Originally released towards the end of the PlayStation 2 life cycle, Final Fantasy XII is often considered one of the most overlooked entries in the series. That changed with the release of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age last summer on PS4, and now a PC version of this updated game has been announced.
Ahead of the announcement we were able to ask Hiroaki Kato some questions about its development and the Final Fantasy series in general.
What was it about FFXII in particular that you felt warranted modernisation?
Hiroaki Kato: We felt that the game content itself was still very much enjoyable for a modern audience, but that the type of gameplay environment players expect has changed since the original release. So we mainly thought about ways to make it easier for the player to concentrate on the gameplay, such as how best to let them put down the game and then pick it up again quickly for shorter play sessions etc.
The solutions we came to were to reduce loading times, improve the auto-save and high-speed mode, and allow the player to display the location map superimposed over the HUD to make it easier to understand the current situation they are in. For the graphics, we took great care not to change the overall feeling from the PlayStation 2 version, while also working out the best way to approach HD conversion.
For the sound, we very much aimed at making the game stand up alongside other modern game titles and so re-recorded the entire BGM using live performances. We further enhanced this with changing to higher quality sound and adding 7.1ch support.
Many long-time FF fans argue about FFXII being either one of the boldest or the worst entries in the series. Looking at the response The Zodiac Age received at launch from players and critics alike, things certainly seem to have changed based on the remaster's performance. What do you think is the reason for this shifting perception?
I think that one thing is that the way you can play in a vast, seamlessly loading world was very new when FFXII first came out, but is one of the genres that players want the most in the modern age. In addition, we did not just try to raise the quality of the sound and graphics from the original and went further to make it easier to play, in line with modern gameplay tastes.
I feel that this will allow players who played the original to make many new discoveries in the incredibly detailed world of Ivalice, letting them find secrets and things that they did not notice on their first play.
Despite being vastly improved in The Zodiac Age, one of the few flaws (especially for new RPG players to overcome) within FFXII was the semi-automatic Gambit battle system, outsourcing active fighting commands to the self-programmed AI. With the increase in the amount of character specialisation options, the remaster's complexity grows in terms of strategy and some newcomers found themselves lost between these mechanics. Are you considering implementing some kind of guide or additional help for players to ease them into the Zodiac Job System in the future, or will people have to continue to find those answers out for themselves?
Wanting players to enjoy the trial and error experimentation behind the system is our intention behind having it the way it is. We have also put in some helpful info in the "Adventuring hints" section of the Clan primer though.
Talking about quality of life changes, we absolutely love the High Speed mode - could more JRPGs get similar features to reduce the grind and makes those sections more fun to enjoy?
I think that there is a chance of seeing more high-speed modes in games, depending on what kind of play experience individual titles want to deliver to their players.
Personally, I find myself with limited time to play games these days, so I would be happy to find high-speed modes in other titles!
FFXII had a strong political story, not unlike the most recent Final Fantasy XV, and both stories have worked pretty well for a more grown-up audience. Will we see mature stories within the Final Fantasy universe more often?
Final Fantasy is a series that challenges itself to do new things every time. Going forward, I think that you will see many different worlds and stories in each new instalment, based on the times they are made in and the people on the team that create them.
Do you have plans to adjust the Quickening moves for the PC version of the game? Again, additional intel about what they do and which mechanics are hidden within this combo system would have been very helpful...
There will be no adjustments to the quickening abilities themselves, but one change from the original FFXII is that the mist charges required to use them are now a separate system to MP, so you will not be reduced to MP0 after using your quickening and can carry on casting spells.
Why have the item locations changed since the initial release of FFXII and will the PC port (and/or the PS4 version via an update) receive the old item distribution system in the future?
We wanted to give a different gameplay experience to the original FFXII, and so it is not just the item placement but we have also completely re-worked the battle design, such as the data for the monsters and party characters. For that reason, we will not be returning to the original design.
On top of that, the design from the original where you could not get the ultimate spear if you picked up certain items in certain places has also been changed, and it will now always be obtainable (although still at a very low percentage chance).
Will we see Ivalice ever again in some other form? We think it is one of the most remarkable worlds within all of the great Final Fantasy scenarios.
If the players call for it loudly enough then I think we will see another Ivalice game announced in some form or another.
When porting a game like this to PC, what's the biggest challenge?
The original FFXII was made predicated on the fact that it would be running at 30fps, but we felt that PC users would really want it in 60fps.
Accordingly, we strived to make it so that you can play the game in 60fps on a high-spec machine for the PC port. There were some graphical techniques and systems implemented in the original that are fundamentally based on the idea of running at 30fps, so the biggest challenge for the PC version was working out how to deal with and adapt those to run at 60fps.
Are there any significant changes coming, or will the port be faithful to the PS4 version?
The story, party members, character development system, battle design and monsters etc. are all the same as the PS4 version.
However, we have put in some additional features only possible for the PC version to enhance the experience, including widescreen display up to 48:9 in the exploration sections, 60fps support, and keyboard + mouse controls. You do need a fairly high spec machine to take advantage of all of them though.
On top of that, we have added several extra features such as a "New Game Plus" playable from level 90, a "New Game Minus", in which you do not level up at all, available from the start, as well as a booster to set your gil and license boards to the maximum. We think that these will allow players to dig even deeper into the game and make new discoveries in the massive world of Ivalice.
Why was there never was a proper Final Fantasy XII-2?
That was because we all started work on different titles as soon as the development on the original FFXII ended. If we do move on to do a FFXII-2, I think we would need to get the original team back together for it. Everyone is currently involved in lots of different projects at the moment, so I have a feeling it would take a while!
Finally, with the updated take on VII on the horizon, are there any other classic Final Fantasy games that you'd like to see modernised?
In working on FFXII The Zodiac Age, I have come to understand how much work it is trying to re-make something in a way that exceeds the original, so in future I think I would prefer to just enjoy these kinds of games as a player instead. Personally, I would love to play a Final Fantasy V or a Final Fantasy Tactics remake though!