The Zodiac Age Reminds Us Why Final Fantasy XII is Masterful RPG

High definition remasters of old games have been going strong for almost a decade now, with God of War starting things for the PlayStation 3 in 2009. Since then, the gaming community has been pleading with more and more developers to re-release their favorite titles on a new set of consoles, and maybe even on PC. Square Enix has been slow to re-release their long history of titles, at least here in North America, with the reason behind being that their games are incredibly lengthy. Sixty plus hour stories take a long time to touch up, especially when there’s real time and effort put into remastering them. While we finally got Final Fantasy X after a long wait in 2014, Square Enix has been hard at work on another classic for the PlayStation 2: Final Fantasy XII. This might be one of the most overlooked games in the franchise, yet it remains one of the best in the last twenty years. We were able to get some hands on time with the game, and suffice to say, we realize why Final Fantasy XII was groundbreaking for its time.

Final Fantasy XII takes place in a war torn world where the Empire of Archadia has taken over the nation of Dalmasca. Here you will play as Vaan, a street rat comparable to someone of Aladdin’s stature who pickpockets guards and associates with less than fortunate individuals. Vaan is just an young orphaned boy who’s caught up in an unfortunate situation where he’s continuously dragged along a rather politically charged and conspiracy heavy plot. Nothing is ever cut and dry as the people of Dalmasca have to deal with the lies of the Empire and the suppression they put on the nation.

Combat is both different and similar to traditional Final Fantasy titles before it, closer to Final Fantasy XI than anything else. It plays like an Action-RPG similar to MMOs, with a queue of actions and abilities that can only be performed when a bar is filled. You can engage in combat via the active or wait mechanics, which just means “wait” will pause the action when you bring up the menu and “active” doesn’t pause for any reason. This is more of a personal preference as, while it’s a mechanic that has been with the series for a long time now, active is far more challenging considering how fast things can turn for the worst. The gambit system also plays into this as you’ll be able to assign character tasks based around specific parameters. So for example, one character can use Cure when someone’s health is below 70%, or command everyone to attack the target. Otherwise, your teammates will act on their own, making the wait system a little better for management sake.

As for the changes to Final Fantasy XII, The Zodiac Age features the International version’s revamped License Board where you’re able to choose jobs for characters and focus on those set of unlockable equipment and abilities. No longer are we given a generalized board (somewhat similar to the Grid Sphere in Final Fantasy X) that everyone shares, but instead are able to assign specific classes. These include Samurai, Red Battlemage, Machinist, Knight, and so forth. There’s a cost to this though, as those who are looking to jump between jobs will be out of luck. As soon as one of the twelve jobs are finalized, that character is stuck with it until you start a new game. It’s best to pick and choose these carefully, even though it appears a lot of them share similarities in some of the abilities (such as healing skills are prominent).

Trial Mode is also a new mode for anyone who didn’t play the International version of Final Fantasy XII, putting you up against wave after wave of enemies, progressing through stages. Players will simply bring in their save data and fight specific groups of enemies with their current setup until they’re overpowered. This is comparable to any arena mode as it’s a very good way to earn LP (License Points) and experience for your characters without having to load up the main game, not to mention earn rewards after specific stages. While we only got a taste of what this mode has to offer, it definitely seems like something that could have been properly implemented into the core game.

Outside of some of the new modes and adjustments, The Zodiac Age features nicely improved visuals. It’s not just a spit shine job, as a lot of the game has been touched up quite nicely. From the little we’ve seen so far, It’s not an entirely new game from a graphical perspective, as a lot of the textures on the environments fail to meet modern expectations, but the 1080p resolution and stronger clarity helps showcase the fantastic art style. There also seems to be bump mapping placed on the vast majority of the environments, which sometimes works to the game’s advantage, although sometimes not so much. Regardless, just from a few hours with the game, we were impressed with how the game holds up, even though some of the animations in the cinematics seem to have a little bit of ghosting.

Additionally, there’s a new fast forward mode that can be activated by pressing L1, allowing you to speed through the game at double the speed. There’s also an auto-save functionality that’s incredibly useful for those who worry about losing progress after failing to beat a boss, a transparent map that can be brought up while adventuring, a reorchastrated soundtrack, and finally, a 7.1 surround sound option for those with an expensive setup. A lot of these seem like small things, but it’s these features that help modernize The Zodiac Age for a new generation of gamers, while not upsetting existing fans.

After playing a couple of hours of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, we’re quickly reminded why Square Enix was the king of Role Playing Games back in the 90s and 2000s. A lot of what made the original game unique is still here, just with some additions for better accessibility and focus. We’re excited to bring you the final review prior to the game’s release as Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age will be available July 11 exclusively for PlayStation 4.