Back in 2006 I remember vividly standing in the Base Exchange on the Air Force Base I grew up on buying one of the first videos games I saved for after graduating high school. Final Fantasy XII looked revolutionary for the series at the time. Taking the formula from previous Final Fantasy games - standard leveling system, random battles and more - and turning those on their heads seemed like the franchise was stepping out of its own shadow in order to do something new. And in many ways Final Fantasy XII really established the nature of the series we can still see with newer releases such as Final Fantasy XV today. Flashforward eleven years and the game has finally found its way onto PC with the remaster which originally released on PlayStation 4 last year. And with the PC release comes a myriad of changes and additions that make Final Fantasy XII on PC the best way to experience its story yet. This is our Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age PC review.
Set in the world of Ivalice, a world I’m particularly fond of thanks to Final Fantasy Tactics as well as references made in Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy XII has you following the story of Vaan, an annoying, yet earnest kid off the streets of Dalmasca. Final Fantasy XII tells the story of Vaan and his compatriots as they navigate the world of Ivalice engulfed in war. Airships are as commonplace as magic, and Vaan desperately wants to become an Sky Pirate and pilot his own airship. However, this gets derailed when he gets caught up in the events of the time, meeting a veritably entertaining cast of characters along the way as they look to stop the conflict tearing Ivalice apart.
Early on, Final Fantasy XII is a slog, thanks largely in part to its incredibly divisive combat system for the time. Final Fantasy games to that point (excluding XI) had been defined by the turn based combat most JRPGs are still defined by today, as well as the random encounter. Final Fantasy XII flips this partly on its head by placing the enemies right into the overworld map for you to see, either to engage or avoid. Combat can still play out in a turn based way, and character actions are still based on an action timer. However, early on it’s more or less “target this and wait.” The combat doesn’t really open up till a few hours in when the incredibly robust Gambit system is introduced.
Final Fantasy XII’s Gambit system really makes the combat standout. While it still does not offer the moment by moment action offered by most RPGs nowadays, it definitely makes combat more streamlined in XII, taking the micromanaging you would normally need to do with your party members out of your hands. Since combat technically plays out in a more real time sense than previous entries, the need to be able to cast a healing spell or pop an antidote at a moments notice can sometimes be the difference between life and death in XII. The Gambit system is a series of If This, Then That commands you can set up for each character to perform if the conditions set by you are met. Have a member of the part at less than 50% health? If your gambits are set up properly, a party member should auto-cast Cure on them. Need poison or other adverse effects erased? Gambits can get an antidote sent your way.
Gambits can be incredibly complex and if done incorrectly they could also have adverse effects on your party. I remember setting one up improperly and only realizing that when Balthier ended up attacking Vaan when his health got too low. You unlock Gambit slots via the license board and gambits themselves you can buy from merchants. The Gambit system, when done properly, can be coded poetry in motion, leaving you to get involved in incredibly in-depth battles when you need to knowing your teammates will have your back.
The job and license board also makes progression feel more unique than other entries in the series. You can assign each character a job (and at some point in the story you have the ability to assign a second job as well) which unlocks specific weapons and abilities that define that person's role in your party. Each character has an established arch-type when they join your party, such as Basch who at the outset seems to be set up as a Knight or Balthier a Machinist, but the beauty of the license board allows you to turn this on its head. Basch could be a Knight...or you could make him an Archer. Vaan could be a Machinist or a Red Battlemage (which is how I went - Red Mages FTW). The board itself is expansive, allowing you to unlock skills and the ability to use certain items over the course of the game as you see fit. It adds a layer of control over your characters not seen in the series before that really makes each party member feel more and more unique from the standard cookie-cutter roles you typically see people slot into in other Final Fantasy games.
Judging by Square’s last PS2 remaster to come to the PC - Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD - it stands to reason that many might have been skeptical of this release. While the previous games were locked at 30 frames per second and there didn’t seem to be any specific PC enhancements, Final Fantasy XII seems to have learned from its predecessor and the development team really treated this port with care. The game runs at either 30 or 60 frames per second, the development team making good on a much desired feature missing from the X/X-2 remakes, and XII also supports arbitrary resolutions and monitor sizes. Ultrawide 21:9 support is featured as well and the game also natively supports three monitors with a potential 48:9 experience if you so choose (I played across three monitors and the game looked nuts). The work the team put into remastering the assets goes a long way towards making the game look as good as, well a PS2 remaster can. The art style comes through creating a vibrant looking world and making the character models look incredibly lifelike for the time period the original game was made. The game also includes a speed-up feature, allowing you to play the game at double or even quadruple its normal speed, making some fights and long-expansive stretches of travel less tiresome than they otherwise might have been.
Performance-wise, playing this on my i7-6700K @4.3GHz, GTX 1080 powered PC, I’ve experienced next to no performance issues. The framerate stays at a stable 60fps when using three 1080p monitors for the image, and I only saw hits when downsampling one screen to 4K. Even then, though, all it took was a tweak of one or two settings to achieve a locked 60 even then. The game performs exceptionally well. Additionally, the inclusion of the three different soundtrack modes: Remastered, Original and OST allow you to customize the soundscape of the game to your choosing. You can go a step further there as well, choosing to play with either the Japanese or English voice actors if you desire (I usually play with the Japanese voice actors myself in these games).
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is an excellent game that thankfully has been given an equally exceptional port on the PC. Roaming the world of Ivalice has been a treat, and while the early moments of the game can feel sluggish to the point of boring, once the Gambit system kicks in and more and more characters are introduced, the game really comes into its own. It’s also not hard to enjoy the game thanks to the excellent treatment given to the PC port, allowing for arbitrary resolutions and higher framerates than the original, which really add to the overall presentation. In the end, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age really shines on PC and should be at the top of anyone’s list who maybe missed this back in 2006.
- Gambit System is unique even still today
- Job and License board offer tons of variation
- Excellent PC port
- The game feels boring at the outset
- Gambit system takes too long to get into initially