Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age Hands-On Preview [PAX East 2017]

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Right after the announcement of Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster, my then-fiancee commented that if any game was due for an HD remake, it was Final Fantasy XII. While the original Final Fantasy X is a beloved classic that heralded the series’ leap into (mostly) full 3D environments, the original version of Final Fantasy XII — while generally acclaimed by critics — was found to be somewhat confusing at launch and had the misfortune of launching just before the holiday season where the PlayStation 3 went on sale. Largely reflected upon as a game ahead of its time, it makes perfect sense to bring the title back as Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age in an era where the concept of the “single-player MMORPG” is not so foreign thanks to games like Xenoblade Chronicles… and my time with the game only reinforced how glad I am to see it with another chance to make its mark.

As far as visual upgrades go, Final Fantasy XII is rather like the aforementioned FFX remaster; it’d be impossible to bring the game up to modern standards without giving it a complete overhaul, but the nuanced bits of work done to clean the graphics up are more than good enough. Even with some relatively simple textures and models, the original XII was an impressive showcase of the PS2’s abilities very late in its life cycle, and it’s easy to be wowed by Akihiko Yoshida’s style — as well as the unbelievably huge, detailed architecture of Ivalice — even if they haven’t managed to turn this into the next Horizon Zero Dawn. Touch-ups to the voice acting and soundtrack are more than welcome, too; in particular, the compression on the original game’s dialogue often made it sound like the characters were talking through a tin can, and that effect is nowhere to be found here.

There’s an overall sense of polish here that makes the game feel a lot cleaner and more organized than it ever did in its PS2 incarnation. That includes simple visual stuff like better menus and such, but it also extends through to the altered game design carried over from the previously Japan-only International Zodiac Job System. For example, whereas previous incarnations of characters would all end up at the same overpowered state thanks to sharing the same basic License Board, The Zodiac Age makes players take a tailored approach to customizing and upgrading their party members.

That might make it sound like the new version puts players at a bit of a disadvantage, but the difficulty and strategies required to tackle each enemy have been tailored for this new system. Unfortunately, a 20-30 minute demo wasn’t really enough time to understand all the nuance of this, but I did notice all the characters felt like they had their own specialties this time around.

Perhaps the most exciting upgrades for players of the original are the “ease-of-use” ones. Admittedly, playing Final Fantasy XII could feel like a bit of a chore given just how much walking from point-to-point there was; even with warp points available, the world was just so huge and spread out that the simple act of backtracking to a previous location could amount to torture for even the most patient of players. Thanks to an improved high-speed mode (itself carried over from Zodiac Job System) and greatly reduced loading times, it appears that many of the headaches associated with simply navigating Ivalice have been cured. I sampled quite a bit of Trial Mode while previewing the game at PAX, and while I think it’s extremely convenient, I’ll probably save it for times I’m just trying to get through an area; keeping it on during normal play makes things feel a bit silly and rushed.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age Hands-On Preview [PAX East 2017]

One change that I can sense some Final Fantasy fans are apprehensive about is the overall alteration of the game’s difficulty level, because the developers have admitted that they’ve balanced it to be easier. To those who enjoy a significant challenge, that can sound like a downside of the new version rather than an advantage, but fans shouldn’t worry themselves too much. In addition to this new version of the game requiring different approaches thanks to the job system and overall rebalancing, there’s also Zodiac Job System‘s Trial Mode, an 100-floor set of trails that will put even the biggest Final Fantasy XII expert to the test. As someone who routinely got his ass kicked by the original game as early as the Lhusu Mines, I’m personally looking forward to the reduced difficulty overall, but I wanted to make sure I mentioned this for the more masochistic folks out there.

With only a few months to go until Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age‘s launch, I came away from my preview more excited than ever. Everything about it feels just like a more polished version of the excellent original, and the chance to play it over again with much-refined gameplay mechanics — thus making it fairly different from its predecessor — feels like an exciting reward for those of us that enjoyed it way back in 2006 (on that note… it’s already been 11 years?! Holy crap). The Zodiac Age launches exclusively for PS4 on July 11… and there’s a collector’s edition for a whopping $200 USD if you’re so inclined!

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