Returning to Ivalice: First impressions of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

FFXII is the FF that fell between the cracks for me.  It came out my freshman year of college, a very busy time for me.  I recall it being very interesting, but maybe too weird for someone who couldn’t dedicate much time to it.  I’ve made attempts at revisiting the PS2 version every now and then, but had trouble getting back into it.  Recently a friend let me borrow the PS4 remaster, The Zodiac Age.  This posts just consists of some random thoughts and observations from playing through this remaster.

ffxii

Presentation:

XII pushed the PS2 to its absolute limits.  Environments and characters had fantastic design, but were rendered in a fuzzy haze.  Basically, the visuals were way better than the hardware could possibly run them.  Upgraded hardware allows for the full effect of the original graphics to shine through, in addition to any tweaks for this new version.

Maybe even more important is the improvement to sound.  The PS2 game’s voices were weirdly compressed, making everyone sound like they were speaking through a tin can.  There is still a bit of that in the remake, but it’s much less pronounced.  It also has the option for Japanese voices.  I haven’t tried these out yet, but I like that the option is there.

Also, the re-recorded soundtrack sounds great.

License boards:

I think the original license board was one of my largest issues with the original game.  It was huge, complicated, and prone to uncorrectable mistakes.  Later Japan got an exclusive rerelease of XII that split the board into 12 unique smaller class based boards. TZA keeps those same boards, but let’s each character get 2.  This really appeals to me personally because I’m the kinda person who wants 1 of each class in every class based game.

I feel that the smaller boards greatly enhances the experience. It reduces the total number of options, making decisions easier and characters harder to screw up. But it still leaves plenty of room for customization and variations within the roles it puts forth.

Gambits:

Gambits seem to be relatively unchanged, what’s different is my attitude towards them. Going into FFXII’s original release, gambits mostly struck me as auto-combat.  I wasn’t too fond of the idea, at least not for the character I controlled. I would set gambits for allies, but leave Vaan on manual.   This really slowed the game down, making FFXII’s slow pace even worse.

On this second playthrough I’ve fully embraced gambits, and I’m loving it.  It’s clear now that while it is auto-battle, it still requires my inputs.  I just finished playing Earthbound, with its more traditional JRPG combat system.  In that game I had a priority system that I followed (generally: attack, if someone’s HP is low stop and heal, etc.), essentially a program that I executed each combat.  Gambits just let you set that program and have the computer execute it.  Even better, occasionally something unexpected will happen that messes up your program, but its ok because you can always interrupt and input individual commands.

What I’m getting at is that FFXII’s battle system’s execution may be strange, but it’s built on fundamental FF battle systems (ATB, resource management, elemental affinities).  It just allows you to set up your inputs beforehand, and executes them automatically.

This system is further enhanced by my next point…

Fast forward:

FFXI is a big game, big cities, big environments, lots of monsters.  Overall this is a great thing.  Cities aren’t just the collection of areas relevant to your characters, they are living, breathing places that people live in.  The environments you move across aren’t just obstacle courses, teeming with plants, animals and people as well.  Ivalice is a fully realized and more immersive world than you normally get in a final fantasy game.

That said this comes at the cost of time.  Big cities and environments take time to navigate.  The gambit system does help speed up combat, but only so much.  TZA adds in the speed up button, letting you shift from 1x, 2x, and 4x speeding on the fly.  For me this helps the game a ton.  I like to take my time in new areas, check everything out. But on return visits, I’m gonna crank it up to 4x and do my business.

Speeding things up also enhances the combat quite a bit.  As stated earlier the combat is mostly automated, often meaning few decisions made.  This turns basic combats into a bit of a chore, pausing your exploration to let the computer execute your commands.  Speeding up these smaller skirmishes helps the game immeasurably.  Bosses, on the other hand, you’ll want to leave at 1x or maybe 2x time, as they will throw various wrenches into the works of your gambit driven machines and necessitate intervention every so often.

Bazaar:

Vendor trash loot acts as a bit of a necessary evil in games like this.  Combat acts to give the player both experience points and cash.  Except that it doesn’t make any sense for a wolf to be carrying around loose change in its stomach. Instead the player loots the wolf’s pelt and sells that for gold.

FFXII adds an interesting twist on this idea through its bazaar system.  After selling certain items to vendors, new packages will show up under the ‘bazaar’ menu.  You’re going to be selling that vendor trash anyways, and occasionally cool bonus pop up.  It’s also possible to seek out specific drops to unlock specific bazaar items.  It serves a double duty of occasional unlocks through normal play, or for more deliberate hunting. The only problem with the second aspect is that I’m not aware of any system that hints at how to unlock specific bazaar items, outside the use of guides.

Have you played FFXII, or its remaster The Zodiac Age?  What do you think about the base game, or the changes made to it?  Let me know in the comments.

10 thoughts on “Returning to Ivalice: First impressions of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age”

      1. That’s good to know 🙂
        From your post it sounds like they’ve addressed a lot of the things that stopped me playing the first time. The ability to speed up sounds particularly useful, especially as some of the areas in the game are huge.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I used to absolutely love FF games when I was younger. Like from elementary age to early college I played a bunch. Last year I bought two JRPGs only to give up on them both relatively early. I got I am Setsuna and FF12 Zodiac Age. I learned that I just can’t play JRPG’s anymore… or something. It’s like there’s no longer an itch and that buying and playing them felt like going through some motions more than anything. Super weird. And there’s lots of good stuff to say about these games too. Did you get a twinge of that playing Zodiac Age?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I absolutely understand that feeling. For me I think it started with the original FF12. Throughout highschool JRPGs were THE game for me, but around college they started to lose their luster. During that time I got much more into more intricate multiplayer experiences, and JRPGs felt shallow by comparison.
      Its only been in recent years that I’ve been able rediscover what it was I appreciated about the genre. Mostly it was games that did something different, LISA, Undertale, Earthbound, and Nier, that rekindled my love for the genre.
      TZA’s quality of life improvements allow me to get past elements I dislike (grinding) to appreciate what it does well (world building, environments).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lisa was certainly something different. It’s another I didn’t finish though I enjoyed it’s different world and story. Undertale… I must be a serial unfinisher of RPG’s! I forgot that I played so many and never finished. I did appreciate TZA’s speed mode or whatever it was. Hmm, now I wonder what my problem with RPG’s is! haha.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I did try the demo of Final Fantasy XII once, but to be honest, the combat system didn’t really grab me. Then again, my knowledge of the series is rather limited; I’ve only played the first six games and Tactics Advance.

    Liked by 1 person

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