It was eleven years ago when I last played Final Fantasy XII. For the first six months of owning my PS3, it was the only other game I played on it besides Resistance: Fall of Man, and that was mostly because I loved the game’s combat so much that I couldn’t give it up when the newest console arrived. Some things I remember vividly; and some things, in retrospect, seemed to have been lost between then and now. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age brings many new things to what made the original so appealing, and while these changes and enhancements are appealing features in their own right, what really makes these additions so interesting is how it all affects the original content.
The world of Ivalice has undergone a visual tune up, and while it doesn’t put the game on par with Square’s delivery of Final Fantasy X, it brings the visual styles to the forefront without having much need to reanimate the characters themselves. The art style of the first game had a touch of animated flare in facial expressions, which I’m sure made for shorter work on the development side of things. All the game needed was a touch up, and a touch up it received. It still has some ridged edges here and there, but like with most games the aesthetic takes over and focus moves to more important things; just don’t expect to be too blown away.
Much the same can be said for the audio quality, too: Combat and soundtrack are clear and crisp, the soundtrack being redone for the game, but some dialogue has a peculiar recording fuzz around it, like it’s distinctly being done in a studio. This is something I remembered from the original game, too, but, even though it comes and goes, I began to zone it out after the first couple hours or so; the human ear is a fascinating thing.
Performance itself blew me away. Loading screens used to be forever-taking on PS2, but The Zodiac Age only has maybe two- to three-second load screens between zones. This, coupled with combat speed boosts, makes the game so much faster, and considering that each area has at least four zones to it, having efficient loading screens is essential.
What made the Gambit System so unique originally was how much control it allowed over what the party did and how it responds to combat circumstances. This is all dependent on you, and that holds true more so now with the addition of combat speed increases. With the options to go double or quadruple speeds, fights fly by in only a couple seconds rather than 20 or 30. At any time, a speed can be toggled on or off with L1, so the option to play at normal speeds in town—or all the time, if desired—is readily available. All of this adds a great deal of customization to combat as well, since Active and Wait Combat modes will allow you to either keep combat moving or pause combat while in the combat menu. In order to have continuous success at such speeds, the Gambits need to be set up properly, or chances are that there won’t be enough time to manually counter the situation; unless you play with Wait combat enabled and quick to disable speed boosts.
Let me deject a bit here to touch on a bit of a personal preference with FFXII: The Gambit system resonated with me initially, because I was able to farm enemies for long periods of time and gets tons of gains from it, including experience, License Points, and increasingly better items as the combo count rose. Even at the original pace, I loved it. Now, though, I live for it. Consider the speed boosts as combat enablers. I found myself lingering in zones far longer than I would have—in terms of overall kills, of course—just to keep counts going.
As expected, there is a lot of content in The Zodiac Age, another thing that made the original so palpable. What made XII originally a rather daunting task, however, was how grindy it felt as the game progressed. Between major sequences, grinding levels was basically necessary, and the end game required a lot of time and repetitive effort to reach. Outside of the main political campaign, there are side quests and hunts just waiting to be completed, and the combat speed boosts make getting over these old hurdles that much easier.
The one thing I most looked forward to with The Zodiac Age lies within the name: the Zodiacs. Each character can initially choose one of the fourteen different classes, and each class has its own License Board for stat gains, gear equips, and discoverable Quickenings. Later on, another class choice can be added to each character, and with the right combinations, each character can become either potent hybrid players or hyper-focused. For instance, I set Balthier, Ivalice’s best boy band lead, as both Archer and Machinist so I could focus on his damage and status effect bonuses; I say the boy band comment with love, as Balthier is a personal favorite. I also gave Fran both Red Battlemage and Black Mage, which allows her to be both capable with physical damage and quite over-the-top with both helpful and harmful magic abilities. Combinations are out of this world, perpetuating an even more likelihood of playing through the game multiple times. Imagine the health and melee damage of a Bushi (samurai) with the capabilities of a Red Battlemage. That’s one combination I wish I had thought of beforehand.
Any great concept can be bogged down by a bad camera. The original camera quarreled with combat from time to time, particularly with big and/or fast enemies in confined spaces. This becomes more urgent when playing at greater speeds. Considering a good percentage of the game is spent in close quarters, there’s very little to get around it. Sometimes, you have to trust in your Gambits to get you through. Even in vast expanses, large enemies will often have their health bars out of view just above the camera line. I had one hunt in particular that kept regenerating its health, but I had no idea, because the health bar was out of view and my Gambits were executing well. If the camera could be actually zoomed instead of tilted upward, then it would make this a non-issue. However, the nice thing about Gambits is that, if set correctly, they can get you out of any pinch without having to worry too much. It’s unfortunate, however, that the opportunity wasn’t taken to make the camera more accommodating.
I have a couple friends who have had trouble over the years trying to get into Final Fantasy. For one reason or another, it just hasn’t been their play style. When looking at Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, I firmly believe that the gameplay and narrative in this game would appeal to them. The gameplay is facilitating and customizable, despite the slightly obtuse learning curve in the early hours. The political narrative has just enough character delivery across the board to make it all feel important. Most of all, the combat speeds and addition of Zodiacs make this a game that’s both deep with options yet simplistic to execute. Square made a wise decision in bringing back this PS2 classic to a modern audience.