Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is an HD remaster of Final Fantasy XII, a Japanese role-playing game for the PlayStation 2. The Zodiac Age features player-programmed combat with the gambit system, a job system, a political story full of betrayal and intrigue, and a mature cast of characters.
Pro Intuitive player-programmed combat with the gambit system
The gambit system allows you to assign pre-set conditions and commands for your characters in real-time battles, like using healing spells when a party member is at less than 50% HP, or only using physical attacks when an enemy reflects magic. As you progress through the story, you'll find more of these conditions and commands scattered across the world through treasure chests or available for purchase in shops. With the right gambit setup, you'll find a sense of satisfaction in defeating groups of enemies or even tough boss fights without having to press a single button.
Pro Huge and diverse open world to explore
The world of Ivalice is a medieval fantasy setting that has elements of magical technology beneath the surface, with several locations to explore out in the wild. The grand, magnificent Royal City of Rabanastre is sequestered between a desert, branching off to plains that alternate between dry and wet seasons. Beyond the plains are mysterious mines with traces of science experiments gone awry, leading to a magical jungle, and snowy mountains that lead up to a religious city at the peaks. Far beyond those are vast beaches and caverns that lead to the intimidating and expansive Imperial City of Arcades. This breadth of locations in the PlayStation 2 version were ahead of their time, including options to return to these places and find secret paths leading to optional bosses.
Pro Amazing amount of challenging optional content
Once you reach the later parts of the game, you'll be free to go after many different side quests like hunting powerful enemies for great rewards, and taking down stronger Espers, Final Fantasy XII's version of the series' magical deity summons. You'll be able to traverse each map in the game and find secret areas that weren't reachable during your normal playthrough of the story, allowing you to find the game's strongest weapons and magic spells along the way.
Pro Additional content, changes and upgrades for the HD remaster
The HD remaster includes new content from the PlayStation 2's Japanese International version that didn't get a Western release. When assigning battle roles for your characters, you have the option to give them two jobs instead of one. If you decide to make Balthier's initial job a white mage with healing magic, you can also have him take a secondary job as a knight or machinist to shore up his physical weaknesses. The Trial Mode with 100 floors of enemies gradually increases in difficulty as you progress, offering more challenges and rewards beyond the game's existing plethora of optional content. The remaster also includes a newly arranged soundtrack, though there's the option of sticking with the original soundtrack if you prefer.
Pro Standout characters among the cast
Unlike the majority of the cast whose motivations and growth are too closely linked to the plot, Fran and Balthier have their own lives that don't revolve around the story, making them feel more authentic than the others. Balthier is a charming, witty sky pirate who always has his eye on the prize. He tags along with the rest of the cast, willing to do whatever's needed--for the right price. His devil may care attitude is a nice foil to the seriousness of the plot and many of the other characters. Fran, his fellow sky pirate, is more quiet and mysterious, speaking only when she needs to impart knowledge of yore and magic onto the other party members. Even while saying little, she has a strong, magnetic presence in the group that makes her stand out from the rest.
Con Airship travel is limited to picking destinations on the map
When you gain access to the airship, that excitement sours quickly once you realize you can only select locations on the map and travel to them instantly. You'll only get to see a cutscene of the airship taking off for flight before you're faced with a loading screen.
Con Later parts of the story feel tacked on
Final Fantasy XII's political story is dense, mature, and captivating--until you reach a certain point after the halfway mark where things become too predictable. Plot holes begin to crop up, competent characters make questionable and reckless decisions for the sake of drama, and compelling villains are reduced to tropes. It's as if someone took the foundation of XII's well-written story and characters and mismanaged them with nonsensical plot points for the sake of finishing the game on time.
Con Main protagonist adds little to the plot
The main character, Vaan, is a teenage pickpocket who aspires to be a sky pirate with his own airship, which sounds interesting, but his relevance to the plot falls off sharply within the first 6-8 hours. He wants to avenge the death of his older brother Reks, but this becomes only a tertiary goal compared to the more urgent ones that his other companions have. As the story progresses, it's easy to forget that Vaan is there, especially with the option to choose another character to control as the party leader while exploring the world. There are other, stronger characters who could have been the lead instead.