More than eleven years after its initial release on the PlayStation 2, where it sold almost six million copies, Final Fantasy: The Zodiac Age is a re-release of the classic Final Fantasy 12 for the PlayStation 4. With the title having never been brought to PlayStation Now and with no PlayStation Classic version or backwards compatibility. This is both an opportunity for gamers who grew up with the title to return to the world of Ivalice, as well as for new fans to be introduced to the fast-paced combat of the first in the modern iteration of FF games; complete with a gripping storyline filled with military occupations, rebel resistances, and superpowers poised for worldwide conflict. Final Fantasy 12 has always stood apart from the other entries in the 30 years since the series was first released, focusing on these larger political issues rather than the more character, and often primarily romantic, storylines of the other titles in the FF series, particularly the instalments released before 12.
The Zodiac Age is more of a re-release than a re-master, although the graphics have been touched up to bring them closer to modern video game standards. It would be unfair to claim they’ve undergone a full re-master of the visuals. However, the title was one of the most stunning to be released on the PlayStation 2 and little work was needed to smooth off the rough edges, bringing the title to life with a kind of living painting style of graphics.
There’s also a host of new additions to the game play, including most significantly, the Zodiac System. The original title allowed players to give any character any ability and the means to use any weapon, magic, or armour type the player decided. This gave players a great sense of freedom working their way through the game’s huge story, yet towards the endgame, you would often find yourself with a party of increasing similar characters behaving in very similar ways. The Zodiac Age puts a stop to this by forcing players to set each character a maximum of two ‘jobs’, classes which define the abilities and equipment available for that character. At first, it may seem like a real removal of player choice for fans of the original title. But players will quickly grow used to the system and the added focus on big decisions when choosing which skills and abilities to acquire adds a sense of weight to player decisions, particularly in the latter stages of the game.
There’s also the addition of new bosses, weapons and armour, a fresh recording of the soundtrack, faster load times (a huge blessing) and a trial mode, which functions as a kind of survival mode with 100 rounds of increasingly difficult enemies for your main game party to face. The longer you survive, the better the rewards you’ll receive when you’re finally wiped out.
More controversial additions include the ability to bring up a full map of the area you’re currently in, yet without removing the mini map from the top right-hand corner of the screen. That’s a lot of map for one screen. The game would also have benefited from a faster way to sell the wealth of loot accumulated from enemies, rather than selecting the type and number of each item you wish to sell. This last point is made more important by the addition of a ‘speed mode’ which increases game play by 2x or 4x regular play speed. This drastically speeds up levelling in a particular area, or ‘grinding’ as the term has become commonly known, although arguably removes the sense of accomplishment that the original title offered when crossing the huge open world Square Enix has created.
These huge journeys across the world are linked well with The Zodiac Age‘s storyline, which is particularly Westernised and arguably the least ‘Japanese’ of the iconic series released to date. It’s focus on warring superpowers is a perfect platform for discussions of revenge, military occupation and invasion and, in some stages, even straying into the ideas of war crimes. Beneath FF: The Zodiac Age‘s captivating shiny visuals, is a story that addresses some of the largest darkest issues that are more relevant today than they were when the title was originally released.
Final Fantasy: The Zodiac Age is a reminder of just why the creative, original and intelligent title has stayed with so many video game fans since its release over a decade ago. The new version has added some useful elements, but at the core of the game is the same sense of scale that converted a generation to RPG titles. Whether you’re new to the world or revisiting your youth, The Zodiac Age is the perfect title to take over your gaming schedule.
You can pick up Final Fantasy: The Zodiac Age from the Square Enix store here.