Somewhere around Final Fantasy X, the series started to become very polarizing. People either tended to love new entries or hate them. A lot of this had to do with how revolutionary hey had become. With X it was the first in the series to get a mainline sequel. Typically this was only left for games that were franchise spinoffs. XI and XIV are MMORPGs. A rather large departure from the storied franchise which had been mostly single player affairs until XI. XIII had two sequels and featured Lightning as the protagonist and she managed to rub a lot of players the wrong way. Then there was last year’s XV. A truly action-oriented adventure. Nestled in between all of those was XII. Upon its original release, XII was applauded by critics but generally panned by gamers. This is our Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age review.
XII tugged a lot of different strings. Final Fantasy is about evolving the series from one entry to the next. Not everyone appreciates this, especially at the time it was released in 2006. Two things that XII did that were a departure from the series norm were allowing players to automate their characters actions through the gambit system and encounters with enemies occurred on the field map in real-time. No longer did you cut to a battle screen from the field screen.
The Gambit system truly was ahead of its time. In combat, your players navigate the field and attack in real time. No longer is combat turn based but you do have an action timer that serves as a cool down period between moves. Later on in the game when combat becomes more intricate with different status effects and enemy mechanics it can be difficult to micromanage your characters in real time. Gambits acted as a form of limited artificial intelligence. They could be as simple as attack party leader’s target to cast Stona on a party member that is petrified. You could have up to 10 Gambits and the character would follow the order from top to bottom. If no character was petrified they would continue to attack the party leader’s target until someone was petrified and then they would cast Stona. It was very easy to set conditions for your characters to follow that would make combat a little less chaotic. While you can argue that this causes you to lose agency over your player characters more advanced AI has taken over the additional party members in more modern RPGs and in general, the gaming community seems okay with this.
Combat also took place on the map in real time. You could see an enemy over the horizon and choose to engage them or avoid them. No longer did you have to worry about the random encounter. If your party is in a bad way you can try and make it to a save point and refill your HP and clear your status ailments. In past entries, a tactic like this would end up with you randomly encountering an enemy and probably game over. You can also run from characters and zone from one area to another to exit combat. In past entries you could attempt to run from combat but it wasn’t guaranteed you would be successful.
The Zodiac Age makes a few changes to the version of XII that was released in the US originally. The old version of XII allowed players access to the license board and they could buy licenses to wear gear, use abilities, spells, or techniques. The glory of this was you could make just about any character you wanted to. The danger was you could end up making a jack of all trades and a master of none. This could prevent you from taking on some of the hardest encounters in the game such as the optional espers. The Zodiac Age still has access to the license board to choose your abilities but now their as 12 classes to choose from. These classes will shape the board and limit the licenses you can choose. This ensures that you will end up with good healers, damage dealers, and tank characters. Each character will gain access to two license boards so you can still make characters that have a wide range of abilities. Such as a monk / white mage that can take heavy damage and heal. Or a red mage / black mage that can deal large amounts of physical and magical damage.
As part of the refresh from XII to the Zodiac Age the developers reorchestrated the score, updated the graphics, and also added in the ability to play the game at a faster speed, you can play at 2 or 4 times normal. The ability to play the game at a faster speed is a god send for players that like to grind experience and job points. I was able to catch up some party members that were lagging in level from 30 to 35 in less than 30 minutes. The reorchestrated score is also very well done and the music is great. I did however start to miss the old fashioned Final Fantasy fanfare at the end of a battle. It would have also been nice to see a little more TLC given to the character’s faces. In cut scenes they just looked flat and unemotional.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is a great remake of a classic Final Fantasy. If you missed out playing this the first time it is definitely worth giving a second look. It also features the appearances of the Judges which become a series staple and their armor appears prominently in FFXIV. For all you MMO fans XII is the closest you can get to an old school MMORPG experience from a single player RPG.
Editor’s Note: Our copy was provided by Square Enix PR for the PS4. You can check out the official website here.