Six Reasons to Be Excited for ‘Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age’

J.P. Paulonis
Games Final Fantasy
Games Final Fantasy

You wouldn’t believe how hyped I and the rest of the Final Fantasy Wiki staff were when Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age was finally announced, at long last.

Final Fantasy XII was released after Square Enix’s trilogy of Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy XI. This trilogy was planned to be three separate and distinct experiences, where IX was designed to be a return to the series’ roots and a look back at things that had come before, X was designed to be a natural evolution of the JRPG, and XI was designed to be the first MMORPG in the series. In effect, XII took cues from each of these experiences. It’s full of references to previous games in the series like IX, is a take on an evolutionary approach like X, and is much more open and filled to the brim with quests like XI.

Final Fantasy XII was divisive among fans primarily due to its abandonment of the plain Active Time Battle combat system of previous games, where combat was instanced with random encounters and solely menu based. Instead, XII uses Active Dimension Battle where players still have menus and time bars from ATB, but can fully move their character, and there’s much more of a pressure to use actions quicker. Also, there are no longer random instanced encounters, and enemies are simply found and fought the same way they would be in any other game. Because actions need to be input much more rapidly than they would need to be in the classic ATB system, actions are determined through Gambits, which essentially allows the player to program characters in their party to fight a certain way.

For many classic fans, Gambits simply didn’t grow on them, and they began to miss the random encounters as they performed task after task hunting monsters and fulfilling side quests but being lost in the expansive world of Ivalice. They found the political intrigue story difficult to wrap their head around or even dull, they didn’t like the cast, the music wasn’t what they were used to, and the references to other games weren’t enough to shake the feeling that it wasn’t much like a Final Fantasy game. But for many others, such as myself, XII gave them a brilliant setting (arguably the best in the series), a breathtaking amount of things to do, an incredibly awesome musical score, and some seriously beautiful graphics. For them, it became a beloved title, and for many, even a favorite.

With how many ports Square Enix has been releasing of the older games in the Final Fantasy series, it was mostly accepted as an inevitability. And yet, for fans it’s still extremely exciting to see this underrated gem get some love. Since I detailed six reasons to be hyped for Final Fantasy IX‘s remake, here are six reasons to be hyped for Final Fantasy XII‘s.

It Is Playable on All-New Platforms

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For the longest time, Final Fantasy XII was the only entry in the franchise only playable on a single console. Come 2017, when the game releases, it will lose that title. Now, any modern gamer can easily play any game in the series with an up-to-date machine, as every entry will be available on smartphone, tablet, PC and PlayStation 4. This is great news for anyone just getting into the series after Final Fantasy XV releases, or anyone who wants to play their old games, but no longer have a way to do so. Of course, it’s even better news for Square Enix, as it’s easier to sell their games to a variety of different system owners.

At the moment, only a PlayStation 4 release is announced. But Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD Remaster was also only released on PlayStation 3, Vita and PlayStation 4 on release, and then very recently ported to PC. This means a PC release is probably inevitable for XII, and given how similar the PS4’s specs are to a PC, it won’t be difficult to port. It’s more likely Square Enix — which has close relations with Sony, is releasing this on PS4 now due to a marketing deal — though we can only speculate there.

IZJS Improvements Are Finally Playable Outside Japan

The International Zodiac Job System improvements fixed many of the issues with the original game, by making Espers more powerful (read – less useless), making guest characters controllable, giving a much needed rebalance to stat growth and items, providing an extra Mist gauge in addition to MP, and allowing players to hold down L1 to speed up the game. Other improvements were additional neat features such as a Trial Mode.

Final Fantasy XII‘s one key feature was a job system. In the original game, each character had an identical license board with which to select abilities and learn to use equipment, which provides a great deal of freedom but was also overwhelming to the player. The job system introduced in the IZJS version solved this by giving different possible jobs that a character could be assigned to, and though this limited the license board and a character could not change a job once assigned, characters were already made vastly more powerful than in the original version. To add to this, IZJS removes the damage limit of 9999, allowing players to deal as much damage as their weapon and stats can provide them. The result of this was making defeating superbosses much quicker, such as Yiazmat (which could originally last six hours with an optimal setup).

All of these improvements made for a much-improved experience, and solved the majority of issues people had with the game. But they were all in a Japan-exclusive release. Now, Western gamers can (legally!) experience them for themselves, and new players can experience what is a much better game.

Expect Many Other Improvements

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We know based on Square Enix’s recent ports of their games that they like to throw in lots of improvements to make them more friendly for newer players, and to make the game a lot easier to play. In their most recent port of Final Fantasy X to PC, these features included auto-save, skippable cutscenes, supercharged characters, and speed-up mode, which were mostly consistent with other boosts added in their previous titles.

Improvements like auto-save and skippable cutscenes are, nowadays, a necessity. There’s nothing worse than spending hours grinding your character only to accidentally die to a harder enemy you didn’t see coming – and in Final Fantasy XII, given how many harder enemies such as the Entites or any of the Marks could show up unexpected, and if the player accidentally engaged in battle with these much higher level enemies, it’d be bad news all around. Skippable cutscenes are a mainstay in games now, and though long cutscenes in between gameplay segments were never as much of an issue in XII as they were in X, it’s still great to be able to skip them.

The other boosts added in their ports are simply optional boosts that make the game easier. This is probably because it takes lots of effort to add in an easy mode, so instead they add character boosts to level 99 to make the game enjoyable for anyone who wants to experience the story alone and skip past the gameplay parts. IZJS jumped the gun and already added a speed-up to make grinding quicker, but the other improvements are very likely.

An Even Better Soundtrack

The soundtrack of XII was either one of its best points if you’re a fan of the game or one of its weakest if you’re not. It was very different from the rest of the series as it had a different composer, but it was also particularly epic and ambient, and really suited the setting. Now, the soundtrack has been re-recorded and remastered, which can only be a good thing as it will vastly improve the sound quality.

The HD remaster of X also received a sound remaster. However, for fans of the original soundtrack, it was offputting and difficult to get used to. Fortunately for them, the PS4 and PC remasters later included the option to listen to the old soundtrack instead. It’s reasonable to believe that this version will also have that same option. It’s only been described as re-recording, meaning that it could simply be an HD audio upgrade rather than a very different and remixed soundtrack.

Seriously Gorgeous Graphics

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I mean, seriously gorgeous. The original game already had amazing graphics, as Final Fantasy games normally do, but the screenshots show that XII looks almost indistinguishable from another PS4 game. Between X‘s original PS2 release and its eventual PS4 remaster, there were many improvements in the character models and the environments, so we should expect to see many of the same improvements for XII, including a likely upgrade to 1080p resolution. Not to mention the fact that the models were already really well-made, but they didn’t look as good as they could have due to the PS2’s inability to render them at the quality at which they were made. It is evident in many emulated playthroughs of the original that there was plenty of untapped graphical potential.

Perfect Timing

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Final Fantasy XII is an underrated gem in the series. And with the release of Final Fantasy XV on the horizon, it’s a fairly natural transition as the two are similar – both games lack random encounters and include very open environments and a great story. Anyone who has gotten into the series with XV as an entry point will easily love XII.

Those who played but didn’t love XII the first time should give it a chance and experience the new IZJS version in all its glory. IZJS fixed many of the issues people had with it the first time around, making it a golden opportunity to try it again.

Final Fantasy XII has quite possibly the best setting in the series; Ivalice, originally seen in the Final Fantasy Tactics spinoff,  has so much depth in its lore and a wider variety of locations and species than in most Final Fantasy settings. Its story of political intrigue was also very unique for the series, and though it could be confusing at times and hard to keep track of all the details, it was also very enjoyable. Its cast was brilliant on the back of the half-James Bond half-Han Solo legend that is Balthier alone, while Basch fon Rosenburg is a brilliant and very likable character, and Princess Ashe has a very endearing story. Add in hunting marks, sidequests, and exploring all the content the game has to offer, and Final Fantasy XII is bound to keep you interested for hours.

I’m thrilled that my tied favorite game in the series is getting more love, and is now out there for more people to enjoy. It’s gone too long as the only game not available on up-to-date machines and on a single console. Come 2017, when Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age releases, that’ll all change. And one of the best games on the PS2 will finally get the treatment it well and truly deserves.

J.P. Paulonis
I've been gaming since playing Crash Bandicoot: Warped at 6 years old, and my favorite game of all time is now Metal Gear Solid 3, while my favorite series is Final Fantasy. I've also been wiki-ing since a long time, so you'll find me writing and coding throughout the site.
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