I’ve long considered Final Fantasy XII to be the most underrated Final Fantasy. It isn’t the best in the series, but it gets a lot of undue hate — primarily because of its annoying lead and over-reliance on political intrigue in its story. I’m not going to argue against those points here.
Some people have railed against its “simple,” MMO-inspired combat system, but I find the strategy of setting up the perfect gambit system to be compelling and challenging. Being able to enter a battle and put your controller down as your characters do everything you programmed them to do is immensely satisfying — though those situations were few and far between.
I say all of this to highlight my feelings on Final Fantasy XII in general. If you hated the game back in 2006, there probably isn’t enough here to change your mind. But if you enjoyed your time with the original — or even had mixed feelings — you owe it to yourself to give The Zodiac Age a shot.
It’s a small thing, but the ability to increase the speed of the game works wonders for your flow. You can set the game to move at 2x or 4x speed, and it’s easy to toggle that functionality on and off. I used this for speeding through the more boring walking sections, backtracking, and general grinding. You do a lot of grinding in Final Fantasy XII. This speed boost doesn’t affect the cutscenes or music, which was a smart choice. Grinding in the Ogir-Yensa Sandsea has never been easier.
The biggest change, though, is to the skill system. Instead of every party member having access to the same license grid, you choose jobs for your characters. Later in the game, you’re able to add a second job that opens up additional weapon and armor types, as well as special moves and magic.
By the end of the game, I enjoyed this change, as it made my characters more specialized. In my playthroughs of the original game, I went more in this direction anyway, but there’s an additional team make-up challenge when not everyone has access to healing magic, for instance. In the early game of The Zodiac Age, though, I found this change to be more limiting. I wasn’t always able to use the weapons or moves I wanted with the characters I wanted to use them. This was frustrating for a bit, but once my party was full, it became easy to ensure all jobs, weapons, moves, etc were represented.
Graphically, the game doesn’t seem all that different — until you compare it to the original. The Zodiac Age is definitely improved from a visuals perspective, but its roots as a PS2 game are still clear. The HD cutscenes look amazing, but the proper game is riddled with muddy textures and character facial animations that are less than expressive.
The music has similarly been overhauled, with a re-recording done. The compositions sound near the same to my ear, but the quality is improved with more live instruments used to replace the synthetic ones. If you want to hear the original version, you can always switch between recordings in the options menu.
There are still plenty of the original game’s annoyances present, such as tracking hunts and endlessly running around the shops in Rabanastre. But the quality of life improvements that are included in this remaster are far more significant than I would have imagined, and really take away a decent amount of the tedium normally involved in playing a Final Fantasy game.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac age still has plenty of the original’s flaws, from its meandering political story to Vaan, quite possibly the worst lead character in the history of Final Fantasy. Yes, even worse than Tidus. But in every area that The Zodiac Age can make improvements without fundamentally changing the game, it does so very well. This was the perfect excuse for me to replay through an old favorite, and the ability to earn trophies was just icing on the cake.
Which Final Fantasy game should be remastered next? Let me know in the comments below, and check out my other video game reviews!