The Final Fantasy series has gone through many iterations over the years. It should come as no surprise many of the titles have been re-released and remastered in one form or another. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is one example, bringing what many consider one of the most controversial installments of the franchise to modern audiences. This version includes the expected visual and performance upgrades. It also introduces some features that had previously been exclusive to Japan. However, more than a decade after its original release, just how does this game hold up compared to contemporary RPGs?
The somewhat hit-and-miss story takes place in the land of Ivalice, a familiar continent for Final Fantasy fans. The ruling factions of Imperial Archadia and the Rozarrian Empire have become bitter enemies, waging war on each other. The fallout has left small countries like Dalmasca at the mercy of invading forces. However, this is just setting the scene for the main plot that takes place some two years after these events.
Vann, an annoying young thief who dreams of bigger things, gets caught robbing the palace in Dalmasca. He ends up joining the sky pirates Balthier and Fran. Soon, he teams up with another three characters: the princess Ashe, the disgraced knight Basch, and his childhood friend Penelo. This ragtag group sets out to save a princess from the clutches of Imperial Archadia. Ultimately, they must overthrow the forces that have taken over Dalmasca.
It is a story that is far less reliant of fantasy tropes and more of a swashbuckling adventure. The influence of Star Wars has been well documented since the original game’s release in 2006. Obviously, this allows for a more fun approach that people can get invested in more easily.
But, there are some drawbacks to the story in a game that lasts dozens of hours. Without sufficient depth or detail in the overarching story, The Zodiac Age begins to wane toward the end, as there is simply not enough plot to stretch over this much playing time.
For what it’s worth, most of the main cast of characters are interesting and will keep you wanting to find out more about their lives. A notable exception is the main character, Vaan, who would be better being excised from the entire game.
What makes The Zodiac Age stand out from many other Final Fantasy titles is the gambit combat system. Combat departs from the turn-based system used in previous installments to something more like real-time battles. Gambits allow you to set each of your party with pre-programmed commands that they will follow during encounters with enemies. These can range from healing characters when their health reduces to a specific level to clearing status effects.
You can create more complicated scripts, giving plenty of options when it comes to taking on the next group of mobs. Want to constantly weaken enemies to elemental attacks and then cast that particular spell at the right time? You can do that with the gambit system. These combinations are pretty much endless, so you can experiment with them and come up with the best for your play style. Despite the work involved in setting these scripts up, it is immensely satisfying to see them play out in battles.
One of the main problems with Final Fantasy XII is that the first half of the game is nowhere near as good as the second. Getting through the early parts can feel like a chore far too often, as the plot and gameplay drag their feet before they both begin to improve dramatically.
This remaster has tried to address that problem by including a fast forward function. You can choose between forcing time to pass either two or four times faster than normal. While it is a nice addition and does make some of the more frustrating sections of the game better, I can’t help but think it is a rather blunt tool to bypass the problem instead of actually fixing it.
Audio and Visuals
The Zodiac Age has its ups and downs when it comes to presentation as well. Despite some graphical improvements, it still very much looks like a game out of its time. There can also be a few performance issues that, when combined with the less-than-stellar visuals, mean you won’t be confusing this with a top-of-the-line new release.
But the audio is a different story. Final Fantasy XII already had an absolutely outstanding soundtrack and each track has been remastered. Nobuo Uematsu’s score is elevated to new levels and it is perhaps the greatest single contributor to making this title so beloved. Little details like the sound effects and voice acting are equally as high in quality as the music.
While it can be difficult to make a remaster just as significant as the original game, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age does just that and more. It brings everything that was so good onto modern hardware whilst simultaneously adding a number of improvements that actually make this a better game than the one you might have played in 2006. For those who have never played this game, now might be the perfect time to jump on board and really give it a chance to shine.