Just over ten years since Final Fantasy XII first released on the PlayStation 2 back in 2007 in Europe, we finally get to experience the International Zodiac Job System. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is a high-definition remaster for PlayStation 4 of the Japanese-only International Zodiac Job System version of Final Fantasy XII.
Final Fantasy XII is a game that, at least from the circles I fell into during its release period, divided opinion. While it is far from a bad game it has continued to hold a reputation that places rather low when compared to other fan favourites. The game, of course, has also been championed by a select core of fans who regard it very highly. I think whichever side of the coin you fall on there are valid arguments to be made.
I have always said that if XII didn’t carry the Final Fantasy name it would be more widely and highly regarded amongst fans but as an official Final Fantasy entry, it faces some very strong competition. I personally sit firmly in the middle, I have enjoyed my time with the game on both PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 4 but feel it lacks that certain Final Fantasy magic. Feel free to disagree with me, it’s all just opinion at the end of the day but having played every numbered Final Fantasy entry XII has always felt a like a bit of an odd duck.
The battle system in XII was easily one of the biggest complaints toward the game during its original release. It’s easy to see why as on the surface it appeared, at the time, like a major changed to the way a Final Fantasy played but in reality and especially now the system itself isn’t all that different from before. It makes some visual changes over how you target enemies but it is still essentially the same battle system that we have seen slowly change over time.
Ten years on and I doubt the battle system will be as much of an issue as it was in 2007. Later Final Fantasy‘s and other game series have used similar systems and have evolved them since. So, XII‘s battle system doesn’t feel like the massive change it was back then; if anything it even feels dated by today’s standards. Equally, the story progression in XII saw some negativity given its largely mission-based nature. Like the battle system, I believe it’s just down to a changing of the times that now doesn’t seem out of the norm for games of this genre.
Let’s change the topic and talk about what is new to this HD version of the game and that is the Zodiac job system. Of course, nothing new to those who have played the Japanese International Zodiac Job System PS2 release but for the majority of us, this is new and different to what we experienced previously. Like Final Fantasy X, XII used a board in which you unlocked upgrades for your characters called the license board. With only one board each character would start in random parts and over the course of the game you’d unlock new abilities by going in whichever direction you liked.
The Zodiac Age changes that with the introduction of 12 job classes each with their own unique license board to complete. When you have chosen a job class for a specific character it cannot be changed. So while you may be limited to a specific class I actually felt that this gives you more scope for customizing how you want your teamwork. There are, of course, certain jobs that each character will perform better in but ultimately it’s up to you, the player.
HD remasters are nothing new and with Square Enix having already put out a number of them I was looking forward to how XII would look. Final Fantasy games have always arguably been some of the best visual experience on consoles for many generations and XII was no different on PS2. Fast forward to The Zodiac Age and I’m a little underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong the game looks great and a massive improvement over the PS2 version but it doesn’t feel like it matches with what Final Fantasy X HD did some years ago. The same I feel can be said about the audio but then I don’t have fond memories of it from the PS2 days anyway.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is a really good game and easily the best way to experience this entry in the franchise. I recommend to anyone that didn’t like it back on the PlayStation 2 to give this version a try as I’m sure it would be a much more enjoyable experience. That said, I still find Final Fantasy XII to be an odd duck in the realms of Final Fantasy and it will always be overshadowed by those that came before it.