Final Fantasy XII Zodiac Age – Review
Zodiac Age is a return to a game that was marked by difference and its extreme quality. It is an incredible moment in the history of JRPGs.
For all lovers of JRPGs, Final Fantasy XII represents a unique moment in the genre’s chronology. Launched in 2006 on PlayStation 2, the twelfth entry in the main series of Square Enix, actually one of the first high profile games after Squaresoft joined Enix (in 2002), was marked by numerous differences in relation to everything that came before. Within the Final Fantasy series, XII has always been seen as a strange entry, but still, it has fascinated millions of players. Perhaps that is why it is easy to understand why Square Enix finally decided to launch its remaster, called Zodiac Age, which in due course presents for the first time to Europeans the contents of the International Zodiac Job System edition.
Final Fantasy XII was imagined by Yasumi Matsuno and all its development (lasted about 5 years) is a kind of legend that fans tell each other. The mind responsible for Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story had long since earned the deserved respect of fans of the genre and it was time to create a game in the main series. The troubled development dictated that Matsuno leave the team, later led by Hiroyuki Ito (a veteran at Squaresoft), but the whole game wraps up his legacy. Final Fantasy XII is inserted in the world of Ivalice, just like his previous productions, focusing on similar themes: social and political plots that inevitably affect the lives of the characters he accompanies. In addition, the combat system and many of the gameplay’s main mechanics boast all of Matsuno’s DNA that had already been seen in Tactics.
The story of Final Fantasy XII focuses on the great themes that Matsuno had accustomed fans to: an oppressive empire at war with another kingdom, while a third part is there in the middle, unfortunately in a strategic location. The imposing opening cinematics show the imperial attack on Dalmasca and how a princess gains motivation to take revenge. In the middle comes Vaan (the controversial protagonist who relegated the traditional charisma and importance of a leading figure to distribute to his colleagues, especially Balthier) who dreams of becoming a sky pirate. Your everyday banal is turned inside out when you find yourself facing the oppressive empire.
“It is an Ivalice Alliance game, that in itself is already a seal of quality.”
The Final Fantasy XII storyline is just one of its many charms and a testament to Matsuno’s ingenuity. It may not be fully satisfactory, especially since after Matsuno’s departure the team was in charge of creating the outcomes without the principal. But when looking for a remaster the most important thing is to check the quality of the work and not the game itself. Here, too, this remaster triumphs because Square Enix decided to include some new features and improvements, but the main references are in choosing the International Zodiac Job System version as the basis for the remaster.
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Right from the main menu you can see a new Trial Mode, a mode in which you face successive waves of enemies and bosses in the main mode. In between you will find Espers and Judges very difficult. The loot and EXP you earn in this extremely difficult mode is converted to story mode. When you enter the main game, you immediately notice the work done to optimize performance and improve visuals. However, you also notice the new options that allow you to speed up the game speed (she became my best friend for the moments of grinding) and shortly after the start of the game you will notice what will be the main difference to the original, the Zodiac Job System.
Unlike the original, you will have to choose a Job among several (White Mage, Red Mage, Time Mage, Knight, Foebraker, Machinist, and Monk are some of the possibilities) and each of these Jobs allows access to skills, armor, weapons and Specific License Board. This License Board is one of the main mechanics that defines the experience in Final Fantasy XII and this way each character gains more personality. You will have to think carefully about the team you are going to create and the Jobs that best match each character. New dose of balance and depth.
This License Board may be a little strange at first, but you will quickly be immersed in its depth. Unlike the rest of the games in the series, in addition to the EXP you earn by defeating enemies, you also earn LP, License points that you can invest in skill acquisition, improvements like + HP and also the right to equip specific armor or weapons. This version is even more specific because each License Board is related to a Job. Simply and briefly, it is not enough to buy a more powerful weapon when you find it on the market, you have to purchase enough LP to buy that license on the board and get permission to equip it.
All of this makes Final Fantasy XII highly different from the rest, it had a big impact at the time of the original release, but it gives a great depth to the game. Captivating depth. Even more so when we have Active Dimension Battle as a combat system that brings the game closer to an action RPG. Contrary to what was traditional up until then, the monsters are visible on the screen and just get close to them to start fighting, without any interruption screens. It is a mechanic that felt refreshing at the time, controversial for many, and whose quality is validated when it feels so natural 10 years later. In many ways, this Final Fantasy XII was a pioneer and a game ahead of its time.
“The License Board, the Gambit system and the specifics of Active Dimension Battle make this game remain deep and engaging, even after 10 years.”
Zodiac Age is a remaster of a PS2 game released 10 years ago and cannot hide it. Despite the fantastic work done to update the characters and elements of the closest scenery, the background elements and much of the geometry are too basic for today’s standards. However, the overall result is very well achieved and remains a pleasant game to see. Especially because it is highly colorful, with very detailed characters and with quality that honors this beautiful world. It is one of the most interesting worlds in the Final Fantasy series and this remaster does his job very well. Of course you can think otherwise and think that this is a 2006 game remastered to the minimum standards of 2017. If you think that way, you might decide that Zodiac Age more than meets its expectations.
The quality of the remastering goes beyond the visuals, it also includes the soundtrack and the new arrangements. Hitoshi Sakimoto’s compositions, also one of the main responsible for the undeniable charisma of the trips to Ivalice, were the target of new arrangements and the updated versions of the themes sound even more memorable than the original ones. These are also present in this version, in case you want more authenticity. The Final Fantasy XII soundtrack is a key element to bring different locations to life and separate them from other games in the series. The themes add immense life to the locations, mark various scenes and, above all, have great personality. You are easily motivated to play a little more, if only because you are being wrapped by a soundtrack theme.
Considered by many to be the ugly duckling of the Final Fantasy series, due to the way it breaks with what was considered conventional in the acclaimed series, Final Fantasy XII is a game that, as incredible as it may seem, is even better than I remembered. This coming from someone who considers it his favorite and one of the best games ever. In 2017, the Gambit system and the License Board remain as fascinating, competent and profound as in 2006. The story, the characters and the soundtrack remain remarkable, and in many ways, this Zodiac Age version is a sign of how this classic has endured with the test of time. The remastering work that so much achieve the best possible within the limitations, the novelties and elements of the Zodiac Job System version only serve to reaffirm that Final Fantasy XII is a stunning game. The fact that I feel I am even better in 2017 than in 2006 is something I didn’t expect.