Final Fantasy XII is the sort of game that you’d think would be remembered as a classic, but relatively few people seem to talk about it. It wasn’t Final Fantasy‘s big jump to a new platform or new dimension, it wasn’t an online game exploring new frontiers, and it was released right before a new generation of consoles graced us with their presence. Final Fantasy XII always seemed like the game that got left behind, and perhaps that’s why Square considered it fit to be the next game in the series to get a remaster on the current generation.
Last week at E3, amidst the crowded and noisy showfloor of the Los Angeles Convention Center, I got to try out the enhanced version of Final Fantasy XII, dubbed The Zodiac Age. As it turns out, the game plays almost exactly as it did 10 years ago*, and is exactly as promised: a higher resolution, enhanced version of FFXII.
The most exciting about this release, at least for North American players, is that it is based off of the International Zodiac Job System version of FFXII. This was an enhanced version of the original game that was only released in Japan, and included a redone license board, 12 jobs that your characters could slot into, and a completely new leveling system that drastically changed the game. IZJS almost universally considered to be the best version of Final Fantasy XII, so at the very least it’s exciting that we’ll finally get to play it English. Of course, Square isn’t going to stop there and has announced a few features to help adapt the game to modern audiences, such as the ability to speed up map traversal and battles up to 4X regular speed.
However, the biggest change, and the one you’re most likely to notice, is that the game’s graphics have been remastered in HD. The game now runs in a much higher resolution, and it looks the textures have received a resolution bump as well. Additionally, there’s a few new effects that weren’t present on the PS2, as the lighting and shadows looked much better than I remembered. Characters are also much more detailed than they used to be, particularly their clothing. The bump in resolution and new textures really does wonders for their clothing, giving it much more depth and detail than the original. Geometry-wise, the characters looked to have received a bit of a bump, while the environments looked as they originally did. Lip-syncing, which wasn’t the best even back then, stays the same but looks particularly out of place now.
If you’re familiar with the Final Fantasy X HD Remaster, you’ll remember that some designs were subtly (and not so subtly) changed, particularly the faces of the protagonists. These sorts of redesigns are completely absent in The Zodiac Age. Everyone looks better, but still the same. Some people will like this more than others, but I’m on the side of appreciating that they left the original designs alone. Music, too, has remain unchanged from the original, at least as far as I could tell in the noise of the Square-Enix booth.
Unfortunately, there’s one big graphical misstep that I noticed. I only noticed this during cutscenes, but anything with quick movement got really blurry. Character faces were particularly bad for this, with any movement of their head causing a bit of a trail and double image to be left behind, effectively nullifying the increased detail and turning everything into a blurry mess. This is something I don’t remember in the original game, and was super distracting when trying to focus on what everyone was saying. This probably won’t be quite as noticeable at home when your face is more than 2 feet away from the screen, but it’s still going to be something you fixate on.
Ultimately, the Final Fantasy XII I played at E3 is the same game I played back in 2006. Despite the increased resolution and added effects, it still looks a PS2 game. I consider this a good thing – I’m a fan of games staying as close to their original vision as possible – but you may feel differently about it. The most exciting thing, especially for long-term Final Fantasy fans, is the ability to play the added International Zodiac Job System content in English. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is a game built primarily for the fans, and I can’t see fans of the original game being disappointed.
*Wow, can you believe it’s been 10 years?