Let me start off by admitting that Final Fantasy XII is my favorite Final Fantasy game ever. The mix of themes from Star Wars and Game of Thrones — at a time when not many people knew about the latter — was absolutely perfect for the series. The additions to the battle systems, doing away with random battles, and creating a true active-time system revolutionized the franchise and made promises for a future that never came, thanks to the generally disappointing Final Fantasy XIII.
Two years ago, Square Enix re-released FFXII as an HD remaster for the PlayStation 4, and included the Zodiac job system from a previously released Japanese-only version. The remaster was a hit with fans and critics, many of which missed out on playing the original, seeing as how it came to the PlayStation 2 very late in the system’s life cycle. Now, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is on the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One, giving fans even more opportunities to play this outstanding game.
The Zodiac Age focuses on the turmoil between two kingdoms, Archadia and Rozzaria, and the small kingdom caught in the middle: Dalmasca. The story is set in the land of Ivalice, which also happens to be the setting for many Final Fantasy Tactics games. As such, the races and rules of this land are well-known to players, including the Judge Magisters, and races like the reptilian Bangaa and the oddly sexy, bunny-eared, lingerie-wearing Viera. What follows is a deep, complicated narrative that digs into the conflict between the warring kingdoms, with a small band of heroes led by a young street thief named Vaan. To even try and summarize this story does it a disservice, as it would be like summing up George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire in a few sentences; to put it bluntly, it just can’t be done.
And the comparisons to Martin’s opus are warranted. The game opens with shocking regicide, and Basch, the heralded, blond-haired knight that turned on his king, is called the “Kingslayer” throughout the story. The Archadian Empire is comprised of various houses, like House Solidor, with some being more powerful than others. Other similarities come in the form of the treacheries and character swerves that occur. There’s even a pompous little ruler that you love to hate. Sound familiar?
As for the Star Wars references, Final Fantasy has never been a franchise to shy away from George Lucas’ saga, but in Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, it hits you on the head. Two of the main characters are sky pirates — one, a dashing male named Balthier, who wears a vest over a white, long-sleeved shirt and pilots a legendary airship, and his partner, a 7-foot-tall, brown-furred Viera named Fran, who comes from a race of people who live in huts high in the treetops. Even Vaan, the “street urchin” hero, is an orphan who has longs to fly a ship for himself and become a sky pirate. Together, the three come across a fiery princess who doesn’t shy away from a fight. I’m shocked Lucasfilm’s lawyers weren’t on the phones back when Final Fantasy XII released in 2006.
The Zodiac Age uses a gambit system for other party members, and it is incredibly detailed and intuitive. By setting up the gambits — or battle instructions — the player can focus on what Vaan is doing, while still exercising control over the battle. It was revolutionary 13 years ago, and it’s still intuitive now. The biggest addition to this remastered version of Final Fantasy XII is the Zodiac job board. Now, players can buy skills based on one of 12 jobs — matching the signs of the zodiac — and sampling between jobs creates more rounded characters and skills. It takes a bit to get used to, but once you figure it out, it becomes the biggest tool in your arsenal as you progress. It was fun when everyone shared one board — now, it’s incredible when you can buy skills from 12 different jobs.
The Zodiac Age has an all-new soundtrack re-recorded with a full orchestra, and the classic tunes that back the epic 50-plus hour story have never sounded grander and richer. Even the voice work sounds cleaner than it did in 2006, where some of the voice work sounded like it was recorded in tin cans. For the most part, this remaster plays identically on the Switch as it did on the PlayStation 4. Of course, the one change is that with Nintendo’s hybrid console, this great game can be played in handheld mode, meaning I can take it everywhere I go and grind for money and XP as I go through the story now for the fifth time. After spending over 300 hours playing across four different systems, I still find myself deadset on revisiting the land of Ivalice.
Final Fantasy XII is the last truly classic Final Fantasy. Don’t get me wrong, Final Fantasy XV was a great game, but it never had the sweeping, epic feeling that XII had. If The Zodiac Age is Game of Thrones, Final Fantasy XV was the classic Tom Hanks’ comedy, Bachelor Party. Square Enix and developer Virtuos have done a great recreating this amazing game, and for series fans who may have skipped this one in the past, there is no better time to pick it up and immerse yourselves in an epic and unforgettable story.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A review copy was provided to us by Square Enix.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is arguably one of the best games in the franchise, and with amazing new features like the Zodiac Job board and a newly recorded score, the best just got better.