Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (Switch) Review
Way back after Final Fantasy X was released it was followed up with XI. This turned out to be an MMO which was a big departure from their single player 50+ hour narratives. Then came Final Fantasy XII, a return to the single player story. But instead of a completely new setting, it takes place in a world that has been in a few Square titles. I had enjoyed Final Fantasy: Tactics which FF XII draws from, so it seemed promising. FF XII was a fairly different title from the traditional entries, but lacking a PS2 it was yet another game in the series I never got to play until now.
This Final Fantasy was the first to have its setting in a world that Square had already visited more than once, the world of Ivalice. At the time it was wild and a bit divisive that a numbered Final Fantasy was taking part in an existing setting. Ivalice is most notably the setting for the beloved Final Fantasy Tactics series. Way back when there were people who loved that, and others who didn’t like the departure from the more fantastical settings and bombastic scenes. Instead, FF XII is a bit more grounded (I used that very lightly), and the main story surrounds the politics between two warring nations and the kingdom inbetween it. The setting of the game takes part in that kingdom that is under rule of the Empire. Vaan is an errand boy/occasional thief who dreams of becoming a Sky Pirate. Along with his best friend Penelo they get caught up with Sky Pirates Balthier and Fran. Through their adventures, they get caught up in the Resistance, which could be the only thing that can stop the two nations escalating into all out war. It does sound a bit less fantasy themed, but this is a world filled with multiple fantasy races living together and Sky Pirates in high tech airships. In 2019 after a few more main entries in the series have been released to further mix up the Final Fantasy series, now is a great time to revisit the world of FF XVII.
Most importantly, to start off with FF XII finally got rid of the random encounter battles! The environments are pretty open, it’s not quite an open world, but outside of story moments that keep you elsewhere, you have a lot of free reign. Like most RPGs, it’s important you explore these to build up your levels and get your Gil. There are hunts you can pick up throughout the game to break up some of the tedium of grinding. Around the world you can pick up contracts to hunt and defeat special enemies which increases your guild rank and nets you loot and Gil. Instead of the old turn-based combat it feels like more of an MMO. You select your target and a meter fills up until you attack. It will auto attack until you choose another option or defeat the enemy. Other actions do need to be selected each time you use it, unless you program the character to continue doing it through the Gambit system.
Instead of having to select every move the other party members perform, there is the Gambit system. If your characters have Gambit slots unlocked and you’ve purchased the right Gambit actions from a store, you can use them to ‘program’ AI behaviour. Say you want a character to use Cura on any party members under 30% health, or to always target the strongest enemy. Then you need to have the ‘Heal’ and ‘Party Members under 30% health’ actions available. There’s a pretty big variety of AI commands to purchase that should cover any situation you will need. If you like to micromanage everything your group does you can still do that. If they aren’t doing what their programming says then you can put them back on track. I found the AI to be more than decent to handle 80% of the battle, while I took care of when they healed or used items.
FF XII also introduced the Licenses and Permits system. Licenses essentially act as jobs for your characters. To make your job/class more effective and powerful, earn License Points (LPs) through fighting. There’s a License board where you spend points on unlocking permits that allow you to do more in general. Instead of just being able to use weapons and armour, you need to have unlocked the license to use them. This goes for abilities, health, MP points, Gambit slots, and magic too, so it’s something you’ll need to use to keep up. It’s not as easy as just picking what you want to unlock. You can see squares on the board and what it unlocks, but you can only directly unlock the squares around whatever permit you’re spending points on. As long as you keep grinding for LP, you’ll be able to keep unlocking more. If you get deeper into the game and decide that you want to take your character in another direction and change jobs, then you can with all your LP given back to spend on it.
One of the changes made to the remaster was a shake-up of the License board and the jobs. You select from the Zodiac Job System of 12 jobs/classes, which allows you to unlock relevant permits straight away. I was always so-so on Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid and the License Board made me feel similar, but it’s hard to begrudge it when it’s actually an improvement on the original set up. Being able to choose a new job and redistribute the LP also makes the tough decisions of which character goes with which job less nerve wracking.
With this remaster, if you’re expecting it to be at it’s visual best then you’re better off getting one of the other versions. If you’re after the ability to play FF XII wherever you want, then this is the ultimate way to play it. Whether it’s docked or in handheld, visually it’s not as nice as the other versions, but it still looks pretty good. In handheld can look a bit washed out. This stands out most in some of the dungeons, they can be dreary at best and lack some of the vibrancy the game can have. Although it’ll never be at its best on the lower resolution screen, it still looks pretty great when you’re gaming on the go and on the TV is more than fine too. The frame rate also holds up well in either mode which is great. The music has also been given an overhaul giving the option of the original music, reorchestrated and the OST. I have no idea which version is better having no attachment to the original music, but the reorchestrated sounded good to me. It also includes the English and Japanese voices for the dialogue, no additional downloads needed.
Additions brought into the remaster include increasing the speed of the game by 2X or 4X. This makes combat and some larger area traversal a lot less time-consuming. Unlike the other FF games released for the Switch that have had ‘boosters’ added to reduce some of the grind, FF XII only has the speed boosts which are pretty handy given how slow it can feel. There’s also a New Game+ and a Trial Mode. Trial Mode has you fighting 100 battles that get gradually more difficult. A surprising lifesaver that was only included in the remaster is being able to bring up and keep on screen a full map of the area (should you have the map). It seems like such a minor thing but with all the going back and forth, it is vital.
Since the original release there have also been changes to the Job system. I can’t even imagine Zodiac Jobs (which came out as ‘International Zodiac Job System’ in Japan a year after release) not being in a version of the game. It goes to show how nice some quality of life updates can be.
I found Final Fantasy XII to be an interesting entry in the series. The change in combat, as well as visible enemies on the field, make a surprising difference, instead of another 40-50 hour grind. I also really like that while you can only have three people on the field at once if they all get knocked out or the set up isn’t working you can swap in the inactive characters to keep the fight going. Overall I enjoyed the game, and the story was a change in pace after playing a game like FF IX not long ago. While there’s a lot of good stuff in this game, there are still parts that were less fun.
The dungeons are some of the least interesting parts of the game. Not so much because of their content, but because they feel boring and linear compared to the rest of the open environments. The big open areas around the world don’t make it an open world game by any means, the story is still linear. It can be fun to roam and complete side content, but some of the hoops you have to jump through are painful. For example, with the hunts you need to accept the target, then find the person giving the target to confirm before you can go hunting. This process will have you running all over the place, just because of an unintuitive system. While not everything is perfect, a few small whinges aside the game is still worth the time.
Final Fantasy XII is a solid entry in the main series that has definitely been improved by updates made with the remaster. Elements of the game that were quite a shake-up at the time stand out much less given where the series has gone over the last decade. If you missed it the first time, this is the best version I could recommend thanks to the portability and all of the most up to date additions and improvements. More importantly, the game is fun. After countless hours of turn-based battles, it was a pleasant change. If you missed it the first time, it’s time to fix that mistake and grab Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age.
Rating: 4 / 5
- Another great Final Fantasy adventure
- Runs great on the Switch
- Remastered content gives the game a new lease on life
- Managing License boards
- Some dungeons feel boring
- Even at 2X the speed going back and forth needlessly is grating