Video Game Review: Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
Reflect this, Tiamat!
Originally released at the end of the PS2’s life, Final Fantasy XII is often overlooked simply because games at the time had moved on to the newer generation of consoles. Now, Square-Enix brought the title back to life for the current generation with The Zodiac Age remaster, and the results make for perhaps the best Final Fantasy experience since, well, the original debuted back in 2006.
FFXII was designed at a time when RPGs were shifting. Even as a major step away from traditional turn-based combat, FFXII still involves a lot of strategy, though it remains heavily influenced by World of Warcraft and Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic series.
As such, most of the controls are simple button presses to execute commands, and the rest of it focuses on timing and waiting for meters to fill up or designating targets. The camera is a little unsteady and has some weird default flips in tight spaces, as if the developers still hadn’t quite figured out the best speed and rotation mechanic for it at the time.
It’s a minor quibble, however, and the action can be controlled in a way that it never really interferes with your difficult encounters (something that can’t be said of the recent FFXV).
While Final Fantasy X‘s remaster — and indeed, a number of remasters from the PS2 era — suffer from the scaling process to HD, FFXII is fortunate that it came late in that console’s cycle and its models pushed the graphical power of the PS2. Because of that, the game looks exquisite.
It’s clearly not from this console generation, but it has a style and feel that allow players to enjoy the design (heavily influenced by the art and aesthetics of the Star Wars prequel trilogy) without being bogged down in outdated visuals. As the second game in the series to feature a full voice cast, it still does suffer a bit from over-the-top acting, but most of it is solid.
Final Fantasy has a legacy of stirring music, and of the modern (post-PS2) releases, FFXII may have the best soundtrack of them all. It still doesn’t quite match the end-to-end masterpiece of the FFVII soundtrack, but it has more memorable compositions (presented here in glorious full orchestration) than the rather dull recent FFXV and its flawed predecessor FFXIII.
When originally released in 2006, FFXII was considered to be a mix of traditional and different for the series. On one hand, the character design, world design and core story matched the traditional standards set for the series.
Conversely, the world-building became much more intricately political, and the core combat mechanic took the series away from its turn-based roots. Add to that a huge number of side quests and a large semi-open map, and FFXII feels ahead of its time in many ways. In fact, given the graphical fidelity of the remaster, the game won’t feel dated for many players visiting the title for the first time.
Combat is still menu driven, but it largely plays out as writing if/then macros for your characters. These programs, called gambits, can control everything from attacking to healing, including adding conditional decisions. This allows combat to be largely automated, which sounds boring but engages in a more strategic way rather than in-the-moment macro moves.
One of the most interesting additions to the game is a fast-forward button. Triggering this literally fast-forwards the game, which helps out when traversing long distances by foot or grinding through combat in real time. Because you don’t have to make too many button presses during combat, it’s possible to speed through easy enemies this way.
For the remaster, the game tweaks the leveling system, changing the character path into job-based specialties. This allows for a more custom path for leveling and makes it feel like true character classes rather than a fairly linear path of upgrading or adding abilities.
The sprawling main story is pushed decisively, but you’re given the opportunity to step out of it with the introduction of hunts. Now a series staple, hunts are essentially targeted bounties on specific enemies. Some will use this strictly to level grind, but the Pokemon-style collecting of hunts will veer some players off in totally new directions.
Ultimately, the combination of new and old works extremely well, and it’s the last time a series entry has felt properly balanced, despite the best efforts of the most recent attempt.
Still fresh and relevant, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is often overlooked in the series but remains a standout in all aspects. Story, combat, world and presentation make this remaster more than the sum of its parts and deliver an experience worthy of revisiting a PS2-era title.