The beauty of Final Fantasy XII HD is one-of-a-kind in the 30+ year series. No other entry has quite so much content and enjoyable layers in the combat while having such a ho-hum story. Vaan and his crew can take on the world one monster at a time in an active, capable, branching system of commands and I’m mostly a happy clam. Then he and Ashe start talking about the political climate of the kingdom, swinging me in my hammock into an afternoon nap.
Thus is part of the curse of Final Fantasy XII and certainly highlights this HD re-release that has a hung jury on its need to exist.
I don’t know if I’ve ever gone to length over what constitutes a “need” for an HD remake to exist. I’d like to think I don’t have to, but this is a game of inches. Final Fantasy X HD added something (albeit a slightly broken something) new to the western audience. Crash and Spyro were complete visual re-writes. Even Let’s Go Pikachu had the balls to take another crack at a legendary formula. Dark Souls, Batman, Uncharted…f*cking Prototype: these are games that added either nothing or minimal enhancements to their loving fanbase’s second dip. That’s the line, really. Add something meaningful to your re-release beyond what was already available.
Final Fantasy XII was a content behemoth when it came into the grasping hands of the dying PlayStation 2. Hunts alone were a full game, then another full game awaited in story and exploration. It stood as a single-player title with quality square-footage that could rival smaller MMOs. That size came at the cost of speed and lots of salt was thrown at the massively customizable Gambit system that allowed for every character to obey pretty specific command strings. To a certain extent, the game can be setup to play itself in every battle thanks to that optional switch.
Now coming to us in glorious Zodiac Age-D, those meaningful enhancements actually took target of the annoyances of the original instead of full-on enhancements. Game speed can now be multiplied to make all sound effects squeak and Vaan look like Sonic the Blonde Hog. I guess this also helps grinding areas feel instantly smoother and more attractive as well, but who cares about that? You can also click in a stick to add the map’s overlay on the screen. F*cking thank you.
Arguably the largest addition to Final Fantasy XII is the re-did Jobs system. The crux of the re-did-ness is that there are now 12 categories for your 6 eventual team members to pick from and two boards for each to fill with abilities and weapons. This creates some nice trenches and a sense of strategy in how you want to prepare your favorite trio for battle but that doesn’t really translate into practice. More times than not, everyone just has Bubble and Haste, and the battle’s decided. Some higher-level weapons are nice to have in certain hands but that is something the original could do as well. That is to say that I’m not fully sold on this addition as a big game-changer.
Hunts are still my cocaine. I’ve never felt so compelled to take on a late-game group of enemies as I do with Final Fantasy XII, and Zodiac Age does make that feel easier than ever thanks to those speed controls. This is also where I wish there were some more gameplay touches as activating Hunts is uselessly multi-stepped. You have to nod your head at the bounty keeper, then go find the original quest giver, then go find the monster, then obey whatever special conditions bring them out of hiding, then coup-de-gras. If you’re doing this all in locked-step with the game’s areas as they bloom open to your loving embrace, perhaps it’s a more straight-forward venture. Moving backwards from the end of the game to clean up, however, creates quite a few headaches.
The story of Final Fantasy XII is decidedly character-focused, and it’s greatest weakness is that the characters don’t really have a direct dog in their fight. Yes, the end result would be decidedly sucky if our heroes didn’t intervene. That doesn’t really make the fight or arc feel personal or even penetrable. By time you end up at the various, ultimately-lame boss encounters, you hardly ever feel like you should be there more so than your just happen to be in a bad-guy-stopping mood.
So ya, Final Fantasy XII exists as is still a pretty damn fine game. Old fans will have a few new game modes and a speed infusion that can shave eternities off of your playtime. New players will get to ingest the old-style of FF games and feel completely stuffed with content overload. I, meanwhile, will keep on whittling away at the hunts while wishing that they were attached to something just as strong in every area.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age HD Score: