A triumphant return
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
Remasters and remakes are comp completely different things, with the latter requ requiring far more investments in terms of de development time, effort, and budget. The u upcoming Final Fantasy VII Remake, for exam example, requires in-game assets to be bu built from scratch, gameplay mechanics reworked to meet modern standards, as well as full voiceovers to go with the m multi-part release. But that’s not to say that r remastering a game is not a significant unde undertaking either.
Eve Ever since Square Enix remastered the tenth Final Fantasy game and its sequel for th the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita (and subs subsequently, the PS4), many assumed this w would be followed by Final Fantasy XII, w which was equal parts ambitious and misu misunderstood when it was released after an arduousar ve-year development period in 20 2006 towards the tail-end of the PS2’s lifecycle. Strong localization aside, battles were made seamless and autonomous, thanks to its programmable ‘Gambit’ system, while the sprawling open-world environments – despite being divided into zones – were a refreshing change for a long-running JRPG franchise that revel in its turn-based roots.
It took a slip of the tongue from Distant Worlds conductor Arnie Roth in August 2015 for Square Enix to confirm the existence of the HD remaster by way of a teaser trailer ahead of E3 2016. The Zodiac Age moniker calls back to the Japan-exclusive International Zodiac Job System (IZJS), which introduced a whole slew of gameplay changes – notably twelve License Boards that correspond to different Jobs (read: character classes) – a year after the original PS2 release.
Double the trouble
Previously, all six characters shared an identical License Board that they can then gradually unlock the chessboard-like panels within to gain access to abilities and
equipment. However, this also meant that you end up with similar character builds – save for the Quickenings and Espers. The move to specialized Jobs encourages experimentation, allowing you to form a party of three that complements one another’s strengths and weaknesses.
Half the fun of Final Fantasy XII is configuring the party’s Gambits in such a way that they cover most, if not all, bases. After a major story beat that grants the party its rst Esper (read: summon), a second License Board is opened to the team – making it possible to augment the limitations of the rst Job with another. For instance, your leader ‘tank’ character can be a Shikari-Red Battlemage, and supported by a Machinist-White Mage and a Black Mage-Archer. The ability to control guest characters and Espers directly – including their Gambits – is also very much welcomed.
In all its splendor
The visuals in Final Fantasy XII were famously held back by console limitations. The Zodiac Age not only runs in native 1080p at a constant 30fps (1440p on PS4 Pro), but the increased resolution – combined with AA and enhanced image quality – makes for a polished presentation. The character models, textures, lighting and shadow effects were all given their respective upgrades, which also extend to the menus and fonts used throughout the game.
Colors are noticeably more vibrant, and the efforts that went into preserving Akihiko Yoshida’s character design are simply outstanding. In fact, Vaan’s much-maligned ‘exoskeleton’ abs were nally rectified in this release. However, we noticed the presence of over-aggressive upscaling on certain ground and wall textures, resulting in odd dark lines and grainy ltering on closer inspection. Thankfully, the prerendered cinematics survived the HD transition with minimal video artifacts. The re-orchestrated background music, which was overseen by Hitoshi Sakimoto himself, adds further gravitas to the interchangeable English and Japanese voiceovers.
The L1 button, which activates the 2x- 4x fast-forward mode, is a godsend when trekking through some of the more meandering dungeons. The brisk load times between areas, coupled with auto-saves and Diablo- like map overlays, really helps when backtracking through previously explored areas for regular and elite Marks. As a bonus, the 100-stage Trial Mode is also a slight departure from its IZJS incarnation, in that rewards earned – gils, LPs, weapons – can be carried over to the main game, often with gamebreaking consequences.
There were two omissions that we’d like to point to Final Fantasy XII veterans. First, the Sky Pirate’s Den is no longer part of The Zodiac Age, as every achievement is now tracked by the PS4’s Trophy system. Second, the Bestiary now shows 3D models instead of illustrations of the enemies. Finally, The Zodiac Age drops the attract video from the PS2 release and goes straight to the title screen instead. These are minor annoyance at best, and shouldn’t detract you from revisiting the golden age of Ivalice.
A solid remaster befitting an undisputed classic.
New to The Zodiac Age is the ability to assign two Jobs to each party member.