The Last Great Final Fantasy Game - Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age
Check out the video review or read the full review below:
Growing up in the 90's, my favorite two games up to this day is Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars and Final Fantasy 7. Some of my earliest memories include me playing FF7 as my older brother read all the text out loud. FF7 was the first game I played more than 99h59min59s and was the game that got me hooked on the series. Recently, I bought and played through Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age, and it made me reminiscent of the golden age of JRPGs. I wanted to explain why I loved FF12 so much, and where recent games in the franchise have missed the mark.
When FF12 was first released in 2006, I was graduating High School and was starting college in the fall. There were two separate occasions when I remember trying to play through the game, getting about halfway through, then not playing and forgetting the plot. After moving onto the PS3 and Xbox360 era, I didn't have the motivation to return to play the game. I was hyped when the remaster, FF12: The Zodiac Age was announced with the new dual class system and license board. After buying it on sale recently and playing through the game in about a week, I can say that FF12 is one the best FF games in the whole series. Here is why.
The Story- For me, the most important part of any great game is the story. Unlike some of the older FF games and most recently FF15, the story doesn't focus on the cliche story of crystals that becomes unnecessarily convoluted. The more mature story of a political drama between two nations at the brink of war feels more like a sequel to FF tactics than the main series. The game does take place in Ivalice a long time before the events of FF Tactics. The game feels instantly familiar with FF traditions, such as item, character names, and monsters that appear in other games. The story does become more complex further on but never becomes too over the top. I loved the story of FF7 and FFX, but I found myself needing to watch recaps or overviews to fully understand the whole story for those games.
The characters- One of the main criticisms of the game is that the weakest character is Vaan and Penelo, the characters who you start with first. If there was a main character, it would have to be Ashe, who the story revolves around. Even though I agree, that Penelo may be an insignificant character, everyone else has an intriguing backstory and develop further as the story progresses. Each character has their own motivations and the game had me thinking about who's side each character was on, both the main party and the antagonists. The villains of the story are not always clear, and even as more is revealed toward the end, you feel connected or at least understand the motivations of the other side. Unlike the one dimensional villains of past FF games, or your average superhero movie, each character feels relate-able and not making unrealistic decisions.
Added features- The best thing that the Zodiac Age brings is the fast forward features that let you move 2x or 4x your normal speed without affecting music or cutscenes. I think the reason I got half-way through the game two other times without finishing it was due to the grind required to earn License points or collect loot to sell for weapons/gear. I do recommend not leaving it on while exploring an area for the first time, since you may miss valuable chests and the gorgeous environments of the game. Similarly, the mini-map that you can bring up with the click of the left thumbstick, reduces the sense of exploration and scale of the maps, if you leave on the 4x speed and run to next location to progress the story.
IGN's review criticized the lack of quick travel, the selling of loot, and the accepting/locating hunts could have also been refined from the original. However, with the speed up feature and everything else being done for you like this would make the game significantly easier. I like the role-playing feel when you are placed in the party's role to accept and kill monsters to climb the rank in the hunter's guild. Talking to the person with the request, hearing the backstory, actually finding/killing the monster and finally returning to the person is a rewarding process. This is also another thing that FF15 tried to make more simple with "tipsters", but those felt more tedious and boring because you kept going back and forth to the same person, with the same dialogue each time.
After the excitement of playing and beating the game, I'm a bit sad now knowing the state that the FF franchise is currently in. I will write a separate review for FF15, but I'm still searching for the next great RPG game with a great story and gameplay that can keep me hooked for 50+ hours. Let me know in the comments section what game you guys are playing, and are there any other remaster games that you're glad you played again?