I freely admit that Final Fantasy XII is my favorite numbered Final Fantasy game. When it was originally released in 2006, I was completely enthralled with the epic story that took parts of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (before most people even knew what it was), parts of Star Wars, and the best tropes of the Final Fantasy series and mashed them all together with a intuitive and fun combat system, a unique upgrading mechanic, and graphics that, at the time, pushed the power of the late-in-its-life PS2 to the brink. And now, Square Enix has remastered the game in HD for the PlayStation 4, with Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age.
The remastered Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age includes newly recorded orchestrations of the iconic music — some of the best in the series, in my opinion, updated graphics, the ability to speed up play, and a new “job” system that revamps the License Board into separate job classes, making character progression easier. To put it simply, the best game in the series is now better in every way.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is the story of Vaan, a street kid in the city of Rabanastre, in the kingdom of Dalmasca, who gets sucked into a major conflict between the Archadian Empire and the resistance, led by a deposed princess and her retinue of loyal followers, including a “king slayer.” Throw in a handsome, snarky sky pirate, and his tall, strangely sexy bunny-eared co-pilot, and Vaan’s childhood friend Penelo, and the team is set for the best 50-60 hours of Final Fantasy ever.
The story is brutal, as it doesn’t dumb down anything. Regicide is only one small part of the machinations going on with characters back stabbing one another, and it’s all set in the world of Ivalice, which is best known from the Final Fantasy Tactics series of games. So the cool races, like the Viera, Seeq, and Bangaa, and the law-giving Judges, are prevalent during your epic journey. And there are airships, crystals, chocobos, and even a character named “Cid” to further cement this as a core Final Fantasy game.
Combat is more of a hybrid of the MMORPG that was the online-only Final Fantasy XI, where you can choose to attack or run from the creatures you see roaming the massive world, and the land is filled with things that will kill you, some even at much higher levels — right from the start. Hint: run from those guys for the first 20 hours or so. The player utilizes the “Gambit System” which allows you to assign certain combat roles for the characters you aren’t controlling, and you can even opt to set up Gambits for the party leader too. The new job system restricts characters from becoming too powerful and forces them to play their roles, which works. Though I do miss having multi-skilled characters who can heal, use black magic, and still be proficient with their weapons.
Using the license board to “pay” for the legal right to use a sword or shield or bow adds another interesting wrinkle, and is exclusive to the Ivalice-based FF games. The optional Hunts allows the player to gain clan points and reap big rewards by taking out bigger monsters for gil and glory. This takes the place of side quests and just adds more to do in an already lengthy game.
The music has been re-recorded with new orchestrations. The player has the option to switch out with the original score, but the new mixes are wonderful, and really make Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age feel epic. There is a speed up option, which gives the player the ability to increase the overall speed of the game. I’m not a fan of this, and it is optional.
Even with the HD polish on the character models, this is still a game from two generations ago, and the character models suffer. They look much better than they did on the PS2, but no where near as gorgeous as, say, last winter’s Final Fantasy XV. The art direction still pops off the screen and the graphical upgrade can be seen most in the backgrounds and the monsters that you will spend hours grinding against.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age suffered much by its release and many people overlooked it back in 2006. The Xbox 360 was a year into its lifecycle, and the PS3 and Nintendo Wii came out around the same time that Square Enix released this incredible game. Because of that, many gamers missed out on one of the best Final Fantasy games in the storied franchise, and now that can be rectified by this wonderful and welcome re-release.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is available now for the Playstation 4. This review is based off a copy of the game purchased at retail.
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