Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
War is cruel. The Archadian Empire is ruthless and deceptive as ever, and the fall of Prince Rasler sends the rest of the kingdom of Dalmasca into a state of grief, so much so that it was announced that the Princess had committed suicide. Now the King has been assassinated by your trusted Captain, and the Empire has dominated. What hope is there for Dalmasca?
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, officially released on 11 July 2017 by Square Enix, is the HD-Remastered version of the Japanese-only “Final Fantasy XII: International Zodiac Job System” game that was released in 2007, as part of the Final Fantasy 20th Anniversary, for the PlayStation 2. The original game received many awards, including Best Game and Game of the Year in 2006. This game introduced many innovations to the Final Fantasy series, such as an open world split into zones, a seamless active battle system, controllable camera and customisable tactic/”gambit” system that allows the player to set commands that controls the AI characters in battle, and more that will be mentioned later. 10 years have passed, and in that time, the series has seen many more improvements and innovations, further strengthening the fans’ need for the Final Fantasy series.
A Sandy Beginning
If you read my Final Fantasy XV review, you’ll know I hadn’t played Final Fantasy in many years, and unfortunately never experienced XII when it was first released either, but now that these games are being Remastered and Re-released for current generation consoles, I can finally catch up with what I missed out on. There was a major hype about the HD-Remaster called: “The Zodiac Age”, so my expectations were raised quite highly. Unfortunately, it was raised a bit too high. Keep in mind that this isn’t necessarily a reflection on the game itself, and even though I do have a few personal discrepancies with the game that I will share, there are quite a lot of good things about “Zodiac Age”. I will first share my experience, and then tell you about the wonderful changes and additions made.
Following the premise of the beginning paragraph to this review, the story revolves around Vaan, an energetic and impulsive orphan of Rabanastre, who dreams of having his own airship and becoming a sky pirate and his childhood friend Penelo, who Vaan grew up with when his parents were killed as a result of the war. Penelo’s parents were also killed, so they stayed with an old yet popular shopkeeper named Migelo. Against Penelo’s protests, Vaan breaks into Rabanastre palace during a dinner celebration for the appointing of the Archadian Prince; Vayne Solidor, as consul. He finds a piece of magicite in the treasury, and gets discovered by Balthier and Fran, a pair of Sky Pirates who were also looking for the magic crystal. The three escape as the Dalmascan Resistance, led by Amalia, assault the palace. They are caught just before leaving the sewers however, and get sent to the Nalbina dungeons. During their breakout from the prison, they encounter Basch, the aforementioned Captain who was blamed for killing the King. Here comes the first plot twist where you learn that his Twin brother Gabranth was the real culprit. You later get reunited with Penelo, as well as Amalia, who turns out to be Princess Ashe, and learn that the purpose of the magicite that you stole was to prove that Ashe was of royal blood and is the rightful ruler of Dalmasca. You journey together with Basch, Balthier, Fran, Penelo, and Ashe, to get rid of Vayne and reinstate Ashe as the Queen of Dalmasca, and ultimately, for Vaan to get his airship and become a sky pirate.
When I started with the game, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of the story, and then once I was playing, it took me a full 10 hours to start to get a grip on what the story is really about. Up until then, I wasn’t sure if the story was about Vaan becoming a sky pirate, or if it was going to end up being a search for a long lost royal relative, or if it was going to end up being all about the complete and utter destruction of the Empire (I had my money on the last one). It took quite a while for the story to gain momentum, and once it did, I didn’t feel overwhelmingly determined to see it through. Vaan basically just gets swept up in the whirlwind of everything because he wanted to steal the magicite. And because he gets swept up, poor Penelo gets swept up, because of her obvious feelings for him. Thank goodness for that though, cause otherwise Basch might never have been freed, so that they might find Princess Ashe. I really liked Balthier’s character though, to be honest. His theatrical personality and humour makes a lot of the cutscenes very enjoyable, and his relationship with Fran is rather touching. Another thing I need to admit is that the voice acting was a bit confusing sometimes in terms of the accents. Some of the accents don’t even seem to fit the “Arabian” feel/setting.
One of the things that a lot of people were excited about was the Gambit system, which was also part of the original game, and makes combat really satisfying if you have the right tactics in place. Gambits are essentially used to manage your party’s tactics during battle. Your party members will automatically take action during battle based on the instructions you have pre-set and depending on the situations they get faced with. If done properly, you can even go AFK during a battle and everybody, including the character you are controlling, will adhere to the instructions you have put in place. You can find many guides on Youtube already for AFK Leveling using Gambits, and I recommend looking at a few, mainly to get an understanding on how to properly use the Gambit system if you find yourself struggling to do so. In short, Gambits are very helpful when encountering enemies in the overworld. Battles unfold in real time using the “Active Dimension Battle” (ADB) System by coming within range of an aggressive enemy; The party will attack an enemy, or a story event initiates a confrontation. When an enemy or party member begins an action, a target line will connect characters to other party members or enemies depending on the types of actions, which also get represented by different colours.
Another thing that many fans were excited about is the “Zodiac Job System” which is essentially choosing a class for your playable characters. This is a huge change from the original game, where all characters were able to use all kinds of magic, use all kinds of armor and all kinds of weapons. There are 12 “Job Licences”, represented by different Zodiac signs. Once you’ve chosen a Licence for a character, you unlock that specific Licence Board to start spending Licence Points and unlock abilities, gambit slots, equipment levels, increased ability powers and action speeds, accessory types, etc. and special types of Abilities called “Quickenings”. These Quickening Abilities are similar to Limit Breaks from games prior to XII, and it doesn’t use MP, but instead has a Mist gauge that indicates when you can use a Quickening spell. Each character can learn three Quickenings, which are unique to that character. If more than one character has learnt a Quickening spell, then these characters can string together Quickenings into large combo attacks, called Mist Chains, via timed button presses; This deals incredible damage. And like most RPG Games, characters level up by gaining EXP (Experience Points) from defeating enemies, and this increases each character’s statistics to improve their performance in battle. Quests don’t give any EXP, even in this Remastered edition, but each and every enemy yields EXP and LP (Licence Points).
Everything In High-Def!
Literally everything has been given a High-resolution upgrade in this game. The backgrounds, environments, characters, and even 2D parts that include fonts! This isn’t even mentioning the movie cinematics, which is refreshing, because I have often seen game remasters where the cinematics haven’t been given any kind of graphic overhaul or upgrade. The audio has even been upgraded, now adding 7.1ch surround sound support, and High-quality voice sounds. You can switch between the English and Japanese voices at any point in the game configuration menu. The Original Soundtrack for the game has also been remastered and re-recorded, with an addition of 8 new tracks even, and you can switch between the Original and the Remastered versions at any point too, through the configuration menu. When the two switch, you can hardly hear the changeover. It’s almost as though there’s a DJ doing the mixing in the background scenes of the game. There is a clear difference between the two soundtracks, but the changeover is so seemless, I can find no fault.
Can loading times also be High-Definition? Well, the loading times are pretty darn short. I often found that I couldn’t even use the time while the loading screen was visible to get a glass of water. I’d be out the door and the environments and characters will be ready for input. Another change that’s been added is that there is a High-speed mode available to speed up gameplay by pressing L1. This has even been improved upon from the Japanese Exclusive version, improving the play time operability during high-speed mode. And while running around in the overworld, you can have a transparent overlay map hovering over the screen that displays a big portion of the area map while exploring.
The game doesn’t have an intro sequence, so when you load up the game, you are immediately greeted by the Main Menu. Here you can choose the standard options of Start Game, Load Game, and Configuration, but you’ll also see another option that wasn’t there in the original title. Trial Mode has been added, which is a 100 stage survival mode you can start playing not long after starting the main game. You use the party that you have in the main save game to battle enemies that get progressively more difficult, and story elements also get revealed in the Trial Mode. It’s pretty fun and totally worth it, and if you love a challenge, then this is definitely something for you to look at.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is charming in many ways, but like I mentioned before, the story didn’t grip me as strongly as the newer ones. I do however find myself being pulled back because of the game mechanics. The battle system is interesting, and I enjoy the strategy required to set up Gambits for all of the characters. Later on, you get to choose a second Licence for your playable characters, which keeps the combat interesting. The HD Textures were really well done, comparing it to the original title. I enjoyed the cinematics the most. In the end, I can honestly say my experience was pleasant, but not mind-blowing. Still, long-time Final Fantasy fans will not be disappointed with this, especially if they approach it with a similar mindset they had for the original title. All the changes will make it feel like a new game, but with the same story, and better graphics and audio. You can get your own copy for PS4 at BTGames for R835.00.