Hands-On With Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age

Last month, Gamer Escape was given a sneak peak at the upcoming Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age for the PlayStation 4.

Right off the bat, the expected graphical upgrades and UI polish make the game not only easy on the eyes, but give it a buttery smooth quality. While the UI itself is effectively the same as the original game’s (launched in 2006), is given a step up thanks to the updated fonts, UI shading and now native widescreen (16:9) format, making The Zodiac Age a much more enjoyable experience while traversing the world of Ivalice.

My journey began in the Eryut Village, about 15 hours into the game, where we’re met with our full party and a fully orchestrated and remastered soundtrack, which in all honesty was my favorite part of the experience. Getting a handle for the controls, I decided to take a gander at the biggest change to the game and dive head first into the Zodiac Job System.

This new system was first seen in Final Fantasy XII International Zodiac Job System, a Japan exclusive rerelease in 2007. One of the biggest criticisms of the initial release of Final Fantasy XII was the License Board system. Because all of the characters shared the same board, by the end of the game (after a considerable amount of grinding… well, letting your characters Gambit mobs to death), all of the playable characters effectively became the same. The unique boards changed that in FFXII: International Zodiac Job System, however they restricted you to only utilizing one Zodiac Job per character without the ability to set a secondary job or change it at a later time.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age changes this, allowing each character to set a secondary Zodiac Job after a point in the game.

I moved on exploring the new License Boards for Black Mage (Fran), White Mage (Penelo), Red Mage (Vaan), Machinist (Balthier), Knight (Ashe), and Uhlan (Basch); a spear wielding class. A handful of licenses were set ahead of time, but it was clear to see how much of an improvement the new system would be for the overall health of the game the second I stepped outside and into my first battle. Each character had a distinct feel to them, which really made battles more tactical. I’d find myself thinking. “Should I swap out my Knight for my Black Mage to increase my kill speed with Area of Effect abilities or should I play it safe and let melee DDs take care of the trash?” or “Should I have both a White and a Red Mage right now? The support is nice, but do I really need to be this careful?”

After I was done reading through the boards, I took a decently scenic walk through The Spiritwood section of the Eruyt Village and marveled at just how good the game looked in terms of landscapes and textures. The quality of the textures doesn’t mess with the frame rate during battles either- the improvements it’s had since the 2006 release are almost all consistently excellent. I fought some trash mobs while traveling through the Golmore Jungle until I reached one of the Big Bads set up for the preview, the Elder Wyrm.

This is where my biggest qualm lies with the game: the battle system, Gambits and all, is frustrating. While the game’s settings host the ability to adjust the combat speed regarding the real-time delay between attacks across the board of players and enemies, the controls for the system felt almost slow and weren’t designed in mind for someone who wanted to manually use their characters outside of their Gambits. Which, to an extent, makes sense. I’m all for promoting and making sure uniquely designed systems are used, but the clunkyness of the menu surfing really made fighting a chore for someone jumping in 11 years after they played the original; so much so that I found myself fleeing from more and more trash monsters as the scenario continued on hours later.

Through my belabored menu surfing, I came across one of my favorite features in Zodiac Age: 4 minute and 10 second Espers. Yup. Watching Ashe fight alongside Belias for a considerable amount of time was pretty awesome, not only for making the fight significantly easier, but it gave me something I’ve been craving after playing nearly every other Final Fantasy title: balanced combat that makes sense with the lore. In the more recent Final Fantasy games, we get one of two extremes: super powered solo summons that replace a party/are one-offs with Special Abilities and underpowered pets that hang around and offer DPS moves once a minute until later levels.

Final Fantasy XII addressed this with the Esper system, but for me, the 1 minute 30 second time limit on the Esper felt a little too short. Zodiac Age, again, fixes this. The extended time period allows players to get in just the right amount of Summon fix before triggering their special Technik ability, unleashing Hellfire or whatever buffoonery they choose.

Another battle adjustment in Zodiac Age is the addition of the Mist Gauge. In the 2006 release, Quickening abilities used MP. The addition of the Mist Gauge solves the issue of Silence prohibiting the use of abilities as well as the pesky draining of MP, similar to a Limit Break. Other than a new resource for them to draw upon, the abilities remain unchanged in terms of mechanics and the act of linking them together within a small period of time remains the same and one of the more satisfying parts of combat.

Once the battles in the Jungle were over, I made my way to the Paramina Rift and Mt. Bur-Omisace (where some pretty gorgeous cutscenes happened) before heading down to the Stilshrine of Miriam. Here, I got to wander around aimlessly and miserably fail at solving basic puzzles because I’m that guy, but everything looked beautiful and ran, you guessed it, butter smooth.

Once I had finished with the Stilshrine portion of the preview session, I had a chance to try out the new Trial Mode, a gauntlet of 100 battles with zero breaks in between the fights that unlocks once you’ve cleared the game. I managed to get to the 15th stage before finally getting overwhelmed and meeting my demise. 

Overall, my experience playing Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age can really be summed up in one word: relaxing. While most RPGs will maintain a sense of urgency regarding the overarching story to keep you motivated between side quests and the minutiae, what we get in The Zodiac Age is a very cinematic and visually delicious vibe that I haven’t experienced in a long time. This is owed directly to the polished graphics, increased resolution and remastered score, in combination with the classic Gambit system; who knew sitting back and watching an RPG play itself would be this enjoyable?

 

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age will be released July 11th, 2017 on PlayStation 4.