Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

Eleven years ago, on Halloween in 2006, Square-Enix released in North America the twelfth installment of their eternally-polarizing Final Fantasy franchise for the PlayStation 2, just as the following console generation was getting under way. As the company had been doing for some time, they released an ironically-named “International” version of the game, one of its chief new features being a Zodiac Job System where the player could assign each of the main six playable characters a unique License Board, with this entry remaining in Japan. Feuds over whether the game was generally good or not gradually faded into memory, with Square-Enix eventually remastering several of their games for players that missed out on the original versions of high-profile entries, such as the tenth Final Fantasy, with the twelfth, mercifully, receiving a remaster on the PlayStation 4 not passed over for localization, entitled Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, which is very much what an enhanced port should be.

Like the original release, Zodiac uses a variation of the franchise’s active-time combat engine known as the Active Dimension Battle system, driven by A.I. options for each character known as Gambits, unlocked from License Boards. When the player takes control of one of the six primary protagonists, they can assign them a License Board from among twelve sporting specializations in terms of equipment and skills. Basically, in order for characters to use equipment or skills buyable from shops, they must first use License Points to obtain a License for the skill or equipment, with these points coming in low quantity from enemies killed on battlefields between towns and in dungeons, although a certain accessory can double License Points earned from slaughtering adversaries.

New to Zodiac is that once a character has advanced far enough on their chosen License Board, the player can choose a secondary class for them, letting them accessing more abilities. Characters can further acquire summonable Espers and special attacks known as Quickenings from their Boards. One feature that truly stands out is that the player can toggle on and off turbo mode for doubled or quadrupled speed, which really shaves superfluous playtime from the game, makes grinding for levels and License Points a cinch, and making even the most daunting boss fights go by more quickly than before. Overall, the battle system works well for the most part, although certain Gambit setups good for certain occasions can mean certain doom in others, and there are other oddities such as death not curing characters of certain status ailments.

The aforementioned turbo mode is a boon to travel, making quick trips between shops to upgrade equipment and purchase new skills, although a fast-travel method similar to the fourth and fifth Persona titles would have been welcome. There are a few points of no return, as well, though fortunately, the game actually warns players of such occasions and admonishes them to save in a spare memory slot. The game further autosaves whenever the player transitions between most chambers on an open field or in a dungeon, cutting down on wasted playtime should the player encounter a cheap antagonist that slaughters their party. Party-recovering save points are somewhat questionably placed at times, and furthermore, while pausing is available in most situations, FMVs are not pausable. In spite of these quibbles, interaction largely shines.

Zodiac’s main weakness lies with its narrative, which focuses on a Resistance against the Archades Empire led by ex-Princess of Dalmasca Ashe, and frequently feels like Star Wars confined to a single world. What really redeems the plotline, however, is its translation spearheaded by Alexander O. Smith, although things aren’t wholly perfect, with rare inconsistencies between spoken and written dialogue, and many words during the occasional narrative by a fictitious historical author capitalized for no apparent reason, with some redundant dialogue during cutscenes, as well. All in all, the storyline definitely doesn’t break new ground, but is far from repellent.

Hitoshi Sakimoto composes the bulk of Zodiac’s soundtrack, with most tracks having an epic feel, and is for the most part superb, in spite of some occasional silent moments. The English voice acting is great as well, although there are rare moments where voices don’t always match lips. Overall, the game sounds excellent.

The remastered visuals look nice as well, with believable character models and superb FMVs, although there seem to be many spots in the scenery where the remastering team didn’t bother, given some blurry and pixilated texturing at points.

Finally, with the turbo mode, total playtime is somewhere between a half and a third of the original version’s, from one to two days’ worth of experience, more should the player indulge in the additional content and/or New Game+.

In the end, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is an ideal roleplaying game remaster, with its turbo mode, for instance, significantly reducing the fluff and grinding necessary in the original version, even making the initial PlayStation 2 release seem terrible at best, and has plenty of other highlights such as more available save opportunities when transitioning between areas, the solid localization, the superb soundtrack and voicework, the pretty visuals, and plentiful content to extend total playtime. There are some minor issues with regards to control, the plotline is derivative at best, a few odd localization choices abound, and there are some blemishes in the visual style, but the sheer amount of altered and additional content make this remaster worth a look from both those who enjoyed the original version and those that either didn’t care much for the initial release or missed out on it the first time.

The Good:
+Turbo mode is awesome feature.
+Autosaving when going between rooms, as well.
+Translation enhances cutscenes.
+Great audio.
+Nice visuals.
+Plenty lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Some interface quibbles.
-Story is basically Star Wars confined to a single world.
-A few odd localization choices.
-Common graphical oversights.

The Bottom Line:
A great enhanced remaster appealing to newcomers and fans of the original.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 4
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 8/10
Story: 7/10
Localization: 8/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Playing Time: 1-2 Days

Overall: 8.5/10

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