Exclusive Interview: Takashi Katano And Hiroaki Kato On Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

Some of the improvements I’ve heard about in Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age involve making it easier to play, but we all know there are certain players who will balk at the reduced challenge. Is there anything in the game in terms of options and additional challenges that will sate those with a need for a higher difficulty?

TK: Because we made so many improvements to this game, the original strategies had for battles in Final Fantasy XII will not work for The Zodiac Age. So for one thing, you’ll have to create new strategies, but you also have more options — on the PS2 for example, multiple characters couldn’t cast magic at the same time, but that’s now a viable strategy in The Zodiac Age. So just thinking up new strategies will create a new type of enjoyment for the player.

Also, we have the Trial Mode this time around… we mentioned this in the panel [at PAX East] yesterday, but Yiazmat used to be the most powerful boss. But that’s actually not the case this time around, there are even more bosses that are even stronger than that! So while the first few stages of the Trial Mode will be pretty easy, by the end you’ve got to change your Gambits every battle to even have a chance of success. That’s something that we think hardcore players will really be able to get into.

HK: I want to add to that… when I was test playing this game, I played over 200 hours just going around trying to find items, fill up my bestiary, and so on. Because the game has gotten easier to play, it’s actually gotten a lot easier for players to get around and explore the world, and so it makes you want to stay with the game more because of that. And so I think that’s why the difficulty balance will actually add to the enjoyment.

TK: Right, and also, the Zodiac Job System was never available in the West because it was only introduced in Japan. Just that in and of itself should add a lot of enjoyment and be very satisfying to players, and we do have enough content for them to be playing for over 200 hours!

There have been some complaints that Final Fantasy XII’s story isn’t as strong or interesting as some of the other games in the series. I personally have always felt like the series’ strengths are the characters, and XII has some of the most wonderful in my opinion. Balthier is my favorite, for the record! Who are your favorite characters from this game, and why?

TK: Balthier is definitely the coolest character by far, but… as a developer, I really do like Vaan. Of course, he’s not the strongest, and he’s not someone you could actually rely on, but you can see his growth over the course of the game… and it’s not like he suddenly becomes a superhero at the very end.

HK: Well, I want to say Fran, just because of her physical appearance… namely her backside… (laughs) But I do like Vaan as well, though it’s not actually because of his role in the storyline for me. When I was developing this game in Japan, the voice and motion capture actor for Vaan — his name is Kouhei Takeda — well, this was actually the first title he ever acted in! So I actually got to see him grow up with Vaan, and I just have so much memory associated with that time that I really can’t pick another character… but I will admit that Balthier is the coolest. (laughs)

The original version of the game offered some great characters, but a complaint might be that they all ended up very similar by the end. How does the Zodiac Job System address this?

HK: So in the original Final Fantasy XII, like you mentioned, all the characters ended up the same because there was one License Board. In The Zodiac Age, with the Zodiac Job System, we have 12 jobs available like Knight, Archer, Monk and Black Mage, and they all have their own individual License Boards.

With this job system in place, you can equip different weapons, armor and magic, and you can create very different types of parties based on that. For example, if you want everyone to use magic to attack enemies, you can do that; if you want each of them to support each other by using different roles, you can do that as well. I think, as a player, you will be able to create unique characters that are really geared toward how you like to play.

TK: Just talking with anyone who has experienced this job system, you find out — and I’ve actually discovered this myself as well — that everyone has their own approach to picking which job should go to which character, and it’s really fun.

The setting of Final Fantasy XII, Ivalice, is fairly unique in that it has actually appeared in multiple games on different platforms, like the Tactics series and Revenant Wings. What makes this world so great to return to, and do you think Ivalice will ever make a return in a future Final Fantasy game?

TK: The world of Ivalice was created by Yasumi Matsuno for Final Fantasy Tactics, and he specifically wanted to expand it across a number of different titles so that it would stay within the memories of players. That’s why he helped us incorporate it with Final Fantasy XII, and then later with Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.

Having talented creators like Matsuno and artist Ahikiko Yoshida working on it together really helped it become a very complex, deep world that players want to return to. As far as new games go, if there is an opportunity, I would like to explore that world a little more.

Revenant Wings continues the story of Final Fantasy XII, but it reduces the cinematic nature of the game because of its platform (Nintendo DS). I know I already asked about Ivalice, but what with other titles like Final Fantasy X and XIII getting huge direct sequels, does anyone on the development team have any interest in returning to the world and characters of XII for another game?

HK: That would be something that I’d like to challenge myself to do. The systems within Final Fantasy XII, like the Gambit system and the Zodiac Job System… I feel like there’s still a lot of opportunity for growth there. So I would like to create another game in Ivalice to improve upon those game systems if possible, but at the same time, I would need a lot of staff members… and it can be very difficult to gather those people together. But if there ever is an opportunity, I would absolutely love to do so!

We’d like to thank Square Enix for setting up this interview at PAX East 2017, as well as Takashi Katano & Hiroaki Kato for taking the time to sit down and chat with us. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age launches July 11 for PS4, and we recently wrote a hands-on preview, so be sure to check it out.