Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age Preview: Second Chance at a First Impression

Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age Preview: Second Chance at a First Impression

Final Fantasy XII has earned its place as a fan favorite of the long running series, with many players counting it as their favorite to date. However, when the game released for the PS2 in 2006, it also received its fair share of criticism from the dedicated fanbase. The game was largely the first in the franchise to feature real time open worlds and a real-time combat format. For some, this dramatic departure from the gameplay found in the franchise’s signature titles like FFVII and FFX was too much to accept. As the next 2 console generations redefined the expectations, allowing for more normalization of real time, open worlds, Square Enix saw an opportunity to reintroduce FFXII to the current crop of gamers, taking advantage of modern hardware as well as longtime fan feedback on the game’s mechanics. As a result, the remaster Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age was announced, and more than just a pretty coat of paint, the remaster is looking to make some significant overhauls to the game’s core mechanics.

Genre: Action RPG
Developed by: Square Enix
Published by: : Square Enix
Release date: July 11th, 2017
Platforms: PS4

Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age Features

  • Includes several all-new enhanced gameplay features.
  • Latest-generation HD graphical capabilities, including characters and movie scenes fully remastered in high definition.
  • True 7.1 surround sound, including high definition voicing and newly recorded background music utilizing the current generation of sound production.
  • Modern advancements including PlayStation®4 trophy support and share functionalities, auto-save and shortened loading times.
  • An endless amount of gameplay and adventure including Hunts, Battles, and mini-games.

Story & Setting

If you’re new to the story of Final Fantasy XII, the game’s events revolve around a war in the world of Ivalice. The small kingdom of Dalmasca has been conquered by the Archadian Empire and left in shambles. The only heir to the throne of Dalmasca is Princess Ashe, who becomes a freedom fighter to free her land from Archadian rule. She crosses path with Vaan, an orphan dreamer and they embark on a journey of liberation, gathering allies along the way.

Final Fantasy is known for its memorable characters and FFXII is no different with it’s main party of Vaan, Ashe, Baltheir, Penelo and Basch as well as memorable villains and NPCs. The story is distinctly more political than some of the other games in the series, and has a bit more nuance, but many of the series’ trademark elements are present.


Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age retains the core of the original and gives it a makeover, upgrading its graphics and audio in line with modern expectations. The modern appointments extend into things like trophy support, auto-save (yes!), shorter loads and more. With the game originally released so close to the end of the PS2’s life cycle, it had bigger ambitions that were ultimately held back by the limitations of the console and these improvements make a lot of sense. The necessity of remasters is a debatable topic but in this case FFXII will definitely benefit from an upscaling that it seemed to need from the start. Just these changes alone may be worth giving the game another look.

But, the game does have some brand new features added in that will surely entice those fans who are on the fence and wondering what’s the value in double dipping. The first area where there has been significant revision relates the game’s balance and difficulty. FFXII was considered a pretty difficult game as far as Final Fantasy games go, and this had something to do with the brand new combat system and way you would go about exploring the overworld all of which unfolded in real time. With the formula so different from the past, the game became a slog for some accustomed to the random encounter, turn-based gameplay. Hearing these critiques gave Square Enix a chance to address them with the remaster and the overall difficulty balance has been adjusted to make the progression closer to a classic Final Fantasy game.

To maintain a stiff challenge, Square Enix has instituted a brand new option called Trial Mode. Trial Mode is a separate menu selection from the main game and the goal when launching it is to battle your way through 100 battle encounters that increase in complexity and difficulty as you progress. It’s designed so that it is impossible to get through all 100 of the encounters with the same gambit settings, so you are going to have to go in and tweak your gambits as you go, in order to give your party the precise kinds of commands they need to execute. You will be able to load your save data and use the party you’ve been leveling up in the main game, but beyond that, Trial Mode is going to be a true test of your combat mettle.

One of the bigger criticisms of the original was that the game’s speed was not fast enough, and it made exploring the vast world and backtracking through quests incredibly tedious. In some instances you’d simply just get lost en route. The limitations of the platform at the time hampered the game’s ability to serve a massive world that was also easily navigated. To amend this, The Zodiac Age features High Speed Mode which lets players move significantly faster by holding down a button. Additionally the game will now also feature better navigational guides to prevent instances of players getting lost as well as autosaving between maps to mitigate the crushing failure of forgetting to save and dying in some far flung area.

One of the bigger new features implemented is the incorporated job system. The job system is an element that has appeared in past Final Fantasy games and allows you the ability to assign a character to a job or role. These jobs give your characters unique skills and stat progression allowing for some fine tuned specialization. This is a departure from FFXII’s original progression system which was called the license board. The license board was a grid layout that let you unlock abilities and stat boosts as you leveled up. The major critique of the system was that every character used the same grid, muddying your party by removing specialized roles which are so paramount in party based RPGs. By endgame, most of your characters were all progressed similarly and had no overt weaknesses.

The job system’s goal is to not necessarily weaken characters, but to make the game more diverse and interesting by allowing the jobs to determine specialties. There will be about a dozen jobs to choose from such as Archer, Knight and Mage. Adding to this depth of customization is the ability to equip 2 jobs simultaneously on a character, allowing you to in essence multi-class a character, giving you back a little more of the freedom that the original possessed.

Final Fantasy XII is a game that was ahead of its time, as many of its elements that seemed jarring then: open world, real time combat, are commonplace in modern RPGs, including the Final Fantasy series. Releasing so late in the PS2’s life cycle certainly placed it in a tweener realm of gaming development, because of its more forward thinking concepts running on the limitations of older hardware. Because of this, the overhaul of the remaster treatment just makes sense. With modern hardware able to deliver graphical and processing power and modern tastes looking for open, action focused gaming, FFXII The Zodiac Age is getting a second chance to make a first impression. From the looks of it, it seems like they’re maximizing that opportunity.

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Editor at Fextralife. I look for the substantial in gaming and I try to connect video games to the emotions and stories they elicit. I love all things culture and history and have an odd fondness for the planet Jupiter. I think my dogs are pretty awesome too.

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12 comments on “Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age Preview: Second Chance at a First Impression”

  1. Avatar skarekrow13 says:

    This sounds like a much better idea than Lightning Returns

  2. Avatar Shadeon says:

    I never understood all the love this game got back when it was released in 06. I just chalked its popularity up to the gameplay getting the MMO treatment, and I never saw what was so fun/interesting about a battle system that literally plays the game for you. The story and its characters were still about as mediocre as they come.

  3. Avatar Lich180 says:

    The only thing I remember about the story is how the "evil empire" really wasn’t all that evil, and seemed to be better than the original rulers of wherever they took over in the opening cinematic.

    The combat system was pretty cool, even though you could effectively set up everything to fight for you (unless you wanted to use summons). I didn’t beat the game, but I got close, and some of the bosses were huge PITA’s.

  4. Avatar Forum_Pirate says:

    The story is hot garbage. Having re-played it more recently than most (maybe 2 years ago?) I can say that with absolute certainty. It like tries to hedge it’s bets between serious political story and tropy anime stuff and as a result it does both quite badly. There is actually the potential for an interesting story in there and you even get to see parts of it (in between nonsens with vahn and pinello) until somewhere between half way and 2/3rds of the way through when it devolves completely.

    The gameplay is fine I guess. It’s overly simple. The gambit system works well (even if I have a problem with being forced to grind money to buy commands if you want to actually make use of it) but very few of the enemies have interesting/complicated enough mechanics to really make good use of the system by testing the adaptability of your setup and/or your ability to micromanage when unexpected situations come up (and on the rare occasion they do you can usually just use the mist and insta-fix the problem.) If you want to see more or less the exact same system in a game with better mechanics and much better writing, look at Dragon Age Orgins. (All though "it plays the game for you" isn’t really a valid complaint. Not only do you not have to use it, but if you do use it all that’s happened is that you’ve shifted the actual work to pre-battle setup rather than in battle action, so if you find the repitiive battling to be boring you can just not do it provided you have the skill/knowledge to manage in the first place)

    It’s a real shame, because Ivalice (the world) as it was presented is really cool.

  5. Avatar skarekrow13 says:

    I’d have a similar take to Forum. There’s a lot to dislike, but for me there was a good amount of charm. As a Vagrant Story fan, the nostalgia there is a plus. It’s a world worth seeing. I liked having more relatable antagonists. There’s more but it’s a game I like.

  6. Avatar Shadeon says:

    Aside from the Zodiac espers & the constant reminder that FFXII takes place in a world called Ivalice, I saw nothing reminiscent of Vagrant Story or Final Fantasy Tactics in the game. The whole New Ivalice idea felt like an awkward attempt at reinventing something by removing all the interesting parts of it, replacing them with some uninspired fantasy aspects, and then have it take itself too seriously.

    The gambits just aided in making a boring, passive, repititive combat system into a full on cinematic experience stuck on repeat, and there was virtually no shift in pre-battle setup or work necessary when implementing them, it was the opposite in fact. Not using them still ultimately didn’t change the nature of the gameplay. Besides, why give a set of tools to the player and expect them not to use it? I wouldn’t exactly consider it a substitute for a difficulty slider.

  7. Avatar Forum_Pirate says:

    What you’re complaing about isn’t gambits, it’s FF12s combat being shallow. Those aren’t the same thing.

    Because the game isn’t balanced around making extensive use of them so it’s just an option? It’s the difference between giving the player quest markets but also giving proper, specific directions on how to get where you’re going so player can use or ignore either system as they wish, and using quest markers instead of giving those directions. Gambits are the former. You can manually controll everything and it’s no more slow or unweildy than it is in any FF game that came before.

    I never said it was a substitute for a difficulty slider. It’s not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be an automation tool that is as involved or simplistic as you would like it to be. If anything it would be more difficult to set up gambits well enough to never have to do any work, the game is generally pretty easy but unexpected/nasty situation that require micromanaging of multiple characters do come up and mapping out the proccesses to handle those before you even know they’re coming up instead of improvising when they come up takes some real planning skills (or a lot of luck)

  8. Avatar Shadeon says:

    I’m criticizing the gameplay as a whole, and the problem I have with gambits is that the game is balanced around extensive use of them, just very poorly. I wouldn’t compare past FF title’s combat with XII’s for this very reason. The options were either you utilize gambits to play actively(I use the term actively here very loosely) or have the game pause during every action save auto-attacks while you micromanage the entire team. The latter needlessly extending the already slow nature of combat and making progress through the game a long slow stretch of mind numbing mob grindage identical to that of your average MMO but with pausing, and little to no plot in between. The former option completely negating the need for micromanagement altogether.

    The in between of both options consisting of you playing actively while trying to control all the characters actions manually, which quickly leads to you wondering why the hell you don’t just set the characters to perform actions while you aren’t controlling them, but since the basic formula of tank, dps, healer works for just about everything, there ends up being no need to to assume control at all, especially since every character can be setup to off-heal or really just set to do anything they need to when circumstances permit. Case in point, the final boss is easily taken down without any player input.

    I just found the majority of content to be slow, uninvolving, and painful to watch, and without a story with which to carry any interest, I realized all I was playing was a shallow outdated MMO in single player mode, or rather watching someone else play one on YouTube.

  9. Avatar Lich180 says:

    I remember grinding to max level using gambits. A certain boss would summon adds constantly, and they gave you xp every kill, so you’d set your gambits up to only target a certain amount of HP, which was under what the boss had, then cast heals / Phoenix down on anyone who needs it, then just let the game go for a night.

    Come back in the morning to a ton of loot, and max level characters. Repeat for the backup squad.

  10. Nunkuruji says:


    And Vaan as a protagonist being utterly pointless and uninteresting.

    For an Ivalice Alliance game, following Final Fantasy Tactics, and Vagrant Story, I had expectations of lore, mystery and character depth and development that were just not met.

    As for open world, it’s fine, but too many games crap it up with really garbage shallow kill 10 rat sidequests. Xenosaga and FF have still been doing it wrong. Witcher 3 did it mostly right.

    DA:O, the fun was soloing it, rather than having AI nuisance.

  11. Avatar Forum_Pirate says:

    It’s not balanced around extensive use of them.
    1: It’s a final fantasy game. You can just auto attack through most trash mobs
    2: If you don’t use them, the game plays almost exactly the same as something like FF9. All that’s changed is the camera perspective (and the ability to run out of AOEs)

    Again, that’s the combat being shallow, not the gambits. If you *had* to control them for all the boring grindy trash, it would still be boring grindy trash, and all the same strategies would work for anything they work for with gambits. FF12 does not have good encounter design. In fact, most of the FF games are severly lacking in good encounter design outside of boss battles and some rare enemies. I say again, look to Dragon Age Orgins for more or less the same system in a much better combat system, meaning just letting the game play itself is actually quite difficult.

    Also, It’s not as if I like FF12. I really don’t. I’ll agree that the story is bad and the characters are either bad or underdevelped. That has, however, literally no bearing on the merits of the gambit system. It’s a good idea and mostly well executed, but sadly bolted to a combat system that can’t fully utilize it.

  12. Avatar Emergence says:

    For me personally I didn’t mind the gameplay and combat, it was the story that eluded me more as it was a bit more political than the standard FF game. It lacked a little of the immediacy of emotion but I thought it had really started something interesting with it’s core (considering this was a PS2 release) and was quite a leap from something like FFX, which was brilliant, but also very much what you’d expect from FF gameplay.

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