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Review: Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age Review
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Because of when it launched, a lot of players didn’t get the chance to experience Final Fantasy XII. By doing a remaster, Square Enix is letting a lot more people in on one of the series’ best-kept secrets: it marked the first true move to non-turn based combat, re-introduced us to the wonderful and politically complex world of Ivalice and starred some of the series’ best auxiliary characters (Fran and Balthier, naturally).

Thing is, the game is still flawed. No amount of HD spit and polish is going to completely fix that, but what we’re surprised about is just how fundamental some of the changes in the Zodiac Age are: by allowing each character to commit to two classes (instead of being locked into one set of skills) and readdressing the balance in the combat, the game’s original weird difficulty spikes have been flattened into something altogether more manageable. That makes a huge difference, and makes the game more accessible, which is wonderful, because this is one of the best FF stories overall.


It's all kicking off in Ivalice.

Yeah, OK, it’s a bit much to digest and it’s going to take you a while to get used to the olde worlde way a lot of the dialogue is parsed, but once you penetrate the strange language choices (and even stranger voice acting) the story is compelling. Your main character, Vaan, is nothing but a passive actor on the stage of Ivalice, really, and watching the royalty, the politicians, the engineers and the Gods around you wrestle with the fate of kingdoms is as captivating as it ever was.

Characters in your main party are mostly introduced one by one, coming in slowly to help you manage what eventually becomes one of the most convoluted battle systems in the series (and that’s saying something). There should be a lightbulb moment for new players about 20 hours in, where the automated Gambit system clicks and makes you go ‘oh, I see!’ The Gambit system is effectively a flowchart paradigm, and good lord there’s some depth there if you really plumb for it.

Basically, you need to set up auto-attacks for your party if you want them to do a certain job. For example, we made Penelo our White Mage, so we set up Gambits for her, forcing her to heal any character who’s HP dipped below 50% and automatically cure status conditions as soon as they were inflicted. If she became mute - unable to cast spells - that would be the end of our party, so we made main character Vaan drop everything he’s doing and automatically heal Silence from Penelo if she was deafened.

Now, imagine that level of complexity with four active characters. It makes the start of the game a bit of a chore, but when you unlock all the abilities you need for everyone to be able to do their job properly (maybe halfway through the game), Final Fantasy XII really starts to sing for you. As it happens, that’s when the story really picks up, too.

Thanks to the ability to speed up the game, though, it’s not hard to harvest monsters for experience and LP (skill currency). We recommend playing at 2x speed for most battles and 4x speed for grinding, simply because at 4x speed the game becomes a bit cumbersome and navigation becomes a nightmare, too. The option to alter speed really helps: there is a lot of backtracking and fetch-questing in FFXII, and this becomes trivial thanks to tapping L1 to speed up. The addition of the smooth overlay (a big translucent map) also helps matters by making navigation amazingly simple, too.


Um. What's going on?

There’s also a kind-of survival mode in the game that feeds rewards into your main game if you clear certain benchmarks. This can be activated any time from the main menu, and offers quite a nice respite from the main game if it all gets a bit… heavy. It’s a wonderful playground to try out new character setups and Gambits, too, and often shows off just how tight and satisfying the battle system in Final Fantasy XII is.

Fans of the series will no doubt be impressed by the job Square Enix has done with remastering the audio, too: some tracks are rebalanced for modern setups, some are completely reorchestrated. The soaring classical vibe of Ivalice is authentically brought back to life, and - again - will hopefully do a wonderful job of showing people that missed out on the game the first time what a classic they overlooked.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is an exemplary remaster, and does a lot of little things to address the flaws of the original game. There are still some underlying issues - dodgy voice acting, an overlong second act, weird level layouts - but for the most part, our issues with the base game have been addressed in a satisfying, you-get-your-money’s-worth kinda way.

 

It loses marks for some of the localisation (sorry), but the reorchestrated OST is wonderful and the sound design overall is gorgeous. Play with Japanese voices for the best experience.

Uprendered assets, some of the most gorgeous scenery in FF history and some impeccable character models all capture the flavour of the original Ivalice concept art. HD polish has been kind to FFXII.

There are unfortunately some weirdly stinted parts of the game that get in the way of what makes it great (combat and story). Doing awful fetch quest, go here/do this tasks in towns impacts the rhythm dramatically.

As a remastered package, with all the bonus bells and whistles on top, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is a decent experience. Vital for Final Fantasy fans, a good buy for general JRPG fans but probably a bit lacking for anyone new to the genre thanks to complicated battle system. Hope you like flowcharts!

Standard JRPG fare here: lots of rewards for getting everything, lots of rewards for meeting certain story beats, lots of rewards for completing insane end-game tasks (good luck getting the Plat, you’ll need it).

A loyal and heartfelt remaster, but no matter how much Square Enix polishes the game, the company is never going to wear down those occasional bumps that affected the overall package the first time. New RPG systems, rebalances enemies, UI updates and speed options all boil down to a much smoother, nicer (prettier!) version of the game than the original European release. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is a wonderfully nostalgic, but undeniably flawed, return to Ivalice.

 
 
 
Game Info
Developer:
Square Enix
Publisher:
Square Enix
Genre:

Release:

US July 11, 2017
Europe July 11, 2017
Japan July 13, 2017

Players: 1
Online Players : 0
ESRB: Teen
Collection:512
Wishlist:70
 
 
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