PAX 2016: Final Fantasy XII: Zodiac Age

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

While wandering PAX's massive expo hall, I found myself gravitating towards the massive display set up for Final Fantasy XV. That is not the game I'm going to talk about. Instead, I'm going to talk about another release I discovered tucked away into a corner of the same display, a remastered and reworked version of an older Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy XII.

At this point, I have to note that the original Final Fantasy XII ranks amongst my least favorite Final Fantasy games. It was needlessly vague in its presentation of relevant information, so much so that I and others I talked to about the game at the time believed that this was intentional to boost strategy guide sales. The game also featured over-sexualized bunny women, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Aladdin knock-off, and one of the most needlessly complex and unintuitive leveling systems in any Final Fantasy game ever, and that's saying something for anyone who's familiar with leveling systems like the ones used in FF X or FF XIII. All of those factors and more led me to wonder "What value could Square-Enix see in remaking this game? Do other people remember it more fondly than I do?" I had to know.

Picking up the controller I quickly began to see a little bit of where Square might have been coming from in creating Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age. For all the negative memories I had associated with it, it's still a beautiful game, even moreso with the fine touches added during the remastering process. The demo drops you off at a point that's about a couple hours in to the main storyline and gives you the opportunity to explore some of the locales, cut-scenes, and combat the game has to offer. While graphically not up to the standards of newer games in the series like the gorgeous Final Fantasy XV being displayed right next to it, FF XII is still very pretty to look at, competitive with modern RPG studios who aren't at Square-Enix's level with the remastering factored in. The combat system appears largely untouched from its original functionality, which today seems a lot like a sad hybrid of the fluid battle system I later demo'd in FF XV and traditional Final Fantasy ATB style systems as seen in most earlier iterations of the game. While I have to admit that this is an improvement over its predecessors, it felt clunky and unfinished when compared to other games on display right beside it. Instead of a fresh and exciting demo, I felt like I was playing a piece of history placed there to emphasize how far game design for the company and genre had come.

Unfortunately, other than the fact that it does, in fact, look significantly better visually than its original entry, the demo did not encompass enough game play for me to be able to say whether this remaster is something that will universally appeal to all members of the franchise, or if it's more of an homage to what was whose target audience is going to be limited largely to fans of the original game.