'Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age' Producer on Remaking the Series' Oddest Game

'Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age' Producer on Remaking the Series' Oddest Game

Square Enix

'XII' isn't among the most popular 'Final Fantasy' games but it's getting a remaster anyway

'XII' isn't among the most popular 'Final Fantasy' games but it's getting a remaster anyway

Final Fantasy devotees are no strangers to "remasters" that gussy up old favorites from the series' vast catalog. After all, a retouched version of Final Fantasy X graced Steam only last year. Still, when Square Enix announced plans in July to release a souped-up version of 2006's Final Fantasy XII – subtitled The Zodiac Age – even the most devoted fans of what's perhaps the oddest of mainline Final Fantasies couldn't hide their surprise. With its warring-states premise, tactics-forward "Gambit" system, and World-of-Warcraft-inspired combat, XII is the closest thing in the series to a black sheep – especially when compared to fan favorites like VI and IX. Glixel caught up with The Zodiac Age producer Hiroaki Kato at E3 to ask what the heck is up with the strange world of Ivalice, among other things.

Why do you feel this is the right time to release a remaster of Final Fantasy XII?
When the game first came out, it gathered a lot of fans, much more than we anticipated. As the technology got better and the fans grew more numerous, we wanted to do an HD remaster as soon as possible. However, since we wanted to do it with the original development team, it wasn't until now that we were able to get everyone together for this project.

Do you feel that there are aspects of Final Fantasy XII that outclassed its immediate successors, XIII and XV, even in its day?
Each Final Fantasy title is a challenge unto itself. It's not like we think about it like, "Oh, this part of XII is good, this part of XII is bad." Each game is specific to the team that created it. But the difference in the battle system between the Active Time Battle system and the Gambit system were really difficult to get right, and it remains one of the more unique systems in any Final Fantasy game. Plus, XII was the first Final Fantasy game to have no seams between the open field and its battles, and that was a very important development for the series as a whole.

Were there any parts of XII that you felt that you had the opportunity to enhance with this remaster?
Well, obviously, the visuals and the sounds were enhanced, thanks to this remaster. But, it's more important to me that people get to play it on the new generation of consoles, where XII can find a whole new audience to appreciate it, as well as devoted fans. Besides that, we were able to put in the International Zodiac Job system, which was in the previous international version of the game. That's definitely the ideal way to experience the game. For this version, we were also able to embody the core ideas of Hiroyuki Ito, the creator of the Active Time Battle system, in this iteration of the battle system. We also opened up the license board system to allow players to develop their characters more broadly, like allowing one to have two different "jobs," like a knight or a black mage.

The Active Time Battle system in the older Final Fantasy games took the world by storm, and inspired a host of imitators. In XII, the Gambit system felt incredibly innovative for its time, and received a tidal wave of acclaim. Yet, in the decade since then, relatively few games have attempted to replicate or augment it. Why do you think this is?
Ever since XII, each development team has differed a lot, and they all wanted a new challenge. Simply replicating what worked in XII wouldn't be all that challenging. From a technical perspective, it isn't that hard to replicate ATB. And though the concept of the Gambit system is relatively simple, the actual act of creating it inside the game is incredibly complex. Mr. Ito, the creator of the ATB and Gambit systems, spent a very long time making it. That's a big part of why XII is one of the only games that has a system like it. But it also means that The Zodiac Age gives us a unique opportunity to perfect it. Hopefully, new players will think it's a fun, new way to play an RPG game. That's the goal.

What would you say to those same players who have never played Final Fantasy XII again? What do you think XII has to offer that those players will appreciate?
I think new players will be able to appreciate just how far the technology has come since we first made XII. With the original game, the characters were drawn, and we tried to make them move as flawlessly as possible. Now, with PlayStation 4, we can actually make that a reality, with the advancements to texture and hair. We were also able to record the soundtrack with a real orchestra this time around, also. But, most of all, I think the Gambit system itself is really important. It allows players to set their own tactics and strategies in a way that other Final Fantasy games haven't, and I think it will really surprise players who haven't played the game yet. For those who have, we want those players to feel nostalgic, but at the same time, we want them to feel like they're playing a better game.

How do you think Final Fantasy XII compares to the other games in the series? In the West, it seems like certain games are treated with reverence, like VI and VII, while certain other ones are underappreciated. For me, it's always seemed like XII was part of that latter group. How do you feel about that?
Well... [laughs] That's really hard to say. Since Final Fantasy XII is set in the world of Ivalice, which is the world where Final Fantasy Tactics is also set, it's a fairly unique story. Players really connected to the story and battle system in Final Fantasy X, but everything about XII was fairly unique. You could move around in the field while battling, for example. It really is its own thing. Perhaps people weren't ready for it. Between the players who are replaying the game for the first time in years, or the players who are playing it for the first time, we're really excited to see how people feel about XII and the Gambit system. We want to know what people think.

If the feedback is positive, do you think you'll set more adventures in Ivalice?
Well, we'll see what the feedback is. If it's really positive, we'll see what we can do.