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 via that noticed him leaving the corporate for good. Thankfully, the ultimate product turned out to be a fairly constant and high-quality JRPG; not the most effective 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 a complete slew of recent nips and tucks, all of which come collectively to make for a splendidly sharp expertise that stands because the definitive method to play this traditional.
The story of Last Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age takes a much less character-centric method 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 among 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 large desires of at some point turning into a sky pirate. Vaan leads a comparatively easy lifetime of being a kind of Robin Hood-like determine, however his misadventures shortly 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 recreation – 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 forged notably memorable or three dimensional. Very similar to how fight requires a number of completely different roles working in tandem, all the key gamers within the story are clearly there to fill a particular area of interest in shifting the plot ahead and so they 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 primary get together 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 normal sense of detachment one will get when taking part in via this story; it’s simply onerous 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.
Thankfully, 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 primary narrative in favor of some good old school 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. Most of the time, the areas of those creatures are generalized and require a little bit of poking across the map, which naturally leads to you discovering treasure and hidden secrets and techniques as you struggle your means via 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 gear, and utilizing that to then do tougher hunts that proves to be insatiably addictive. On this means, Last Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age proves that innovation isn’t essentially the one requirement to stellar recreation design, typically all it takes is good execution of well-worn concepts.
That being stated, one place the place Last Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age undoubtedly 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 throughout the visible or assault vary of an enemy. As soon as the battle begins, character actions are then ruled by an ATB model system through which every character has an auto-filling bar that grants them an motion each time it fills, however a technique through which Last Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age places all different RPGs to disgrace is within the depth of micromanagement it gives gamers via the “Gambit” system.
The Gambit system is a advertising pleasant time period for programmable actions, all of which could 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 checklist of selectable elements for every, which ensures that you’ve near-limitless quantity of how in which you’ll arrange every character. So, for instance, you may set a Gambit that ensures your healer-focused character will forged “Blindna” each time a celebration member is stricken with the “Blind” standing impact by an enemy. Or, you may set a number of Gambits in your black mage to make sure that they’ll use no matter magic the at present focused enemy is weak to. Not like most different RPGs, you now not have to fret about lackluster AI limiting the effectiveness of your group, as you may management precisely the place, when, and the way every get together 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 the right way to flip your group into a wonderfully 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 at all times leaves room for a bit extra enchancment or participant interplay. Every character solely has so many Gambit slots to fill, and even if 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 technique is how a lot stress it takes off the participant within the second to second resolution making; you may watch the motion unfold routinely and intervene as wanted, filling the gaps in as a kind of meta get together member.
Character development is dealt with in a way akin to the Sphere Grid system of Last Fantasy X, however it’s barely extra freeform in its method. There are twelve jobs to choose from and every character could be geared up with a fundamental 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 group of “Licenses” which dictate the extent of substances or the talents that the character can use. So, for instance, you might discover a fancy new armlet in a treasure chest that requires a degree three accent license to equip; solely characters which have unlocked the “Accent three” spot on their job board might be able to placing it on. Each enemy you kill grants every character “License Factors” which might then be spent to purchase extra spots on their job boards, however you may solely purchase spots which are 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 the direction of the way in which that you simply play them; in case you really feel comfy with their present gear setup, for instance, then you may forgo shopping for larger ranks of armor licenses in favor of extra direct stat buffs or talent licenses. And, in contrast to the Sphere Grid, there are not any predefined paths right here that you simply select to comply with, all of it radiates outward from the place to begin and also you’re given full freedom over what corners of the board to work in the direction of.
Additionally, new to this Swap 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 higher skill to experiment with completely different get together setups as you don’t need to 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 may make a world of distinction in ratcheting up the replayability and enjoyable issue; it’s loads much less tense realizing which you could undo your errors.
Talking of high quality of life modifications, this Swap 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 means and introduce standing debuffs and assaults that you simply possible haven’t predicted together with your Gambit setups. In earlier variations of Last Fantasy XII, you’d need to redo your get together’s Gambits to suit that boss, then have to recollect your earlier setups and reimplement them once more after you had been executed; this manner, you may have one or two ‘fundamental’ 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 are in any other case set in stone allows you to get to rewards that a lot sooner and transfer on to no matter’s subsequent. It’s clear that Last Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is designed to be a recreation that’s respectful of your time, even when the character of the style calls for that you simply 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 be sure that it’s nonetheless unmistakably a recreation from days previous. That’s to not say it appears to be like dangerous, however coming into this one with managed expectations is sensible; subsequent to different fashionable RPG’s, it may well look a bit lackluster. The world is introduced in a reasonably painterly look that brings to thoughts shades of the system used within the Valkyria Chronicles, characterised by gentle colours that are likely to blur collectively sometimes punctuated by loud, vibrant colours that each one however pierce the display, akin to when a strong magic spell is forged in battle.
That is all effectively and good, however the visible model feels a bit let down by the marginally extra reined in fantasy parts, bringing a extra grounded method to the world. There are nonetheless dragons and magic and all the trimmings that one would come to count on from a Last Fantasy recreation, however the decidedly extra political method 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 virtually be actual, someplace. After all, it appears to be like nice in movement and runs at 30 FPS – whether or not you’re taking part in on the Swap or the TV – and so far as we might inform, seems to be principally on-par with the variations obtainable on different platforms. Additionally, for you music aficionados, there are three completely different variations of Hitoshi Sakimoto’s soundtrack work right here – Unique, orchestral, and OST – and although the variations received’t be too noticeable to an untrained ear, it’s good to see that the builders went to the difficulty of constructing positive the audio obtained the identical TLC that the remainder of the sport did.