It’s an amazing feeling whenever I get hold of any Final Fantasy game. Ever since I was a wee little ‘un I’ve always been desperate to get my hands on the latest title, and whilst some games have left me tearful, excited and wanting more (Final Fantasy VII) others have left me tearful but for all the wrong reasons (Final Fantasy XIII). Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age was no different, I played the originally when it was released in March 2006, over 10 years ago now! At the time, I hated it. It was different. It was unforgiving. It was rammed full of new features which I didn’t understand and was unheard of in a game. As I played more, I was mesmerized and fully addicted. 10 years past and I’m itching to get my hands on it again!
As you’ve probably guessed from my opening paragraph, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is a complete remaster of the original. There’s a few new and nifty features like an extra couple of licenses and some new features but nothing has really changed apart from graphics and sound. To be brutally honest, nothing needed to change. It was a great game, enjoyed by many and really loved by its fan base.
The original was released on the PlayStation 2, and now 2 generations later you’ve got it on the PlayStation 4 with up to date graphics and sound. After almost 10 years of waiting, it’s finally made its way back into our hearts and was released in the UK back on July 11th 2017 for us all to love again. Naturally the developer and publisher still remains Square Enix, because who else would develop and publish a Final Fantasy game?!
The story of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is long, interesting and somewhat complicated. That said it’s a fantastic tale filled with politics, revolutions, wars, treachery, love, lust, revenge, honor and basically, everything in-between. The story will kick you off with a bit of background knowledge. The game revolves mainly around The Kingdom of Dalmasca, a small city state which lies in the center of Ivalice. Whilst it’s remained fairly neutral, it’s neighbors Archadia and Rozarria have been waging wars between each other. Not good, huh?
In order to strengthen their standing, the princess of Dalmasca (Princess Ashe) marries Prince Rasler of another nearby kingdom so that the two may stand together against the ongoing war. Naturally, they didn’t live happily, ever after. The war carries on, Dalmasca is lost to Archadia and Prince Rasler is killed in combat. Who could have seen that one coming? Perhaps every Final Fantasy fan in the world. But hey, you’re not finished yet!
After the defeat of Dalmasca, the king travels away in order to sign a treaty with Archadia. Many spread the rumor that this is just a reason to murder their king, and a Captain of Dalmasca by the name of Bashe leads the remains of the Order of the Knight to go and save him, resulting in a tasty but short tutorial which will introduce you to the main movement and battle system. Amongst these soldiers is a young soldier by the name of Reks, who coincidentally is the older brother of our main protagonist Vaan.
After a strange turn of events, Captain Bashe executes the king single handedly before turning his sword on Reks and ultimately ends up being captured by Imperial Knights. Reks, as a result passes away, his brother Vaan is left orphaned, and with the passing of her husband and now her father, it’s announced that Princess Ashe has committed suicide and Captain Bashe has been executed for high treason.
Whilst it’s probably sounding like I’ve told you the entire game about now, this is the first 20 minutes… That’s literally the start of the game in a cutscene. If you think that sounds like your kind of thing, then go and get a copy. It’s basically Game of Thrones meets EastEnders. It’s packed full of drama, swords, brutal murders, suicides and … magic? Oh yeah, and there’s pubs and inns everywhere that everyone goes too. Add a bald guy shouting “Peggy!” Every 5 minutes and you’ve got yourself a copyright infringement lawsuit.
Throughout your adventures you’ll meet a whole host of characters with backgrounds, personalities and characteristics which are not only enjoyable but interesting. You’ll quickly find characters who suit your playstyle from the diverse group of adventurers and end up with a well-balanced team that not only suit yourself and your playstyle but who are enjoyable and fun to play with. That’s the great thing about Final Fantasy XII in the fact that any character can become anything! Yeah sure, the agile rabbit lady Fran who jumps around at the speed of light is probably going to be better with a spear or a bow than a 20-foot great sword, but it CAN be done!
Throughout your adventures you’ll get to meet the merry band of heroes, Vaan, a 17-year-old orphan who has lost his parents and his brother and one-day dreams of being a sky pirate. Ashe, a young princess who is fighting to liberate her kingdom and avenge her fallen husband. Basch, a captain who is fighting to redeem his honor. Balthier and Fran, sky-pirates and mercenaries who will do any task for a bit of gil. And, finally, Penelo… Vaan’s best friend. With a crew as wacky as this, what’s not to love?! You know it’s going to be one hell of a ride! Jinkies!
One of the major turning points of any Final Fantasy game is the combat, because throwing down a flare and some lightning magic in the middle of battle is what it’s all about, right? Whilst you’re facing your foes in the heat of battle you will need to remember that you’re skipping back through 3 different generations of games. Final Fantasy XII was the first turning point for the franchise where they really tried something new. You have a nice blend of original classic turn-based system mixed with the latest generation, actioned pack combat. Whilst it can be a little clunky at times, it’s a nice mix of strategy and trying to stay one step ahead of your target to bring you a fast paced and action-packed battle system.
Combat gets even more interesting the more you play, you’re not going to be throwing out flares just yet after all. As you progress you’ll earn quickening’s for your character and summons. Quickening’s are kind of similar to the limit breaks that we’ve seen in previous games. These powerful moves will make or break your battle and you’ll see some incredible cutscenes whilst you obliterate your enemies in a flashy and gorgeous cutscene which wil have you drooling from the mouth. What could be better than a quickening you ask? You’re wondering if you could maybe have 2 or 3 people build up quickening and use them one after another? Screw that! Use them at the same time! Quickening combo attacks are a thing and you better be prepared for them. They’ll take luck, finesse and quick reflexes to pull off, but if you can master them and get a little lucky, you can make the hardest of bosses look like an imp and crumble under your elemental destruction! Mwahahahaha!
Quickening’s are one way to go down your route, but it wouldn’t be a Final Fantasy game without summons! Well they’re back and they make their way to us in the form of Espers. Not only will you naturally unlock these through playthroughs, but there’ll also be some secret ones that you can go through and unlock at your own pace. Be prepared for the hard battles though, because in Final Fantasy, anything that’s a secret is always a struggle! Espers are a little different compared to normal. Their summoning will remove all party members except the caster from battle, they’ll fight with you as part of your time and then can use their ultimate deathblow ability to unleash havoc on their enemies.
The game will quickly introduce you to the license board feature. This works similar to the Sphere Grid in Final Fantasy X in some ways. As you fight and win battles, you’ll be given LP (license points) which can be used to purchase boards on the square. These boards will give new passive and active abilities such as skills, being able to wield equipment, increasing stats and some pretty nifty perks. The downside to this is you can only choose 1 License Board per character (at first) and once you’ve decided, that’s it!
The upside is that you actually get to choose another License Board for your character after you reach a certain point in the game. These two license boards work in tandem, so you can build your characters to really suit your playstyle and get abilities from both. Ever wanted to be a great sword wielding tank wearing full metal armor and slinging fireballs like a god damn warlord?! Well now you can!
The good thing is you can really tailor make your characters with this and adds a huge element to the game which will have you spending hours just thinking about your party’s dynamics and synergies. If you really want you can go ahead and make all the females into hard-core warriors and all the males into support characters. It’s entirely your choice! So naturally if you’re like me, everyone’s going to be wielding giant katanas and slicing and dicing their way to victory!
Story mode is fun, but you really play a game like Final Fantasy to grind (Well I do anyway). Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age was the first to really offer the hunt system. As you progress through the realm you’ll visit inns, speak to NPCs and offer your assistance everywhere in order to slay dangerous beasts to earn gil, LP and sexy equipment and become the Master Monster Hunter of the realm.
You can pick these up by just talking to people or visiting boards, but expect to have a little wander to go find the NPC who’s taken the mark out and chat to them about your target. After brutally slaying that beast, you can go back and get yourself some nice fancy new equipment, gear or just a new bit of gil to help you on your travels. It’s a nice change of pace from the long trudge of the story and gives you more of a reason to keep progressing your character to take on those nasty beasties out there!
I actually really love the hunt system. Whilst some of the games are dependent upon them and actually make it almost mandatory, Final Fantasy XII just sees it as more of a plus if you do them. It’s not compulsory (well except the first one) and doesn’t really offer anything towards the game other than the ability to be better, but if you want to go rushing through the story like Usain Bolt on steroids then you’re free to do so!
Let’s talk Gambits. Unless you’ve played Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, then Gambit will probably only refer to a marvel character who flings kinetically charged cards at his enemies (God I feel like a nerd). If you have, then you’ll already know that Gambits within the Final Fantasy XII universe are a set of rules and logic that you can apply to your characters. As you won’t be able to control all 3 of your other party members at the same time, you’ll have to set them up and give them a… wait for it! GAMBIT!!! WOOOOO!!!!
Gambits will really add a sense of strategy to your fight, and you’ll find yourself constantly chopping and changing them to really turn the tide of battle. They’re actually quite basic when you get into them and an example could be adding a gambit onto one of your characters so that they use a potion when 75%>. Final Fantasy XII was the first game in which this kind of strategy was implemented, hell it was the first game where you didn’t have any control of your characters! It was completely new, scary and the wrong decisions and haste in deciding what you do would really make or break your game.
Gambits were and still are a force to be reckoned with. They add a whole new element to a Final Fantasy game, one which we’ve never actually, seen before. They add a new level of strategy that you HAVE to think about in order to succeed, and they add a new level of interest to the player in that you can easily spend hours on end changing the dynamics and synergy of your party to really bring out the best in your characters and your battles. In my book, gambits were a welcome change, and the start of the ever-growing development of party AI.
Graphics wise, the HD remake of Final Fantasy has improved drastically. You can now make our character faces, cities, monsters, battles and actually know what’s going on. Whilst the game isn’t judged just on its graphics, the ability to now see what’s happening and really make heads of tails of things has just bumped this game up another rank. Sound has also been improved tremendously, and the graphical animations with the new level of audio has really made this game shine through again. If it didn’t already have enough to make it a great title, a new shine of coat and a lick of polish has turned a cobwebbed classic into a remastered gem.
Whilst Final Fantasy XII isn’t the strongest Final Fantasy game in the repertoire, it’s HD remakes like this that show us it was by far the weakest and continues to stand the test of time. The game was a gamble, bringing it many new elements into a developing game which has since been recaptured time and time again in its later releases of XIII and XV, many of which were improved upon and re-developed. Players are given a new level of strategy to think about, one never really seen in a Final Fantasy game before, and a new level of strategy brings a new level of danger, making fights more interesting, entertaining and action packed.
Whilst it was new at the time, it was still a great game to play and remains to this day. Many review sites have Final Fantasy XII within its top 5 lists and with just cause too. The game is incredibly fun to play with a fantastic story, battles are interesting and entertaining, the features it has really make for a huge game with many hours of playtime, the license board and gambit feature really make you think about your party composition and strategy and just to top it off, it’s now been completely enhanced with new graphics and sound. What’s not to love?! Any honest Final Fantasy fan should have played and completed this game by now, and if not, then it’s your chance to join us.
Quote: Return to Ivalice in Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age in this timeless remaster!