Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
When Final Fantasy XII released in 2006, it was seen as one of the more divisive entries in the history of the mainline series. Coming off the well-received Final Fantasy X and the first online game of the series in Final Fantasy XI, Final Fantasy XII shook up the formula significantly to deliver an experience that was loved by some, but proved to split the community of Final Fantasy fans. With Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, Square Enix hopes to reintroduce players to a new and improved version of the game in hopes of making the experience more accessible and less divisive.
Remastered with new visuals, an improved user interface, and high resolution textures, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age has all the markings of a good HD remaster. Players will notice things such as better textures on things like armor, skin, leather, and other items within the environment, as well as improved facial expressions. The fonts of the user interface are also improved to make it a more friendly experience.
In addition, The Zodiac Age takes advantage of the two-generation-leap in hardware by using the PlayStation 4's 7.1 surround sound capabilities. Players can also expect to hear new music in-game from original Final Fantasy XII composer Hitoshi Sakimoto. Much like you could do in the PS4 version of Final Fantasy X HD Remaster, you can also switch to listen to the original tracks if you prefer those. Players can now also choose to play the game with either English or Japanese voiceover; before it was locked to have Japanese voiceover only in the Japanese version of the game.
The final set of improvements was done with improved playability in mind. The previously-Japan-exclusive Zodiac Job system is making its way to North America for the first time, giving players a new way to manage their characters' growth and strategize with different jobs. Director Takashi Katano tells us that he heard feedback from several players who felt as though the original Final Fantasy XII had some difficult battles, so many of them have been rebalanced, with some levels being redesigned to feel more in line with classic Final Fantasy games.
Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age also adds in a quicker way to travel, as well as an autosave feature that kicks in when you change to a different map. "This is also based on feedback that we received from the original game that the fields were vast in FF XII. There are two modes of higher speed that you can employ," Katano says. "With the vast fields and such, you can go at four times the speed, and with the dungeons and cities you can move at two times speed. So if you want to move from point A to point B and that's a really long distance, you can employ the four times speed mode, or say you're deep in a dungeon and you want to go back, you can use the two times speed to get back to the surface"
On top of all that, The Zodiac Age adds a new Trial mode, which pits players against 100 distinct battle scenarios that forces them to change up their gambits in order to survive. "It's basically made impossible so you cannot pass through all 100 stages in the same gambit; you're going to have to go in and make adjustments to your gambit," Katano says.
We sat down with Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age Katano and producer Hiroaki Kato to learn more about the process of bringing this PS2 classic into the current generation.
You say that Trial mode was designed to not be beaten without changing up your gambit. You always see super dedicated players pull off seemingly impossible feats in games like Final Fantasy. Do you think we'll see those same dedicated players beat Trial mode without changing their gambit?
Kato: It is made so if you want to, you can play that way. Once you clear all 100 stages of the Trial mode, there is another mode that opens up that basically starts a new game, but you're weaker. You're basically starting off at level 1 and you're not going to get any experience points.
That's just mean!
Kato: The designer of the levels, Hiroyuki Ito was actually involved in rebalancing [The Zodiac Age], but he was actually the one who came up with starting a new game, but weaker. That was his idea to implement that.
When we saw Final Fantasy X HD Remaster release, it didn't have a subtitle. Why did you decide to give the Final Fantasy XII HD remaster the subtitle of The Zodiac Age?
Kato: It is an HD remaster with the visual, sounds, and improvements, but there's far more than that. With some of the new elements being added to it, we wanted to call it something else beyond HD Remaster. In terms of the specific naming of it, it's based on the Zodiac job system that's been added.
With autosaving being implemented into certain parts of the game where it wasn't before, was there any concern that this kind of checkpointing would imbalance the game?
Kato: That's exactly what we were considering in terms of rebalancing the game, but also making it easier to play for the user. That's where we settled with the autosave function at map jumps.
Katano: If we decided to do a save anywhere sort of function, that would probably affect the difficulty and would not have presented enough of a challenge to the players. It was a conscious decision to make the autosave function available for map jumps.
When Final Fantasy XII was released, it was seen as one of the more divisive entries in the franchise. Why do you think that is?
Kato: The first point is probably because there was a great change in the system when compared to the games that came before it. The classic FF titles all had random encounters, whereas FF XII let you see the enemy. That's where the change might have been for fans. We're also aware of the feedback that some players found some of the battles to be rather difficult. With the help of Hiroki Ito, the balance has basically been overhauled for this game. Ito-san is someone who has been involved with the game design of the classic FF titles, so he really put in his know-how for rebalancing FF XII. If you're playing The Zodiac, you're probably thinking that this is how FF titles are supposed to feel like.
What would you say are the main reasons that FF XII is a good title to remaster?
Kato: There actually was a discussion of working on a remaster for FF XII for a few years now. One condition on working on the remaster was to have the original core members of the dev team involved with it again, and that was sort of a difficult thing to coordinate because they were working on other projects. So this was the timing that everyone got together. Another thing that encouraged us to move forward was the release and success of FF X HD Remaster.