We didn't quite know what to expect from Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age on PlayStation 4 and PS4 Pro. On the one hand, developer Virtuos Games did a good job with its existing Final Fantasy 10 and 10-2 remasters, with decent artwork upgrades that sat well on a full HD display. On the other hand, the same developer handled Batman: Return to Arkham - a reasonable port, but with scant upgrades for PS4 Pro users. The good news is that The Zodiac Age is the best way to experience Final Fantasy 12, but the bad news is that PS4 Pro users are still poorly served with only minimal upgrades over base hardware.
At least Virtuos Games' work holds up generally though - with graphical upgrades that range from massively upgraded resolution, along with enhanced effects work, tweaked texturing, and a few welcome gameplay changes. The original PS2 release operates at an anamorphic 512x448 resolution, meaning a 9x increase in pixel-count for base PlayStation 4 users, rising to a 16x boost on PS4 Pro.
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It's a sizeable increase in resolution, but the reality is that Pro users still only get a 1440p output and it's hard to believe that native 4K couldn't have been achieved bearing in mind Square's own excellent work with its Kingdom Hearts remasters, all of which have not only achieved ultra HD resolution on Pro - but run at 60fps as well on both PlayStation 4 systems. The Zodiac Age is a 30fps title on both base PS4 and PS4 Pro.
Both consoles deliver a far richer, more polished visual experience compared to the original though. Over and above resolution, accomplished anti-aliasing and use of mip-mapping practically eliminate the sea of jaggies present on the PS2 game, while the increased pixel precision of the resolution boost really allows the artwork to shine in way that wasn't possible upon the game's release back in 2006. The AA solution Virtuos employs here is sufficiently impressive that running The Zodiac Age on base hardware on a 4K screen isn't that much of a downgrade compared to the Pro version upscaled to ultra HD.
While resolution is an important upgrade in the remaster, it's far from the only one, and the game has been reworked in many areas to allow the presentation to better hold up on modern displays. To test the quality of remastering work itself, we ran the original game at 1080p on PC via emulation, and stacked up the results there against the base PS4 game running at the same pixel count. The results are revealing: the most obvious element that stands out is texture quality, where details are clearer and more defined. Some assets are extensively reworked, such as the sand in the Estersand desert and the canvas across the tents dotted around the environment, which feature more fine detailing than the original game.
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However, actual remastering work elsewhere is perhaps a little more thin on the ground than you might expect - much of the art appears to have been processed through an upscaling filter designed to avoid the break-up of smaller detail at close range. It holds up overall, but can lead to an exaggeration of black outlines and dark areas across textures, which occasionally looks a little odd. However, Virtuos does add further visual upgrades - for example, bump-mapping is used to emboss details in the remaster, giving surfaces a more three-dimensional appearance. It's a preferable approach to stretching original art over upgraded geometry, but a top-to-bottom revamp of art would obviously be preferable.