Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age Review

I spent a lot of time on my PlayStation 2 playing and replaying Final Fantasy XII when it was first released in 2006. I’m particularly fond of war stories and epic political drama set in fantasy/medieval settings - elements that are rich in Final Fantasy XII. Thus, it easily became a top entry in my small list of “Favorite RPGs EVER."

Fast forward to 2017 when Square Enix decided to release Final Fantasy XII as a PlayStation 4 Remaster of the never-released-in-the-west "international" version, giving me the perfect opportunity to revisit the world of Ivalice. Has it aged well? Surprisingly enough, I found that everything about Final Fantasy XII felt fresh even after a decade. The world is as immersive and vibrant as I had always remembered, and the battle mechanics are as addictive as they were before. Ivalice proved to be worth revisiting.

Final Fantasy XII is a unique beast among other Final Fantasy titles; the presentation, the narrative, the pacing, the gameplay… everything about it is unique, to a point that it created polarizing opinions among the fans when it was first released. This is because Final Fantasy XII is more of a plot-driven ‘Game of Thrones’ style political drama, rather than a character-driven teenage anime adventure that most Final Fantasy fans are comfortable with. Instead of having a definite leading main character, the game presents you with characters that are walking windows, offering you a look into their world driven by political struggles and wars.

One of the finest points of Final Fantasy XII is the exploration. Ivalice is a vibrant and living land consisting of many distinct locations such as the burning deserts, the bleak sand-seas, the frozen ravines, the deep jungles, and giant webs of underground caverns, all with varying weather conditions and denizens of wildlife and monsters, all consistently interconnected into one of the finest fantasy worlds. It was such a blast to explore every nook and cranny in the original FFXII, and the remaster just made it better. The Zodiac Age has sharper textures, better resolution, and cleaner graphics, pushing immersion to the next level.

Final Fantasy XII is one of the first FF titles to have real-time battles, but the game never truly becomes a full-fledged action/RPG game. The game still uses a menu-based battle system called ADB (Active Dimension Battles), in which a player can freely navigate on the field while engaging the enemies but can only act through the menu. To ease the micromanagement, the game introduces a system called Gambits, which is basically a proto AI programming tool with ‘if/then’ conditions. For example, you can set a condition to heal a character if his/her HP falls below a certain percentage, or you can make a condition to use restorative spells on enemy if the said enemy is an undead (thus dealing damage to them).

This effectively makes the battles exceptionally engaging in later parts of the game, as the encounters become increasingly trickier with stronger enemies. You will be swapping in and out of gambits for all the characters, trying to find the most effective strategy for each and every encounter. You cannot help but feel clever for every battle you survive though with your perfectly built gambits.

In the original version, I had my gripe with the character growth system of this game, called the License Board. It is similar to the Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy X, where you have to spend accumulated points to gain new skills, abilities and stats. However, in the original, all six characters of the game have the same License Board. Thus, everyone had learned everything by the end-game, and the diversity was quite dead. They all became carbon copies of each other. Fortunately, this issue is now improved in the Zodiac Age remaster. You must now select a license board out of 12 different boards, all of which are based on classic Final Fantasy jobs, for each character. This puts a new layer of planning and strategy in making effective character builds.

Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that you can now control the Espers (Final Fantasy XII version of Summons) and the guest characters in the remaster. Gone are the days of frustration to watch Espers and guest characters doing everything but helping you. Another welcoming change is that spell-queuing from the original version is gone. You no longer have to wait for a spell animation to finish for the next one to appear on screen. 

I always thought Final Fantasy XII is way ahead of its time when it was first released. Playing the remaster version has cemented that thought. The game still feels fresh and modern even after a decade. Everything I had ever expected from a modern day JRPG is still present in Final Fantasy XII - the open-ended exploration, well-designed interconnected areas, sprawling cities with various NPCs which change as the story progresses on, and seemingly endless side-quests and optional enemies, dungeons and hidden treasures. Final Fantasy XII is nothing short of a timeless masterpiece that I cannot recommend enough.

Lv-99 simple sheep