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Revisiting an old friend: Hands-on with Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age By Wazi the pa on July 3, 2016 at 8:19 PM

After years of pestering and pleading, Square Enix finally announced a remastered release for the oft underrated Final Fantasy XII, due out for PlayStation 4 some time next year. I was filled to the brim with excitement; watching the announcement trailer and reading all the noteworthy improvements for the game had me on the edge of my seat – it was finally FFXII‘s time to shine.

This revamped version is based off Final Fantasy XII International Zodiac Job System and includes higher resolution character models, cut-scenes and backgrounds plus higher-quality audio from the original PlayStation 2 version. Fans can also expect both English and Japanese voice acting options, the option to switch between the original and remastered music tracks, shorter loading times, auto-saving and a turbo mode among other updates.

For those new to Final Fantasy XII, the game celebrates its 10 year anniversary this year. Having released Westward on the cusp of the PlayStation 3 launch, it was a game that sort of fell by the wayside a bit – its art and voice direction, battle system and game design considered a bit of a risk compared to past installments. Although Final Fantasy XII received critical acclaim, many Final Fantasy fans just didn’t give the game its due. With time gone past, many are now clinging to a vision they once brushed aside – is this a chance for redemption? From what I played it’s almost guaranteed.

During E3 this year, I had the opportunity to get my hands on Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age for a short demo. Set part way through the game, I found myself in the Lhusu Mines of Bhujerba with Vaan, Balthier and Basch tasked to find the captured Penelo. Along the way they meet the mysterious Lamont, who comes in quite handy as a guest character.

From the dark caves to the bright market streets and the diverse cast of NPCs populating the world, details that were once too difficult to make out in the original PlayStation 2 version are now crisp and clear thanks to the resolution and image quality boost afforded by the PS4. These improvements are most notable on the Judge armors, for example, with their designs and engravings coming into full focus for the first time. While the game doesn’t stand on par visually with a typical current generation title such as Final Fantasy XV, its art style keeps it alive and well in the age of higher polygon count and photo-realism.

The sound quality has also been improved for The Zodiac Age. Square Enix has ponied up for a revision of the game’s soundtrack, with both the new and original available depending on your preference. The remastered version was featured in the demo and although similar features notable changes such as live performances.

Unfortunately for the moment the same can’t be said for the game’s voice quality. It’s hard to say without listening to a direct comparison, but it felt like the audio compression problems that plagued the original release have yet to be fixed here. For now we’ll just have to wait and see.

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On gameplay, not much has changed compared to the original; you can still control and assign a multitude of commands to party members using the Gambit System in active time. Everything felt as fluid and consistent as I remembered – from manual to automatic control schemes to attacks, spells and flashy Quickening abilities, my time with the demo felt as good as the first time I picked up and played the original a decade ago.

One of the major additions to The Zodiac Age is the ability to toggle a turbo mode of sorts on and off during gameplay. Similar to some of the recent Final Fantasy ports to PC and PS4, you’re able to hold down a couple buttons and speed up the game to mitigate the slow grind through battles and locations. It’s a feature that came stock with the original International Zodiac Job System release and something that could come in handy if you’re planning to run back through.

From my brief time with the in-development demo of the game, it’s clear The Zodiac Age has the potential to be the definitive version of Final Fantasy XII in nearly every way. Despite it being available in Japan for years I do find myself curious about the International version and its mountain of additional features. Hopefully it’s a satisfying package until we’re closer to the next big thing in Final Fantasy VII Remake.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age will be hitting store shelves worldwide in early 2017 for PlayStation 4.

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