Sunday, July 16, 2017

"Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age" Review

Eleven years ago, "Final Fantasy XII" pushed the PlayStation 2 to its limit, reaching what was then a high point for the famed RPG series and laying the groundwork for an awkward decade for the franchise that finally came to blossom last year with the spectacular "Final Fantasy XV."

Telling a sprawling, layered story with gorgeous visuals, deep writing and exhilarating combat that melded turn-based and action qualities, the game was ripe for an HD remaster. "The Zodiac Age" builds on everything that worked with the original -- enhancing the visuals and streamlining the rough, antiquated edges of the gameplay -- and minimizes what didn't work. The result is a gleaming gem that rivals "XV" and "VII" for the top spot among the series' pantheon.

Those who were wowed by "XV" but yearn for the series' roots will find much to love in "XII." Although the checkpoint-based saved system is a previous-gen relic -- hey, at least it does away with the ludicrous PS2 memory card system -- the structured, linear experience recalls the experience that most longtime fans of the franchise grew up loving. You can micromanage every attack or preset your party's emphasis and sit back and watch the mayhem unfold.

A new orchestral score helps give the action and story beats the cinematic resonance that the newer games have, while keeping a foot squarely planted in the past. Looking at the story through the 2017 lens gives the saga a decidedly "Game of Thrones" feel, with the tale of redemption unfolding through brutal setbacks and slivers of hope.

Weighing in at $50, "The Zodiac Age" is on the pricey side of previous-gen remasters, but the cost is well worth it based on the 100-plus hours of thrills it provides, as well as the loving care that went into nearly every aspect of the build. Easily the definitive way to experience "XII," this is as much a remake as it is a makeover.

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