There have been many big jump in the Final Fantasy series, but Final Fantasy XII was the game that saw Square’s headline RPG evolve in a new and innovative direction. The previous game’s calling cards had always been their huge story-driven narratives and traditional turn-based battles which, when coupled with some great monster designs and attractive visuals, had made Final Fantasy into the RPG series. Hell, for some people Final Fantasy was RPGs.
XII didn’t just shake things up, it threw vast parts of the Final Fantasy legacy out of the window, and looked instead to the growing world of MMORPGs for inspiration. It brought with it the series’ first open world, and with it a more open-ended approach to what had previously been a fairly linear experience. It’s a legacy that you can see in the Final Fantasy XIII series and Final Fantasy XV, but where those game’s often struggled to provide a coherent marriage between the open world elements and the narrative, XII proved that it was possible to combine the two.
In 2006 this was all absolutely groundbreaking stuff on console, and for the most iconic RPG series of all time to take this direction showed that Square Enix clearly believed that this was where the genre as a whole was headed. Obviously they were right – how many recent offline RPG’s haven’t cribbed some characteristics from MMORPGs? – and it’s probably why Final Fantasy XII still feels resolutely modern some thirteen years after its original release.
The arrival of the remastered Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age on Switch is even more groundbreaking as it’s now not only the first time you can experience this classic RPG on a Nintendo console – and Microsoft’s Xbox One for that matter – but you can take it on the go with you. It’s safe to say that you’ll want to as well, since it’s an utterly essential RPG that you won’t want to put down.
Despite its many new aspects, more than any other Final Fantasy, XII is the game that epitomises the series to me, even if Final Fantasy X is still my absolute favourite. The setting of Ivalice, the mixture of fantasy and science fiction, the exotic races and the incredible production values all just feel so unequivocally Final Fantasy that it’s almost alarming that this is the twelfth entry. Perhaps it’s because Squeenix’ incredible MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV has taken so much from it, and is in itself a celebration of the series as a whole, that it feels that way. While there’s the gripping narrative, those MMORPG aspects broaden FFXII into an experience that will last you many, many hours, whether you’re diving into the hunting side quests or tinkering with your party’s Gambits; a series of exchangeable rules by which your AI party members behave.
Whichever way you look at it, XII is a storytelling powerhouse. Few games have the narrative chops to carry through a fifteen hour game, let alone a fifty hour one, and where some Japanese RPGs can drag on, there’s virtually no let up as you lead Vaan and his party through the turbulent struggle between Damasca and the Archadian Empire. It’s your companions that will keep XII with you, and character’s like the effortlessly cool Sky Pirate Balthier and the wearily honourable Basch are a pleasure to spend time with.
It certainly helps that the voice work is excellent, particularly the English localisation English, and the acting really helps to bring the whole production to life. You’ve also got the option of hopping between the Japanese original and the English voices at any point if you want to, if Vaan’s early whining begins to get to you. Just like last year’s PC release you can also choose between three versions of the soundtrack from the off, though there’s the not the obvious level of difference between them like you’ll find in the FFX/X-2 remaster. Thanks to the additional music work, it’s probably worth plumping for the Remastered tracks.
FFXII: The Zodiac Age was an incredibly successful remaster on the PS4 two years ago, and at its base level this is more or less exactly the same game on Switch. You won’t be hitting 60fps, which is reserved for the power of PC and Xbox One X, but it’s not something that’s remotely vital in a game of this type. Switch and Xbox One owners both gain the new ability to reset their party’s jobs if so desired, as well as create three different gambit sets for each character, which are both nice quality of life improvements, if not essential. Besides that, those wanting the most bang for their buck will enjoy being able to carry over some of your equipment to a New Game+.
It might sound hyperbolic, but if you told me that I could only play one Final Fantasy game again for the rest of my life, it would have to be XII: The Zodiac Age. It’s a beautiful entry in the series that’s aged incredibly well, and this remaster, on Nintendo’s portable Switch, is arguably the best place to play it. Luckily it’s not the last Final Fantasy game for me, and while eyes will undoubtedly begin to turn to the XIII series for the next Switch outing, XII: The Zodiac Age is so good that it will stay with you forever.