Remasters have been very prevalent over the last couple console generations and Final Fantasy has been a part of that with the Final Fantasy X/X-2 collection on both PS3 and PS4. While fans are really waiting for the full remake of Final Fantasy VII, many have also been asking for a remaster of one of the more underrated titles in the series, which has now arrived with Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age.
The initial release of Final Fantasy XII was met with outstanding reviews scores, though it still never seemed to reach the echelon of popularity of games like Final Fantasy VII and even Final Fantasy X. Like Square was known to do in that era, the game received an International Version that was never released in the US that came with a number of new features, which has been the basis of this remaster.
Square Enix has been doing a stellar job in recent years with taking their classic PS2 RPGs and bringing them to PS4 with upgraded graphics. We’ve already seen it with FInal Fantasy X/X-2 and both Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, and Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is given the same level of love as those impressive titles. Seeing the world of Final Fantasy XII in full HD for the first time is a real treat, though you shouldn’t expect anything to be absolutely mind blowing visually in comparison to games like Final Fantasy XV that released last year. On top of the enhanced visuals is a reorchestrated soundtrack that fits right in with the game, with purists able to change this to the original soundtrack if they want.
The story in Final Fantasy XII starts off two years prior to the events of the rest of the game where Princess Ashe of Dalmasca and Prince Rasler of Nabradia have just gotten married when the Archadian Empire begins to invade, leading to the death of Rasler. The Archadian and Rozarrian Empires are in an ongoing war with each other and taking Dalmasca was part of that puzzle, which led to the kingdom coming under the control of Archadia.
While you start the game off in control of the character of Reks, who is serving under Captain Basch, that changes rather quickly as you take control of his little brother Vaan two years later. At this point, Princess Ashe is said to have committed suicide and Captain Basch was said to have committed treason by killing the king of Dalmasca. That’s as far as I’m going to go spoiler wise, as there are a lot of twists and betrayals along the way that are better left unruined.
Final Fantasy XII’s world feels a bit like an amalgam of some previous Final Fantasy settings, though it still manages to maintain its own identity and not feel like a retread. Especially now with Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, the warring houses and families involved feel similar to what you might expect from something like Game of Thrones, mixed with that traditional Final Fantasy flare of course. You may feel a little overwhelmed at the start with a lot of exposition and characters being thrown at you, but things will really start to come together before too long for one of the best stories in the franchise.
Moving away entirely from the turn based system that many Final Fantasy games have been known for, Final Fantasy XII made some major changes by doing away with random encounters entirely. Instead, you traverse the vast open landscapes and have full control of the 360 degree camera via the right analog stick. While the game is in no way connected to anything online, the combat itself is very MMO oriented.
As soon as you find an enemy, you can press X to select attack and choose your target. Rather than having to keep spamming the attack button or select different attacks, your character will continue to keep attacking until the enemy is dead. In the original release for this on PS2, this felt like an absolute grind. For me personally, this is what turned me off about the game back then. It felt like you had very little control over what is going on, as you are instead waiting around between attacks.
A major feature was added in the International Version that has been carried over in this in that you can speed up the game either with 2x or 4x speed, which is a godsend for those that had issues with the speed of play before. After choosing between either 2x or 4x, all you have to do is press L1 at most anytime to speed up your character movement both in and outside of battle. Not only does this speed up the battles, but it also allows you to travel across the map a lot quicker, which is incredibly helpful.
Beyond the basic attacks, you can also manually choose to use other techniques, whether they are Techniks like Steal, various Magicks to attack or protect your team, or the game’s equivalent of limit breaks known as Quickenings. You will also get summons later in the game as well, with them being limited to one character each as unlocked on the License Board.
The License Board plays a major role in Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age and will seem quite different from those that only played the original release in the US. Similar to Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid and other similar systems used in the series, the License Board in Final Fantasy XII was an expansive board where you could upgrade your character by spending LP to unlock higher weapon and armor capabilities, as well as new abilities and much more. The International Version changed this by implementing what is known as the Zodiac Job System, which gives Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age its name.
Rather than have a giant License Board for each character that can seem a bit daunting, the Zodiac Job System splits them up into 12 separate License Boards, one for each job type that ranges from Shikari and Archer to Knight and Black Mage. For each of the game’s six full time party members that you will acquire, you must choose one of the 12 job types and then start filling out that board as much as you can.
A good while into the game, you will get the opportunity to choose a second job for each of the six party members, allowing you to experience all 12 jobs if you so choose. You can double up and have more than one of the same job type across your party if you wish though. Having the individual License Boards may not seem like that big of a deal, but it really has a major impact on the overall depth of the game and makes each job feel that much more exclusive.
While followups to Final Fantasy XII introduced party systems where you really only control the lead character, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age still gives you full control of your party members as well. Just like how you can choose what your party leader is doing in battle, you can instruct the rest of your party as well, which is limited to three total characters at a time. This would get very frustrating in no time however, so the game also has what are known as Gambits to alleviate that situation. These are standardized setups for specific situations that you can put in place for each character. These probably should have been introduced right out of the gate in the game, but they are incredibly helpful at preventing battle from feeling overly tedious. Using the License Board, you can unlock additional Gambit spots as well to further customize your team.
Unlike most Final Fantasy titles, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age also includes an extra game mode that is known as Trial Mode. This is essentially a gauntlet run of many of the enemies found in the game, with it gradually getting more difficult the further you get through the 100 levels. This mode isn’t really something you’re going to be able to tackle until way late in the game when you’re at a very high level, but it’s still a good method of earning LP during the game. This is especially the case with this version autosaving after each individual level and then carrying over into the main game.
Final Fantasy XII released just weeks ahead of the launch of the PlayStation 3, so it’s likely a lot of people missed out due to the transition to a new console generation, which is why so many have been waiting for a remaster. For those that happened to miss out though, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is the definitive version of the game to date with all of the features from the International Version, along with beautiful HD visuals and reorchestrated music. As someone who could never quite click with the game back on the PS2 and absolutely adore it this time around I highly recommend giving the game another try with Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age.
Remasters tend to be rather hit and miss due to how many changes they have made, but Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is definitely one of the most intriguing for those in the US due to it having all of the International Version content. While the game may be over a decade old, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age may very well be one of the best RPGs to release in 2017 when all is said and done.
9.0 Moogles Out Of 10
Release Date: July 11, 2017 (US)
Available Platforms: PS4
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix & Virtuos Games
Disclosure: Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age Was Provided By The Publisher For Coverage Purposes