Final Fantasy XII : The Zodiac Age - Critique
Final Fantasy XII is a refreshing return to earth, with a story focusing on solid characters, evolving between a sprawling political context and a war, but with the very stereotypical objective of "saving the world" as the J-RPG have the habit. The choice of scenario to focus on characters and their small role in this imposing story brings many twists, betrayals and victories, making it more impressive. It is helped by one of the best English localizations ever made (even if Japanese is still available in Europe), which makes the dialogs more interesting, and makes you want to discover more about lore. It is a game in which we will take guilty pleasure in talking to all the NPCs, which is particularly impressive when you consider that you will have 60 to 100 hours of play depending on your level.
While the story is linear, the world is semi-open, and allows you to explore large portions of the map from the start (with a few restrictions, however). And escaping from the main path offers you some quality loots and treasures, but it can also cause you some troubles by going for example to the area where you can easily find very powerful monsters. The rewards are many: the narrowest passages, looking like dead ends, can hold priceless treasures, and elite enemies can give you loot for items sold at the bazaar. Craft plans also hide in completely optional areas.
The battles take place directly on the map, which is an interesting variation of real time and what the previous Final Fantasy has offered us so far. You control only one team member at a time - the rest being managed directly by the AI. Fortunately, Final Fantasy XII conscientiously avoids the problems of other RPGs where team members are precisely controlled by the console, in particular by proposing the very good system of "Gambits" allowing to pre-program actions according to certain situations. For example, you can ask an ally to use a healing item or to cast spells when your main character suffers, or to focus on enemies with the lowest - or highest - hit points, but also to launch an elementary skill when the opponent has known vulnerabilities. Managing your gambits leaves you free to spend your time elsewhere, focusing on more interesting things like your position in the combat zone, while keeping hold of your comrades when necessary.
This is all identical to the original version of Final Fantasy XII, while one of the main changes in The Zodiac Age is the completely reinvention of the progression system, which determines everything from the armor you can wear, to the powers that 'it is possible to use. Called "License Boards" , this takes care of your passive skills, your magic spells, as well as your ability to wear armor and weapons, in the form of points to be won. In the original version, each character could unlock all of their abilities over time, which ultimately made them very similar. With this redesign, the characters can only complete two corresponding boards (out of a total of 12), which offers more limited specialties, but above all more narrow. This forces you to give each character a unique role, to be more creative when spending talent points and creating classes.
One of the other additions turns out to be Trial Mode. It takes the form of optional challenges that put you in front of a hundred waves of increasingly difficult consecutive enemies. You can test it whenever you want, but it is made up of elements of the game accessible at high levels - so you need to have a solid team, be quick, and carefully select the powers and gambits to get there.
Final Fantasy XII also benefits from visual improvements with The Zodiac Age. It is more HD textures than a real remake, however, but it remains truly splendid, especially in terms of scenery and creatures - proving that the game was avant-garde at the time. A function accelerating the gameplay (to double or quadruple the racing speed) also allows you to be faster when it comes to crossing a city or farming large areas, and avoid unnecessary low level monsters.
And if these additions and improvements are good invoices, there are also some unhappy omissions concerning the interface which would have deserved a painting. For example, the race speed function is nice, but it's always forbidding to cross an entire area, when there could have been a teleporter.
Other additions also seem poorly implemented. By pressing L3, you can bring up the whole map, but there is always a piece of the mini-map that remains on the screen, even if you uncheck the option. Furthermore, while most of your credits are earned by looting items from monsters, you still have to sell them one by one, and manually, which is an incredible waste of time. But the worst part of it all is the hunting quests: finding potential customers and hunting areas is always an eyesore, especially since they are not marked on your map, even when you have enough information to know the location of your opponents. This can be understood with certain monsters, but once I have the info in my possession, why does it not add to my map?