Review – A great return to Ivalic with Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (PS4)
Here is a little backgrounder of Final Fantasy XII. The original Final Fantasy XII released at an interesting time. Following the online-only Final Fantasy XI and the seminal Final Fantasy X, FFXII had big shoes to fill. Perhaps it was the lofty expectations fans had, or the fact that the game was somewhat ahead of its time. It didn’t matter. The game didn’t do as well as Square Enix had hoped.
Like Final Fantasy X, FFXII also received an ‘International’ version update. An upgraded version of the game, with English voice overs and other improvements found in the western version, the FFXII International Zodiac Job System (IZJS) was also the origin of the eponymous Zodiac Job System, which allowed playable characters to be one of 12 different job classes. Most gamers however, never got to play this improved version of the game as it didn’t see release outside of Japan. That is, until now with the release of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age.
Part of the Ivalice Alliance series of games, FFXII: The Zodiac Age takes place in the aforementioned land of Ivalice, the setting for a few other Square Enix games. However, despite some general similarities (such as the history and races) each of the games taking place in Ivalice Alliance can be played an enjoyed on its own.
If you’ve never played FFXII before, know that it’s a major leap from previous Final Fantasies before it. Not only do battles happen real-time, you can also now see enemies freely roaming the overworld. Calling the it a single player MMO isn’t that far off, as it shares more in common with FFXI and FFXIV (the MMO games in the Final Fantasy franchise) than it does with the single-player titles. FFXII shares the sprawling maps, huge towns and insanely deep customization options found prevalently in MMOs.
Also, unlike most other Final Fantasy games with their generally easy to follow plot, the story in FFXII is a convoluted affair, filled with names, nations and histories that might be a little too much to take in. It’s a confusing mishmash of terms that will ultimately confuse you. It’s only after playing for a while that you’ll manage to get a grasp on the world. Sadly, most people won’t get that far after the horrendous introduction. It’s sad to see that Square Enix did nothing to lighten the voluminous exposition in the beginning to make it friendlier to newcomers.
That’s not to say the game is unwelcoming. Tweaks have been made to make the game easier. All of the IZJS additions have made the leap in The Zodiac Age. For example, there is now an auto-save feature that saves your progress at certain intervals, so you can safely restart upon death without the fear of losing too much of your in-game progress.
There is the Trial Mode too, which has your team (you need to have a save data from the main game) fighting in 100 continuous battles for money and prizes.
There is also the Speed Mode feature, which allows you to increase the game speed to twice or quadruple the normal speed. While IZJS allowed players to increase the in-game speed 2x, the quadruple speed feature is totally new and it’s a godsend when you’re grinding for LP (License Points) to use for the license board.
Of course, the biggest change to the game is the addition of the Zodiac Job System, which adds in 12 different jobs that your characters can specialize in. Unlike other FF games with job systems, such as Final Fantasy Tactics, your choice of jobs for your characters are permanent – so picking and choosing wisely is paramount. Luckily, you have a total of six characters, with each of them being able to learn two jobs. So, if you don’t choose the two same jobs for them, you will still be able to have a team with that does each of the 12 available jobs in the game.
While the new Job System undeniably brings much needed depth to the game, the fact that you can’t change jobs mean that it is ultimately stifling, restricting and unforgiving, especially to newcomers. FFX International had a similar system with its Sphere Grid, allowing each character to remain unique but still retained flexibility by ultimately allowing all the characters to learn all the skills in the game. For a game that seems to want to cater to new audiences, the job system should have been made less restrictive.
The biggest (and best) feature of FFXII is its Gambit system, which allows you to program responses for your allies. If you’re a programmer, you’ll find the Gambit system akin to rudimentary programming.
Think of Gambit as a three-step program; target, trigger and effect. For each Gambit, you have to choose a target, which could be the character itself, a friend or an enemy. Then you have to set the trigger, a condition for the AI to act upon. Finally, there’s the effect part, the action the AI will execute when the trigger condition is fulfilled.
Each character has multiple Gambit slots, with its placement dictating the action’s importance. For example, if your first Gambit is to heal an ally who has less than 50% HP, that action will always take precedence whenever the trigger condition is met.
As you progress, you can purchase even more Gambit conditions that allows you to customize your characters. With a little thinking, you can set it up so that your characters are constantly being healed, have Libra in effect (that allows you to see enemy statistics) and attack enemies, without you lifting a finger.
As fun as the Gambit system is, there’ll undoubtedly be times when you prefer to get into the thick of the actions yourself. This is doable, as you can simply turn off the Gambit feature and take control of your characters and control them manually.
Once you’ve gotten over the new system features, FFXII: The Zodiac Age has one more improvement up its sleeve; the visuals. No longer the blurry mess it was on the PS2 (even if you had the capability to play it in Progressive Scan), FFXII looks sharp and crisp with HD textures. But bear in mind this is a remaster, not a remake. So, there are some visual oddities here and there. For instance, the new textures still can’t cover up the angular character models.
Also improved is the score for the game. You can choose to listen to the seminal original score, or opt for the more orchestral (and just as awesome) newly recorded music, as well as the Japanese or English voices.
Despite its minor issues, FFXII: The Zodiac Age is a fitting example of a game that was overlooked due to circumstances when it was released. TZA’s release only proves that despite its age, FFXII is a great game that’s as fun to play now, a decade after its original release. Not many games can say that. I highly recommend it for any JRPG fans.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (PS4) was tested and reviewed with the LG OLED C7 Television, GameAxis’ favored Display for console gaming.