Final Fantasy XII International: Zodiac Job System Hands-On

Upgraded FFXII features new job system, double speed mode, a trial battle mode, and more.

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MAKUHARI, Japan--At Square Enix Party 2007, we had the chance to get our hands on Final Fantasy XII International: Zodiac Job System, which was just announced on Thursday during the publisher's press conference. It's become a tradition for Square Enix to rerelease its blockbuster titles in Japan under the International label. And with more than 5 million copies sold worldwide, FFXII was a prime candidate for this.

The most apparent change in FFXII International is the voice acting. Much like the previous releases under the International label, FFXII International features characters speaking in English, with Japanese subtitles on the bottom of the screen. In terms of visuals, the game features 16:9 widescreen support, which wasn't available in the original Japanese release. Widescreen support is becoming essential in Japan, as electronics stores are mostly selling widescreen HDTVs nowadays due to the fact that analog broadcast will be terminated in just four years.

The primary new addition--as the game's title clearly suggests--is the zodiac job system, which is more or less a fancy term for the game's new license board system. The boards come into play during character evolution. While the original FFXII had only one license board, FFXII International gives you a selection of 12 boards that you can set on each of your characters. Doing so will let you customize your characters into playing like a certain job, such as a knight, monk, time mage, breaker, archer, black mage, white mage, red mage, kikoushi (gunfighter), uhlan (spearman), shikari (a fighter that uses daggers), and mononofu (a fighter with a mix of Japanese-style attacks, including samurai and ninja skills).

It's completely up to you as to how you set the boards on your characters, and if you chose to do so, you can even set the same board on multiple characters. However, you can't change the board on your characters once you've picked them, meaning that you'll need to finish the game (or restart) if you want to change their boards.

Fortunately, the developers of FFXII International intended the game to be played multiple times, and there's a new feature that lets you save time in doing so. Pressing the L1 button in FFXII International lets you go into "double-speed mode," where the game literally runs at double its normal speed (during both exploration and battles). Since FFXII is already using the PlayStation 2 hardware to its maximum, the only way to add this feature was apparently through frame skipping. So when the double-speed mode is turned on, the graphics move a bit choppy, albeit extremely fast.

Another major new feature in FFXII International is the new trial mode, which can be picked from the title screen. This mode resembles a survival-style battle where you take on memorable enemies in the game (mostly bosses), one after another. You can use your characters from your saved data to fight in trial mode, so if there's an enemy that's too strong, you can build up your party members in the storyline mode and then challenge the enemy in trial mode again. The enemies get stronger and stronger as you beat them, and we've been told that there might be some surprising enemies if you get near the end of the mode.

FFXII International also features a number of additional adjustments to offer more freedom and to make the gameplay experience smoother. We noticed that the guest characters and summon monsters can be controlled during the battle in FFXII International. That means a lot for the summon monsters because you can choose when to use their special attacks. On the field, the locations of treasure boxes have been moved to more convenient locations for players, and although you still get items randomly when you open them, the game's developers have raised the odds that you'll receive the items you want. It's also easier to get money than the original FFXII, so you won't have to work as hard to afford your essential items.

With the new improvements, Final Fantasy XII International should be a solid game for both new players and old players. The title is slated to ship this August in Japan. Square Enix hasn't announced a release for the US yet, but GameSpot will bring you the first updates if they do.

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