2006 was an attention-grabbing time for the Last Fantasy collection, as Sq. returned to a single-player pushed entry within the collection after the MMO experiment of Last Fantasy XI. The event of Last Fantasy XII was rocky to say the least, as its protracted five-year growth cycle price Sq. near thirty-five million dollars and its preliminary director, Yasumi Matsuno, suffered a psychological collapse midway by means of that noticed him leaving the corporate for good. Luckily, the ultimate product turned out to be a fairly constant and high-quality JRPG; not the perfect within the collection, however removed from the again alley dumpster fireplace that it simply might’ve been. Now, Sq. has remastered the sport as Last Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, which throws in enhancements from the later-released worldwide model together with an entire slew of recent nips and tucks, all of which come collectively to make for a splendidly sharp expertise that stands because the definitive solution to play this basic.
The story of Last Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age takes a much less character-centric strategy to its narrative, a transfer which actually will increase the scope of the plot, however at the price of making it much less relatable than some predecessors within the collection. Echoing a number of the earlier Fireplace Emblem video games, that is extra a narrative in regards to the political intrigue surrounding an ongoing battle between nationwide superpowers. Within the land of Ivalice (which acts because the setting of a number of different video games from Sq.) the 2 nations of Archadia and Rozzaria are at battle with one another, catching the a lot smaller kingdom of Dalmasca within the crossfire. After a prolonged and mildly complicated introduction phase, the plot picks up following Vaan, an orphaned petty thief with huge desires of at some point changing into a sky pirate. Vaan leads a comparatively easy lifetime of being a type of Robin Hood-like determine, however his misadventures rapidly result in him getting caught up in a resistance motion with Dalmasca’s princess, Ashe, who goals to reverse the annexation of Dalmasca into the Archadian empire.
It’s all reasonably high-concept – even for a Last Fantasy sport – and this comes as one thing of a double-edged sword. Whereas it’s spectacular how a lot element is put into the lore and historical past of the world of Ivalice, not almost as a lot effort is put into making the solid significantly memorable or three dimensional. Very similar to how fight requires a number of totally different roles working in tandem, all the most important gamers within the story are clearly there to fill a particular area of interest in transferring the plot ahead they usually seldom get away of their cliché archetypes. For instance, Balthier is the ‘cool’, roguish sky pirate out to fill his boots with treasure; he initially doesn’t wish to get entangled within the resistance motion as a result of it’s not his cup of tea, however his sort coronary heart finally wins out and he reveals there’s extra to him then a set off finger and one-liners. Everybody in the principle social gathering is like this to an extent. They’re likable and well-written, however predictable and reasonably boring in consequence. Although the voice appearing is spot-on, there’s a common sense of detachment one will get when taking part in by means of this story; it’s simply laborious to care in regards to the plight of Dalmasca when the sport doesn’t provide you with a lot cause to past the drained ‘empires are evil’ track and dance. There are a lot worse tales to be present in RPG’s, however relative to the remainder of the Last Fantasy collection, Last Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is left a bit wanting.
Luckily, the gameplay picks up the slack, coming off as one thing akin to a single participant MMO. Although it’s not precisely open-world, the on-rails nature of Last Fantasy X is lengthy gone right here, changed by a gameplay construction that encourages you to take frequent breaks from the principle narrative in favor of some good old style aspect quest grinding. These take the type of ‘Hunts’, which see you fulfilling contracts for NPCs in cities who want you to take down sure highly effective creatures within the surrounding areas for some contrived cause. As a rule, the areas of those creatures are generalized and require a little bit of poking across the map, which naturally ends in you discovering treasure and hidden secrets and techniques as you struggle your approach by means of the numerous fodder enemies that populate the environments. On paper, all of it sounds reasonably cookie cutter, however there’s one thing in regards to the reward loop of grinding hunts, getting extra gil and higher tools, and utilizing that to then do tougher hunts that proves to be insatiably addictive. On this approach, Last Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age proves that innovation isn’t essentially the one requirement to stellar sport design, generally all it takes is sensible execution of well-worn concepts.
That being stated, one place the place Last Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age positively innovates is in its fight, particularly the Lively Dimensional Battle system, which lastly eschews the random encounters of the collection in favor of a extra lively focus. Maybe inspiring the Xenoblade Chronicles video games that might come a few years later, battles are merely began proper there within the overworld as quickly as you’re inside the visible or assault vary of an enemy. As soon as the battle begins, character actions are then ruled by an ATB type system during which every character has an auto-filling bar that grants them an motion each time it fills, however a method during which Last Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age places all different RPGs to disgrace is within the depth of micromanagement it provides gamers by means of the “Gambit” system.
The Gambit system is a advertising pleasant time period for programmable actions, all of which might be arrange within the pause menu. Primarily, each character has a set of Gambits that operate as ‘if/then’ instructions, and the way you order the Gambits dictates how the character behaves in battle. Each Gambit slot has a ‘goal’ and an ‘motion’, and an unlimited record of selectable components for every, which ensures that you’ve near-limitless quantity of how in which you’ll arrange every character. So, for instance, you possibly can set a Gambit that ensures your healer-focused character will solid “Blindna” each time a celebration member is stricken with the “Blind” standing impact by an enemy. Or, you possibly can set a number of Gambits in your black mage to make sure that they’ll use no matter magic the at the moment focused enemy is weak to. In contrast to most different RPGs, you now not have to fret about lackluster AI limiting the effectiveness of your group, as you possibly can management precisely the place, when, and the way every social gathering member reacts to sure eventualities.
It takes a little bit of getting used to, however the true energy of the Gambit system lies in utilizing trial and error to determine flip your group into a superbly balanced, unstoppable killing pressure that requires solely occasional enter from you. Some might imagine it sounds a bit boring to have a fight system primarily centered round taking part in itself, however the nature of the Gambit system all the time leaves room for somewhat extra enchancment or participant interplay. Every character solely has so many Gambit slots to fill, and even while you’ve discovered a pleasant equilibrium for the group, there are nonetheless loads of eventualities the place it’s merely faster to inform a personality to do a particular motion. What’s good about this method is how a lot stress it takes off the participant within the second to second choice making; you possibly can watch the motion unfold mechanically and intervene as wanted, filling the gaps in as a type of meta social gathering member.
Character development is dealt with in a fashion akin to the Sphere Grid system of Last Fantasy X, however it’s barely extra freeform in its strategy. There are twelve jobs to select from and every character might be outfitted with a important class and a subclass, every of which has a singular, chess-like board that charts their mastery of that class. Each job board comprises a set of “Licenses” which dictate the extent of substances or the abilities that the character can use. So, for instance, chances are you’ll discover a fancy new armlet in a treasure chest that requires a stage three accent license to equip; solely characters which have unlocked the “Accent three” spot on their job board will likely be able to placing it on. Each enemy you kill grants every character “License Factors” which may then be spent to purchase extra spots on their job boards, however you possibly can solely purchase spots which might be straight adjoining to any of those you’ve already purchased. What’s good about this setup is the way it means that you can management your character’s development inside their class in direction of the way in which that you just play them; in the event you really feel comfy with their present tools setup, for instance, then you possibly can forgo shopping for greater ranks of armor licenses in favor of extra direct stat buffs or talent licenses. And, in contrast to the Sphere Grid, there aren’t any predefined paths right here that you just select to observe, all of it radiates outward from the start line and also you’re given full freedom over what corners of the board to work in direction of.
Additionally, new to this Change model, you’re allowed to respec characters and reclass them as you please, and also you’re even refunded all invested LP. With this variation, you’re now given larger means to experiment with totally different social gathering setups as you don’t should decide to any string of selections you make in rising any characters. It’s small, positive, however little high quality of life modifications like this will make a world of distinction in ratcheting up the replayability and enjoyable issue; it’s lots much less aggravating figuring out which you could undo your errors.
Talking of high quality of life modifications, this Change port additionally options the stunning inclusion of three swappable Gambit units for every character, permitting you to create various setups for various conditions. For instance, boss fights usually prefer to throw some curveballs your approach and introduce standing debuffs and assaults that you just possible haven’t predicted together with your Gambit setups. In earlier variations of Last Fantasy XII, you’d should redo your social gathering’s Gambits to suit that boss, then have to recollect your earlier setups and reimplement them once more after you had been accomplished; this manner, you possibly can have one or two ‘important’ setups and use the remainders for particular conditions. One other welcome inclusion (which wasn’t current within the preliminary PS2 launch) is the flexibility to double or quadruple the pace of the sport by merely urgent within the left stick, enormously reducing again on the downtime that grinding tends to convey. Particularly when paired with a celebration that may struggle principally by itself, being able to expedite the method of fights which might be in any other case set in stone enables you to get to rewards that a lot quicker and transfer on to no matter’s subsequent. It’s clear that Last Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is designed to be a sport that’s respectful of your time, even when the character of the style calls for that you just pour in dozens of hours to get the ‘full’ expertise.
From a presentation perspective, Last Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age doesn’t essentially impress, however it actually satisfies. Up to date character fashions and up-rezzed textures convey the PS2-era graphics into the trendy age and supply some stable visuals, however character expressions and jagged geometry make sure that it’s nonetheless unmistakably a sport from days previous. That’s to not say it seems to be unhealthy, however coming into this one with managed expectations is sensible; subsequent to different fashionable RPG’s, it will probably look a bit lackluster. The world is offered in a reasonably painterly look that brings to thoughts shades of the system used within the Valkyria Chronicles, characterised by smooth colours that are inclined to blur collectively sometimes punctuated by loud, vibrant colours that each one however pierce the display, akin to when a robust magic spell is solid in battle.
That is all properly and good, however the visible type feels a bit let down by the marginally extra reined in fantasy components, bringing a extra grounded strategy to the world. There are nonetheless dragons and magic and all the trimmings that one would come to anticipate from a Last Fantasy sport, however the decidedly extra political strategy to the storytelling appears to have rubbed off a bit on the artwork route, which is worried with making the world of Ivalice appear to be a spot that might nearly be actual, someplace. In fact, it seems to be nice in movement and runs at 30 FPS – whether or not you’re taking part in on the Change or the TV – and so far as we might inform, seems to be principally on-par with the variations accessible on different platforms. Additionally, for you music aficionados, there are three totally different variations of Hitoshi Sakimoto’s soundtrack work right here – Authentic, orchestral, and OST – and although the variations gained’t be too noticeable to an untrained ear, it’s good to see that the builders went to the difficulty of creating positive the audio acquired the identical TLC that the remainder of the sport did.