Fans have a lot of reasons to be excited for Square Enix’s upcoming HD remaster of Final Fantasy 12, not least of all that the massive game hasn’t been widely available since its 2006 release. The publisher released an updated version of the game, titled Final Fantasy 12 International Zodiac Job System, in Japan in 2007, but it was never ported West.
The HD remaster is subtitled The Zodiac Age, and as that suggests, it will be based on the International Zodiac Job System version of the game. Polygon recently had a chance to speak with Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Ageproducer Hiroaki Kato, who walked us through the four major improvements that this version of the game contains.
1. Game Balance
Final Fantasy 12 was a difficult game. Kato believes part of this was due to presenting a new approach to combat and exploration that fans of the series weren’t used to.
"One of the biggest challenges we faced in Final Fantasy 12 was to ditch the classic random encounter system that we had," he explained. "In other games, you would go into battle suddenly, whereas in Final Fantasy 12 you saw enemies as you moved through the field. It’s a real-time battle system. It was a big departure from the classic system."
Even within this new style, however, many players struggled to progress in Final Fantasy 12. In response to this, Square looked to more senior staff members for support.
"We actually got help from Hiroyuki Ito, who worked on the game design for previous Final Fantasy titles," Kato said. "We overhauled the game balance so that it would be easier for players — closer to the feel of a classic Final Fantasy title."
2. Trial Mode
If you’re a hardcore Final Fantasy fan who’s unhappy about Square Enix making the game easier, don’t worry. They’ve got you covered as well with a new option called Trial Mode.
Trial Mode is a completely separate menu option from the main game, but players will be able to load in their save data to use the party they’ve leveled up. The goal of Trial Mode will be to fight through 100 battle scenarios, each increasing in complexity and difficulty.
"it’s impossible to go through all 100 stages on the same gambit settings"
"It’s specifically designed so that it’s impossible to go through all 100 stages on the same gambit settings," said Kato, referring to the system where you set up routines for your characters to use rather than giving them direct orders. "You’ll have to go in and tweak your gambits. This is something for users looking to get the most out of the gambit system."
3. High Speed Mode
Final Fantasy 12’s world is massive, but that’s not always a good thing. While the wide-open zones and tons of paths and sidequests were impressive in 2006, they also led to players getting lost or just getting frustrated when they had to backtrack halfway across the world to turn in a quest or get to the next plot beat.
Kato referred to this problem as one of the "limitations that we had to deal with working with the PlaySation 2 hardware." To solve this issue, The Zodiac Age features High Speed Mode, whereby players can move much faster by holding down a button. (Note: Despite Kato’s mention of limitations of the PS2 hardware, high speed mode was also in the International Zodiac Job System version of the game, which was on PlayStation 2.)
Beyond the faster movement speed, Kato promised that The Zodiac Age will also include better guide features to ensure players don’t get lost and a new autosave between maps so it’s a little less painful when you die out in the middle of nowhere and forgot to save recently. Those quality of life improvements should add up in a way that eases a lot of the problems some players had with Final Fantasy 12.
4. The Job System
If you didn’t guess it already from the name International Zodiac Job System, this version of the game incorporates a job system. A recurring feature in Final Fantasy games, the job system allows you to assign one of a dozen or so roles to a character, providing them with unique skills and stat growth opportunities depending on which job you chose.
The original Final Fantasy 12 used a system called the license board for character growth. As you leveled up, you unlocked abilities and stat boosts on a giant board. However, every character used the same board and, by the end of the game, every character ended up the same.
"The job system makes the game more interesting"
"When you progress through the original game enough, you notice that all the characters basically become supermen," said Kato. "The job system makes the game more interesting for the characters. Each job has different abilities, so you can really customize your party and enjoy character growth through those jobs."
The jobs in Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age will include everything from Archer to Knight to series’ mainstay Red Mage.
With these big improvements on the slate as well as a nice high-def visual upgrade, Kato and his team are hoping that both players who didn’t enjoy Final Fantasy 12 and those who just never got a chance to play it will take a shot on The Zodiac Age. It’s a game that he believes was ahead of its time in 2006 and has a much better chance to be well-received now.
"We’ve seen many other titles incorporating [open worlds and real-time battle systems] now," Kato said. "There’s probably less resistance on the user’s side now for the ideas that Final Fantasy 12 presented. Even in terms of systems for character growth and sidequests that you can take, it really holds up today. That’s what pushed us to go forward with this remaster."
Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age is set to come out for PlayStation 4 some time in 2017.