Thursday 30 May 2019

FF12: The Zodiac Age ★★★★★

Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age Review Version Tested: Xbox One X Time doesn’t heal all wounds, but the years have been kind to Final Fantasy XII. Arguably the last great FF game, XII is the latest in the series to get an HD re-release, and it’s finally available on the Xbox One and the Switch. The original came hot on the heels of Final Fantasy X, widely regarded as one of the best RPG’s ever to grace the PlayStation 2. How could you improve on the FMV laden bonanza, packed with Chocobo’s and mini-games galore?

 Square decided to go in a completely different direction for FF12, in what they likely saw as a natural progression for their biggest franchise. Changes to the turn-based fighting system and general direction caused stalwart fans to complain, and everything from a lacklustre main character to the toned-down story were compared to its predecessor in a poor light. There’s no Blitzball, but The Zodiac Age does a lot of things better than FFX, and even the later Final Fantasy XIII. The game incorporates the job system from FF: Tactics, adding depth to Ivalice as you can split job roles, (and respective abilities) between characters to have more customisation than ever before. Your party members start off with basic stats and a sphere grid of your choosing, allowing you to dump points into almost any ability you want at your own pace. 

 The “Gambit” system is one of the best you’ll find in any strategic RPG, allowing you to sit back and relax while user-created scripts work to (Blind) any foe with (Under 50% health), along with healing anyone who takes the slightest bit of damage automatically. It takes some getting used to, but mastery will alleviate most headaches, and you’ll ease past the majority of difficulty spikes without needing to spend time levelling up. The re-release also has a number of quality of life improvements, with the best being the ability to speed up the game whenever you want. It’s a lifesaver if you want to farm enemies for materials, and it speeds up the story when you’re forced to backtrack during the beginning. The options are 2x and 4x speed, ensuring that it won’t take long to get back to a quest-giver located two towns away. You can still spend countless hours completing hunts, collecting items, and earning new stats and abilities through the job system.

 In hindsight, it’s easy to recognise a range of features that were carried over to FF XIII. Luckily, it’s nowhere near as linear, with large areas to explore that are packed with enemies and items to find, along with heaps of extra content. The story is reasonably intriguing if you can deal with political waffle, and it’s made easier to swallow since you can play at double speed. (The running animation is also hilarious when you’re moving twice as fast.) The HD remaster looks as good as you’d expect given its origin, but they still can’t get rid of all of the jankiness. The older tech is especially noticeable with some of the stilted animations and dialogue, but it’s still breathtaking when a giant boss launches a special attack towards you, or when you take in the scale of a city for the first time.

 FF12 is one of the best RPG’s you’ll find on the Switch, and there isn’t much like it on the Xbox One. The game isn’t built to be played in 10-minute increments, but it’s ideal if you’re looking for a meaty old-school experience.

James Millin-Ashmore

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