Square Enix recently confirmed something many had been hoping for, that Final Fantasy XII would be getting a remaster. RPGamer's Zack Webster had the chance to learn more about the upcoming release of The Zodiac Age.
It's very rare that one lines up to play a ten-year-old game at E3, but when that game is an improved version of the flawed gem Final Fantasy XII, it bears a little more significance. I had a chance to sit down with the recently christened Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age and with director Takeshi Kataro and producer Hiroaki Kato. While a technical malfunction has forever lost the exact words said in that interview, my notes and hands-on time with the game should cover most of what has changed in the last decade.
The first thing worth mentioning about The Zodiac Age is that while the International Zodiac Job System version of Final Fantasy XII has been available in Japan for quite some time, this HD remaster marks its first release in the West. The demo put me straight in the middle of the action: Penelo has just been kidnapped and a guest party member with mysterious motivations wants to descend into the Lhusu Mines where she just may be kept. The full game spends a little more time setting up the story with a few more cutscenes, but the short demo elected to dive straight into the dungeon crawling.
For starters, The Zodiac Age makes a good-looking PlayStation 2 game look like an extemely well-aged PlayStation 4 one. Menus are crisp, load times are quick, and the game's new textures, while obviously dated, hold up very well for a title two generations removed. Combat works almost identically to before, with Gambits guiding the AI while the controlled character can be micromanaged as desired. The biggest change to the combat from the original version is the revamped license board. At the beginning of the game a license board is chosen for each character based off of existing Final Fantasy jobs, allowing for greater customization and specialization that was lacking in the original release. For example, during the demo, Vaan was a black mage rather than his usual sword-swinging self.
I say the demo is rather short, but it may only be because of what was the most interesting feature, Turbo Mode. By pressing L1 during gameplay, the game's speed could be doubled, making many of the more trivial fights less of a nuisance to run into repeatedly. With this, I plowed through the dungeon at a generous clip, reaching the end of the demo in just under ten minutes. The final game will allow for overworld areas to reach four times the normal game speed, while interior locations and cities will be capped at twice the speed for ease of control. I'll admit it was tough to control it at that speed and I spent a lot of time having to overcompensate for sped-up camera movements.
Another new feature for The Zodiac Age is a Trial Mode, a one-hundred-floor series of fights that can be tackled for challenge and possible rewards. Designed to be cleared with endgame equipment and levels, the one hundred floors have ever-increasing difficulty and require frequent changes to strategies and Gambits to complete. Players can save every ten floors, but there are no shops and no means of replenishing items within the mode.
Other new features are less obvious but still appreciated. Guest characters and summons can now be directly controlled by the player while in the party. While there were no Espers in the demo to test it with, I did manage to switch to the guest character at hand. The entire game has been rebalanced baced on feedback from fans of the original and Kataro and Kato said that they are looking at fan feedback for this title as well. Depending upon the game's reception, they said that they would consider reusing the Gambit system in other games or even expand on the world of Final Fantasy XII if demand were high enough. As for the game itself, it looks to be a solid remaster of a title that could use a bit of tweaking and all the changes present in the demo were more than welcome. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age arrives exclusively for PlayStation 4 in 2017.