of the secondary things you can do in Final Fantasy XII is join a clan and go on hunts. There are bulletin boards up in a lot of the taverns across Ivalice that have hunts that are available. If you want to do one of them you simply accept the hunt and then track down the person financing the operation. Once you talk to them and confirm that you have accepted their posting the hunt will officially begin. Once this occurs you can check the posting in your Clan Primer and it will show you on a map the general location where your prey is located. Some of the things that you will hunt include a Rocktoise (basically a giant porpoise), a tainted spirit, a croakadile (basically a giant crocodile) and more. Obviously the more you do the more difficult it will become. Once you successfully finish a hunt return to the person running the operation and tell them of your success. They will be happy to hear it and will give you a reward. You will also want to go back to your hometown every so often and go to the clan headquarters. Talk to the head guy there and he will talk about how impressive your accomplishments are thus far and he will also reward you accordingly. Going on these hunts is a great way to help level up your characters, acquire gil and various other items and just fill out the map as well at times. The clan has different ranks for you to attain and there is even a trophy for obtaining a certain number of clan points.

Another new addition is the trial mode. This is separate from the campaign although you can use your save file from your campaign in trial mode so that you can bring over your stats. Trial mode is essentially this game’s version of a horde mode. You have to go through waves of enemies with each one being a bit harder than the last. There is a “boss fight” during every 10th wave (10, 20, 30, 40, etc…) and you get a chance to save your progress then. There are 100 waves of enemies and you will get a trophy for going through the 50th and 100th wave respectively. Before you even attempt Trial Mode though I highly suggest you play the main game for a while. The first few levels of Trial Mode are fairly easy but the difficulty definitely jumps up quickly. You will also need to keep your gambits in mind as you make your way through these waves of enemies. Your gambit system that worked on wave 11 might not work on wave 21 so you have to be constantly thinking and strategizing about what the best course of action is for you and your party. It is a pretty nice addition to the game and it is definitely for those people who want a challenge.

I have mentioned some changes up above that Square Enix has put into this title but there are a few more. In addition to the Trial mode and the game being better balanced you have more control over the entire experience. For starters I remember that Final Fantasy XII on PS2 had inverted controls that I hated and with this version you can choose whether or not you wanted inverted. The world of Ivalice in Final Fantasy XII is absolutely massive and you can’t always teleport somewhere, which means you might have a long trek ahead of you. Square has introduced a speed mode multiplier for these instances. You can choose to speed up the game to go either twice as fast or four times as fast so you can really zip across the open fields quickly. Of course if you are happy with the normal pace of the game you can keep it on that as well. It is really easy to engage with this speed mode though as all you have to do is hit the “L1” button on your controller. Hit it once and the mode will be turned on and you’ll be flying all over the screen, so to speak. Push it again and you will be back to normal. This also speeds up fights. If you have the speed mode turned on please keep this mind because fights will go a lot quicker too and you might not get the chance to heal someone if you need to because everything is going so fast. There is also a new feature where you can push down on the left analog stick and you will bring up a transparent map of the area so that you don’t have to keep pushing the touch pad to bring up the map. This is a great idea and a welcome addition to the game. It is also something I found incredibly useful. Of course you can still push the touch pad and get the map if you so choose.

Aesthetically Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age looks really nice. It obviously is not going to look like a game built from the ground up for the PS4 but the development team at Square Enix did a great job of bringing this title to the PS4. The graphical fidelity is nice and it has a great soundtrack. The lip syncing isn’t always on point but I thought everything sounded great. You are given a language option as well so you can choose whether you want to hear the English soundtrack or the Japanese soundtrack. Additionally you can choose the music you want to listen to whether it be from the original version or the new, re-orchestrated version. Personally speaking I kept the English language on and listened to the Reorchestrated music although I know there are people out there who will prefer the Japanese track.

Overall Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is a very impressive package. If you were a fan of the original and you have been waiting to dive back in then this is the perfect time to do so. If you are a newcomer to this game then you are definitely in for a treat. I enjoyed the story and how it was told through twists and turns and didn’t really fall into the cliche of needing to save the world or universe or anything. It is much smaller than that but also more personal. The additions Square Enix made are welcome and well executed. This really should serve as an example to every company on how to do a remaster of a game. Be sure to pick this up if you are a Final Fantasy fan or just a general fan of Square Enix role playing games.

Score: 9/10
Originally posted on Gaming Target

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