Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age Targets Remaster Magic At Just The Right Time [PAX East Preview]

The golden number when it comes to priming fandom appetite for HD remakes appears to be 10 years or more. It worked splendidly for both Wind Waker and Twilight Princess on Wii U, Final Fantasy X and X-2 on PS3 and PS4, and now, Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, also coming to PS4 later this year. The original game was released in 2006, and with a style vastly different from what the series currently offers via the likes of Final Fantasy XV, the time feels ripe for revisiting Ivalice.

I had the chance to spend about half an hour with the game at PAX East this year, my demo station situated five or so feet away from where I’d played Episode Gladiolus just moments before. As such, the stark contrast between the two games was obvious, and if I’m being honest, my preference for the visual style of XII was overwhelming.

Though in need of a bit more polish before its release (which I fully expect it will receive), the jump to HD looks lovely; not necessarily due to any vast amount of remodeling or retexturing (though there is some of the latter), but simply because the color and vibrancy the original game offers works well at any resolution, 1080p included. Hitting the ground running with Vaan, Ashe, Fran, and the gang (many of whom were playable in combat during my demo) felt so seamless and right – with remakes, it’s clear absence makes the heart grow fonder.

There was little to do other than scour the plains of Ivalice and defeat monsters, which I did, and eventually headed toward a nearby cave for a cutscene that advanced the story. What I noticed during the scripted sequence is that character faces retain their dreamlike, surreal affectivity that has always made XII’s emotional highs and lows that much more memorable. It’s something that Final Fantasy X reached for and couldn’t quite grasp, and that never really catches hold in XV thanks to its blend of relentless camp and graphical hyperrealism. Great character design yields an emotional response by simply witnessing said characters’ complexion, and that this appears to have been kept intact for The Zodiac Age (it’s not easy you know) is encouraging indeed.

That said, my full impression still holds; the overall look could use further sprucing, particularly outdoor texturing and terrain, and I do hope there’s added polish to push the title more toward the advertised “remaster” than mere up-res in the time between now and its release. There’s little need to recap the original game’s returning systems here, though you can fully expect to see Magicks & Technicks, Mist, and Gambits all return, each of which I was able to try.

In particular, the cutscenes associated with Mist-powered Quickening assaults are lovely; Fran’s Whip Kick has never looked so elegant, and I could feel the nostalgia rising as I executed familiar attacks from a time long-since passed. Cheesy sentiment or not, once a game is over ten years old anything goes. That’s the whole point in waiting to re-release it.

There are actual content updates to The Zodiac Age, including the Zodiac job system that was originally Japan-only as well as a Trial Mode for marathon consecutive bouts and record-setting. Trophy junkies will also be pleased that Square is not skimping in that department either, with the full gamut for a typical “road to Platinum” planned.

If you didn’t like the original Final Fantasy XII then it’s unlikely The Zodiac Age will change your mind. But otherwise, my sense is that it will be every bit as pleasant to revisit as X and X-2 before it, likely with fewer irreparable signs of age. I don’t mean to needle Episode Gladiolus too much, but swapping to an HD XII was truly a breath of fresh air after exploring its winding, dreary caves and pathways. I suppose the takeaway is that the coming months hold something for diverse Final Fantasy preference; if you don’t by-default enjoy them all, in 2017 you’re sure to enjoy something.