It's been over a decade but Vaan and gang are back for a remade version of their fantastic adventure. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age not only looks better, there are enough upgrades to make it feel like a fresh experience even in this day and age.
I understand that calling Final Fantasy XII "the best in the series" may seem somewhat controversial to some but I stand by that notion. I've been playing the Final Fantasy series obsessively ever since the first title on the NES. Over the years, Final Fantasy VI remained my favourite of the franchise. When I first saw Final Fantasy XII, I blew it off at the time as I thought it looked nothing like a Final Fantasy game. Then, during the summer of 2008, I bought a used copy of it for very cheap so I could try it for myself. Little did I know that whole summer would be consumed by the world of Ivalice just like it was back in 1998 when I played through Final Fantasy Tactics.
Now that The Zodiac Age is upon us, all of the incredible memories came flooding back as I traversed the familiar albeit more beautiful Ivalice. The graphics may not be as realistic as many other modern games but they are spot-on to craft a memorable and immersive world. Also, the redone soundtrack is superb and complements the fantastical atmosphere wonderfully. Simply put, running around the vast open environments while listening to the gorgeous orchestral music makes for an unmatched experience in gaming. It's so astounding that it's difficult for me to think of any game that comes close to Final Fantasy XII's inspiring sense of adventure.
Of course, graphics and sound aren't everything. The Zodiac Age also includes a few additional gameplay elements. The most notable of which is the fact that characters no longer just have one license board each. Now, they can eventually choose two jobs (from a total of twelve) that have different license boards to master. This creates a much more satisfying party growth dynamic as everything from carefully planning who should have which job to unlocking some unique licenses is incredibly rewarding.
The license board / job system may be the primary element of character growth but there is so much more to it and it all comes together to form an ultimately cohesive system. The most enjoyable aspect of growing your party is exploring the vast environments contained within Ivalice. Searching every nook and cranny for interesting goodies, hunting enormous monstrosities, and discovering plenty of shops is so much fun. Speaking of which, unloading your collected loot then buying some unique items in the bazaar and everything from potions to spells that you didn't even realise were available makes each trip to a town a well-earned treat for your efforts.
Final Fantasy XII's story is mainly told through two perspectives: a personal one via your six party members and a more large-scale one as we see political leaders meet and hear the narrator (Marquis Halim Ondore IV) describe the struggles throughout the land. I found the plot to be a lot more mature and nuanced than most games where it usually boils down to good vs. evil. I loved seeing what motivated both the well-intentioned and power-hungry. I can see how gamers looking for a more immediately gratifying story could be put off by this but I absolutely love it. The cast of characters definitely aren't as out-there as in other Final Fantasy titles but their subtlety and distinct personalities more than make up for it. In other words, they're memorable but not for the reasons that you'd expect.
One aspect of Final Fantasy XII that still impresses me is just how diverse the world of Ivalice is. From sunny beaches to winter wastelands and treetop jungles to desert hideouts, there are so many different places to visit. The monsters and citizens that live in these areas also add to the variety. You'll come across humans (humes), tall bunny-like women (viera), lizard-looking dudes (bangaa), mysterious masked folks (garif), and tons of cute little moogles. The assortment of monsters is impressive, too, with plenty scattered around the lands as well as a load of optional ones created just to hunt. Of course, there are tons of imaginative bosses to take on, too.
Fighting the monsters is a ton of fun and you can do so using an abundance of strategies. For example, when I first played it on PlayStation 2, I manually entered everyone's actions. This time around, I actually used the gambit system for some rudimentary artificial intelligence then just handled special circumstances such as healing status ailments and exploiting enemy weaknesses myself.
Although I absolutely love Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, it's still not a perfect game. My biggest complaint about it is that some sections of the campaign can go on a bit too long and it ends up being a bit tedious as a result. Having to travel through a handful of areas to reach your next destination is thrilling at first but it's hard not to feel a little exhausted after a while. Some dungeons are enormous, too, and can be rather draining. This isn't a big complaint by any means but it's definitely worth mentioning.
On top of that, I came across a few annoying aspects that frustrated me a bit. Once, a guest party member kept using my items that I put a lot of work into collecting. Imagine my surprise when I opened my inventory to see that all of my potions were gone. Also, when I was selecting which jobs to use for my party members (which is a permanent decision), I forgot that I already assigned someone the white mage job so I accidentally made two characters white mages and therefore didn't get to utilize all twelve available jobs. There were more minor annoyances like these but those two examples come to mind because they made me especially irritated.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age took one of the best games ever created and made it even better. The addictive gameplay, sophisticated story, and enormous yet immersive world have never been more enjoyable. In the end, this is one must-have remake.
- + Vast, diverse, and immersive world that's extremely satisfying to fully explore
- + Incredible characters and engaging story
- + Super-rewarding character growth dynamic
- - Some travelling segments and dungeons can go on for a bit too long
- - A few miscellaneous annoying aspects may hamper the experience a little