Final Fantasy XII – The Zodiac Age is a re-release of the original Final Fantasy XII on the PS2 with all the trimmings you’d expect from a PS4 remaster. And yet get again, we’re seeing that some of the best games on the current generation of consoles are actually gems from an era or two ago.
In the case of Final Fantasy, it all fits perfectly with how I’ve long regarded the series – hard to keep track of in how it jumps around by revisiting older games, releasing a brand new entry (like Final Fantasy XV) but also regularly adding new content to titles like Final Fantasy XIV. It’s now Final Fantasy XII’s turn to come back into the limelight – and for me it’s a chance to play a title I never got to enjoy much on the PS2. It came out four years after XI, and at that point I wasn’t as invested in the series anymore. I’m glad I got a second chance.
Final Fantasy XII is heavy on fantasy and magic influences – both in story content and in the backdrops to which it plays out. In the world of Ivalice, several continents make up the game world, which is massive and diverse – and almost hard to imagine as a game running on hardware that’s two generations old in terms of its scale and diversity. The magical mineral Magicite plays an important role in Ivalice, both in its use in magic spells and its ability to facilitate air travel.
The game’s story follows a homeless young boy called Vaan, who starts off looking for a bit of innocent excitement and ends up in an epic story after coming across some of the much sought-after magacite and joining forces with a diverse cast of other characters. This includes a pirate and a knight, and although this is a single player game by nature the game plays as though you’re adventuring with a band of fellow players inside an MMO at times. This is partly due to the wide open expanses in which you can encounter random “bands” of people willing to pick a fight with you.
When this happens, the Gambit system is a helpful tool to help you orchestrate the flow of battle. Serving as a sort of toolbox for ‘programming macro commands’, it allows you to string a chain of commands together for your teammates. While you still have the option to micro-manage battles step-by-step, the gambit system semi-automates this process and it’s a big help in getting through battles that might otherwise take a little too long to complete – especially considering the massive scale of the game. Using the gambit system, you can make sure that your allies heal each other first before focusing on attacking – and the range of options only grows over time, allowing for more and more tactical depth.
Depth has also been increased by the introduction of more diverse character skill trees you can develop – something previously not available in western versions of the game. Because you can now select twelve different trees, characters no longer blend together when they evolve to the point of mastering every kind of skill on a generic skill tree.
The biggest gameplay innovation in The Zodiac Age, however, is the inclusion of a high speed mode that allows you to more quickly level up and progress. Part of the reason I initially lost interest in Final Fantasy XII back in the day was that I wasn’t patient enough to go through the grind that the game sometimes required of me. The Zodiac Age doesn’t take away the grind, but it makes it much easier to bear.
Most of the other improvements to the original game are technical in nature, with the audiovisual elements being the most striking ones. A lot of the original assets were given high definition upgrades – which applies to characters as well as backdrops. The facial animations were also re-done, which is a wise decision because facial animation can often really date a game. The in-game music was re-recorded and sounds great, but you also have the option to switch back to the original soundtrack. Both the English and Japanese voiceovers are present as well, although the voice acting felt better in Final Fantasy XV than it does here. That’s just nitpicking though, as we only played with English voices and many fans of the franchise enjoy the Japanese voice track anyway.
Final Fantasy XII – The Zodiac Age shows us what a good remaster is supposed to do – upgrade a classic title to modern technical standards, and iron out some of the less-than-perfect gameplay mechanics in the process. The fact that they managed to get me to power through the entire game when I wasn’t able to on the PS2 is a great testament to this – and I enjoyed every second of it. Another great addition to the PS4 library for 2017 – rightfully taking its place among some of the other excellent remasters we’ve seen already.