The event is PAX East 2017 and Square Einx’s booth is as crowded as ever. Fans of Final Fantasy XV are enjoying their first taste of “Episode Gladiolus,” Dragon Quest Heroes II has a photo opportunity with cosplayers and Kingdom Hearts fans are left wondering where the third installment is.
However, one demo the publisher had that routinely had lines was Final Fantasy XII – The Zodiac Age, a remake of the borderline-cult-hit. The phrase heard the most in the line was, “This is my favorite Final Fantasy.” The panel for the game later on that afternoon actually capped in a short amount of time.
Needless to say, for a game many Final Fantasy fans brush off as “the one with the weird battle system and bad main character,” there is a fan base for it. And a passionate one at that, as the crowd for the panel was HYPED.
How is Final Fantasy XII? Was the remake worth throwing money at?
Final Fantasy XII; A Brief History
Originally introduced to gamers as a demo that came with Dragon Quest VIII, Final Fantasy XII was released in 2006 to a large amount of critical praise.
The game’s development started in 2000 and was led by development alumni from Final Fantasy Tactics. Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story director, Yasumi Matsuno and Final Fantasy IX director, Hiroyuki Ito served as co-directors. Final Fantasy XII is also Matsuno-san’s only numbered entry he worked on, and actually had to step down as the game’s director due to health concerns. However, development pushed on and the game was finished by the new team of Ito and Tactics art director, Hiroshi Minagawa.
Three major aspects standout with Final Fantasy XII; the art style, the battle system, the License Board and the story and characters. Now, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea (not every game in this franchise is perfect) but one can definitely say Final Fantasy XII is different and takes far more risks and dares to innovate a series that was (quite honestly) stagnant in 2006. The overall lack of anime-angst and completely overhauled art style and game play make Final Fantasy XII a bit jarring at first, but it settles in quite nicely. It’s one of the few titles where it’s style actually stands out.
The story itself can be best described as “Mediterranean-sky pirate-Star Wars.” Focusing on a small group of characters caught up in a massive holy war, XII takes place in Ivalice, the same setting as Tactics. While discussions about who the real main character is (hint: it ain’t Vaan) have been done to death, the story itself is different from the typical “save the universe by gathering macguffins” and does not have any existential questions. Instead, Matsuno, who wrote the story, wanted a simple plot for players to grasp onto. And it shows, since XII doesn’t plod around…well not the entire time.
Easily, XII’s most striking difference is its battle system. Sure, the old ATB timer is there, but fans of MMOs will be more accustomed to XII than most entries. It’s a bit slower paced, but allows for more strategic planning. The game’s maps are large and expansive, but they also allow players to avoid enemies if they choose so. It’s a far cry from the tired-and-true random battle/turn-based system most JRPGs have. And, if it’s your thing, it also urges players to keep exploring with these wide open areas.
However, the License Board system is goofy. It’s a lot of micromanagement just to level up characters, and it’s easily Final Fantasy XII‘s weakest game play element.
Instead of taking visual cues and aesthetics from anime and sci-fi, XII took inspiration from the Mediterranean, especially with its architecture. The developers actually visited Turkey and looked at ancient Roman structures for visual inspiration and it shows.
The characters still dress ridiculous, as is the standard for the series, but they seem to resemble actors in period piece costumes as opposed to futuristic cosplay. It’s a unique design choice, one that actually has not been repeated.
Other great features of XII include the music, composed by the team behind Final Fantasy Tactics. The game actually has one of the most epic sounding Victory Fanfares in the whole franchise.
The Zodiac Age – What’s Different?
So, eleven years and two console generations later, Square is giving us Final Fantasy XII – The Zodiac Age. Aside from remastered graphics and beautifully redone music the entire job and battle system have been redone. The Zodiac Job system, which was only seen in Japan, won’t have players fumbling over a License Board. The battles are actually quite fluid now, thanks to a speedup feature too.
However, what made the original work is still there. And for fans of XII, it’s an excuse to enjoy their favorite adventure one more time.
When I had the chance to play the demo at PAX East this year, I knew I had to travel back to Ivalice.
If you haven’t done so, check out our giveaway for The Zodiac Age!