Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age PS4 Review
The release of a Final Fantasy game is something I like to experience. No matter the quality of the title in question, there is something magical seeing such a beloved series try different things within the genre. I was always interested in seeing what mechanics would change. Just check the three mainline Final Fantasy titles VII, VIII and IX on PlayStation to see this example in full force. Over ten years ago, Final Fantasy XII was the full embodiment of this idea, completely redesigning many mechanics – some seemingly inspired by the series’ first jump into the MMORPG realm with Final Fantasy XI – to release what is probably one of the most diversely received Final Fantasy titles to date between its fan base.
Before moving on to the quality of this re-release, there is something to clear up about Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age. This is more than just a high definition, spiced up version of the classic JRPG, which makes it an interesting proposition, especially for none Japanese speaking fans of the game.
This is due to the history behind Final Fantasy XII and Square Enix’s desire to release international versions of Final Fantasy titles that stay exclusive to Japan. These international versions are usually all the tweaks made to the Western release – such as the European inclusion of Dark Aeon boss fights in Final Fantasy X – and packaged with extras as a bonus. Final Fantasy XII received the biggest changes in its international version, dubbed Final Fantasy XII International Zodiac Job System, where the battle system was given more character with the license board through the inclusion of 12 job classes that came with their distinct license board, instead of the original release, which had each of the six characters using identical boards. While this might seem restrictive over everyone having access to the same board, this still has many possibilities to customise characters, but above all, it makes characters feel as if they are given an identity to make them distinct over their comrades. There was also the inclusion of new game+ mode, the 100 stage trial mode and a way to double the speed of the game that allowed speedier exploration and battles. As you can see, those are some big changes, and it’s great to see them finally make the jump into an English release of the game, unquestionably making this the perfect version of Final Fantasy XII.
There are some minor adjustments on top of those existing in the International Zodiac Job System version of the game that are welcomed for the re-release. Apart from the usual quality of life features, such as auto saving when transitioning areas, faster loading and the option for Japanese voice overs, Square Enix has decided to offer a 4x speed variant to make battles and exploring the world of Ivalice even faster. While on the visual side, the bump to 1080p (or 1440p if using a PS4 Pro) means everything looks much cleaner with the touched up character models and textures. It’s still evident that this is not a native PS4 game, as some of the animations are rough for today’s standard, and the models are much less detailed, but when comparing to the original release, there is a night and day difference between the versions, thanks to the clarity of the new texture work, removal of jaggies and cleaner image quality. It still runs at 30fps, no matter what PS4 model used, but the frame rate never drops, no matter the action on screen, plus, the nature of Final Fantasy XII‘s battle system means that running at a 30fps does not dampen the experience.
Battles were the key difference between this game and the rest of the previous single player Final Fantasy titles. This was due to the perspective and Gambit mechanics having such an impact on the new fighting mechanics. There were no longer random encounters, as enemies are clearly visible in the open lands, and attacking them or being within their range would initiate combat (a time bar is still used to begin the command to attack/use an item/cast magic). It would be hard to command all three party members at once in this semi-real time battle system, which is where gambits come in to alleviate this issue, and at the same time it introduces one of the coolest parts of Final Fantasy XII’s battle system, even to this day.
The Gambit concept enables players to control the AI party behaviour by using scripted rules through a command list that ranks the gambit order by most importance. It’s incredibly well developed that you never need to worry about how your AI will perform in battle if they are set up correctly. The player can still select other party members in battle to override their gambit rules to force a spell/heal/attack, most often needed during boss fights rather than general enemies. I have a slight issue with the gambit system with how the rules are distributed to the player, this is because most the rules need to be bought from the game’s various shops to use them in the setup, which is somewhat counter intuitive, but at least they are cheap enough to not put a dent in the Gil savings.
A brand new feature in The Zodiac Age is the ability to add a second job to the license board. This means characters can gain a wider range of gear/skills/abilities over a single only board introduced in International Zodiac Job System. Picking up a second job is enabled after gaining the first Esper (summon) and appears on the license board as an option to unlock with license points. It’s useful to pick a second job that can counter any weaknesses the first job has, also, you gain some already unlocked squares on the board in relation to how many is unlocked on the initial job before purchasing – how nice of the developers.
Having two jobs assigned does wonders for the customisation of the gambit rules. A party member that has the power to heal, summon spells and deal physical damage is a good example to use when explaining how the gambit rules work. The first slot in the rule list takes most priority. This will often be something related to healing or removing a debuff or status ailment, such as using Eyedrops on anyone who suffers from blind or heal any character whose health is under 60% with Cure. I had attack options under my healing rules, such as focusing on flying enemies first with lightning and all other enemies using normal basic attacks unless they had a weakness to a spell my mage had learned through the license board (this would be set above the basic attack).
Gambits are a powerful tool that some people had issues with because it led to the game being one character driven, and while I can see people’s issues with that, I found Final Fantasy XII‘s battle system to be intuitive in handling what could easily be a mess of a system when having to deal with commanding multiple characters at once. It’s more complex than a turned based battle system, and gambits solve all the issues that could arise. If really clever, you can get away with having all three characters having gambits setup and seeing if they can survive combat as you move them around various environments. A few years later, games like Xenoblade Chronicles used similar battle systems, and while combat in Final Fantasy XII isn’t as deep as that game, it does allow for more control over the AI than simple orders like “focus heal, focus defend, focus attack.” which still gives it a unique feeling in 2017. It’s a smart system that makes me wish that when Final Fantasy XI is killed off, Square Enix will turn that game into a full single player experience with the gambit system of XII used to keep that game alive.
Using the speed multiplayer is going to do wonders in cutting down the time needed to finishing the game. If solely focused on beating the story, then expect the journey to be cut from its original 50+ hours to 35+ hours. Monster hunts, optional regions/dungeons/boss, hidden Espers and side quests make up for a ton of side content that can add an extra 30+ hours onto the game to keep people busy.
Story and pacing is left untouched. The beginning part of Final Fantasy XII was on the slow side, with lots of sand for the environment. It’s a solid 10 hours before you eventually see some different scenery and the game opens up its wonderful world. Playing it for the second time, It’s clear as day how much influence Star Wars had on this game, from its themes to the world, hell, even Balthier is a sort of Han Solo in personality, which shuns Vann, the game’s main character, to the side, since he feels more like he’s in for the ride and hasn’t much to loose as some of the other cast. Final Fantasy XII‘s Empire plot is more down to earth, telling a tale about two kingdoms at war, rather than the end of the world. If you never liked the characters or story, nothing here will change that.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is a smashing port that brings all the revamps of Final Fantasy XII International Zodiac Job System and adds more to it to improve the game for a better experience. If you had issues with the story or didn’t enjoy the battle system – if you were a young whipper snapper, I recommend trying it again, as you might come round to it this time around – then it won’t do anything to fix that for you. If you have never played Final Fantasy XII or are a fan of the game, then this is simply the best way to play Final Fantasy XII and experience its innovative and fun mechanics.