Hit-and-miss gaming giant Square Enix has announced that they’re going to dish out an HD re-release of Final Fantasy XII in 2017 called Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age (source). It features updated graphics, a rerecorded soundtrack, and the International Version content that was never before released in the West.
When I first read this, I said, “Yay! This is awesome! I have to tell…uh…”
Oh wait. THERE IS NOBODY.
Final Fantasy XII is a game that has received remarkably little attention in the ten years it’s been out. And that’s strange to me because apparently it’s the number five best-selling Final Fantasy title of all time (How the flying crap did FFXIII reach number four?)(source)!
It apparently sold more copies than Final Fantasy IV and VI and is in the same ballpark as Final Fantasy X and the Kingdom Hearts games (FFVII, of course, leaves everybody in the dust). It certainly received good reviews, like a 92/100 by Metacritic and a 9.5/10 by IGN. Heck, it was even the first Final Fantasy game–and first Playstation 2 game–to get a perfect score from the Japanese game magazine Famitsu (source).
So…why the heck is nobody praising it?!
This game is AWESOME!
It’s a heavy turn from the traditional FF games, but the experiments actually worked this time. The active combat system blends the field with the battle and makes the world seem more realistic. The gambit system may allow the game to play itself…but only if you’re skilled enough to make it do so.
The animation is also astounding, especially for Playstation 2 times. The landscaping, the architecture, the airships, everything looks amazing.
The story is more political than any other FF game which makes it stand out instantly. It’s not about over-the-top megalomaniacs destroying the world because they were bored on a Tuesday; it’s about schemes and kingdoms.
And the world building is divine. Everything feels rich, down to the nitty-gritty details. For example, clothing. People of Dalmasca wear shorter clothing, most people showing off a midriff or full upper body. Women wear pants more than skirts. But in Archadia, the clothes are longer with more frills, and women wear more gowns and long skirts. Little innocuous choices like that flesh out the world.
Even better is the voice work. The English localization allowed for some serious immersion. Dalmascans speak in American English, Archadians speak in British English, a Rozarrian speaks in a sort of French/Russian accent (hard to tell), the isolated viera speak through their nose, and the Bhujerbans have a language all their own. Even within the same dialect, street urchins like Vaan and Penelo talk like you and me while refined folk like Ashe and Balthier speak with greater loquacity (“The wadis will be swollen with the deluge.” -Basch). These details add a sense of region and culture like few Final Fantasy games have done before.
And the villain is one of the most underrated in the series. Vayne is a villain who’s actually on to something: taking control of mankind’s destiny, freeing them from the whims of distant and disinterested gods. By the end of the game, you come to see that his ideology was right all along, and you help him achieve his goals. However, he himself is still twisted and dangerous. Right plan, wrong man. That perfect divide makes for a dangerous villain who’s also understandable. Unlike in FFXIII, where you just do what the villain wants and get away with it via deus ex machina (seriously, how did XIII get number four?!).
All in all, this game is perfe–well, that’s too far. This game is incredib–okay, that’s not exactly true. More like this game is amaz–wait, no. This game is…well, it’s…
Well…maybe not AWESOME…
All right, so it’s not flawless. While the political plot is new and unique, it’s also fairly thin. There are points where the story sort of drops out while you wander around the world for a while, slowly leveling up until you’re strong enough for the next plot point.
But mostly this is because of the characters. For one thing, half of them are flat. Vaan, who you control more than any other character, has little bearing on the story. His arc is complete by the halfway point. His friend Penelo is absolutely nonessential. Even Fran peters out once she completes her part in the viera forest. Bathlier and Basch are better, out of the main six characters, only Ashe has a rich arc.
Even worse is the limited interaction. In FFX, everybody had a different dynamic. Tidus spoke to Wakka like a brother, Yuna like a lover, Auron like a grouchy uncle, etc. In FFVII, Cloud had a different friendship with Tifa than he did with Barret. But here, the characters are just sort of slapped together without much real chemistry. Interaction is minimal; most dialogue is about the plot while little is given for characterization.
Which is sad because there’s potential. Basch and Vaan could form a friendship over their mutual connection, Reks. Fran could see Penelo as a little sister since her own sister is far from her. True, some interaction does exist, and it’s golden. Like when Vaan blames Basch for his brother’s death, or when he rudely asks Fran how old she is. These things make a story interesting. And they’re missing.
But really, this whole game feels kind of low-key. There’s little flash or flair, so it doesn’t stand out much. There’s no fancy signature weapon (like the Buster Sword, the Brotherhood, or a gunblade). The villain is more clever and controlled, less of a showoff. The fight scenes are more natural with basic striking motions and simple-looking spells (no suplexing a train). Even the super attacks are relatively simple as opposed to the insanity of Omnislash or Blitz Ace.
So, really, there’s not much to sing about for this game…is there?
Maybe Good isn’t Good Enough.
Final Fantasy XII seems to fall between the critical cracks. It has some real strengths, but nothing so good or so flashy as to garner a lot of attention or get people dancing over it (save for the world building, in my opinion). But neither are the flaws so terrible that people are going to rant over them like Final Fantasy XIII (I’m not letting this drop).
Even I have to admit it’s somewhere in the middle. Not phenomenal, not loathsome. In a word, this game is…solid. The strengths are strong enough to make up for the weaknesses, even if they don’t stand out.
I still like Final Fantasy XII. A lot. I play it nearly every year, almost as much as I do FFX, my favorite in the series. No, it’s not as good as some others, but it does do a lot of things well. The gameplay is well-developed, the villain is great, and the world building is some of the best I’ve seen in any game ever.
But am I alone? Is anybody else excited about the remake? I personally can’t wait. I’m interested in this new leveling system which is finally being released for us Westerners. I’m enjoying the Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster and I can’t wait to give Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age a go.
Now, if we could just get Sony to remake The Legend of Dragoon…
Are any of you excited about the remake? Did you think FFXII was trash and should be forgotten? What are your thoughts?