Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (PlayStation 4) Review

By Drew Hurley 21.07.2017 1

Review for Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age on PlayStation 4

Final Fantasy XII was the first in the legendary franchise to begin to break away from what Final Fantasy was to what it has now become. It managed to balance an interesting dichotomy, combining elements from series history, such as the world of Ivalice, the magical crystals, and species like the Viera, with the new action-based combat and the introduction of automated gameplay through the Gambit system. Despite the game receiving a very positive critical reception and numerous awards, it is rarely reminisced with the same level of love as the others in the series. What is it that makes it so forgettable, and can this remaster reintroduce or perhaps even entice a new audience?

Step into the world of Ivalice, Yasumi Matsuno's world that has played the backdrop to Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII, an upcoming raid series in Final Fantasy XIV, and maaaybe even Vagrant Story. For the latter game, a glance at a map of Ivalice shows hero Ashley's home Valendia taking up a sizeable chunk of the north. Side note: no game is more deserving of a sequel, HD remaster, or any type of rebirth than Vagrant Story. It's amazing and a title everyone needs to experience.

Back on topic. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age opens with a familiar setting: a war between the huge empires rages, and trapped in the crossfire is the peaceful land of Dalmasca. A Princess of Dalmasca becomes a rebel freedom fighter after the empire takes her beloved's life, and teams up with a disgraced general, a charming sky pirate, and a rogue Viera beauty to try and overcome this evil empire. Oh, and there's a pair of street rat kids who somehow worm themselves into the story.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age on PlayStation 4

The game was helmed by an amazing roster of talents: director Yasumi Matsuno of Vagrant Story fame, and Hiroyuki Ito, director of Final Fantasy IX. Matsuno was handpicked by series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi to manage this latest instalment. While the story is immediately captivating, easily establishing a rich world filled with some likeable characters (emphasis on some - more on this later), it's interesting to note the plot very noticeably drops off in quality around the halfway point of the game - a strange coincidence considering that the director of the game, Yasumi Matsuno, had to leave the project suddenly. This has always been reported as being due to health issues (the truth is unlikely to ever be revealed), but suffice to say his absence had a huge impact on the final product. There is a clear point where it feels like the game "changes hands," very much like Mass Effect 3.

It's not just at this point the story stumbles, though; there's a big glaring problem throughout. That problem is named "Vaan." The main character of this instalment is a dull and charmless little worm, as is his girlfriend Penelo. Originally, Basch was planned to be the main character. Sadly, this was changed as the development continued. Test audiences were looking for youthful and happy characters to take stage - but it was such a mistake. So many superb other characters fill the roster, and each could have taken up the role of hero. When Balthier arrives, he says, "I play the leading man, who else?" If only that were true. He's such a more interesting character than Vaan and his stupid abs. As is Fran, as is Ashe, and Basch… Even Penelo… as awful as she is, too.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age on PlayStation 4

As polarising as Vaan is, so is the combat system. After Final Fantasy X broke away from the long-time ATB system to a true turn-based combat experience, Final Fantasy XII broke even further, creating a more action-based combat system, which can actually be set up for the party to play itself. Utilising a party of three, every character can have rules applied via the "Gambit" system, which can set up "If X, then Y" style rules to control their behaviour. This can be used for both attacking and supporting; for example, "If Party Member status = Poison, then cast antidote," or "If enemy HP = 100% cast Libra." At first, this is limited to only a handful of Gambits that can be set up in a priority order, but many more can be unlocked from something called the "Licence Board."

In the original release, the Licence Board was reminiscent of Final Fantasy X's Sphere Grid, a behemoth to trek across, unlocking abilities, stat boosts and the ability to use equipment. This version of the Licence Board gives name to the remaster, splitting the board up into twelve individual grids based on each sign of the Zodiac and indeed upon each job available. Each character can select two of these boards, which assigns them two jobs that are locked for the duration of the game, and grant specialised unlockables based on the job. It makes for some further replayability, too, playing with different job combinations.

There's more to this remaster than just the overhauled presentation, though. There are brand-new features and gameplay elements, along with quality of life improvements and elements from the International version all bundled in to make this the best possible version of Final Fantasy XII.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age on PlayStation 4

In regards to the quality of life improvements, the original game had some real issues with the pacing and size of the game. Players would often find themselves completely lost and having to backtrack the same maps over and over to try and work out just where they were meant to go. To help with this, the increased speed mode from the International release is included here, allowing for the game to be played at 2X and 4X speed, setting the party to comedy sprinting through each screen with just a click of L1.

The accelerated mode is a fantastic solution to so many of the game's flaws. Grinding up Licence Points is a breeze thanks to this feature combined with smart Gambit setups for speedy enemy grinding. Ticking off each of the many bounty hunt style "Mark" side-quests no longer means hours spent running across map after map after map. Exploring is also made easier thanks to a new overlay map.

For those craving a new challenge, too, there's a "Trial Mode" that is available immediately upon starting up the game, before even stepping a foot into the story. This mode sets the player out across varied maps on hunts for specific enemies. It's a considerable challenge. It's not wise to attempt to undertake this before heading into the game, though; it's made for high-level parties, which can be imported from the main game. Even veteran players won't get far without a high-level team. It also rewards some absurdly powerful equipment very quickly, which can be imported into the main game and ruin the experience, making a regular playthrough far too simple. Finally, there's also a New Game +, which is self-explanatory, and a New Game -, which means characters gain no experience!

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

A long-forgotten joy that deserves to stand side by side with the best of the franchise. There are so many great elements that all combine for such a special experience. The soundtrack from Hitoshi Sakimoto is filled with such a wide variety of tracks, ranging from grand orchestral themes, like the self-titled "Final Fantasy" to the light cheerful tones played throughout towns and some fantastic battle music. All of these sound even better here, reworked with 7.1 surround sound. The models and designs look stunning. The story falters, but still tells a gripping tale. Most importantly, however, the gameplay is ridiculously addictive, with the quality of life enhancements addressing most of the problems with the original. A must-buy for both those who played the PS2 version and those who missed it. Fantastic.

Developer

Square Enix

Publisher

Square Enix

Genre

Real Time RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Did you get the standard version of this? I want to know if the original PS2 soundtrack is included by default. There was a collector or limited edition that was advertising a download code for the PS2 OST, making it sound like you could only play the original OST by buying that version. I would be really annoyed if that's the case and you can't pick between both by default in the standard game.

Edit: Found out both the original PS2 and remastered OSTs are in the game. The bonus OST DLC with the CE/LE is an enhanced OST of the original PS2 one that you could buy way back when, supposedly sounding crisper than the PS2 original, so if you did get that, it means you get to pick from 3 OSTs in the game, not the standard 2. Seems like an odd thing to include as a bonus DLC, and a very confusing message from SE on this whole scenario.

( Edited 25.12.2017 06:15 by Azuardo )

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