Game Title: Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age
Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Role Playing
Age Rating: PEGI 16+
Release Date: July 11th 2017
Game Score: 3.0/10
Your return to Ivalice will leave you unwelcome from the various bad design choices, unenjoyable battles and poor storytelling.
The Final Fantasy series just can't seem to get that much of a break these days, whenever there is a new Final Fantasy game release that comes out everyone is just going to buy it from day one with out question. Whether it will be a sequel, a remake or port of an old game that everyone has so many nostalgic memories for. Look nostalgia is a powerful memory when ten of the original Final Fantasy games minus two and eight are still long lasting titles that hold up very well while others simply do not. The franchise has had it's share of downfalls next to Sonic The Hedgehog from some of the awful double digit sequels which make the franchise lose it's way from time to time to some lazy ports which really ruin the fun and enjoyable memories people had with the originals. Case in point is Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age for the PlayStation 4 which is a remastered update of the original game but actually more of an update of the Zodiac Job System version which was only released in Japan and for good reason. I reviewed Final Fantasy XII originally for the PlayStation only 4 years ago and called it a strong contender for worst Final Fantasy game in the franchise next to Final Fantasy XIII. I literally ripped the game apart for the horrible gameplay mechanics, poor story and characters and found myself having bad memories just suffering through the amount of bad design choices that the game could possibly throw at me. Here I am once again returning to Ivalice to play through Final Fantasy XII and my feelings and opinions on XII have not changed.
The story goes is that the Imperial Empire of Arcadia launch an attack on a peaceful country of Dalmasca and carry the lives of innocent lives in their rule. The game's antagonist Vayne Solidor is attempting to collect stones called Nethercite so that he can win the war and rule the world. Protagonist Vaan lives a struggling life after losing his brother in the war and wants to become a sky pirate and live the life he wants till that is he ends up joining a group of rebellions who oppose the empire. Other characters include fan favourites Balthier and Fran who are sky pirates who are after various treasures, there's Basch a fallen soldier who is branded a traitor in the eyes of Dalmasca, Ashe who is a lost princess and lastly Pennelo who is a childhood friend of Vaan. Aside from some of the creative and at times enjoyable dialogue from Balthier, Fran and Basch there really isn't anything that makes the majority of the characters and the story all that worth caring for. The game's storyline focuses way too much on the whole politics aspect between the Empire and the citizens and there is absolutely no proper character development what-so-ever. Vaan despite being the game's main character ends up only having few important points in the story only to get mostly shoved to the side without even caring all that much at all. Pennelo is only just there just because she just has to be there for Vaan but doesn't do anything worth of value in the story aside from just taking up a party slot. The other main characters aren't all that interesting either, Basch, Ashe, Balthier and Fran all try their hardest to give any kind of meaning to the plot but even with some great dialogue they even end up not caring about what is going on around them which really makes you lose any connection that you could have with the story. For all I know is that the rebels are just a pack of crazy manics who are just fighting back at the imperials only because just are. The villains are the characters in the game that are the most involved with the plot and actually do something that is worth the attention better then the main cast especially Gabranth whose every line of dialogue is well delivered and actually means the most in terms of the story. Whenever the villains are on screen in the cutscenes they show off dedication to all other characters even if their political objectives are a little questionable. Despite the villains delivery I honestly couldn't care about any of the political elements of the plot and I found the majority of the characters just mostly forgettable. They are nothing on the level of Final Fantasy XIII or Final Fantasy VIII but there is just nothing entirely all that much interesting about any of the characters in the game.
Now one thing that I will always give most with today's Final Fantasy games is the presentation which it is impossible to deny. Now Final Fantasy originally came out for the PS2 in 2006 for the rest of the world and 2007 for the UK and it during that time when the XBox 360, the PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Wii are all out at that point where as the PlayStation 2 was still releasing games for it. The PlayStation 2's graphics was beginning to wear out but that didn't stop Final Fantasy XII from looking absolutely incredible. Like all these PS2 remasters that we have been getting on the PS3, PSVita and the PS4 it has gotten that treatment where the graphics have been updated to High Definition quality. The character models look more detailed including all of the monsters which are still well designed and animated beautifully, the characters also have more reflective details as well but it's the gorgeous environments which are truly the highlights of the game. They show off a lot of spectacular and crisp visuals and they still look very appealing and I like all the weather effects that some of the areas have. In the dessert areas it can fill up with a sand storm, an icy area could blow with a massive blizzard while in other areas it could also rain. There are plenty of small details like that which really make Final Fantasy XII still one of the finest looking games on the PS2 console even if some of the environments up close can look a little pixilated. While the game doesn't run at 60 FPS during gameplay and the cutscenes it still gets the job done.
The soundtrack on the other hand is bit of a mixed bag, some tracks like the remixed main theme and the victory music are okay while others like the tracks played in some towns in the port or the starting town you spend plenty of time in are just repetitive and uninspired. Their is the option of having the orchestral remixed tunes but some of the tracks do not sound any different or better then their original counterparts so the original tracks are recommended. This version of the game also supports the Japanese audio voice tracks which is a nice feature for those who prefer the option. However the English dub audio is incredible enough as it is but with Gabranth's voice truly stealing the show whenever that guy is on screen saying out possibly one of the best quotes in the game. It's just a massive shame that the gameplay really lets the whole experience down in so many ways possible so let's buckle down and talk about them.
For starters The Zodiac Age tries it hardest to address the issues some people have had with the original game but there is nothing that feels all that improved. Let's talk about the gameplay in Final Fantasy XII before talking about the many issues that are wrong with it. The gameplay in Final Fantasy XII plays kind of like an MMO except that it doesn't use any online functionality although I couldn't imagine how bad the game would be if it did. It has sequences which is divided between towns where you shop for items and new gear as well as talking to NPCs and also important characters which will help advance the story. It is also divided by fields and dungeons where you explore each area for treasure and also monsters to fight against, occasionally you get a puzzle that you have to work out and each dungeon has a boss battle to fight against and defeating it allows you to go to the next destination where you do the same thing again.
The battle system in this game is...oh how should I explain it? Well the whole field and the dungeons you explore are your battle arena and are not interrupted by any kind of screen transition as monsters are placed about on the map. Fights are started by pressing X to bring up the combat menu, selecting Attack and then picking the enemy you wish to attack as long as the enemy is within view. After picking the action the character you are using will attack the enemy till it is down and you have to repeat this process for other enemies and the same for using Items, Magic Spells and other Technicks as well. You have to this process of having to give orders to your characters to win the earliest of battles in game and it is just a ridiculously slow when you are doing this for the 50th time. The game has options to either make the battles wait for you to while you use the combat menu or active where the game doesn't pause when you use the combat menu but even then it's tedious having to go through the menu to get everyone to do whatever it is you want them to do.
One feature that you get later on is the Gambit System, the way this worked is that it allows the computer to control the party members based on their action setup and their priorities. You can set a number of different actions which will allow characters to attack, heal or use items automatically. You can set individual actions like attack the closest enemy or set an action to use a potion or a cure spell if a character's HP was below 50%. These actions can be assigned at any place on the screen in which any action assigned to the top would be the highest priority while any action assigned to the lowest will be the lowest priority. On paper it sounds kind of decent but however it's a poorly executed design choice, why do I say that I see you guys asking? Well let me break it down. For starters you have to correctly manage your character's action on the gambit screen like you could place in the actions where a character can use a different attack if an enemy has high defence, use an attack that reduces an enemy defence or to have a different character cast a magic spell, it's ideal but however it can be confusing to get used to when you notice that some actions function the same. Like if I were to insert Ally = Any use Phoenix Down it would have the same effect as just Ally = KO'd Ally use Phoenix Down or Ally = Any use Antidote and Ally = Poisoned use Antidote for example. Another thing about the gambit system is that once you set up the gambits to how you need it to be the battles become automatic as every single action that you set up including your controlling character is handled by the computer without any actual player input. Look in all fairness it's an attempt to have a unique system where you can set up the character's actions in combat, but it just feels confusing when deciding the best actions for some battle situations like bosses which I'll come back to and having to manage priorities like healing and stats buffing as well as having to decide which attacks will be the most effective instead of just relaying on a single attack command. I get it that if you didn't use the gambits and relayed on just giving the party members commands in combat it would be tedious but then again even if you do set up the attack commands the priority order no matter the condition messes up how your other attacks are supposed to come out and it's mostly easier to input characters other attacks anyway which makes the gambit system almost redundant. Compared to the strategy system found in the Tales of games for instance all you need is a simple command telling your party members how aggressive they should act or how frequent they should use their Artes to what Artes you want or don't want them to use, it's a simple system which has worked fantastically well and it doesn't need to be anything complex then that. Imagine if a Tales of game had a Gambit System then...oh wait one game has a variation of the Gambit System which is possibly something I might not look forward to seeing.
Another one of those that the developers tried to implement was the License Board, now the way it worked is that a character can equip a piece of equipment like a sword, axe, spear, bow or a type of armour as long as they have license to equip it, the same even goes to magic spells or other abilities. It meant that if you slowly filled the License Board every single character could equip the same type of equipment and have all the magic spells at their disposal making them all the same. In Zodiac Age attempts to address this by making what's called the Zodiac Job System where you pick from a class job which has its own licenses. Select wisely otherwise you are stuck with that class the whole game, you can't change it and you may not know this but you may have picked the wrong class and screwed yourself. This new would have been more efficient if it had any unique or proper abilities or weapons to support it. Why would you make anyone in the party a Thief when some other classes have the Steal skill? Why give a character a Dagger when they are weakest weapons in the game? At least you can pick out a secondary class when you reach a certain point in the game but still it's the most unintuitive way to make a system better.
The battle system itself when you setup the gambits just makes them super boring and tedious regardless of the setup but it bogs down further when you realize just how ridiculously cheap the battle difficulty is. Like I said before Final Fantasy XII is an open world game where you can freely explore the world how you see fit, that idea is solid but it poorly translates into the game for a few reasons. There are areas in the game where if you decide to take a detour of the critical path you'll encounter plenty of tough enemies that are seriously high levelled then you are. They can often kill off your entire party members in one fell swoop cause they can pull off attacks and maybe status elements quickly and because you have to wait for the ATB meter to fill before a character has to take an action means that enemies have more of an advantage against you and there is little you can do about it. In another words going off the main road and into an optional dungeon will instantly spell Game Over if you pretty much decide to fight against a random enemy in a dungeon that is way past your party's overall Level. The designers even had the nerve to put overpowered enemies within the first hour of the game and a fight against either can be triggered which is just instant death which will no doubt end your game very early without even saving.
The dungeon designs aren't that better, some start out decently and then later dungeons start throwing traps where if you stand on them it either causes status effects or do massive damage if not instantly kill maybe one, two or maybe the whole party. You can never tell where they could be unless you equip either an accessory that has the Libra ability or use the Libra spell yourself. Traps can end up being placed all over one area or sometimes placed in the middle of small tight corridors which makes them difficult to avoid. You could try and avoid them by going to the side but most of the time your other idiot party members could instead of following carefully to avoid it they'll walk right into the trap getting you killed. You can even step into a trap pretty much the instant you go into the next screen in some dungeons, how is that supposed to even be fair!? The main way to avoid the traps without using Libra is the Float spell which will make your party members float in the air for a time, you do get this spell later.
With the regular enemies and dungeon designs being ridiculous what about the bosses in the game. Most of the storyline bosses aren't that much of a problem as long as you grind enough levels which will happen anyway and build up your licenses or if you have the Quickenings ready then you will win the boss fights without that much of a fuzz. They mostly just stand in one place and attack one party member or use one of their super attacks which deals massive damage to either one or maybe the whole party. However it's the later ones where they have other minions with them or fights where the game decides to throw a curveball like can't use magic or use physical attacks is where the frustration begins right? Not quite yet.
The biggest kicker are the side quests and optional boss encounters which I'll come back to for a moment cause I want to talk about the side quests for a moment because...wow. You got hunts that you can take part in and you would think you can do these hunt by going a board, selecting the hunt you want and then do it right? Wrong! Instead every hunt has a partitioner that you need to speak to in order to start the hunt, they could either be close by in the same town you are in or one partitioner could be in a different town maybe zones away from your target monster. It's only after talking with them that the quest starts, some of the hunts are simple go to this area to kill it which is more or less easily done just by looking on the map but then some of the later hunts have to throw some of stupid gimmick that either isn't either explained at all or designed in such a way that you would never figure out on your own. There are some quests in the game that have some of requirement in order for the enemy to spawn, the same goes to the rare game type enemies. These can either be clearing out the zone for it to appear or you have to change the weather of the area which the way this works occurs at complete random. You're supposed to come out of the area completely, walk to different zones and then back to the area you were in for the weather to change but sometimes it never changes. I tried going to different areas, warped to different dungeons and the weather never changed at all which makes this whole RNG system with the weather system just tedious and annoying. There are also ridiculous requirements like having to be low on heath or to come out of an area and then come back in till the thing decides to spawn. The majority of the hunts tell you where they will spawn but the last hunts never tell the locations which will force you to look it up guides or just guess the location which again becomes a pain. Combined with the rare game hunts having a spawn chance percentage it begs the question, why include an RNG aspect!?
In terms of fighting the optional bosses some of them aren't too difficult if you are reasonably levelled but however there are some of the optional boss fights that are just completely unfair. Some of the bosses have plenty of overpowered attacks which do serious damage to one or maybe the whole party, have attacks that kill a party member instantly, throw dozens of status effects, get more attacks off faster then the party and lastly put on immunity barriers which makes them immune to all your attacks. Yes I swear it's true, Let me tell if a boss puts on a immunity barrier then you are screwed because the immunity barrier lasts for perhaps minutes and there is literally nothing you can do. I tried using different attacks, dispelling it, used non elemental attacks, used items but none of them worked. This single handily is the most unfair thing about the bosses in the game and it's one in which you will fall victim to and no doubt rage out in anger. I understand that every boss has their own weakness that you have to exploit but however in FFXII you just have to be very lucky with some of the bosses especially ones with that stupid immunity barrier, you just can't do anything about it. All you can do is hope that the barrier goes away after a few minutes while you struggle to keep all your wounded party members alive only for the boss to finish what is left of your party members with a super attack. You can have 3 party members at a time fighting with a guest character that you get occasionally and if your 3 party members are down you have to bring out the other 3 members who are not dead yet. It's only when all 6 of your party members are dead it's Game Over and you have to load from your last save or use a temporally auto save which auto saves each time you go into a new area which is generous. Even then it's still just a pain to make it to the boss in order to try again. They even made an optional boss that has over 50 Million HP, yes again I swear it's true and anyone who has played the game before on the PS2. It's called Yiazmat and it takes about nearly 2 hours to defeat him even with the best equipment in the game at normal speed. I swear who ever came up with some of the bosses for this game must have been a complete sick manic who fought none of the previous Final Fantasy optional challenges where not hard and challenging. This game is challenging but that challenge comes from the frustration from the bosses having overpowered attacks, annoying barriers and the terrible combat system.
Look I understand that a boss has to be tough in which you have to be fully prepared in order to take them on. Every single boss is supposed to behave different that would make them all unique and challenging but even then it's just a challenge trying to keep your party members alive cause a boss is cheating using that annoying barrier while you struggle to keep everyone alive. Take a look at the old Final Fantasy games most notably VI, VII and IX for instance you don't see bosses or overpowered enemies that use those annoying immunity barriers and attacks that wipe out everyone in one hit, the challenge in those old games are so fair that the only reason you died it was because you didn't use a healing spell in time and wasted your turns attacking instead. In other words if you died in the old games your defeat was entirely your fault. Yeah, sure they had some of the franchises hardest bosses but again it's done in a way that it is fair and you know it is because everything falls on you. In Final Fantasy XII a lot of the deaths are just out of your control and are dozens of times where you die constantly and it wasn't your fault but the game just being a total cheating swine. It's like playing with a five year old child who is very spoiled and you just have to let him win and it is just not fun you know.
About the only things that the developers did kind of new for the game is being able to speed up the whole game with the speed function. This is done by pressing the L1 button and you can switch between 2x speed or 4x speed in the options menu. This helps with the grinding in this game cause building everyone's experience points and licenses tends to be real slow but use this feature well and it will help you grind plenty of levels. The only disadvantage to using it is that it on 4x it makes the fights too fast and it can be difficult to keep track of what's going on. Another thing the developers did with the battle system is making the Mist Charge as it's own meter instead of sharing it with the MP. In the original game having to summon drains a ton of MP as well as the character's Quickenings was real risky cause losing so much MP when you need it so bad to heal your party members but here having the Mist Charge meter means that you can use Summonings and Quickenings without having to worry about MP consumption. Combined with the awful battle mechanics and the way the whole open world idea it just gives you at a complete handicapped and have to spend the majority of the game grinding as well as playing around with the gambits just to have a chance against them. If you do grind up and beat the optional bosses the story bosses just become total push overs unless they use instant kill techniques to unfairly beat you.
I know that I am being extremely critical against the design of the battle system but there are just plenty of bad design choices with the gameplay. The battle system is slow, punishing and automatic, the bosses are unfairly balanced, the gambits just take away the control away from you, not even the new Zodiac Job System even tries to resolve the License Board from the original. Not even the 100 Stage Trial Mode is any fun at all, oh yeah cause they had to include a new mode for the game for the re-release I guess. In this mode you basically go through 100 stages fighting the enemies and some bosses you fought in the main game only that some bosses have less HP. It starts out easy till it goes into that unfair territory just like with the optional bosses in the main game. You'll struggle with them and no doubt rage cause of the cheapness of certain bosses. There is also a New Game Plus which makes you start you off with bonuses I guess and also a New Game Minus which doesn't give you any Experience Points which I would not dare ever challenge this setting unless you are just a complete masochist who wants to punish himself some more.
You know what's sad about this entire remaster is that it looks fantastic, it looks so much in many ways better then the PS2 original but even with the limited technology of the PlayStation 2 Square Enix pulled off quite a lot with the graphics and the cutscenes. The game still manages to hold it's own in terms of the presentation and it looks really good, it's just a shame that the gameplay is so bad that it ruins the game as a whole. If I were to host a party and invite Final Fantasy XII it would really present itself really well cause it knows how to dress itself with the appropriate fashion but however at the bar party it would drink about three glasses of beer before getting drunk and starts to lose itself completely and then gets ejected from the bar. This is seriously becoming a thing with the Final Fantasy series now, they can look fantastic but its gameplay and the evolution of trying to move the series forward and they never did it right and this game and Final Fantasy XIII are perfect examples of this.
Overall Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age does not improve from the issues from the original game and it just shocks me how a game with this many problems gets overlooked from critics and fans alike and still give it such high praise. There is just so many problems with this game from the story to the truly awful gameplay and mechanics that I cannot recommend it to anyone even if they tried to rebrand it for next gen gamers. My return to Ivalice was most certainly unwelcome and left me nothing more then a Platinum Trophy that tells me how much of my time I have wasted on this mess of a game. Would I think it's worse then the original game? Well almost because nothing much was really improved aside from those great graphics and one or two minor changes. I hope that with this and the other bad ports of Final Fantasy V, VI and VII that we have been getting recently Square Enix will finally stop milking the franchise with bad re-releases with all kinds of defence they still have regardless. And Balthier could just shut his mouth up and die for good.
The Good Points:
1. The graphics and cutscenes at least look a lot better
2. The ability to speed up the battles help with the terrible grind
The Bad Points:
1. Battle system is still boring, punishing and still no fun at all
2. Gambit system takes all the control of your party members away and setting it up can be confusing
3. New Zodiac Job System is not well implemented as the original License System
4. Some optional boss battles are a little unfair
5. Optional Sidequests are misleading, tedious to figure out and frustrating
6. Poor Storyline with mostly uninteresting characters
Reviewed by: Anthony Hayball (AQWBlaZer91)