Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Albert Lichi 26.08.2019

Review for Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age on Nintendo Switch

Many might consider Final Fantasy XII to be the PlayStation 2 swan song. It was a very ambitious role-playing game in its time considering the hardware limitations of its day. The vast scale it achieved rivals some games today since Square was building a large open-ended world that was broken up into chunks. For one reason or another, Vaan and the gang just did not resonated the same way previous Final Fantasy games did. After some tweaking and added a bevy of quality of life features, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age becomes the definitive way to explore Dalmasca and now it has made its way onto the Nintendo Switch.

Everything about Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age seems like it should have been a true classic. It has a lot going for it: a mature story, beautiful graphics that aged gracefully, a strategic combat system and huge world to explore full of side quests. Yet despite of all these desirable qualities, it does not do any of them exceptionally well. The mature story features an intensely stupid protagonist and a cast of very dry personalities. The visuals, while timelessly rendered, gets undercut by level design that is extremely cookie-cutter and the same assets are constantly being reused. The combat and character progression makes the cast interchangeable with no real distinct qualities to speak of while being used while fighting the same pallet swapped enemies for dozens of hours.

Set in Ivalice, the world that Yasumi Matsuno crafted for his operatic and Shakespeare inspired RPGs; the Kingdom of Rabanastre is now under occupation of the Archadian Empire after losing a war. The plot is dense with history that feels like it has been set in motion for quite some time and it can feel like walking into the middle of a movie theatre in the first opening hours. It does not take long to grasp the basics but the story always feels like it is keeping the player at arms length away and is not interested in getting too personal. Things get really confusing when the narrator is reintroduced as a major character many hours in and it is made very clear that he is an extremely unreliable source of information. Everyone who is not Vaan or Pennelo always knows more than they are willing to say and the game gleefully keeps everyone's allegiances and motives murky until it is too late. The story is not even that hard to follow, it is fairly simple and bordering on pedestrian but by have the plot rely so much on tons of characters be liars or backstabbers in one way or another it gets numbing after a while. Things that should be a shocking twist just stop being meaningful since Ivalice is basically populated by liars.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age on Nintendo Switch

When Final Fantasy XII originally came out it aimed to take aspects from the the MMORPG, Final Fantasy XI but as a single player RPG. Combat happened in real time and there would be no transitions to a separate battle area. The idea was to make everything smooth and seamless while managing a three character party with a fully controllable 3D camera. This was an interesting concept that gets less compelling when looking deeper to realize that there is not much to differentiate the characters from another. The Zodiac Age updated port tries really hard to rectify the lack of individuality by implementing a half-hearted attempt to recreate the job-class system. Even with this, there really is no way to make any of these heroes distinct since it does not really matter who gets what job or sub-job. The real depth and strategy to character building actually lies in the gambit system which is effectively programming the game's AI to do most of the work. This, compounded with the The Zodiac Age's double or quadruple speed modes can make it so anyone can make completely autonomous combat murder teams who can do lots of grinding in a matter of minutes. Playing the game in this manner can make it extremely easy to max out license grids before acquiring the first summon in under 10 hours. The zodiac job specific grids are not thought out logically either since apparently in Ivalice, boys need to have a license just to wear a hat or a a shoe. The equipment grid nodes are obvious filler and since a lot of the grids might have these slots out of order, it can make most of the weaker equipment slots totally worthless.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age on Nintendo Switch

Sometimes an enjoyable RPG can get by thanks to a likeable cast. Even if the gameplay is sloppy or illogical, a bunch of characters that are fun or interesting can make a huge difference. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age's protagonists have very flat personalities, save for Basch and Balthier. Fran never contributes anything to the main plot and Pennelo is borderline nonexistent outside of a couple of quips. Lady Ashe barely has a discernible character- she should be a spoiled Princess who is in over her head, but she just comes off as a slightly aloof fashion model. Vaan is where Final Fantasy XII truly stumbles because he has almost no stakes in the story. His motives make no sense and why he is hanging around the rest of the cast is never explained. This is why so many people have had trouble resonating with Final Fantasy XII; the characters are not interesting and are really boring. It is even questionable why Vaan is the protagonist because the character of Larsa would have made the most sense as a main hero since he has a very defined goal and is actually going about it in a clever way. Larsa is just a minor guest that joins briefly a few times and Vaan is just worthless.

In spite of the flaws that plague the story and make the gameplay uninvolving, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is stimulating. Exploring the geometrically designed dungeons does have a certain ambiance about it and the fast modes allow players to make a ton of progress extremely fast in what is an extremely long and huge game. Even set to quadruple speed, this can last about 40-50 hours since the side quests involve a lot of re-exploring previous areas and backtracking. It also autosaves between maps, so progress is never lost in the potential situation where the Nintendo Switch might unexpectedly crash or close the application on its own. This will never be considered a great Final Fantasy for good reason. It is far from the worst since it does have a good deal of polish and has one of the more memorable settings. The bonus QOL features make the sins much more tolerable.

Screenshot for Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

On a scale of best to worst Final Fantasy titles, XII sits somewhere in the middle. It exists in a bland limbo of mediocrity. The best qualities lie in its art direction, music and animation. Being able to play with a high speed mode truly illustrates just how slow and tedious the combat actually is and by circumventing it entirely, a huge portion of the experience is compromised but also the overall product is made more enjoyable.

Developer

Square Enix

Publisher

Square Enix

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

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   

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