‘Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age’: One woman’s experience with the original game

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Final Fantasy XII was released more than a decade ago. I can still remember going with my grandmother to Walmart right around that time and pointing it out as something I badly wanted for Christmas. She didn’t know much about games, but acquiesced, and I opened it that December with an enormous grin on my face.

As a lifelong Final Fantasy fan, it was already excruciating enough to have to wait until Christmas to get my hands on the game. But afterward, what hurt even more was the fact that I, unfortunately, just wasn’t that into it.

Maybe it’s because I was only 17 at the time and still mired in the typical Final Fantasy game conventions, but the world of Ivalice wasn’t where it was at for me. Even armed with the official strategy guide and an entire week off from responsibilities, I couldn’t quite get into the game despite multiple attempts. But I knew there was an excellent game waiting there beneath all the things that bothered me.

Vaan doesn’t remember meeting me back then. Giphy

That’s why I’m ready, years later, to jump back in with the advent of a vastly-improved remaster of the Final Fantasy XII International Zodiac Job System version that was released in Japan back in 2007. After playing it ahead of its debut, I’ve seen things I’m hoping will end up completely revitalizing the game so I can finally give it a fair shake. And I think this will likely be the case for others, too.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age: Jumping back into Ivalice

Final Fantasy XII was a difficult sell to me for several reasons. It was a bunch of small, mostly inconsequential things that bugged me, but even those things were enough to frustrate me. Its aesthetic wasn’t as in line with the parts of the franchise I preferred. The font choice for subtitles (which I always turn on), the character designs and more just weren’t up to snuff. Least interesting to me was the setting and heaps of political intrigue. I was willing to overlook those things, of course, but it didn’t help that “main” protagonist Vaan and the company he kept were uninteresting to me.

Vaan and Penelo hanging out Giphy

I knew this back then when I started playing. But I also knew that Final Fantasy IX didn’t initially appeal to me, either, and it went on to become my personal favorite of the series alongside Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII. So even when those things frustrated me, I got over them.

What I didn’t get over were frustrations like the game’s License Boards, which I felt forced me to have an uneven spread of characters and abilities, relying on some characters but hardly even utilizing others. I wasn’t a fan of Gambits or the like, nor the MMO-esque combat. Though I had a brief stint as a Final Fantasy XI devotee, I wasn’t ready to switch from familiar turn-based combat to awkward real-time fights where I could aggro enemies simply by running past them.

I didn’t like any of these things, but I hated the tedious back-and-forth traveling between areas without a map overlay and the frustrating load screens between the same areas I’d get lost in. Despite this, all my favorite gaming publications lauded the game with high praise and near-perfect scores. I felt like there was something missing, perhaps something I didn’t see in the game at first, so I shelved it for a while to come back to later, when I was more patient and had more time.

Yeah, real nice, Vaan Giphy

I didn’t expect years to pass before I thought about playing it again. But when news broke of a remastered edition, I knew this would be the best chance at experiencing the game and to perhaps see what others had seen upon its initial release. I’ve been playing it ahead of its debut on July 11, and while I can’t say much for now, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age has shown me that even small improvements can change much of how you feel about a game. I know it has for me.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age: Important improvements

As you’ve no doubt seen in screenshots and other content, The Zodiac Age has had a massive facelift in terms of its user interface and player-focused content. There’s a font with great size and kerning now, more general ease of access and several tweaks to systems I took issue with before.

It’s less annoying now. Balthier seems to think so. Giphy

It’s less irritating to accomplish certain tasks. It’s less frustrating to move from area to area. And this may be just time talking here, but I don’t mind the combat systems nor exploring the world. I know the augments that have come with the remastered edition will end up alleviating most of the complaints I had with the game in general.

It’s strange to look back now and realize this is the same game with the same core content I played before, but I’m much more willing to put up with it now. It’s all thanks to a smart and all-encompassing remaster, which is why I wish more games like these would get the same sort of revisions years later when game developers and gamers both have learned important lessons about things.

I would never have wanted to skip Final Fantasy XII as a die-hard Final Fantasy fan, and I’m glad I can come back years later and find a new appreciation for it, even if it’s in a form that’s skewed from the original.

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