It’s a sad reality, but sometimes, games like Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age fly completely under the radar, regardless of the amount of content and sheer complexity it offers. Probably the worst-timed release of any Final Fantasy title, FFXII originally debuted in early 2006, which would be the same year that next-gem systems from Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft would all be on the forefront. As if that wasn’t enough to be stacked up against, the immensely Final Fantasy X, and it’s sequel were had been the only Final Fantasy releases on PS2. FFXII had to be stellar, and it was. However, the game itself seemed to be far too ahead of it’s time.
With an HD makeover, Zodiac Age could be released today and survive just fine. With a story that’s easy enough to digest and a complex system that drastically adds to replay, Zodiac Age does nothing incorrectly.
Zodiac Age stands out has a stark contrast to other popular stories. Like FFX, the HD remake allows for visuals to be appreciated all over again, but the open world of Zodiac Age allows for much more exploring and detail. The gameplay lays over the fictional land of Ivalice, where the towns, dungeons, and even open plains leave a lot to be explored. Considering that Zodiac age came after FF11, a MMORPG, and FFX, which is another great title in it’s own right, Vaan and company are given plenty of room to explore each other’s back stories while watching each other’s backs in a completely overhauled system.
Without even completing the game, players will see many different elements that would influence future Final Fantasy and Square Enix titles. FF12 broke away from the traditional turn-based battles, allowing a level of fluency that would be seen in later titles. “Gambits” are used to manipulate teammates’ actions, so you don’t even have to worry about using hi-potions when you need to (You will need to).
If you enjoyed Final Fantasy 15, Zodiac Age will be an adjustment worth making. While the battle systems aren’t exactly the same, 15 allows a bit more freedom, the open world and hunts will feel very familiar. Considering how the ending portion of FF15 didn’t have such exploration, or how linear some of the other itles are, Vaan and company offer a lot more story and gameplay than what was experienced with Tidus or Noctis.
That being said, Zodiac Age isn’t without it’s flaws. The maps on this game are monsters, and each of them are filled with rather repetitive battles, hidden traps that can result in a game over if you’re not careful, and multiple pathways that may lead you astray. It’s quite easy to take a wrong turn and end up battling enemies you are no where near ready to battle. The answer to this was a fast-forward button, which can be as clunky and strange as you think it would. Making the game move two or four times its normal speed wasn’t exactly an easy transition, but it does make grinding for levels and crossing large maps a breeze. Experienced final fantasy players can definitely appreciate the added assist for preparing for side quests and optional bosses, while newer players can use the extra speed to run around large maps that can confuse even the most experienced players.
Another added bonus to Zodiac age is the job system, which added tons of replay value to the overall experience. With six original characters, and twelve jobs to choose from, it’s up to players to decide the roles of every playable character in the game. Having a knight who has a slew of spells to throw at opponents, or a white mage who has a rifle for defense are combinations that can be made in the game. Depending on the characters’ stats, you can literally have different experiences for each walkthrough of the game.
Those combinations are all put to the test in trial mode, which is unique to this release as well. Trial mode features 100 stages of enemies for your team to go through, each progressively harder than the last. In this mode, you can gain valuable experience for your team, as well as some items that may not be necessarily available to you in the game just yet. There are no consequences for losing in trial mode, and it’s available as soon as the game begins, so you can begin racking up loot as soon as you make a save file (It’s not recommended, but it’s an easy way to boost stats early in the game).
There are tons of small tweaks as well to round out what would have been weaknesses originally. Weapons and spells all have updated looks and effects on enemies, who have also been upgraded AI systems. Zodiac Age even comes with it’s own set of custom weapons unique to this release, all of which are powerful (and very expensive).While there are a few minor loading times, they don’t take up too much time. Auto save also protects players from the unexpected gave over scenarios that happen to the best of us. The voice acting also got an upgrade, and players can pick between the English or Japanese audio for the characters. There’s also a New Game+ mode, where players can use the “strong mode” and start the game at level 90, or “weak” mode, and never level up at all.
All of these modes been together to bring back a game that may very well be classic in it’s own right. The style and flow of the game is an easy break from what had become the usual in Final Fantasy titles, and the foundation of many different features we see in later games come right out of Final Fantasy XII. Zodiac Age is a remake that makes perfect sense, and deserves a least one play through from any Final Fantasy fan. This journey through Ivalice is sure to bring back nostalgia in the best way, or give a great story some long overdue recognition.