‘Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age’ – Square-Enix’s Second Attempt to Fix a Troubled Game

Bob Mackey

While 2006’s Final Fantasy XII sold incredibly well, this PlayStation 2 game didn’t enter the world under the most fortunate of circumstances. For one, it released smack-dab between the respective launches of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, giving it no choice but to immediately feel dated. And—perhaps more importantly—Final Fantasy XII faced some serious production problems: citing health issues, its original director departed, leaving another creative talent to deliver what could only be a compromised vision.

You can barely tell Final Fantasy XII is a 2006 game when looking at screenshots of The Zodiac Age.

Thankfully, the story of Final Fantasy XII doesn’t end there. On July 11, Square-Enix will release Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, which seeks to address the problems of the original game—all while bringing its production values up to the HD standard that became the norm 10 years ago. And while the game’s vision has no choice but to be compromised, this new version could stand as the best compromise FFXII has ever seen.

Not the First Remake

In traditional Japanese RPG fashion, Final Fantasy XII received a refurbishment of sorts in 2007 with the International Zodiac Job System edition. Most “international” editions typically graft on additional bosses and other small doses of content, but this improved version amounts to a significant reworking of the game’s guts. Through the “license board” system, the original game allows every party member to master each available skill—if you have enough license points, that is—meaning each character can end up feeling exactly the same by the end. After all, why bother specializing in any particular set of skills when you’re empowered to go beyond specific roles?

To make party members feel more unique, International Zodiac Job System asks players to choose a specific job—out of some very familiar Final Fantasy classes—for each of them at the outset. This reworking does a great job of making the characters feel more unique, as each job features its own license board with a specific arrangement of abilities tailored to that particular role. The major downside, though, comes in how you’re permanently locked into a job once you’ve made your decision—meaning you could be stuck with a less-than-ideal party if you don’t do a ton of research ahead of time. 10 years ago, Square-Enix tried their best, but they simply traded one problem for another.

The Definitive Final Fantasy XII?

The new map system in Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age looks mighty convenient.

The Zodiac Age approaches Final Fantasy XII’s central issue in a slightly more thoughtful way than the International Zodiac Job System edition. Yes, you still choose one job per character, but, early on in the game, you’ll also gain access to the “license board plus,” which allows each party member to take on an additional job simultaneously. This means you’ll still have the chance to make each character fill a unique role, but you won’t be completely hamstrung if said role doesn’t live up to your expectations. We don’t yet know how this new take on the job system will play out over the course of FFXII’s incredibly long journey, but right now this change seems like it could be for the better.

The job system doesn’t stand as the only thing being changed in The Zodiac Age, as Square-Enix will be including some other minor additions to make this version feel definitive. The Zodiac Age now features an optional transparent overlay map that sits right on top of the action—meaning you won’t have to keep expanding your traditional mini-map to get your bearings. And, along with including a fully remastered soundtrack, The Zodiac Age will also feature eight new songs by the original game’s team of composers. If you enjoyed Final Fantasy XII’s stellar soundtrack, this should come as extremely good news.

If anything, it’s nice to see Square-Enix isn’t content to simply “HD-ify” one of the two previously-existing editions of Final Fantasy XII. On the surface, The Zodiac Age’s addition of a second job per character may seem minor, but it amounts to an incredible amount of work on Square-Enix’s part—work they didn’t necessarily have to do. And with any luck, their efforts could end up making The Zodiac Age Final Fantasy XII’s definitive edition when it launches for the PlayStation 4 this July 11.

Bob Mackey
Bob Mackey is Games Editor at Fandom. Since joining the games press in 2007, he's written for sites like 1UP, Joystiq, The A.V. Club, Gamasutra, USgamer, and many others. He also hosts the weekly podcasts Retronauts and Talking Simpsons. Follow him on Twitter @bobservo.