Dissidia Final Fantasy NT (PS4) Review: The Waiting Game

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT (PS4) Review: The Waiting Game

On paper, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT sounds like an action-oriented Final Fantasy fan’s dream come true. Featuring three-on-three online battles between some of the most recognizable faces in the series’ 30 year history, Dissidia NT fully embodies its role as a vehicle for fanservice. Cloud, Terra, Zidane, Lightning…the gang’s all here, spoiling for a brawl, stuffed to the brim with quips and visual callbacks to the iconic RPGs they hail from. Given the splendid execution of the two Dissidia games to come before it—a pair of speedy, polished fighters woefully limited by the reach of the PlayStation Portable platform they were shackled to—NT seemed poised for success.

After some 15-odd hours with a final retail copy of the game, any hope I held onto that it might improve upon the unimpressive beta version has been ground into dust.

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Dissidia Final Fantasy NT (PS4) – images for this review provided by Square Enix.

Dissidia NT is a winding labyrinth of poor design choices. Where do I even begin dissecting the myriad ways it goes wrong? I can scarcely recall the last time I was so vexed by a video game, much less one that should, by all rights, cater to my sensibilities. First, the game does a miserable job of preparing the player for combat. A basic tutorial gives an adequate rundown of how Dissidia NT works as a whole, but stops short of outlining each character’s quirks and gimmicks. Nowhere in Dissidia NT is there a proper move list, let alone a breakdown of what it means to “master a job” as Bartz, how to time Squall’s attacks for explosive bonus damage, or any other character-specific idiosyncrasies. This information is available, but not where one might expect: The breadcrumb trail leads to an external website, of all places, creating a significant skill gap between players who dive in headfirst and those who take the time to research their characters outside of Dissidia NT itself.

I stand by my assertion that the core three-on-three ruleset simply does not engender balanced competitive play. The essential Dissidia functions—namely, speedy combat utilizing an array of flashy Final Fantasy abilities—are here, but they are warped, having passed through a filter to make them palatable for team play. The presence of a single unskilled player can often spell certain doom for an entire team, because every death counts toward a cumulative total—three strikes and you’re out. Not only does this punish newer players, who can quickly find themselves overwhelmed, but it indirectly discourages experimentation with different characters and ability loadouts. (If only there was an in-game explanation of how these things worked, or even a simple training mode that doesn’t require a player-engineered workaround to function properly! Alas.) The high stakes of failure make learning to play Dissidia NT an intimidating prospect, particularly when compounded by its generally sluggish controls, laggy netcode, and convoluted pre-battle setup process.

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Dissidia Final Fantasy NT (PS4) – images for this review provided by Square Enix.

While battles themselves have the potential to be enjoyable, Dissidia NT‘s menus are an inexcusable mess. Never before have I seen a game so hell-bent upon making itself a chore to play. The sheer drudgery of navigating through layer after layer of nested menus to accomplish anything outside of battle is exhausting. Want to jump into an online match? First you’ll select a mode, then a character, then an ability loadout (which cannot be changed at this step in the process—no, that must be done in an entirely separate menu outside of any battle mode), then wait to be matched with other players, then select a summon, then wait for every player’s vote, and then, finally, enter the skirmish itself. It is no exaggeration when I say that during my time with Dissidia NT, I spent longer waiting for any given match to be prepared than I did actually engaged in combat.

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Dissidia Final Fantasy NT (PS4) – images for this review provided by Square Enix.

Dissidia NT incentivizes continued play with cosmetic bonuses and unlockable story cutscenes, but these too are hindered by the game’s unwieldy design philosophy. Every character sports a variety of fascinating costumes, many of which call back to classic Yoshitaka Amano artworks, unused character designs, or other delicious bits of Final Fantasy esoterica. Yet the majority of these are acquired through random treasure drops (in-game loot boxes, which are thankfully not purchasable with real money), and they must be assigned to cosmetic sets in a mode accessible only from the main menu. Music, another element crucial to the Final Fantasy experience, can also be tailored to the player’s liking through customized playlists, but these are also gated behind a cumbersome menu. Want to switch things up on the fly? Forget it—everything in Dissidia NT demands equal parts preparation and patience.

It is baffling that Dissidia NT would eliminate the functional story mode of its forebears in favour of tepid, disconnected cutscenes that unlock through entirely separate modes. The player spends a currency called “Memoria” to view these scenes in sequential order, and though some feature interstitial battles, there is little in the way of glue to form a cohesive narrative. Make no mistake: this is fanservice, fun and loose and ultimately superfluous. Dissidia NT does explicitly canonize the proceedings of the previous two games by referencing their stories, which is interesting considering its complete disregard for their gameplay mechanics.

My objective as a critic is never to generate outrage or silence dissent, but to draw attention to issues that I think could stand to be corrected. I want to love Dissidia NT, truly; not that it makes me more of a fan than anyone else, but I have no less than four Final Fantasy tattoos permanently emblazoned upon my flesh. To say that I have affection for its source material would be something of an understatement. I bristle with vexation at this new direction for Dissidia because it strips away everything that made the series a success up to this point, thereby robbing Final Fantasy of the considerable magic it has always possessed. The spell is broken. My frustration is a symptom of that dejection.

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Dissidia Final Fantasy NT (PS4) – images for this review provided by Square Enix.

I can think of few words less apt than “success” to describe Dissidia NT in its current state. It is a mystifying, bumbling leap backwards that squanders the abundant potential inherent to its premise. It stands as a testament to its developers’ hubris, rich with audiovisual spectacle but completely lacking in even a basic understanding of effective multiplayer game design principles. The Final Fantasy brand has not been so thoroughly dragged through the mud since the launch of Final Fantasy XIV. Dissidia NT needs its own dramatic overhaul in short order if it is to ever crawl its way back from the precipice of disaster.


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more of Derek Heemsbergen’s  reviews, such as  Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth and his second look at Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age!

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Final Fantasy XIV Continues to Soar on Rival Wings: An Interview with Naoki Yoshida and Hikaru Tamaki

Final Fantasy XIV Continues to Soar on Rival Wings: An Interview with Naoki Yoshida and Hikaru Tamaki

It has been more than four years since the release of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn and it still continues to top the MMORPG charts for number of players, ranking above World of Warcraft, according to various reports. And those numbers keep growing. According to a report from Square Enix, as of August 2017, a month after the release of their second full expansion, Stormblood, including two new playable characters, the Red Mage and the Samurai, and access to a free trial of the game that would allow players to enjoy all content up to level 35, the community of players peaked at over 10 million worldwide.

But what keeps the community of this game growing?

Read moreFinal Fantasy XIV Continues to Soar on Rival Wings: An Interview with Naoki Yoshida and Hikaru Tamaki

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT (PS4) Preview – Flaccid Fantasy

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT (PS4) Preview - Flaccid Fantasy

Dissidia Final Fantasy and its oddly-titled sequel, Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy, are among my absolute favourite games on the PlayStation Portable. Lightning-fast fighters with abundant fanservice, the pair leveraged Final Fantasy‘s rich history and extensive catalogue of characters in spectacular fashion. The series has always been known for its cutting-edge visuals, and Dissidia served as a showpiece, rendering many fan-favourite places and personages in three dimensions for the first time ever. Now, after skipping a console generation, Dissidia returns as Dissidia NT, a competitive team brawler for the PlayStation 4. Having spent about eight hours with its open beta test over the past week, I’ve gained a clearer idea of what the game is trying to be, but I’m not without my reservations.

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Dissidia Final Fantasy NT – gameplay image provided by Square Enix.

Given that Square Enix intends for Dissidia NT to be their first foray into the world of esports, the developer has substantially altered the series’ core structure to suit its new team-based format. Players’ primary mode of engagement is now through three-on-three battles. Forming teams of three in an online lobby, players can select from a huge roster of Final Fantasy characters to do battle with. Each has a unique playstyle and moveset, spread between in-your-face, hard-hitting Vanguards, lithe and deadly Assassins, magic-slinging Marksmen, and off-the-wall Specialists. Every character’s movements and personalities are faithfully replicated from their original games, making them instantly recognizable to longtime Final Fantasy fans.

What has not been replicated is the overall feel of the original Dissidia pair. Being completely honest, I don’t think the game’s core rule set works whatsoever. I’m not totally against the game adopting a team format, but the core conceit—the first team to suffer three deaths loses, even if it’s the same person all three times—is awful. I often felt like matches ended long before I had an opportunity to make an impact, particularly if one player (myself included) was a weak link. Dissidia NT is flashier than ever, but it also feels sluggish and floaty. The degree of control here has been significantly reduced, and when things aren’t going your team’s way, it can be borderline infuriating. It’s like desperately trying to grip a bar of soap that keeps slipping away.

This frustration is exacerbated by the absurdly convoluted process of connecting to a match in Dissidia NT. First, the player chooses a character, then an ability loadout, then has to wait (sometimes for two-to-five minutes) for a team to populate, then the whole team has to signal that they’re ready, then everyone has to vote for a summon, and then the match itself has to load. I cannot stress enough that the tedium of this process comes close to ruining the experience entirely. It absolutely must be streamlined if Dissidia NT is to succeed.

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Dissidia Final Fantasy NT – gameplay image provided by Square Enix.

To their credit, Square Enix listened to fan feedback during the game’s alpha test and improved the battle UI considerably. It’s still far too cluttered for my taste, but the game’s overall presentation has been improved, particularly throughout its many (emphasis on “many” here) out-of-battle menu screens. It’s clean and easy to parse, with that modern, crystalline edge that Final Fantasy is known for. Similarly, the soundtrack is full of beautifully arranged Final Fantasy melodies well-suited to battle.

Strangely enough, I had more fun running through a gauntlet of matches in Dissidia NT‘s offline mode than I ever did playing online. This leads me to believe that the netcode is at least partially to blame for the sluggishness I experienced online, but there’s no doubt that the game is substantially slower overall. As it stands, I’m still holding onto hope that the final retail version of Dissidia NT makes continued improvements to the experience. Check back for our final review after Dissidia NT launches on January 30th.

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT (PS4) Preview - Flaccid Fantasy 3
Dissidia Final Fantasy NT – gameplay image provided by Square Enix.

Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more of Derek Heemsbergen’s  reviews, such as  Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth and his second look at Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age!

Want to see more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out the First 15: Dissidia Final Fantasy NT,  Star Wars Battlefront II, Sonic Forces + Episode Shadow, and  Super Mario Odyssey!

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Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV (PSVR) Review: Not-So-Deep Fishing Sim

Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV (PSVR) Review: Not-So-Deep Fishing Sim

Final Fantasy, the name alone is synonymous with so many images. Turn-based combat, beautiful visuals, epic monsters, but fishing doesn’t generally come to mind. Thanks to virtual reality, Final Fantasy has now tackled fishing with Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy.

Monster of the Deep is a graphically stunning fishing simulator mixed with a small amount of Final Fantasy XV. I figured I would spend time relaxing, casting out my line and reeling in some fish. A tranquil experience, or so I thought.

Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV (PSVR) Review: Not-So-Deep Fishing Sim 1
Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV (PSVR) – gameplay image via Square Enix

Players embody Hunters, tasked with hunting Daemon fish. Hunters fish an area until enough non-evil fish are caught to attract the Daemon. Once the Daemon appears, a boss battle will ensue. Players must weaken the Daemon enough with their weapon to capture it.

A little unexpected, don’t you think?

Done in an attempt to add a little gameplay variety and serving as a basis for the flimsy story, the hunting of Daemons feels out of place in this fishing simulator. Yes, if there was any fishing simulator that would do something like this, it should be a Final Fantasy fishing simulator, especially to help add that Final Fantasy magical element to the world. However, Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV would have been fine without this mechanic. The atmosphere and characters serve as enough to brand it with Final Fantasy. I was perturbed at first, having my fishing experience so rudely interrupted by a first-person shooter boss battle. A boss battle where death can occur. I died fishing. Fishing! Let that sink it. It was jarring. Yet after the first boss battle, I became more accepting of it, but it feels tacked on.

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Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV (PSVR) – gameplay image via Square Enix

The actual fishing aspect of Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV lured me in. It is relaxing and everything I wanted in a fishing simulator. The physical casting of the line took practice. I would cast directly out in front and my line would veer off to one side. This often related back to the hardware and usually cleared up after recalibrating the VR. I used the PlayStation Move controllers, which made casting more fluid and the boss battles easier, because I don’t want to die at the fin of a fish, again.

There is more than just a shallow story mode to Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV. Free fishing is an option for those who just want the relaxing experience of fishing. I spent a great deal of time in Tournaments. Tournaments can be won by having the heaviest fish, catching certain kinds of fish, or the total weight of things caught. I say “things” because my mad fishing skills caught me a boot. Players can also take up hunts to target a specific fish. Hunts and Tournaments can earn Gil, which is used to purchase new outfits, poles, lures, reels, and lines. How aboot that?

Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV (PSVR) Review: Not-So-Deep Fishing Sim 2
Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV (PSVR) – gameplay image via Square Enix

The surroundings of Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV are picturesque and allowed me to minimally explore the landscape of Eos. The graphics lend themselves well to a Final Fantasy title. Beautifully rendered yet still colourful enough to remind players it is a fictional world. The environment is littered with mystical creatures of Final Fantasy. I spent some time fishing while kicking it with a Chocobo. I often found myself fishing with some familiar faces from FF XV. For Final Fantasy fans, these limited interactions will be satisfying as it is mainly just fan service since they serve no narrative purpose. Although there are points in the game where I am sure Square Enix was attempting to titillate me with Cindy. I mention this because I have yet to experience a VR title that made me feel that uncomfortable observing a character.

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Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV (PSVR) – gameplay image via Square Enix

The sounds of Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV are sufficient. I have little to complain about except for the minimal conversational abilities of the AI. My time with Noctis and his buddies was short when fishing yet I would hear them repeat the same lines over and over again. If there had been more variety in their casual conversation it could have really added to the immersion. In casual conversation, humans don’t tend to repeat themselves, unless they are drunk.

Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV, while not an epic virtual reality experience, it is a pleasant one. This is a title I would recommend to Final Fantasy XV fans for a relaxing evening. For players wanting a thrill, I say look elsewhere to get an adrenal rush, but for those who really enjoy the experiences that are offered by the PlayStation VR, this is an addition to the tryout list. You might just get hooked.

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Monster of the Deep: Final Fantasy XV (PSVR) – gameplay image via Square Enix

Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more of Melanie Emile’s reviews such as Cuphead, Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, and Until Dawn!

Want to see more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out the First 15: Star Wars Battlefront II, Sonic Forces + Episode Shadow, and  Super Mario Odyssey!

Don’t forget to tune in every Friday the Pixels & Ink Podcast to hear the latest news, previews, and in-depth game discussions!

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CGMagazine is Canada’s premiere comics and gaming magazine. Subscribe today to get the best of CGM delivered right to your door! Never miss when a new issue goes live by subscribing to our newsletter! Signing up gives you exclusive entry into our contest pool. Sign up once, you’ll have a chance to win! Sign up today!

Final Fantasy XV’s Prince Noctis Joins Tekken 7 In Spring 2018

Final Fantasy XV Preview: I Question My Allegiance

In keeping with the latest trend of fighting games featuring characters from other popular franchises, Bandai Namco has announced their latest partnership with Square Enix in order to bring Final Fantasy XV protagonist Prince Noctis Lucis Caelum to Tekken 7.

Noctis will be joining the likes of legendary fighters such as Yoshimitsu, Devin Jin, Jack 7 and other renowned Tekken warriors.

Prince Noctis will bring with him his iconic Engine Blade, giving him the ability to dish out heavy, hard-hitting blows. In addition to Noctis, it looks like a stage inspired by the Coernix Gas Station from Final Fantasy XV will be making an appearance as a playable stage.

No definitive release date has been announced for the Final Fantasy cross-over DLC—however, Bandai Namco said it should arrive sometime in Spring of 2018.

Tekken 7 initially released back in 2015 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows and Arcades. The game was generally well received from both fans of the series and the press alike.

 


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out  Elias Blondeau’s review of Tekken 7 and see how the series holds up on mobile

Want to see more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out the First 15: Sonic Forces + Episode Shadow, Super Mario Odyssey, and Cuphead!

Don’t forget to tune in every Friday the Pixels & Ink Podcast to hear the latest news, previews, and in-depth game discussions!

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CGMagazine is Canada’s premiere comics and gaming magazine. Subscribe today to get the best of CGM delivered right to your door! Never miss when a new issue goes live by subscribing to our newsletter! Signing up gives you exclusive entry into our contest pool. Sign up once, you’ll have a chance to win! Sign up today!

Square Enix Actively Trying To Bring Final Fantasy XV To Nintendo Switch

Square Enix Actively Trying To Bring Final Fantasy XV To Nintendo Switch

Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition is Square Enix’s take on bringing the console experience of Final Fantasy XV  to mobile players. Some fans of the series are now speculating that the mobile edition of Final Fantasy XV is most likely the version of the game that will come to the Nintendo Switch. However, game director Hajime Tabata has come out and said that Square Enix has experimented with trying to get the full console version of Final Fantasy XV running on the Nintendo Switch.

In a statement to Eurogamer, Tabata said:

“Honestly, when we did the technical test to see if we could use the same native engine we used on other console versions on the Switch, we tried to run it there, the results weren’t satisfactory, It wasn’t what you’d want from a final game. It doesn’t mean that’s the end of that – we’re looking at the options, like the customisation of the engine.”

He went on to state that Square Enix will continue to investigate the possibility of getting Final Fantasy XV on Nintendo’s latest console. Square Enix is no stranger to the Nintendo Switch, with games like Dragon Quest Builders, Lost Sphere, Octopath Traveler all slated for release onto the Nintendo Switch.  Fans wanting a Final Fantasy experience on the Switch might just have to wait a little while longer.

Final Fantasy XV first released onto the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in late 2016.  The title went through a long and arduous development process which started all the way back in 2006 with a reveal trailer for the game.  Before it was a numbered entry into the series, the title was called Final Fantasy Versus XIII. The “Versus XIII” in the title alluded to the game taking place in the world of the then, yet to be released Final Fantasy XIII.


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out Elias Blondeau’s review of Final Fantasy XV Review  and our coverage of the Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition Announcement

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Want to see more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out the First 15 – Dishonored: Death of the Outsider and Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony!

Don’t forget to tune in every Friday the Pixels & Ink Podcast to hear the latest news, previews, and in-depth game discussions!

CGMagazine is Canada’s premiere comics and gaming magazine. Subscribe today to get the best of CGM delivered right to your door! Never miss when a new issue goes live by subscribing to our newsletter! Signing up gives you exclusive entry into our contest pool. Sign up once, you’ll have a chance to win! Sign up today!

Square Enix Unveils Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition

Square Enix Unveils Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition

Square Enix doesn’t seem to be shying away from the Final Fantasy XV property. The renowned Japanese company has just announced Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition.

The aptly named Pocket Edition of Final Fantasy XV aims to deliver the full Final Fantasy XV narrative in mobile form. Due to obvious hardware limitations and artistic liberties, the game will boast a unique and all new aesthetic.

Graphically, the upcoming mobile experience looks like a cross between the popular Final Fantasy Theatrhythm games on the 3DS and the Nintendo DS iterations of Final Fantasy III and IV.

Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition seems to also feature some voiced dialogue—ripped straight out of the original console version. It is unclear whether the forthcoming mobile game will let players choose between different languages.

The announcement comes shortly after Nvidia announced Final Fantasy XV would be coming to Windows sometime in 2018.

A copy of the official press release for the just announced mobile title can be read below:

LOS ANGELES (Aug. 22, 2017) – Players will soon have even more ways to experience the FINAL FANTASY® XV Universe as SQUARE ENIX® today unveiled the FINAL FANTASY XV POCKET EDITION, FINAL FANTASY XV WINDOWS EDITION and a November 21 release date for MONSTER OF THE DEEP: FINAL FANTASY XV.

The FINAL FANTASY XV POCKET EDITION for iOS, Android and Windows 10 devices, to be released later this year, is an all-new adventure that retells the beloved story of FINAL FANTASY XV, giving fans and newcomers alike the freedom to journey through Eos whenever and from wherever they want. The mobile game features the main characters and story of the console version and newly-announced FINAL FANTASY XV WINDOWS EDITION, with an adorable art style and casual touch controls optimized for mobile devices. The main story is told across ten thrilling episodes, with all ten episodes available at launch and the first episode downloadable for free.

 

Five Video Game Series we Want Animated

Five Video Game Series we Want Animated

Castlevania’s animated series released on Netflix recently and the show has a lot of people talking. A second season with extended episodes was announced the day that the series became available and there’s already talk of an Assassin’s Creed animated series also in the works. All the excitement has the staff here at CGMagazine thinking about other video game franchises that would work well on the small screen. Here are five game series that we think would make great animated TV shows.

Read moreFive Video Game Series we Want Animated

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age Second Opinion – A Puissant Pantheon

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age Second Opinion - A Puissant Pantheon

Not every story can speak to every person at every stage of their lives. The beauty of diversity in media is such that where one person sees a reflection of themselves, another might see a window into a world altogether alien, and both parties emerge richer from the experience.

I was working a midnight launch at GameStop in sunny Tucson, Arizona when Final Fantasy XII first released back in 2006. It was the night before Halloween, an occasion during which I availed to besmirch the good name of Final Fantasy VIII with an embarrassing attempt at cosplay. Dressed as Zell, I was joined by a meagre crowd including two friends (portraying Squall and, breaking with consistency for whatever reason, Final Fantasy VII‘s Yuffie) and no more than a handful of customers. Despite the small turnout, the air was abuzz with enthusiasm as we all waited for the clock to strike midnight, each of us anxious to discover what bold new direction Final Fantasy would move in next.

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Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (via Square Enix)

In the following weeks of marathon play, my attitude towards Final Fantasy XII shifted from optimism to outright bewilderment, settling somewhere around righteous indignance. Between a completely unrecognizable battle system, a cast of characters who were mechanically identical, and a drastic shift in tone, it didn’t feel like Final Fantasy to me. Not at first. Yet as the months and years passed, I found myself drawn back to Ivalice time and again by the sheer exoticism of its design. There was something special at its core, to be sure. I simply wasn’t ready for it in 2006.

As pretentious as it may sound, I find that Final Fantasy XII demands a different sort of mindset to fully appreciate—one that is difficult to achieve using previous Final Fantasy experience alone. Final Fantasy XII is anything but traditional, so why approach it as if it were? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my hang-ups with the game had more to do with mismanaged expectations than anything else.

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Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (via Square Enix)

Final Fantasy XII was never without its issues, particularly with regard to its truncated narrative arc and character homogeneity, but I started finding avenues to work around these shortcomings. I made elaborate charts to map out my characters’ License Boards, giving each unique and complementary roles in battle. I started listening—really, truly listening—to NPCs throughout Ivalice, coming to sudden revelations about people and places I only heard mentioned in passing throughout the main story. I ran my fingers over the texture of its world, savouring the quiet poetry of its prose, drinking up its rich atmosphere. I had to train my mind to think differently about Final Fantasy XII than any Final Fantasy before it, and once I did, I discovered a world teeming with vitality.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is a shortcut to developing that mindset, complete with quality of life adjustments that draw out every bit of its abundant potential. As both an audiovisual remaster and a reinvention of the game’s core progression system, The Zodiac Age brings Final Fantasy XII into the modern era without altering its indelible essence. For one, the addition of a fast-forward feature all but eliminates the tedium inherent to travel and combat. Final Fantasy XII demands a macro-level approach to strategy; it’s about building a synergistic team that the player can make fine adjustments to in order to overcome a given encounter. The replacement of the original License Board with twelve distinct character classes (first featured in the Japan-exclusive Final Fantasy XII International Zodiac Job System in 2007) adds a much-needed sense of structure to character growth.

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Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (via Square Enix)

These tweaks, however small they seem, make The Zodiac Age exponentially more playable than the base game was eleven years ago. It’s a far more focused experience, one that rarely wastes the player’s time and provides ample recompense for daring to venture off the beaten path. Sometimes that reward is simply a beautiful vista or a morsel of fascinating lore. Other times, it’s a battle against one of the game’s many hidden Espers, a pantheon of fearsome beasts with some of the most interesting designs this side of Shin Megami Tensei. There is a wealth of content buried beneath the surface of Final Fantasy XII, and The Zodiac Age makes it easier to access than ever.

I still cannot begrudge those who remain unfond of Final Fantasy XII. It’s wildly different from every other game in the series, and takes a fair amount of mental investment to truly enjoy at its highest capacity. For my part, I eventually came to see it as a flawed masterpiece. The additions made to The Zodiac Age do not make it utterly flawless, but I’ll not budge on my assertion that it is assuredly flawed less.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (PS4) Review – Knights of the Zodi-Ech

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (PS4) Review - Knights of the Zodi-Ech

Back in 2006, you couldn’t convince me that Final Fantasy could do anything wrong. It was, for all intents and purposes, my favourite video game series. After helping Tidus fight his daddy issues in the tenth entry, I devoured anything related to the franchise that I could get my hands on. I remember, vividly, the anticipation I felt for Final Fantasy XII. I read every preview, watched every trailer, and begged my parents to pay off a preorder for the snazzy collector’s edition. When I finally got my hands on it, however, I remember feeling a gradual deflation. “This is it?” I asked myself. “This is how they follow up Final Fantasy X?” That deflation wasn’t outright disdain, per se, so much as a reaction of genuine disinterest and confusion at what Square Enix was trying to even do.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (PS4) Review - Knights of the Zodi-Ech 12

I think, looking back on it, that I was much kinder at 12-years-old than I am at 23. Because “disdain” is practically all I can feel towards Final Fantasy XIIeven if my opinion differs from that of others—one of the lowest points that a mainline entry in Square Enix’s series has reached, now repackaged with touched-up music and some tweaks from the Japanese PC release . But some minor window dressing can’t hide the fact that much like when it came out in 2006, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is outclassed in virtually every department by its peers, including entries in its own series.

This outclassing starts at a very basic narrative level. Final Fantasy XII’s story is bad—very bad. Exceptionally bad. It’s also told in the most tedious, convoluted way possible. It’s a yarn that suffers from the franchise’s classic problem of using a bevy of made-up nonsense words in rapid succession, hoping that players latch onto them and trick themselves into believing that the whole thing is “deep.” In reality, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is a rote story of warring kingdoms, battles for resources, and man’s endless ambition for power. Throw in some oppressive military regimes that dovetail nicely with a generic riff on “the proletariat versus the bourgeois,” and voila, you’ve got a story that’s done to death and, in this case, done in a way that isn’t even entertaining. All the airships, flying cities, fancy armour, and bunny women in the world can’t fix a story that’s uninteresting, unoriginal hokum from start to finish.

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A particular sticking point for me is the cast. A good cast can often carry a bad story, as seen with this year’s character-rich but narrative-impoverished Persona 5. The cast of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, however, actually makes the narrative even less enjoyable. Street urchin cum sky pirate Vaan is an obnoxious twit, a dime store Naruto who doesn’t experience any significant growth over the course of 50 hours. The other characters are even flatter, with Ashe serving as a less-interesting Lightning, Balthier cranking up his smarm-o-meter throughout the whole game, and Fran acting as the questionably race-coded role of “wise, spiritual one.” The only character I like, honestly, is Penelo. She’s very much a worn tsundere trope, but I did feel a genuine kinship between her and Vaan that grew throughout the game. That said, I question her taste in people, considering Vaan is an insufferable nitwit whom the game would benefit greatly from by shoving into a support role instead of featuring him as the protagonist.

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While Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age can’t really be faulted for the original having an atrocious story, it can be faulted for not touching up the gameplay. This is a game that felt cumbersome when it came out, and time has not magically fixed that. Instead, it’s remarkably hard to look at Final Fantasy XII’s half-baked compromise between turn-based and real-time combat in the face of a decade-plus of evolution in the genre and enjoy it in any meaningful capacity. There’s a lot of fat to the mechanics here, with players selecting their attacks and then basically running in circles until they can execute them. It’s a bad system that pads out the runtime by making the players do nothing for short stretches of time until the game decides to let them. Making players kill time doing jack-all until they can do a thing is bad game design, pure and simple. After several hours of this, I longed for XV’s instant gratification, X’s satisfying tactics, or even III’s mechanical sturdiness and reliability. By rate of comparison, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age feels like Square Enix has no idea how to make its mechanics accessible while still giving old players plenty to sink their teeth into, instead throws their hands up in the air and cobbles together some ill-conceived garbage in an attempt to satiate everyone. Even the enhanced job system—where players can choose between twelve roles from the get-go instead of the original’s one—does little to make the game feel compelling or deep. It’s a fairly shallow system, in reality, and a far cry from the excellent sphere grid.

Putting aside why I dislike Final Fantasy XII as a game, though, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is kind of a bogus remaster. This game is 41GB of upscaled PS2 textures, and while character models look pretty all right from far away, almost everything else just hasn’t held up. Environment textures are often muddy and ugly, something that not even the solid anti-aliasing can hide. Draw distance is woefully short, to the point where objectives won’t pop until you’re basically six or seven feet from them. Facial animations are angular and expressionless, never jiving with the game’s art direction. Even with the anti-aliasing and nice resolution making the art direction pop more than it did in SD, this isn’t a pretty-looking game by today’s standards, especially with the added issue of aliased rounded edges being “fixed” into jarring straight lines. Even Type-0, a remaster of a PSP spin-off, had more effort put into it than this—and that included raw PSP visuals.

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Also lazy is the game’s inclusion of the original English voice acting, which is amateurish across the board. Characters speak in off-putting monotone, even when they’re supposed to be emoting during key moments, and the dialogue sounds compressed despite Square Enix’s promise of the audio being re-mastered. The Japanese voice acting fares a bit better, in my opinion, and I’m glad it’s an option this time around. In addition, the re-mastered score is pretty dang good. While I don’t think, musically, that Final Fantasy XII is anywhere close to the crème de la crème of this series, the score is still in a league of its own, managing to evoke emotion and immersion where the gameplay, narrative, and visuals fail to at every possible turn. It’s the best part of this Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, and the best part of Final Fantasy XII as a whole.

Which says a lot about the quality of the base product, I think. Final Fantasy XII originally came out in a year that also had Shin Megami Tensei: Raidou Kuzunoha vs the Soulless Army, Kingdom Hearts II, Disgaea 2, and the stellar DS release of Final Fantasy III. On arrival, it was already left in the dust. Fast-forward to 2017 and things are still dire. Tales of Berseria, Nier: Automata, Dragon Quest Heroes II, Fire Emblem Echoes… not to mention Final Fantasy XV still getting content, and the year only being half-over. In 2006 and today, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age was and is outranked by bigger and better competition.

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No matter how many job systems, remastered scores, or upscales Square Enix slaps on it, Final Fantasy XII is a bad game. The Zodiac Age doesn’t change that, and no release that doesn’t drastically overhaul every mechanic—or include a better story—ever will. Charging $65 for an 11-year-old game that wasn’t good to begin with is a scam, especially when considering how little has changed.

For a different perspective on Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age check out our second opinion from Derek Heemsbergen.