Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is not a new entry in the storied Final Fantasy series, but instead a fancy remaster of the decade old PS2 classic, Final Fantasy XII. In this remaster, Square-Enix tweaked gameplay mechanics to bring the game up for more modern standards. But how does it stack up if placed next to not just the original version of XII but also other Final Fantasies that have been released since then in the past decade?
The core story of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age remains unchanged, you are still Ashe, Balthier and company trying to restore the small kingdom of Dalmasca to glory and stop dictator Vayne Solidor’s devious plot of taking over the world with the power of his Judges, army and the nethicite ores. To be honest, for anyone who’s familiar with typical JRPG tropes will be thrown off by the story presented in XII, since it is anything but a JRPG story. It borrows elements more so from western media and is heavily influenced by things such as Star Wars, Star Trek, etc. Thankfully, this grounds the story and makes it easily more accessible compared to the plots of Final Fantasy XIII and XV — you actually get to understand why the villains are doing what they do and it makes total sense!
Visually there are slight graphical upgrades here and there with everything appearing much smoother and vibrant then originally presented on the PS2. Nothing is as washed out as it once was and I believe also, more characters can appear on screen both in towns and out in the fields now due to the power of the PS4. However in this day and age, you can’t really critique The Zodiac Age on the merits of it’s visuals since it is a PS2 game being played on a PS4 system in the end. It’s going to look a bit dated in many ways. So you have to weigh more heavily on the combat changes, sound enhancements and other additions put into the remaster.
Combat itself hasn’t been changed in the slightest, you still get to program the party AI through the use of gambits, effectively having a preset-action for each and every situation you can think of. However the actual leveling and unlocking of skills is radically different compared to the original release on the PS2. In The Zodiac Age, it borrows the Job System presented in the Japanese version of Final Fantasy XII — known over there as the International Zodiac Job System — where each of the six characters can only have two jobs throughout the entire game and they can’t have something that someone else already has. So this requires even more planning and preparation to make sure you have your characters exactly how you want them to be.
Sound wise, the music has been re-orchestrated and rearranged, you can also choose between using the re-orchestrated music or the music from the original. Also, if you pre-ordered the game and received the steel-book edition instead, you can choose to listen to the original soundtrack while playing the game. Yet, I don’t believe the voice acting was ever updated and changed itself. Instead it sounds like they just took the voice work from the original version and added it into the Zodiac Age. In which case, you can tell by the choppy sound quality when the characters talk, there’s a strange muffle to it all.
Other slight tweaks is the inclusion of 2X and 4X game speeds, which makes the game much faster and easily transversal, yet still maintains the same audio speeds. Also there is an inclusion of a full screen, overhead map that can be popped up at anytime as you explore. Yet, this causes the UI to be too cluttered, especially during combat. Also there is an extra mode, Trial Mode, that once completed will unlock a New Game Plus mode.
One of the draw backs that I’ve had with this game is — and this was prevalent in the original release years ago too — was the camera. At times it gets too close to your characters in narrow passages and hallways during combat, causing it to block out the entire view as you stare at a close up of the party leader’s back. While you can hold down the L2 trigger to focus the camera back on the enemy, it is rather ineffective for flying enemies and will crop off their heads and health meters at times — especially if you’re indoors. But this is really the only issue I’ve had with the game, outside of my sometimes bad gambit choices overriding certain actions in the heat of the moment.
In the end, The Zodiac Age should be something to look into, especially if you haven’t played the original at all or in a very long time. Or if you feel that modern Final Fantasy stories are convoluted and way too messy of a plot to pay attention to. It kinda makes you wish that Square-Enix can go back to the simpler days where the stories made sense.
The Zodiac Age is a story worth retelling.