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Why I’m Excited for Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

Final Fantasy XII was one of the best RPGs on the PlayStation 2. Released back in 2006, it revolutionised both the Final Fantasy series and RPGs at the time. It modernised the turn-based combat system the series had been using into a more real-time hybrid, while still managing to keep the strategic gameplay and allow players the time to choose actions if they wished. It also featured stellar voice acting for it’s generation and was backed up by the wonderful world of Ivalice, which had appeared in many other Yasumi Matsuno games.

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Now Square Enix has announced a remastered version for PlayStation 4 under the title of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age. So why am I really excited to revisit Princess Ashe and her crew on their quest to gain freedom for Dalmasca?

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Well the biggest new feature here for English speaking fans is this remaster is based on the updated Internal Zodiac Job System version of Final Fantasy XII that was never released outside of Japan. More than just a simple update, it made huge changes to the fundamental gameplay of the original by including specific jobs you could assign to each character to further define their personality and role in the story. There are also many tweaks made to balance the game and the combat systems. Ultimately it will play like a familiar, yet vastly different game to the original.

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Other less dramatic changes involve updated visuals and character models, the ability to speed up the gameplay, the inclusion of both the English and Japanese voice tracks and the always welcome re-orchestrated soundtrack by the legendary composer Hitoshi Sakimoto.

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So if you want to experience an RPG that’s gameplay systems were ahead of it’s time, both updated for returning fans and new players alike, then you should be excited to play Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age.

 

 

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Filed under Editorial, Final Fantasy Series, Previews

The Rise of SquareSoft (Part 3) – It’s Hip to Be Square

Following their success on the Super Nintendo, Square had originally planned to continue to develop for Nintendo systems. They even created a tech demo rendering some of the Final Fantasy VI characters in 3D for which many thought would be a preview of what Final Fantasy might look like on the Nintendo 64. These plans would soon change though, when a partnership between Nintendo and Sony fell through which ended with Nintendo staying with cartridges for its new system and Sony deciding to enter the video game market with its CD enabled PlayStation. With Sakaguchi and his team looking to push themselves with the expanded storage space offered by the CD format, Square controversially announced they would develop Final Fantasy VII for the Sony PlayStation.

PlayStation Logo

Yoshinori Kitase was concerned that the franchise would be left behind unless it embraced 3D graphics like other new games at the time and so Square made many advances with the new technology and Final Fantasy VII was the first in the series to feature a 3D world map, 2D pre-rendered backgrounds and character models rendered with polygons. Most famously though was the introduction of higher quality Full Motion Videos (FMV’s) that became a staple of the series.

Final Fantasy VII Cloud Midgar

Square didn’t just focus on graphics though, as the fantastic story of Final Fantasy VII was a joint effort written by Kazushige Nojima, Kitase and Masato Kato, based off an original draft by Sakaguchi. Previous Final Fantasy series artist Yoshitaka Amano was limited during the production due to other commitments and so Tetsuya Nomura, who previously had worked on Final Fantasy V and VI as a monster designer, was promoted to lead character designer. Even composer Nobuo Uematsu utilised the PlayStation’s internal sound chip to create songs with digitized voice tracks.

Final Fantasy VII Aeris Death

Final Fantasy VII was one of the most expensive games of its time and Sony advertised it heavily, especially in North America. It was also the first mainline title in the series to be released in Europe. The game was met with critical and commercial success upon its release and went on to sell 10 million copies worldwide. Final Fantasy VII is often regarded as one of the greatest games ever made and is recognised as the catalyst for popularising RPGs outside of Japan.

Final Fantasy VIII Squall

Final Fantasy VIII followed soon after VII and expanded on its foundations, presenting a more modern and futuristic world, as well as realistic and highly detailed characters again designed by Nomura. With Square’s experience with 3D graphics growing, Final Fantasy VIIIs presentation was much more consistent and it allowed the designers to make more experimental game play mechanics, such as the junction system and the addictive card mini game Triple Triad.

Final Fantasy IX Zidane Moogle

Final Fantasy IX was the last main installment to be developed for the PlayStation and returned the series briefly to its medieval, fantasy roots. Hiroyuki Ito returned as director while the character designs were handled by Hideo Minaba and were made more cartoonish to reflect the older games in the series, it also included black mages, crystals and lots of moogles . Sakaguchi has stated that Final Fantasy IX is his favourite in the series and that it most closely resembles what he initially visioned Final Fantasy to be. The soundtrack is also said to be Uematsu’s favourite composition.

Chrono Cross Kid Artwork

Square seemed to be on roll with the PlayStation and as their popularity grew overseas more of their other games found success as well. Masato Kato was handed directorial duties on Chrono Cross and with returning composer Yasunori Mitsuda they created a bright and wonderful game that dealt with parallel dimensions and featured a cast of 45 different characters to recruit. The action RPG Legend of Mana released with some of the most beautiful art work ever seen in a video game and highlighted the talent of up and coming composer Yoko Shimomura who would go on to score the two Parasite Eve games and many other big name franchises in the years to come. Showing the enormous depth of talent at Square, Tetsuya Takahashi, who had smaller roles on games like Final Fantasy VI directed the amazing Xenogears. It featured one of the most intricate and fascinating stories ever conceived and utilised a battle system that incorporated game play mechanics like combos found in a fighting game. It seemed like Square could do nothing wrong.

Xenogears Combos

Sakaguchi was also a big fan of a small development studio known as Quest who made the Ogre Battle games and he convinced the director Yasumi Matsuno and his team to join Square. Their partnership created more mature and complex games such as the classic strategy RPG, Final Fantasy Tactics and the dark and cinematic Vagrant Story.

Vagrant Story Title

With a whole new legion of fans from around the world, SquareSoft re-released some of their classic games to a new audience and PlayStation ports of Final Fantasy I and II, Final Fantasy IV and Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy V and VI were given new life and their quality was appreciated all over again. Square was now a household name and Final Fantasy was one of the biggest video game series ever, could anything stop their seemingly endless supply of talent and creativity…?

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Filed under Chrono Series, Editorial, Final Fantasy Series, Mana Series, Music, Parasite Eve Series, Vagrant Story, Xenogears

Review: Why You Should Play Final Fantasy Tactics

Final Fantasy Tactics is a tactical RPG released on the Sony PlayStation that features an intriguing political storyline with a strategic and complex battle system.

As Yasumi Matsuno’s first project after joining SquareSoft, Final Fantasy Tactics introduced players to the war ravaged kingdom of Ivalice. Final Fantasy Tactics is deep and engrossing, featuring the greatest edition of the job system used in many Final Fantasy titles. The game is difficult and dense, but the committed player is rewarded with one of the greatest stories told in an RPG.

The story of Final Fantasy Tactics is set during the events of “The War of the Lions”, where Duke Larg and Duke Goltanna are fighting each other to claim the throne. It is on this backdrop that childhood friends, the high born Ramza Beoulve and low born Delita witness the ugly prejudice between nobles and commoners. The tragic death of Delita’s sister changes both of their lives, as Delita begins a plan to use and manipulate the nobility to rise above his rank and seek rule over Ivalice, while Ramza denounces his noble name and fights unrewarded for justice and to protect the princess who is caught up in the political mess. The mature narrative delves into the morals of both men as one becomes the corrupt hero that the public praises, while the other becomes the brave hero that the pages of history forgot.

Battles in Final Fantasy Tactics take place on a 3D isometric field. Each party member can be controlled by moving them around the field and selecting attacks, spells and items. It plays out like a game of chess as position and strategy are very important to the outcome of the battle. Characters are fully customisable, using the extensive job system. There are over 20 different classes to choose from including special versions for important characters. By equipping your army with the likes of Knights, Mages, Summoners and Ninjas, the game is endlessly re-playable and engaging.

The music of Final Fantasy Tactics is both beautiful and mysterious. The battle theme “Trisection” is stirring, but thoughtful, emulating the game-plays use of tactics, while the melodic piano piece “Hero’s Theme” captures the tragic struggle of Delita and Ramza. The soundtrack compliments the story fantastically.

Final Fantasy Tactics is an extremely deep and rewarding experience. If you wish to play an RPG that will challenge and captivate you from beginning to end you should play Final Fantasy Tactics.

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Filed under Final Fantasy Series, Reviews