Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age has come a long way from its roots, and marks the welcome appearance of many of the game’s changes from Japan-only Final Fantasy XII: International Zodiac Job System. With updated visuals to add to it, it marks a proud return of the decade-old game.
Siliconera reached out to director Takashi Katano and producer Hiroaki Kato, speaking to them about their work on the original game, what it felt like to return to game they both worked on years before, and what new aspects players will be able to look forward to.
When last Siliconera spoke with you, you mentioned that Hiryoko Ito was working on balancing the game. What sort of challenges did Ito-san make? Did he suggest anything that surprised you?
Kato – First off, FFXII: The Zodiac Age (Zodiac Age) is based upon a 2007 PS2 game that was only released in Japan, Final Fantasy XII International Zodiac Job System (FFXII – IZJS). The major difference between the original version and 2016 is that, in the original FFXII, Ito-san was the director, so he let the younger staff work on the battle design. Ito-san, of course, oversaw it, but he left them to do it themselves.
When we created FFXII – IZJS a year later, he went in and reconstructed every single element of the battle design. When I replayed FFXII – IZJS when we initially started working on Zodiac Age, I noticed that all of the elements that really resemble what he does – his methods when he creates a battle design – are in there. It’s still very fun to play that game, even now.
When we started working on Zodiac Age, I went along with Katano to speak with Ito to talk about what Ito wanted to do, or wanted us to do, that was different, or how he wanted us to change the game. He said he wanted it to be much easier to explore – much easier to play. So, we introduced the High Speed Mode, the faster loading times, and now that it’s become far easier to play, I’ve noticed the greatness of Ito’s design as well.
Also, it helped me to explore around the world even more when I’m testing Zodiac Age – that I find things in the world that I didn’t notice before. It’s really made me think that he’s a really good friend and a really good game creator.
What was it like to return to FFXII after all these years?
Katano – Before I started working on Zodiac Age, I actually worked on remastering Final Fantasy X. When we released the remaster for Final Fantasy X, that was also after ten years from the release of the original version. What I felt with that game was that it was still very fun to play – even years later, it’s still a very fun game that we have.
Now that I’m working on Zodiac Age, I still felt that same way – that it’s still fun to play. Also, not only that it’s still fun, but I could play it like it was a brand new game. As Kato mentioned making new findings, I’ve felt the same way, and I, of course, made the game ten years ago (laughs). But there’s so many things that I forgot because there’s so many things you can do in the original game that I just didn’t remember all of it.
There were these moments like “Oh yeah, I forgot that was in there!” or “I forgot we had that kind of gimmick in there!”. It’s just been a very fun experience.
What sort of emotions do you go through when you explore something you created a long time ago – that discovery of something that surprises you in your own work in the future?
Katano – Like I mentioned, it was just purely fun to play, but, at the same time, I was just really surprised that we made that. That type of feeling.
I was actually the lead programmer for the original FFXII, so, of course, I would go in to fix the bugs when we were testing the original game. And just playing it again brings back those memories of the type of bug that happened there, and what way I fixed it. Those kinds of memories just came back to life.
Is it enjoyable to come back to those memories?
I don’t think there are many people who can have that same kind of experience – to go back to a game that they created a while ago. So, I have mixed feelings – I do enjoy it, but it’s very interesting as well.
When I was creating it ten years ago, I didn’t think that I would remaster it ten years in the future. Just, that kind of feeling is very unique. Fun doesn’t really fully encompass it, but it was just an interesting experience.
As a developer, I do have that strong nostalgia feeling, but I think, for players, there may be some nostalgia too. They will likely play in a different way because of all the new things that are included in there, so I think they will get that same kind of fun feeling, that same kind of experience they felt when they first played the original.
Especially for Zodiac Age, we included the Trial Mode, which was not in the original version but was in the Japanese FFXII – IZJS. Especially for users and players in the West, this would be their first time getting their hands on it. I’m sure that will create a new challenge and new experience for those players to enjoy.
Kato – I just want to note that I’m pretty sure that, for players of the original version, they have this glorified memory of the previous version, but I do feel that this title does provide even more than that. Even if you have that kind of memory, because the game is so much easier to play, and the graphics are so much nicer, it will just give you more than what you had expected from your memories of the game.
For those players who’ve never played FFXII, because the game is really easy to play, and it does have a revamped battle system and character development system, and the field exploration is just so much fun now – everything you would expect to have in an RPG is all in there, with a really great balance – that I’m sure they will be able to enjoy that as well.
Did you decide to add in any new or different gambits to this new version?
Kato – When we created FFXII – IZJS, we did change a bit about the Gambits that were included with the game. In the original version of FFXII, it was a little bit different – you had to play through the game quite a while to get useful, handy gambits. We changed that in FFXII – IZJS to be able to use those gambits a bit earlier on in the game. Now, because we based Zodiac Age on FFXII – IZJS, we also have that kind of system where you can get those gambits earlier on in the game.
For example, this gambit where it tells a character to use fire attacks on enemies who are weak to fire – that gambit was only attainable towards the end of the game in the original FFXII – but you could actually get it pretty early on in FFXII – IZJS. That would really help everyone to strategize what kind of gambits to use, and enjoy that kind of strategizing from the very beginning of the game.
What kind of challenges do you meet in making the game new for a new audience while balancing it with how the old players remember it? How do you keep new and old players happy at the same time?
Kato – Instead of thinking about the balance, what we thought about was “What would make this game be fun to play.” So, we would think “I wish this could have been better”, instead of catering to those users. It’s more like thinking about how we would create the game if we were creating it now.
Do you feel that some of your changes might alienate original players who were looking for the challenge of the original?
I do think that some parts of the game, people will say “I do remember this being much more difficult.”, or they might think that it’s too easy, but we do have the Trial Mode, where it does push the player and present new challenges. In the Trial Mode, there will definitely be moments where you have to go in and think about what gambits to use and think about your strategy, which will give you a thrilling enjoyment.
So, even for those players who have that kind of memory – that it was a difficult game – we do have, maybe not in the way they expected it to be, but the challenge will be in there. I’m pretty sure they will be satisfied as well. We do have challenges available for people who want it, but for people who just want to go through the story, they can do that as well.
We saw that you added trophies to the game. What thoughts went into what in-game actions deserved to be rewarded? Events that were so special that they deserved a trophy?
Kato – In the original title, there was a hidden place called Pirate’s Hideout. That kind of had that same feeling, like a trophy feeling – that kind of reward for player’s who’ve really played through the game. That’s where it started off, and that’s the kind of idea that we had for the trophies.
Kato-san, you worked on FFXII and Dissidia. How do you feel about the way that Vaan fights in Dissidia?
Kato – I was just really happy that he was chosen to be included in Dissidia. Just having a character that you create appear, or to be asked for them to appear, in a different title or a spin-off title, is a big honor. I just want to think them for selecting the character to be included.
Do you hope any more of your characters will be used in Dissidia in the future?
Kato – Every one of them (Laughs)!
Katano-san, you’ve worked on the remaster for FFX, and now FFXII. Are there any other Square Enix titles you’d like to remaster?
Katano – When it becomes a remaster, not a remake, there is a limit to how far back we can go. I do think that PS2 software was probably the limit. When it becomes a PS1 title, then we would probably have to do a remake instead of a remaster, just because the quality will not be satisfactory for the players if we do a remaster of a PS1 title. So, I fell like I’ve pretty much done everything I can do as a remaster.
But, if there is an opportunity, there are a lot of other titles as well, and I will do what I can do.
As a developer, what’s different about remastering a game as opposed to making your own new title?
Katano – When it comes to creating a new title, that’s a completely creative work. So there, you really think about how to make something fun. When it’s a remaster, I think about how the players of the previous title will be able to enjoy this title now.
So, I would discuss how to improve the game – what else you should include in the original title to make it fun and enjoyable for a current customer.I think that remastering is more like how to arrange a game when you develop, so it’s a difference between a creative work and arrangement work. I do have to switch the way I think between the two types of development.
Kato – When we were creating the original FFXII, what we really had a lot of pain and difficulty thinking through, was the creative part – creating something new and creating something different. Having a seamlessly connected field battle, maps, the whole new gambit system – trying to figure all of that out was difficult. Now, for Zodiac Age, the challenge is how to surpass people’s memories – to do something more than what people remember.
So, just comparing difficulty level, it’s probably the same between developing a new game or a remaster.
Do you feel it just uses a different kind of creativity to rework something that’s already built to improve it?
Katano – When we do a remaster, to reconstruct it, we have to think about what makes this title unique. What are the fundamentals of this game? How do we create something different, but fun, within that same title. I definitely have to use a different part of the brain to do that, but the fundamental thinking is “How do I make a game that’s very enjoyable for everyone?”. The basis of what we think about is the same, but we still use different parts of the brain when it comes to a new game and a remaster.
We’ve seen variants of the ATB system in many Final Fantasy games, but we’ve only ever seen the ADB system in FFXII. Would you like to see it in a future title?
Kato – If we do have an opportunity, we would love to do so.
We know what happens to Vaan and his friends thanks to Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings. Do you have any thoughts on what might happen to the characters after Revenant Wings?
Kato – We actually do speculate on what happens next within the dev team, but it always changes depending on the environment, the time, the generation, and what’s going on in the world. So, I do think that if we do ever create a game that follows, the storyline and what the characters are like would depend on what the world is like at that time. Whether it be Vaan or Basch or Ashe, it would probably reflect what’s happening in our world.
When we were working on Zodiac Age, we actually talked about what Vaan would be like after ten years. We all say that he is probably very cool now. In FFXII, he’s kind of a little weak boy, and he’s not very reliable. Half-jokingly, we said he has to have grown up to be a lot cooler than Balthier.
If we do have an opportunity in the future, I would love to create a new storyline using that same gambit system – creating a new title like that.
What were the thoughts behind creating the High Speed Mode?
Katano – We actually had that mode in the game as a debug function. It was a very nice mechanic to have in there when we were Q&A-ing. When we released FFXII, we received a lot of feedback saying that the world was really vast, and it’s really hard to get from place to place. So, when we released FFXII – IZJS, we had incorporated that double speed mode as per Ito’s suggestion.
When Ito first suggested that to me, I asked ‘Is it even ok to have that in a game? Is that even accepted? (laughs). He said “Yeah, it’s fine.”
Kato – Ito is the type of person who doesn’t want to make users or players work to play the game.
When we were developing the original FFXII, we already knew we were going to take off that function because it was a debug tool – we weren’t going to have it in the master build. When we released the game, he said “That’s such a great function. I love using that. Why can’t we have it in?” He kept on complaining, so when we had it in FFXII – IZJS, he was very happy.
By putting in a High Speed Mode, do you feel that players might miss something they would have seen while playing at regular speed? Do you think it encourages players to rush rather than savor the world you created?
Kato – I don’t think so, really. In testing the game out ourselves, we didn’t get that kind of problem or concern. This time, we actually do have the translucent map – an overlay of a map – that appears with a tap of the L3 button. So, that actually allows you to really see where you’re going, and you can go to more places that maybe you wouldn’t have before because it’s a lot easier to go to these places. It’s easier to have new findings.
With Zodiac Age releasing soon, will we be seeing any collaborations with FFXIV or any of Square Enix’s mobile titles?
Kato – I can’t really reveal anything much right now, but I am thinking of having some kind of element or mechanic that would make people really happy. Please look forward to that.
With two different PS4 models being available now, will it play the same on both systems?
Katano – Yes. Players who have the Pro will be able to experience the same improvements.
How does it feel to be moving on from this game for a second time?
Katano – It was the same when I was developing FFXII, but when I finished creating it, I felt a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as a developer. While we’re still working on Zodiac Age, I do still fell that I’ll probably feel that way when I finish. At least for now, I do feel that we have accomplished creating a nice, refreshing, and fun game for everyone to play.
To wrap up, where you mentioned that you’d been working on debugging the game years ago, we know that bugs can work in funny ways sometimes. Was there a funny bug you every encountered that you remember?
Katano – There was one that I still remember (laughs). You know how character models do break often, especially early in development. There was this one moment when Balthier and Vaan are fighting an enemy, and there’s this moment when Vaan just runs up first, and Balthier says “Are you ok?”. Because Vaan’s face was so broken in that moment, he definitely wasn’t ok (laughs). I thought that was very funny.
It’s not a fun moment when you see that on-screen, but it is a funny thing that I still remember, and it still sticks out in my memory. You, of course, can’t see that in the released version (laughs).
Kato – At first, when you’re starting to develop a game, those moments are fun and you actually laugh at them. Once you get closer to mastering, you’re like “Oh my gosh! Another bug!”. And you’re just very mad the entire time (laughs).