System: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch
Developer & Publisher: Square Enix | Reviewed On: PC
Final Fantasy 12 (FF12) is a fond memory for many, yet it is also an overlooked gem for some, perhaps due to it originally being released at the back end of the PlayStation 2 generation (2006) and off the heels of the very successful Final Fantasy X. set in the world of Ivalice, the game is initially led by Vann, a wannabe pirate kid who finds himself swept into an adventure of pirates, politics and power struggles. FF12 is the JRPG that breaks the traditional turn-based combat of previous Final Fantasy instalments and delivers an almost open-world experience. Now remastered with a well-deserved facelift. Let's take a look and see if this adventure is worth revisiting...
FF12 originally came out in 2006 and honestly, it never looked bad but it did look a little compromised, some aspects weren't as polished as Final Fantasy X. Whilst the developers certainly delivered a beautiful and engrossing world, it was clear that gameplay took priority over pushing the boundaries on graphics. Here in 2020, we have access to the beautifully hi-res remastered FF12 and the result is a more polished, smooth and crisp finish. The up to date graphics allow it to be more immersive, more vibrant and ultimately more enjoyable. These various graphic improvements have made the game a lot more tempting to new players and should also be enough to lure old FF12 players back in, a real success at bringing an old classic back to life.
The story in Final Fantasy 12 Zodiac Age is unchanged from the original, it plays out an exciting adventure full of interesting characters, side stories and vast areas to explore. Unlike a lot of previous Final Fantasy games FF12 sticks to the rules of a fantasy setting as opposed to the more futuristic, industrial and steampunk look of Final Fantasy 7. FF12 does, however, differentiate by introducing a political aspect, and despite being compared to a very popular Lucas arts sci-fi film series, it does carry its own charm. As the story unfolds you find yourself going on hunts, tackling dungeons and taking on various quests, most of which seem to make sense within the context of the story and whilst the game tries not to have dungeons for the sake of it, it does follow a plot, dungeon, plot format. The snippets of the story arc and character building are all enjoyable throughout and you will find yourself choosing your favourite character for sure. As the game nears towards the end though the writing does seem to drop in quality, it begins to suffer from a "make it up as they go along" feel. That being said, overall the main story is well scripted, well delivered and the voice acting is probably the best out of any Final Fantasy to date.
The gameplay in Zodiac Age is where it shines the brightest and for the most part, the gameplay is unchanged from the original. The game has the MMO vibe of Final Fantasy 11 but in a single-player landscape, and Square Enix pulls this off very well. Moving away from traditional turn-based and ATB styles of previous entries, FF12 seeks to shake things up. The game almost plays out like a JRPG version of a strategy RPG allowing you to pause during battle and plan every step, there is also a very in-depth command assignment system called the gambit system, it's here you are able to set your team up for automated success. The gambit system can involve having one player set to attack the strongest creature, only stopping to use a potion if their health goes below a certain level or to use a fire spell against a fire weak opponent. Another character could be built as a healer constantly buffing or using potions when required. You can even choose to have your main character completely automated if you wish, allowing you to sit back and watch your team win every fight without much involvement from you, providing, of course, you set your gambits up thoroughly. I personally enjoyed controlling my main character and automating the rest of my party only overriding the gambits if things weren't going to plan.
The level-up system is classic JRPG, simply the more fights you have, the more experience you gain and the more experience you gain, the higher the level your characters will be, your team's attributes will then increase with every level. On top of this, there is a Licence board where you can unlock abilities, boost attributes (such as +500HP), learn to use new weapons and unlock special moves called quickenings. You can also unlock summon on the licence board providing you have beaten that particular summon on the Battlefield. The Licence board requires points called Licence points (LP) which you will obtain from battling enemies and includes huge payouts from boss fights. The Licence board is a great feature for building your party the way you want them and it somewhat resembles the sphere grid system from Final Fantasy X, albeit a much better and refined version of it.
The quickening moves unlocked through the license board are FF12's version of limit breaks or overdrives, they allow you to chain all the characters special moves together to perform one big long attack on the enemy, this sometimes ends up a little tedious watching sequences repeat themselves and frankly, the damage issued doesn't quite fall in line with the effort made. Quickenings don't quite reach their potential, they certainly don't hold up against the limit breaks of old and you could probably defeat the game without ever using them at all, probably the only slightly disappointing aspect of the battle system.
Summoning creatures is another Final Fantasy must-have for veteran players and FF12 doesn't disappoint. Summon creatures are called Espers in Final Fantasy 12 and whilst Summon's were introduced much earlier in the series, they have become more than just watching a fancy sequence amounting to a big chunk of health being taken away from the opponent. Summons, much like in Final Fantasy X join the battlefield on a more permanent basis, at least until its HP is depleted or you withdraw it, the summon will continue to fight alongside the summoner until removed. Each Summon has their own special move, their own elemental strengths and their own health bar to worry about. Choosing the right Summon for the right fight can be crucial in FF12 especially in boss fights, otherwise, you could find your Summon lasting only a matter of minutes or even just seconds. A total of 13 Summon creatures appear in the game and whilst you will fight and obtain 5 of them during the main story plot, the other 8 are well hidden around the world waiting for you to defeat them.
Aside from the fights, there is a lot to sink your teeth into with this one, lots of side quests, monster hunts, secretly placed summon fights scattered around the world and absolutely tonnes of chests to locate. Whilst the remaster remains the same as the classic version in a lot of ways, one huge gameplay aspect has been revamped. In Final Fantasy Zodiac Age, you can now select 2 jobs for each of your characters, this was always predetermined in the original but now allows you to have your own character builds. The different jobs will determine what type of weapons can be used and ultimately what style of player you have. For example, you could choose Vann to be a black mage archer and Fran to be a white mage machinist if you wish, the beauty of it being, it's totally up to you to experiment. This fantastic revamp improves the game's replay value and inspires a plethora of role-playing possibilities, but don't worry you can always go see Montblanc in the Clan Hall to reset your Job roles if you make a mistake.
The music in the original was great, never irritating and sometimes catchy (you may find yourself humming along). The remastered version now gives us the Reorchestrated option, which is essentially the same soundtrack as the original with a much greater feeling of a piece of film music, all re-recorded from scratch with full instrumentation, a welcome improvement without any change to the melodies. The music is engaging, sometimes subtle, often intense but always at the correct moments. The final fantasy victory music shows up as always, cleverly utilised on hunts and bosses without having it slow the game down against normal enemies, adding the perfect amount of nostalgia for the life long fans. Of course, a final fantasy game can not be called so without the Chocobo theme tune and the FF12 team remembers to keep this in for familiarity and nostalgia sake. Thumbs up for all things musical on FF12.
In conclusion Final Fantasy 12 Zodiac Age delivers some of the best gameplay ever in a JRPG, charming characters and the exploration openness of an MMO that will give you hours of fun. Despite it having a slightly lacklustre plot in places the game still deserves a high position on the JRPG hit list, and if you haven't played it already you probably should do as you now have the absolute best version of an amazing classic. Just be sure you haven't got other plans any time soon.