Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is not exactly new to everyone; most people in the United States did not play FFXII: International Zodiac Job System Edition [Whew, what a mouthful], but I did! I had access to it and I loved that version far more. One of the things that really made the game pretty tedious for me was the License Board. It was gigantic, unwieldy, and it was one of the biggest points of contention for me. Having to juggle using the license board for “equipping gear” versus skills, stats, spells kind of really frustrated me. So how do they fix that? We’ll get into it! But this is not the version of Final Fantasy XII you might remember! It’s got a gorgeous HD remake, Vaan’s spray-painted abs are gone forever, which makes me incredibly happy. It’s just … it’s so beautiful, it’s a version of Ivalice I’m genuinely excited to see. The L1 speed-up button is handy for wandering towns and open world areas, and it’s the only “cheat” button it has, unlike FFX/X-2, which had four incredibly ridiculous buttons. Very glad it didn’t have more of that. It’s more than the game though! It’s got the fun Trial Mode, which is 100 levels of challenge, where you need to consider your Gambits very carefully. You load your file into Trial Mode and get to work! What’s more, you can bring your spoils from it into the Main Game! Look forward to me streaming it.
The game is … more challenging than it used to be, and that’s a positive. Why? Why is it good that the game is harder? One of the other big sticking points for me in the original was about halfway through the game, the Gambit System made the game basically easy-mode. You could set up some crazy stuff and let the game work for you. All you had to do was walk to the fights. Hell, the main character can turn on Gambits too! The boss fights/random encounters require a bit more thought, a bit more work. I love this because it requires more of me, more paying attention to what’s going on around me. You get six characters, they’re all fantastic, and you play them however you want. I also enjoy being able to make whoever be the main character [the playable one], and the Gambit System itself was unique then and it is now. You can set a variety of different strings/conditions to use abilities/items/spells. Whether it’s Auto-Libra on the closest target, and using that to cast whatever they’re weak to, resurrecting people, using Items on someone under 50% health, it’s a little complicated, but it’s pretty damn great.
One of the things that really made Final Fantasy XII a game worth playing is the story. This world is so majestic. It’s set in the world of Ivalice, which is the same world that Final Fantasy Tactics is set in, just a different part of the world. Is it the same place as Final Fantasy XIV? They’re “Returning to Ivalice” later in this expansion. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part. Ivalice is home to political and religious intrigue. This game is no exception, and I’ll avoid spoilers and talking about the story too much because it’s intricate. It’s a game of Judges in badass plate armor, poor urchins dreaming of something more in their life. Running around, killing rats, stealing bread just to get by [Hi, Aladdin!] and gets caught up in something far bigger than themselves. Oh man, oh man. XII’s story is probably the best story in the Final Fantasy franchise, with IV, VI, X included on that list. It’s been than VII’s story. Better than IX. Deal with it, plebs! Those three are my favorites [IV, VI, X] but the story is one I get so wrapped up in. The world feels like an MMO … this made me think of Final Fantasy XI when I first played it, the way combat works. But the story is what lures me back in like a Siren. I won’t spoil it, but you need it in your life. It’s so much more than “fighting for love” or “save the planet”.
So let’s talk about the biggest change from the original to this version: The License Board. For those of you who played the original, it was a gigantic board that you unlock all your gear, skills, Quickening, things of this nature. You gain LP [License Points] from battle, and you really really have to consider where you put stuff and when. But it was incredibly overwhelming. Everyone starts in a different part of the board, but it was all linked together. But in this iteration, the “Zodiac Job System” comes in. When you unlock a character for play, you can pick a Job from a wheel, that’s based on the Zodiac. I love this because the Zodiac is key to Final Fantasy Tactics/Ivalice as a whole. It helps it feel more connected to me. However, something I did not know until I really got into this version of the game, is you can unlock a second job. These License Boards are smaller and fit the theme of their character. Once you’ve unlocked your first Esper, you can unlock a second job for each character, once you’ve bought the “Second Job” license. This also makes the game considerably more challenging compared to the first game. Now you each character can only do so much, instead of everyone eventually being able to do everything. So when you consider characters, you really have to take into consideration what you’d like each of them to do. The strategy aspect is far more in-depth than the regular release of Final Fantasy XII.
But this is what I love: Want to make Batlhier a White Mage/Machinist? Or a Black Mage/Bushi? Do it! You’ll get the stats you want to make it worthwhile eventually. Sure, you can min-max and pick the perfect job combination for every character, but I think that kind of takes the fun out of it. But every character gets enough gambits, Quickenings, access to all of the Espers, and the accessories. But the skills and spells you get only fit that character. Buit what are the classes? Glad you asked!
- Archer: Bow and Arrow, Light Armor, Good Damage. Pair them with a slower job for success.
- Black Mage: Lots [and lots] of spelldamage. Great as a subjob.
- Bushi: Katana-wielding Samurai who use Mystic Armor. Great paired with lots of jobs.
- Foebreaker: Slow, big weapons, lots of damage. They also have very solid status ailments.
- Knight: The tank. Sword and Board. A bit slow, but can also heal. Very Paladin-esque.
- Machinist: Light Armor, guns, pretty fast. Guns don’t take stats into account, which is good/bad.
- Monk: Poles/Unarmed, fast, lots of hits, but kind of on the slow side.
- Red Battlemage: Maces/Shields, can cast a wide variety of spells.
- Shikari: Incredibly fast dagger wielders. Think Ninja/Thief. Evasion is key.
- Time Battlemage: Master of … well Time Magic. Duh. Great base class to build on.
- Uhlan: Heavy Armor, Spears, Damage. Very simple. Pair with a job with few responsibilities.
- White Mage: You heal pretty damn good. Again, pair with something that doesn’t do much. Heals are more important.
There is no “Dedicated” Green Mage, which is really the “odd man out” of spells. Reverse, Decoy, Bubble, Float, Disable, Stop, etc. It’s a small list, but they’re really great anyway. Bubble/Reverse are two of the best spells in the game. You don’t have to “swap” jobs though. You have access to everything you’ve unlocked, and it’s pretty damn great. You can get really wrapped up in the planning and plotting of this game. I know I do! Once you’ve done all of this … Combat is pretty simple. You control one character, and the rest of the party fight based on Gambits/AI of their class. You don’t have to play as Vaan the whole game though, and if you need someone to do something and Gambits aren’t covering it, you can go to the combat menu, swap to their list of Technicks/Spells, and use what you want instead of waiting. But unlike Final Fantasy Tactics, if you pick Monk/Bushi [Samurai] early, you can actually get weapons for them!
It’s a Sky Pirate’s Life for Me: 5/5
This is the first Final Fantasy I feel like the Strategy Guide is a must-buy. I barely used the guide for Final Fantasy XV. I basically only bought that because it’s gorgeous and looks good on my bookshelf. This is what every remake should be. Let me say it again: This is what every remake should be. The retro remakes have left me a bit empty. Specifically, the mobile remakes. If you’re going to remake some of the most beloved games, don’t port the mobile version to PC! It doesn’t work so well for me. But this? They fixed literally every gripe I had about the original, down to Vaan’s abs. It’s one of the most intricate stories in RPGs … ever, really. Especially in the FF franchise. New and old fans alike will fall in love [and some of us, all over again] with the story, the game mechanics, the new mode, everything. I have very few complaints about the game, but I do have a pretty big one: Early in the game, I was stuck playing as just Vaan when I was running around performing good deeds. I had a party before this, but suddenly, it was just me and a Guest character. If I open the menu, I could add people to my party, but why didn’t they just … stay in the party? I really handicapped myself for a good hour or three. I succeeded, but I spent all of my potions. All of them. At that point, I had forty. Then … zero. That’s really the only complaint I have. You can use the original music or the remake. The ability to listen to the Japanese voices instead of the American is great, but a dealbreaker. I wasn’t wild about some of the voices, and using the Japanese voice cast instead makes it a whole new experience. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age brings a favorite back to the world in a whole new way. It has new features [that admittedly were in the Int. Edition] and adds some new challenge and excitement without changing the game. Whether you played XII originally or not, you owe it to yourself to take a look at it; Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is gorgeous, beautiful, and has a story that will suck you in.