FFXII: The Zodiac Age, released July 2017, is a HD remaster of the original, released in 2006, enhanced with few gameplay tweaks. FF12 is the one game in the Final Fantasy franchise that I remember regretting not giving more time and attention to, back at its original launch. In fact, it’s one of only two in the main series that I failed to complete, and the only one that I, actually, regretted not completing. The other, FFXIII, deserved non completion, in my opinion, with its subpar storyline and annoying as hell characters. However, XII was a solid game which I enjoyed playing at the time but which proved an unfortunate victim of the end of its console’s generation, as the PS3 was launched just months after FF12’s release. With eyes on the bigger, better titles releasing for PS3, FF12 fell a little by the wayside.
The HD remaster gives the PS2 title a much needed graphical boost, bringing it closer to those on the current HD generation consoles. While the improvements are, on the whole, limited to increased texture detail and higher resolution output, which are still supported by the PS2’s low polygon models, the impact is surprisingly impressive. It won’t fool you into thinking it’s a native current gen release, nothing except a complete remake could do that. However, it’s easier to marvel at the artistry of this lost classic with its extraordinarily pretty environments, which in its original release were sadly marred by a pixelated haze but have now been brought to their full potential.
The storyline for FF12 was unusually understated for a Final Fantasy title and feels much more grounded in politics than the overt magical and fantasy elements of previous titles. As such, it’s not as engrossing as previous fan favourites such as FF7 or 10. For me, the joy of FF12 is more with the characters themselves and with the combat system. FF12 was the first Final Fantasy game to go for AI controlled party members. Unlike many games which attempted this, of its generation, it actually worked really well, thanks to the inclusion of the gambit system, to alter the way the AI controlled characters work, at will. What I enjoy about this game, is that you can turn all characters to AI and then watch they flawlessly carry out the battle based on your pre-set directions with just the occasional intervention to launch special moves or react to an unforeseen issue. Unfortunately, the control system also proved exploitable with a certain boss fight being exploited for unattended all night levelling sessions.
Further enhancements in this new HD version include the addition of achievements, a revamp of the license board, from one large board to twelve smaller boards, to incorporate the franchises long running job system along with the option to increase the game’s speed up to four times which makes long boss fights and periods of repetitive levelling much less tedious. There’s also been a few tweaks with the treasure chest drop, particularly with regards to the Zodiac Spear which in the original release was part of a rather bizarre event of the non-opening of specific chests to acquire it, which many found frustrating.
All in all, the graphical enhancements are what you would expect or slightly better for a game of its generation, but despite the improvements with the license board if you tried the original game and didn’t take to the game mechanics then you’re unlikely to be swayed by the improvements. If you’ve never played FF12 and enjoyed the previous titles then this might just be the perfect opportunity to give it try.