An overlooked adventure at the tail end of the PS2.
If you missed Final Fantasy XII's original PS2 release, you'll have a chance to play the remaster, The Zodiac Age, this summer. It's the story of Vaan and company taking down the evil Judge Gabranth, all done through the game's unique and deceptively deep Gambit combat system. We sat down with producer Hiroaki Kato and director Takashi Katano to talk about why now is the right time for a remaster and what it has to offer over the original game.
GameSpot: Why bring back Final Fantasy XII over other mainline titles?
Kato: Several reasons, but since we worked on the original XII, we have a lot of memories associated with that title. And when Final Fantasy X came out as an HD remaster on the PS4 and became a successful title, we thought that maybe we should bring this one back as well. So we brought together the core members of the original development team.
And then another reason was that when we created the original XII, we actually made it relatively high spec. So we were always thinking that we wanted to create an HD version of it sometime in the future. But if we did that, I wanted to have the original members work on it as well. It was difficult trying to find a time when everyone could work together again, just because everyone was on different projects.
We've seen a lot of love for XII from our readers and viewers. Why do you think that is? Is it a cult following? Is it people who missed this the first time around? Why the sudden surge in popularity?
Kato: When we released the original, it was around when the PS2 was changing into the new generation of PS3s. So we really utilized the PS2 system to its fullest, to the maximum.
The mechanic that we had in there, called the Gambit System, was very unique. There were no other games that had that kind of system at that time. So with the unique game system and world that we created in XII, I believe it left a strong memory inside of people.
I feel like there are similar thoughts about Final Fantasy IX, since that released at the end of PS1 life cycle. Do you see those parallels as well?
Katano: I worked on VIII and then X, so I wasn't really on IX, but in general, the change from PlayStation 1 to 2 was really big, and then compared to that, PS2 to PS3 was not as much. So there probably is a little bit of a difference there. From PS1 to PS2, what you could do in a game just drastically changed. But from PS2 to PS3, especially when PS3 had just come out, it was more about increasing the expressiveness of games, like adding shaders and being able to do more with the game system. Games that utilized physics came out later, but initially it wasn't like that.
Kato: It's weird for us to call our title a masterpiece ourselves, but usually, the titles that are called masterpieces come out at the end of the generational cycle, just because it takes so much time to develop a game.
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For people who played the original, what's going to be new for them this time?
Kato: The Zodiac Age is based on the International Zodiac Job System, which was only released in Japan. So especially for the Western audience, we changed the entire gameplay balance. The battle design was passed onto Hiroyuki Ito. We talked about Final Fantasy IX earlier, and he was the game designer for that title as well as The Zodiac Age. He's historically worked on battle design for the past Final Fantasy titles.
And for those who missed it the first time around, what do you hope will hook new players?
Kato: How fun it is to play an RPG. From fighting, to field exploration, to character growth, The Zodiac Age has all that. It will feel good to have your characters grow. And while you're leveling up your characters, you'll find more items that you want to equip and then use them to fight stronger enemies. And so all the elements that you would consider normal for an RPG are included in this game in a really great balance.
You've commented before that you'd like to see another Final Fantasy game use the Gambit System. Is that still something you want to see? Maybe a Revenant Wings 2?
Kato: I feel that the Gambit System is very complex, so it's been really hard to implement that in other titles. But I do really want to utilize the mechanics somehow, maybe in a different form. It's very difficult to develop around, so that might be a difficult thing to do.
There's a bit of a running joke that Final Fantasy XII's plot is essentially Star Wars. How do you respond to that?
Kato: [Laughs] I've heard that as well. But we weren't really thinking about that during development. One thing we were thinking about was creating an easy-to-understand plot line that you could really just grasp immediately. And Star Wars in a sense does have that too. But because Star Wars is such a great title, such a great film, that also means that Final Fantasy XII is a great title, right? [Laughs]
So not including XII, which Final Fantasy is your favorite?
Katano: My favorite title is Final Fantasy V. That job system is just superb. The person who created it is actually Ito, whom we mentioned earlier, and he just brought over all that experience from the past. But I was a student when I played it, and I was just surprised that there was something that fun to play. I was just so immersed in it, and I'd play for hours and hours.
Kato: [Laughs] Oh, that must be why you've ended up here.
And which Final Fantasy do you want to see remastered next?
Katano: The PlayStation 2 would probably be the only hardware that we could really remaster from. Anything before that probably wouldn't be a remaster anymore, but a remix because of all the polygon models and sprites, like Final Fantasy VII. That's probably why they're doing a remake, instead of like a remaster.
Kato: [Laughs] I'd love to see a remaster of Final Fantasy I and all the numbered titles, but that would be difficult to do.