Remasters can only really be judged on two criteria; was the original good and what improvements have been made. If the original game was bad then no one would be interested. If little to no improvements were made then it might not be worth the money. Luckily for Squaresoft aside from a few spin-offs the Final Fantasy series is full of games that can be remastered without the question of whether or not they were good games. With that in mind while reviewing Final Fantasy XII the Zodiac Age my focus was on what improvements were made to the game.
Coming at the end of the PS2 life cycle gave Final Fantasy XII the benefit of looking great at the time and even the old graphics hold up quite well today. Any improvements made to the graphics aside from a full overhaul would really not have been needed. Even though unnecessary I appreciate the better anti-aliasing and up scaling as the game looks great in 1080p.
There were some quality of life improvements made such as speed mode which allows you to increase the pace of combat by 2x or 4x which synergizes well with the gambit system to allow the slower parts of the game to go by very quickly. The infamous Zodiac spear quest has been vastly improved. No longer will we need to keep a list of 30+ chests that we’re not allowed to open to meet the requirements to obtain the spear. In fact they even added it as a drop off of one of the rare mobs so that anyone who didn’t want to go through the new quest could still get it if they were lucky enough. There was some enemy placement and balancing that was mentioned but honestly I couldn’t remember enemy placement well enough to notice a difference. The balancing was noticeable but it really just felt as if they made the game a little bit easier which isn’t a bad thing for those who just want to experience the story.
Trail mode is an interesting way to get some rare items if you’re up for the challenge. It loads one of your save files and pits your team against a room full of mobs. If you think of it as a 100 floor dungeon each floor gets progressively more difficult and you can continue as long as you don’t load your save in the regular game. Some of the last few floors are ridiculously difficult if you’re not properly prepared so it’s not a bad idea that if you get stuck just play regularly to get better gear, level up, or unlock more though your license board before going back at it. You’ll just be forced to start over on the first floor but they don’t increase in difficulty so you’ll fly through the levels you’ve beaten already.
The addition of the job system gives some definition to each character making them fall into some of the usual tropes of black mage, white mage, thief, etc. I call this an improvement with a grain of salt though since personally I never had a problem with not having defined classes. I think my biggest problem with this setup is that if I’m fighting an enemy that is weak to lightning I can only have one character which has Thundaga. I will have another character which Thundara and potentially one who can wield a weapon with lightning damage but the odds are overall against me. I believe this is why Square tried to balance this by weakening most enemies. This is definitely my personal thought on the job system as I’m sure most will enjoy it or not care one way or another.
Now that we’ve covered improvements I will take a moment to go over the base game. Overall Final Fantasy XII was a great game, not my favourite in the series but still very fun. I think the biggest detractor for the game at least for me was probably the gambit system which was not changed for the remake. This basically allows you to set up commands for your party member so they will automatically do things under certain conditions. Although this was not a bad thing for the most part you were pretty much able to create gambits which played the game for you. It would automatically clear your conditions, attack, cast spells, and heal as needed so all you were required to do was move your characters into some enemies and put down the controller. Again I say this with a grain of salt since I’m sure it was meant to be a simple way to have party members you were not controlling do things automatically so you didn’t have to switch constantly.
Aside from that the game had an interesting story, great voice acting, top notch PS2 graphics and music.
It’s always tough to talk about pricing a game since what it’s worth can differ from person to person. Zodiac Age came out at $64.99CND which is less than the $80 of a full price game but it’s still fairly expensive.
So is Final Fantasy XII the Zodiac Age a good remaster? Absolutely. Is it worth $65? Unless you’re hurting for a good RPG to play or just really want to be a sky pirate for 60 hours I’d wait for the first sale. If the game was just a little less expensive I could easily recommend this to any RPG fan.