Final Fantasy XII is the latest game in the series to reach the current generation of gaming. Following Type-0 HD and X / X-2 HD, The Zodiac Age brings one of the most beloved entries in the franchise to a whole new generation of gamer whilst also pleasing those that have already experienced it. I of which would be in the former category, only diving into the series over the last two years, each title played cementing a new-found love for Final Fantasy more and more.
An orphan, a best-friend, a princess, a sky-pirate, an exile and a knight form the six playable characters in this grand adventure. Vaan is the key character throughout, with the story unfolding around him, beginning with a betrayal which leads to the death of Reks, older brother of our main protagonist. This death influences Vaan moving forward in his motives and decisions for his actions. Be it his dislike or even hatred for another character or the admiration and love for his closest friends, truly wearing his heart on that proverbial sleeve.
As is the usual formula, party members join along the way, some as guests and others are there to stay. Each character having their own backstory and unique look that sets each one apart from the rest. My personal favourite being Balthier, the sky-pirate with a cheeky charm rather reminiscent of Han Solo from the Star Wars universe. By no means is he a comedy relief type character but his tone and dialogue often caused a smile and giggle, kind of sarcastic and witty.
The story kept me on my toes with an assortment of twists and turns, betrayal, love, friendship, treason, kidnapping, war, and that might just be half of it. There are varying themes which keep the journey from getting stale, the introduction of memorable characters to the wide difference in enemies you will face and everything in between. One word to sum up the story is enthralling. Constantly finding myself lost in the world, becoming one with the avatars I was playing.
The Zodiac job system is the key game design feature of this title, 12 jobs to choose from meaning it will take two playthroughs at least to experience each one. Ranging from more melee based classes, to distance fighters, to those heavily reliant on magicks. The magic classes are also divided further into white mage, black mage, red battlemage and time battlemage. Melee ones are also subdivided further for more specialisation. Each class will work best when used with certain weaponry and strategies forcing you to think of the best combination for each fight.
Jumping further into the Zodiac system you find the licenses, which are your skills and abilities to unlock as you level-up and gain license points. This takes some pre-planning to work out what your end-game is, what ability are you working towards. The classic skill-tree has been changed into a tile system that can split in different directions, you start with a few tiles unlocked and grouped together, when you purchase a license you unlock the tiles surrounding it. These allow you to wear certain armour, use specific weapons, gain stat boosts and more. A clever take on the level-up and skill tree systems.
Gameplay mechanics at its core is tactical-action, queuing up attacks or commands and letting the characters perform their bit. You can either straight-up attack, cast a magick, use a technick, use an item, switch Gambits on or off and perform powerful attacks. Gambits is nothing to do with the X-Men character but more to do with creating pre-scheduled actions for each character that they will follow. Your healer for instance you can set to heal any team-mate that falls below a percentage of health and prioritise that above executing an attack. These can help make things so much easier in the long-run when battling, why spend ages constantly pausing the action to make each character do something when this can be pre-organised, saving time and effort.
Player models have benefited most from the visual upgrade mainly to do with the colour vibrancy and clarity. More life has been instilled into the character’s and to be honest they look great, not in the sense of detail, but literally how they look. The world looks very, PS2, early PS3 era in its detail and kind of rugged aesthetic, textures are still blurry and flat. However, that doesn’t prevent me from being immersed in this magical fantasy world with awe-inspiring set pieces and gorgeous locations.
Ozmone Plain is one of many stunning pieces of music featured in Final Fantasy 12, with its fast-paced whimsical style it truly feels that you are being transported away and onto an adventure of epic proportions. Each piece has been expertly crafted and executed in a way that they fit the context of the story and world. The tune fits where you are or what is taking place and delivers a more immersive experience, I get hyped when battling and I feel the emotion in each cutscene.
GAME DESIGN & INNOVATION: 9.5/10
An absolutely must for Final Fantasy fans or those looking to finally get in on the series, a cool mix of deep twisting story filled with a ton of memorable characters, a stunning soundtrack and innovative game design. 1, 2, 3, Type-0, 14, 15 and now 12 are the entries in the franchise I have played and 12 has cemented itself as one of my top favourites, the other being 15.
OVERALL: 8.9/10 – GREAT
Reviewed by Rhys Baldwin.