TBT: Final Fantasy XII in HD
In today’s gaming industry, remastered versions of old games seem to be as common as completely new releases. Most of these remasters involve improved graphics with re-recorded soundtracks and do very little to improve upon the original version. However, remasters like Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age prove that high-definition versions of old games can be more than just visual and auditory upgrades – they can streamline, change, and add gameplay elements whose modifications add up to make a game that is simply better than its predecessor.
We can get the expected stuff out of the way: The Zodiac Age does include remastered visuals and a re-recorded soundtrack. The Zodiac Age’s visual improvements make the game feel like a fresh release with a distinct art style. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Final Fantasy XII was one of the best looking games ever when it came out in 2006 and it’s impressive that the game’s graphics translate over 10 years later. Colours are bright, texture after texture is more detailed than its original, and Square Enix’s CGI cutscenes in particular remain as attractive and well-directed as they did back in the day. The soundtrack sounds equally modern and fits perfectly with whatever is shown on screen.
The Zodiac Age’s greatest strengths are the changes that affect its gameplay and many of these were first found in the international version of Final Fantasy XII, released in Japan a year after the original game. These include allowing players to hold L1 to double the game’s speed, a “Trial Mode” which consists of 100 challenges in the form of monster hunts, and replacing the original game’s singular license board with twelve job-specific boards. All of these elements help in making The Zodiac Age feel like more than just a regular remaster.
One of my favourite things about The Zodiac Age is that you can tap L1 to put the game into double-time, and you can even set it to four times as fast if you want. This of course makes many parts of the game much less dry – running around town shopping or chaining together kills is quicker than ever – as well as shortening the lengthy game. Playing the game at double speed does have some natural setbacks – speeding through towns or battle zones makes it more difficult to soak in and feel like you’re a part of the game’s world. However, Final Fantasy XII’s combat is inherently passive, as you set your party member’s actions based on certain conditions instead of actively choosing each sword swing and item consumption. Therefore the combat is perfect for speeding up and slowing down at the whim of the player – some battles don’t need any supervision while others require a slow, more active approach.
As for the game’s Trial Mode and new license boards, they add worthwhile content to the game. I haven’t dug into the Trial Mode much, but it includes 100 different battles or hunts, each serving as a challenge for the player as well as rewarding them with items and gil, and the entire mode is optional. As for the new license boards, they aren’t optional. In FFXII, party members earn XP from defeating enemies in the form of license points, or LP. LP can then be used to unlock squares on each character’s license board – a big checkerboard where each square serves as a license to wield certain of weapons, wear certain types of equipment, or produce some sort of magic.
In the original game, all characters had the same license board. In The Zodiac Age, you now have to choose a job for each character and each job has its own specific license board, effectively guiding you to create characters with more specific roles: healer, battlemage, ranged attacker, and so on. Limitations may seem like a step backwards but in The Zodiac Age, it is a leap forward. After all, the original Final Fantasy XII required you to focus characters on certain magic or weapons or equipment but the massive singular license board made this confusing and difficult. In The Zodiac Age, it is all laid out much clearer. Tough choices are still abound: characters cannot share jobs, so it’s still up to you to put together an effective team. One thing I appreciated in particular about the new license boards is that they forced me out of my comfort zone. Weapons and magic that I never used in the original game became common elements in combat, helping reveal further the depth of the game’s combat.
Final Fantasy XII is a great game even 10 years after its release but its remaster is even better. Even small changes like being able to look back through dialogue or a much more sensible auto-save system add much to the game. The Zodiac Age serves as an example for other developers on how to improve not only on the visual and auditory elements of a game but also in its gameplay. The remaster retains exactly what made the original game so great, while building off its strengths to deliver a fantastic RPG that feels modern.