Final Fantasy XII is the last major Final Fantasy which started development when Hironobu Sakaguchi was still at Square Enix. It was a game in development by Yasumi Matusno, also known for his work on the Final Fantasy Tactics spin-off and Vargant Story. Matsuno is praised for his creation of the world of Ivalice which is the main setting for his Final Fantasy Tactics games. Final Fantasy XII is set in the same world and despite Matsuno leaving mid-development of the original game, it still retains most of his writing and concepts.
While the original Final Fantasy XII was fairly divisive at launch among the fans, Square Enix later released an improved version of the game called the International Zodiac Job System. Unfortunately this version was never localized for the West and as a result, fans had to resort to unofficial translations. It has been close to 10 years since Final Fantasy XII was released on the PS2 and Square Enix has now finally released the International Zodiac Job System version of the game in the West with the launch of the Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age.
The Zodiac Age not only brings the new job system to the mix, it also features remastered visuals and soundtrack that should delight the fans who played the original on the PS2. The comparison between the original PS2 version of the game and the PS4 release can be seen from here or from here. There is quite a huge visual leap just in term of the resolution but that is not the only upgrade, the lighting is now revamped so it appears more natural while textures have been improved resulting in a more pleasant experience.
When Final Fantasy XII was originally released, I completed it and didn’t really consider it as memorable as some of the classic Final Fantasy games. Part of the reason was the story which felt like it just wasn’t explained properly. The main characters also lacked the charisma and personality of a Final Fantasy game, atleast for me. While The Zodiac Age attempts to improve on the gameplay and the visuals, it still retains the same story elements from the original, so atleast in this sense, I wasn’t really impressed with the remaster. However the gameplay enhancements are a welcome improvement over the original and something that elevate the experience overall.
There are two major improvements that have a rather significant impact in term of how combat plays out now. The first improvement is for the license board, which is now classified by a job system. In the original Final Fantasy XII, the license board was open for everyone so you could make your way to certain part of the board without having a clear idea of the skills and abilities. It is much more tightly integrated in the new Zodiac Age with separate license boards for each of the jobs. You can equip up to 2 license boards on each character meaning they can have 2 jobs as their specialty. This helps in easing out the customization aspects of the character so that you are focused on only utilizing and unlocking the skills that are essential for your character.
The second major improvement is with the addition of a combat speed modifier. You can press a single button to play the battle or the whole game at 2x speed. This can be bumped up to 4x in the options menu if you prefer it this way and together with the gambit system, it greatly helps in the flow of the battle. You no longer have to watch your characters repeat the same mundane tasks as set in the gambit system and instead can simply fast forward through the battle to victory. It is honestly pretty convenient feature and I wouldn’t hesitate to label it as game changer. Do you remember the secret boss Yiazmat? He no longer takes several hours thanks to this new feature provided you have the necessary gambits set up for any such challenging fights.
I wasn’t a big fan of the story and characters originally and the remaster didn’t really change my opinion but when it comes to the gameplay, the remaster has nailed out every major complaint that I had with it, making it one of the best combat system in a Final Fantasy game. I really enjoyed my time tinkering with the gambit system which I consider a great substitute for random battles, and thanks to the fast forward feature, I no longer had to watch my characters attack enemies and see their health bar drain with each hit, I could simply fast forward this and reap the rewards afterwards.
Final Fantasy XII was arguably a large step forward for the series because it ditched turn based battles for the first time and introduced a completely new combat system. While the game still retains its charm, it is hard to not feel disappointed by the lost potential here. Thankfully the combat system is as fun as ever and with the new improvements to some of the gameplay mechanics along with the improved visuals, it is hard to put down the game.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age Review (PS4)
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is an HD Remaster of the International Zodiac Job System version of Final Fantasy XII. It is being released for the first time in the West exclusively for the PS4.
The Zodiac Age basically takes many of the issues with the original Final Fantasy XII and presents a polished perfect version of them. It is also the first time we can play the International Zodiac Job System version of Final Fantasy XII.