Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age Review

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The Final Fantasy series is perhaps one of the oldest, most venerated, JRPG franchises out there. Ask ten different series’ fans which is the best and you’ll probably get ten different answers. Personally though, I’ve always loved the games that take place in Ivalice, which include: Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story (though not exactly a Final Fantasy game), and Final Fantasy XII. Since it’s debut on the PlayStation 2 in 2006, FFXII has held a special place in my heart, and I eagerly purchased it on the PS4 when The Zodiac Age came out in the west. With the recent release of The Zodiac Age on Nintendo Switch and Xbox One, I was once more eager to delve into one of my favorite entries in this storied franchise.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Platform: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam
Release Date: July 11th, 2017 (PS4), February 1st, 2018 (Steam), April 30th, 2018 (Western Release)
Players: 1-2 Players
Price: $49.99

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We should first discuss the gameplay of this installment, as well as the few changes made for the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One versions of the game compared to the PlayStation 4 version. For those of you who have played the PS4 version, the biggest change between that and the Switch / Xbox One is the fact that you can now change your License Boards.

With the advent of the Zodiac job system, both in the original Japanese version on PS2 and the subsequent remasters, players were originally limited to just one class, and were unable to change that class after it was chosen.

In The Zodiac Age released first on PS4, you were able to add in a second once you reached a certain point in the game, but you were still unable to change either of the chosen jobs once you made your decision. This was always a point of contention for me, because I was always afraid of choosing “weak” classes, and thus feeling unable to tackle the hardest fights in the game.

However, with the release of the Xbox One and Switch versions, you are now able to change your classes as soon as you’re able to choose your first one. This greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the game as I no longer had to fear choosing the wrong classes and not being able to tackle all the different challenges present.

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That all said, The Zodiac Age version of FFXII offers plenty of other enhancements and improvements over the base game released over a decade ago. Gone are the days of worrying about opening the “right” chests, and ignoring the forbidden ones so that you can obtain the Zodiac Spear later on.

Many of the monsters in the game have been tweaked, either becoming stronger, having their drops and steal items changed up, or having their resistances changed.

Beyond that, other changes include: changes to treasure chest items, new Gambits, all Gambits being able to be bought fairly early in game, changes to weapon and armor stats, new rules for guest characters, a fast forward option, new game modes, and many other quality of life and modern game improvements across the board.

The story and the game are still the same as what we played all those years ago, but all the various changes between the original and The Zodiac Age remaster add a breath of fresh air, and change up just enough to entice fans of the original.

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In case you have never played the original game, Final Fantasy XII was the first in the mainline series to move away from traditional turn based combat to a more action-RPG orientated style of gameplay.

Early in your adventure in FFXII, you will be able to choose a class for your characters, most of which are drawn directly from traditional Final Fantasy classes, even if they don’t use traditional class names. The Bushi, for example, is very much designed after the standard Final Fantasy Samurai class, while the Foe Breaker can be seen as this games version of the Warrior class.

The same goes with a few others, but don’t worry, as you’ll still see standard classes like Knight, Black Mage, Red Mage, Thief, White Mage, and others. As you beat the various enemies and bosses found throughout Ivalice, you will gain experience points to increase character levels, as well as job points which can be used to purchase licenses.

These licenses will increase your various stats, offer new job abilities and allow you to wear higher level arms and armor. You won’t immediately be able to equip new weapons and armor you find or purchase unless you have the correct license to equip them.

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As mentioned, combat plays out more like an action-RPG than a traditional turn based one. Each of your characters have access to things called “Gambits.” These Gambits will tell your characters what to do in various situations. There are Target Gambits as well as Action Gambits.

For instance, you can do a Gambit that reads: Party member HP < 70% <=> Cure. This will tell your character that can use the cure spell to use the it on any party member with less than 70% HP, or you can set up a Gambit so that your Black or Red Mage will use the Fire spell on any enemy weak to fire.

With the correct Gambit set up, most of the combat in FFXII: The Zodiac Age can be more or less automated. However, you can still directly control your characters and choose their actions manually if you so choose. It’s just that your auto attacks will be automated, which, for most players, is just a time saver so you’re not always just pressing attack each turn during encounters.

The story however, is where the game really shines in my opinion. Generally speaking, a standard part of all Final Fantasy stories is that they are world spanning games with the party eventually fighting some near god level entity for the fate of the planet. Final Fantasy XII isn’t like that.

Instead of running about the entire world fighting for truth, love and friendship, FFXII is a much more politically minded story that only covers a couple of countries. While you will eventually have to fight a few gods and a god level entity, you’re fighting for one country against another.

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The main issue here is the fact that two of the main party, namely Vaan and Panelo, are, more or less, fairly useless when it comes to the overall story. If they weren’t in the group, nothing would really change when it comes to how the story actually plays out. But the rest of the cast more than makes up for the overall ‘meh-ness’ of Vaan and Panelo.

The fact that The Zodiac Age is a more confined story and also much more political, to the point where many of the characters are a gray area instead of firmly defined as good or evil, really makes it pleasant contrast to other games in the Final Fantasy series. Also, if you’re a fan of the series as a whole and have played other spin off games, FFXII: The Zodiac Age ties together some other games.

Realistically speaking, FFXII is the start of the whole Ivalice series of Final Fantasy and Square-Enix games. If you have played, or are currently playing Final Fantasy XIV, you’ll learn that the world of FFXIV directly ties in with FFXII, Tactics and Vagrant Story.

Two of those games, Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story, are two of the most beloved and talked about games of the PlayStation 1 era, even if VS is more of a cult classic than a widely-loved game most people have played.

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Graphically, outside of the resolution increase and the move to HD, this is still very much a PS2 game, which works out great for playing in handheld mode on the Switch.

That isn’t to say that the game doesn’t look very very good, regardless of which system you play it on. The cinematics alone have received a much needed boost that most games from the PS2 era could stand to receive.

There is no muddiness or distorted images, playing in handheld mode or docked. Everything looks very crisp, and a lot of the blended textures have been removed. I was extremely happy to see that the cinematics just look gorgeous with the new updates.

While Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age isn’t on the same level as the much anticipated Final Fantasy VII remake, it is a very good remaster none the less, and it allows a whole new generation of gamers an experience they may not have otherwise been able to. As mentioned before, the biggest change is the new Zodiac Job System.

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It’s worth playing through FFXII one more time just to experience the changes the job system brings to the dynamics of the game, even if the story itself hasn’t been altered from the original that we played over a decade ago. If you didn’t enjoy it back then, chances are you won’t enjoy Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age.

If you did enjoy it and have forgotten most of what happened, or have never played the game at all and want to experience the Final Fantasy series transition from old school games to the newer mechanics that have been introduced in FFXIII and FFXV, then picking up Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is a great choice.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a copy purchased by Niche Gamer Staff. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

The Verdict: 8

The Good

  • Remastered graphics bring new life to a transitional game not seen in over a decade
  • The Zodiac Job system allows for new challenges and dynamics
  • No more "forbidden chests", allowing for less stress during gameplay
  • Several quality of life updates and monster changes create new challenges and shake up the older game

The Bad

  • Vaan and Panelo are still mostly useless
  • FFXII:TZA no longer follows the traditional Final Fantasy formula, which could alienate long time fans
  • Outside of the Job System and QoL updates, most of the changes are minor
Caitlin Harper

About

Born in the south but raised in military bases around the world, Caitlin has been gaming since her father first brought home an NES with Super Mario Bros. and Zelda 2. She's also a lover of all things anime, oppai and adventure.