Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age Review

July 10, 2017

Final Fantasy XII celebrates the 10th anniversary of its Australian release this year, and in that time the title seems to have been quite forgotten by much of the gaming community. In comparison to Final Fantasy titles like VII and X, who still to this day have dedicated fan-bases, FFXII was a quieter success, lacking a high-concept fantasy world and being released at the end of the PlayStation 2’s life-cycle. In my opinion, it was still a success nonetheless, and thanks to Square-Enix’s recent spate of remasters, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age brings the game to modern audiences on the PlayStation 4, along with a quite a few tweaks and changes.

Final Fantasy XII takes place in the world of Ivalice, a familiar location to those who’ve played the Final Fantasy Tactics games, and one that seems like a combination of Medieval Europe, the Middle East and India. Returning to Final Fantasy‘s roots in ripping off Star Wars, on the surface the story and visuals take cues from every movie from Attack of the Clones to A New Hope – rebels fighting against an Empire, a young dreamer teaming up with a princess and a dashing rogue who has his own ship and animal-like sidekick. Like Darth Vader? How about a whole team of Vader knock-offs? However, despite how obvious these elements are, the visual design is still impressively cohesive and rather unlike anything Final Fantasy has done elsewhere. Character models and textures have a painterly quality to them, outside of CGI cutscenes, and the intricate designs of the imposing Judges remain iconic to this day. Final Fantasy XII is also home to one of the most complex stories Final Fantasy has produced.

The empire of Archadia is at war with Rozarria, and caught quite literally in the middle is the nation of Dalmasca. Vaan, a street urchin from its capital city, dreams of one day roaming the skies in an airship as a sky pirate, but while he’s ostensibly the game’s protagonist, he really gets very little to do in the overall story – instead acting as our window into the complex revolutions and political machinations of Ivalice. Through his misadventures, Vaan and his friend Penelo get tangled up with real sky pirates Balthier and Fran, and join the resistance against the Archadian empire, finding the disgraced Basch and Dalmasca’s long-thought dead Princess Ashe. Together they travel the whole world, seeking to unravel the secret powers manipulating the entire war.

Final Fantasy XII righted a lot of the mis-steps taken by Final Fantasy X, chief among them being stellar voiceover work and translation. The game’s entire script is written in a more medieval-sounding English dialect, which fits the tone and political upsets of the fantasy world really well, and is delivered with grace and sincerity by the great efforts of its cast. , The game is also home to one of the Final Fantasy’s best characters, Balthier the sky pirate, who introduces himself as the ‘leading man’ and for all intents and purposes, he really is. His roguish charm and dry sense of humour absolutely steal the show – where’s his spin-off game, Square-Enix?

For the first time in the main single-player series, FFXII did away with random battles, instead allowing you to see enemies roaming the field and giving you the option of avoiding them or engaging. This led many to call it at the time an offline-MMO, and in some ways it does feel like that, but really FFXII has its own unique-feeling battle system, relying heavily on the ‘Gambit’ system.

Gambits are essentially the developers’ way of handing you the programming tools for your party’s AI and saying, “go crazy.” While entirely optional, they’re incredibly useful as they allow you to configure the AI of every party member to your liking, and are flexible enough to change at any time. Do you have a white mage in your party? Then it’s a good idea to program them to heal party members below 50% health automatically – and if nobody needs healing, maybe cast a few Shell and Protect spells. Up against a foe with an elemental weakness? You can program your black mage to automatically cast the correct spell to take them out. It’s a deep system that, far from asking the player to turn it on and make the game play itself, requires your constant adjustment and configuration, as you try to find the best gambits for a given situation.

Overall, despite its changes to the formula, FFXII was still a traditional Final Fantasy at heart, drawing upon many elements from the series’ roots, with a band of heroes setting off on a globetrotting adventure to battle an empire. The satisfaction from toppling one of game’s many tough bosses is almost unrivalled in the series, as is the variety of locations, from deserts to dense forests and skybound mines (how’s that for an oxymoron). If there’s one small nitpick I could make of the original, it’s the blocky indoor sameness of many of the dungeons themselves that can get a little tiring, but then again that is the nature of a dungeon.

The Zodiac Age is based on the Japanese re-release of Final Fantasy XII from 2007, which was dubbed the International Zodiac Job System release. Key to this are the changes made to character progression and new job system. In the original release, party members not only levelled up with experience points, but gained ‘License Points’ to spend on a License Board, that was shared by all members. Licenses affect not only which abilities characters can learn, but what equipment they can use as well. While different characters started in different areas, you could upgrade anyone to be adapt at any role, with enough grinding. The Zodiac Job System presents you with 12 different jobs, such as Knight, Machinist, Red Mage, etc, that each have their own unique License Board. This forces you to commit to and diversify your party’s roles. Whether it works better or worse than the original system I’m not so sure –  it certainly feels different enough, though, to warrant a replay if you’ve finished the game before.

Other tweaks include the ability to speed up gameplay to 2x or 4x speed which, if your gambits are set correctly, can definitely cut down on grinding time if you’re trying to level up. There’s also a new overlay map that you can pop up on-screen by pressing L3, which gives you a much wider view of the area you’re in. It’s actually quite useful, and I found myself using it often. However, turning this on is an addition to the mini-map already present in the top-right of the screen, meaning you have two maps in the HUD, taking up most of the space – it’s not the most elegant solution. A quieter background enhancement is the addition of auto-saving, alongside your manual saves at crystals, which serves as a welcome safety net if you bite off more than you can chew in a tough area.

Final Fantasy XII‘s presentation has also received an upgrade, although it’s not as big an overhaul as you might expect. The game itself looks a lot sharper, although some textures in the environment at this high resolution don’t survive the increased clarity as well as others. The HD upgrade allows a better look at the expressive character models, whose somewhat hand-painted appearance matches their art more than the ultra-realistic CGI cutscenes, which have also been effectively upscaled. Unfortunately voice samples can occasionally still sound compressed, much as they did in the original release thanks to the large volume of voiced dialogue in the game. Hitoshi Sakimoto’s soundtrack has also been re-orchestrated and re-mixed, quite well in my opinion, with some tracks seeming more symphonic, or featuring more effects – that said, you can always switch back to the original from the menu.

The Zodiac Age also brings a few modes to players seeking an additional challenge. First up there’s Trial Mode, a 100-level series of battles that can be loaded up any time with your party from any save file, and which ends with an impressive battle royale with all of the game’s antagonist Judges. For those truly seeking pain, Weak Mode can also be unlocked, which eliminates your ability to level up, requiring you to think tactically and rely more on your equipment loadout for each character.

I’d easily recommend Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age to anyone who missed out on the original PlayStation 2 release. The gameplay has been tweaked and changed in many ways, arguably all for the better, but the adventure itself and ripping story remain unchanged and still hugely enjoyable to today. The remastering itself isn’t as big a change as you might expect, but Final Fantasy XII is still a gem absolutely worth revisiting.


- One of Final Fantasy's most complex and enjoyable stories
- Stellar script and voicework
- A huge amount of content, including the new Trial Mode
- Zodiac job system changes and game balance tweaks
- Impressive remastered soundtrack


- Visuals are higher resolution, but not as remastered as you might hope
- Some low fidelity audio still remains

Overall Score: