Final Fantasy XII gets remastered on PS4
Playing through Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age it became obvious the original game was way ahead of its time. The PS2 version modernized the Final Fantasy franchise by introducing elements like an open-world, controllable camera, and real-time combat. While these are common features in games nowadays, back in 2006 they were a pretty big deal. Especially for Final Fantasy, a franchise built upon linear progression and turn-based combat.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is your chance to relive this epic adventure on PS4 in gorgeous HD. You also get all the extra content included in the Japan-exclusive updated version called the International Zodiac Job System. That means more modes, a revamped Job system, tons of gameplay refinements, and a vastly superior presentation. All these improvements result in easily one of the greatest Final Fantasy experiences I’ve ever had.
Welcome to Ivalice
The first thing to know about Final Fantasy XII is that it’s the beginning chapter of Square Enix’s Ivalice saga. Later games in the chronology include Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy Tactics A2, and Vagrant Story. All these stories take place within the fictional world of Ivalice, a place rife with war and political upheaval.
This particular story focuses on Dalmasca, a small kingdom caught in the crossfire of two powerful warring nations. Two years prior, the ill-fated land was subjugated by the Archadia and now its people live under harsh occupation.
In this cacophony of conflict and betrayal you play as Vaan, a street child in the Dalmascan city of Rabanastre. He dreams of escaping his cruel reality by one day roaming the world free as a sky pirate. During his journey Vaan meets a group of unlikely allies and together they embark on a heroic quest to save their homeland.
Taking a page from Square Enix’s MMO, Final Fantasy XI, all combat in Final Fantasy XII happens in real-time. That means gone are the traditional turn-based battles that defined this series for nearly 20 years. Final Fantasy XII is also the first entry to not feature random encounters—enemies are plainly seen on the overworld. While these changes were pretty radical for the time, these days live combat is pretty common in the JRPG genre.
Now that I’ve had a chance to revisit Final Fantasy XII, I’m even more impressed at its infinitely deep combat. On a basic level, you control one of three players in battle, performing attacks, Magicks, and Technicks to defeat enemies. At any time you can swap to another character should you need their skills in a pinch.
The Gambit System
Where the real depth comes from is the game’s robust Gambit System that lets you design your own if/then statements. Putting on your programmer cap you can command characters to react to specific situations in almost any way. For example, you can make your White Mage cast Curaga to heal any party member whose HP falls below 70%.
It goes much deeper than this though once you start stringing gambits together. Having one character cast Vanish while another casts Haste can speed up an ally by 50% and make them invisible. Or, you could douse enemies in Oil and then have your Black Mage cast Firaga for searing damage. The further into the story you progress the greater your need for gambits will be—and the possibilities are endless.
A revamped Job system
Instead of the cluttered, clumsy single job board in the original, the PS4 version features significant improvements. This time around there are 12 license boards, each corresponding to a specific Zodiac sign and job. These include Final Fantasy mainstays like White/Black/Time/Red Mages, Knights, and Monks. There are also less common classes like Shikari, a dagger-wielding Hunter, and Bushi, a skilled samurai.
Unlike the PS2 game where characters ultimately ended up feeling similar, in this version each one feels much more distinct. You’re able to assign two classes per character, which can result in some cool combinations. For instance, your healing White Mage could double up as a long-range Archer. This would allow them to stand back and replenish the team’s HP while also slinging arrows from afar. Or, you Time Mage could slow down enemies, then rush in using Knight skills to capitalize on the advantage. Once you factor in that you have three playable characters, each with two classes, the permutations are seemingly endless.
What else is new?
As mentioned, The Zodiac Age is based on Japan’s International version, which contained content not found in the original Western release. This includes a brand new Trial Mode where you fight through 100 battle scenarios with increasingly challenging monsters. While initially this means easy sewer rats, you’ll soon wind up facing the most menacing creatures Final Fantasy XII has to offer. For this reason, Trial Mode feels more like an end-game than anything else.
The game further adds a new High Speed Mode allowing you to move through the world at a faster pace. Considering how big this game world is (towns included) being able to fast-track when desired is a nice addition. This version also has many quality of life improvements, like autosaves between maps, shorter loading times, and improved technical performance. Of course, it also has trophy support for those who enjoy achievement hunting.
From a gameplay perspective, the game balance has been overhauled to make combat slightly easier. This doesn’t mean the game is easy by any means, but it is more forgiving than its predecessor. You’ll still need to make intelligent use of the Gambit System, particularly during the latter half of the story. For those looking for a steep challenge, the aforementioned Trial Mode is the place to go.
Beautiful new presentation
Being a PS4 remaster, naturally you’ll find some wonderful updates to the overall presentation. Keep in mind it’s an upgraded version of the PS2 title though, and not a completely built-for-scratch endeavour. Still, the graphics are significantly improved with sharper textures, greater detail, and upgraded special effects. All the cutscenes have been remastered in high-definition as well, and they look excellent.
As far as the audio work is concerned, Final Fantasy XII features updated voicing, new tracks, and 7.1 surround sound. I especially enjoyed the new background music composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto, which have beautiful orchestral arrangements that elevate the mood. While traces of its PS2 roots are evident, Square Enix has done a marvelous job updating the overall FFXII experience.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age adds a gorgeous fresh coat of paint and a host of new features to this classic game. The story is enormous, easily 50-100 hours, with superb writing and characterization the whole way through. I particularly enjoyed how much the enhanced graphics and re-recorded audio modernized the entire experience. When you add in new content like Trial Mode and High Speed Mode, it easily tips the scale into must-play territory. Final Fantasy and RPG fans are sure to have a smorgasbord here.
+ Excellent story that draws you in
+ Impressive visual upgrades
+ Wonderful soundtrack and voices
+ Vastly improved Job system
+ Lots of extra content
+ Streamlined gameplay
– Graphics occasionally lose clarity up-close
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4.5/5