Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
From: Square Enix
Who it's for: Fantasy RPG fans looking for a game that will last them until fall
"Final Fantasy XII" never received its due. Released for PS2 shortly before the launch of the PS3, the game ended up an obscure footnote despite its pedigree. Series' fans consider it one of the finest "Final Fantasy" games, set in the popular world of Ivalice, which appears in the "Final Fantasy Tactics" series, "Final Fantasy XIV" and even "Vagrant Story," a sister RPG not part of the "Final Fantasy" franchise.
While the PS4 version — "Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age" — is technically a reissue, developer and publisher Square Enix has made enough changes and improvements to warrant another playthrough, if you were lucky enough to experience it the first time, of course.
The game is very character driven. The story and dialogue are both polished to a fine sheen, driving the game forward, making every conversation significant. As you learn about the world the game takes on a life of its own, not because the stakes are so high but because they aren't.
"Final Fantasy XII" plays out more like a finely-honed political drama than an action movie where the world hangs in the balance. That's not to say there isn't plenty of action, it's just a question of what you're fighting for, and the narrative makes the fight seem more intimate and important than some games with overwhelming odds and unimaginable consequences.
Though not really an open world like "Final Fantasy XV," Ivalice does welcome a high level of exploration right from the beginning. Remember though, you are not exactly superhuman when the game starts. Wander too far and you risk bumping into powerful monsters, even hidden bosses, that you may not be ready to beat.
This encourages players to spend time on the story path, strengthening their party and readying them for all of the content that lies beyond the beaten path. It's an exquisite balance and one that some modern games could learn from. Sometimes a more focused experience can offer a deeper experience than a true open world.
This likely sounds familiar to all those who have played the game before, but once the revamped character progression system kicks in it becomes something decidedly more. The Zodiac Age system affects everything about your character, including available skills, equipment, magic and more. These license boards include every attribute you can gain through experience. Laid out on a grid, players choose how they want their characters to progress, opening-up new nodes as they go along.
Previously, players were able to choose any and all license board to pull from, but "The Zodiac Age" only allows you to choose two (out of a possible 12). While this may seem like a limitation, it's actually a good thing. The greater focus differentiates between the characters, allowing each to specialize and ultimately become more powerful.
In addition to the streamlined progression system, other improvements abound. Graphically, the game now takes advantage of high-definition sets. Textures have been re-rendered, draw distances increased and animations smoothed out. The original was already a beautiful game for its time, so it shouldn't be surprising how fantastic it looks now, but I repeatedly found myself stunned by the breathtaking environments, fearsome monsters and magical battle sequences.
If all of this isn't enough, the game now includes an all new Trial Mode. Set apart from the main game, Trial Mode tasks you with completing 100 battles, starting with easy creatures and winding up with the game's hardest creatures and bosses. I jumped into this right away and found myself ill-equipped to handle the onslaught that came my way. However, when I revisited it with my fully-matured party after beating the game, it was more manageable.
That doesn't mean it was easy. It still took some advanced tactics and a solid game plan to beat it, but I did so and felt great about it.
"Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age" will last you more than 100 hours, assuming you tackle most of the side-quests and do a nice bit of exploration. It's the perfect experience for a summer RPG blowout.