In a genuinely surprising move, Squeenix announced a PS4 remaster of Final Fantasy XII called Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, to release in 2017. Some of you may remember Final Fantasy XII as “That One Kid in the FF Family Who is Totally as Cool as his Siblings, But Wears Weird Clothes and Chose to be a Philosophy Major in College so his Parents Pretend he Doesn’t Exist Anymore: The Game.” There have been rumors for a long time that something like this was in the works, but most questions had been shot down with prejudice, making the rather sudden announcement even more of a shock.
According to the press release, the game will feature the now-standard visual cleanups and texture enhancements, re-recorded soundtrack and a few of the bonuses that were previously exclusive to the Japanese version of the game. Also, apparently there’s a new trial mode with up to 100 consecutive battles for those who thought Yiazmat was not enough proof that God is real and he hates you and wants you to cry.
Final Fantasy XII occupies an…interesting place in the history of the franchise. It was the last PS2 entry, the last one made exclusively for a Sony console since the move from Nintendo starting with VII, and prior to the slowmo trainwreck that was the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy, it was probably the most divisive mainline FF game, with people either loving it or hating it. And I’m not using that as short hand to imply a slight disagreement; there really do seem to be only two options.
It’s remarkably hard to find anyone with a middle ground opinion on XII. On the “Burn it like trash” side, people point out the relatively small cast, the lack of focus on character development, the self-playing combat system and the strangely fuzzy graphics due to some tricks done with polygon counts on the part of Square, all combined with a plot that takes almost forever to go anywhere, and all THAT multiplied by it being the first proper FF game with next to zero soundtrack input from Nobuo Uematsu, who had been composing the games since the very first one and is responsible for roughly half the video game music from your childhood that you still get all choked up listening to.
Supporters, meanwhile, point out the lengths of customizability for character combat options, the strong world building, the interesting and politically charged plot and the tremendous amounts of additional side content. Plus, the decisions made about the flow of the game and its visual design have allowed it to age much more gracefully than either X or X-2 (although even pears age better than X-2). For my part, I never finished the game, but that was more because it came at the start of my “Holy shit am I bad at finishing games” era, which is only now starting to wane. But for the fifteen-or-so hours I did play, I found it enjoyable, with a strong narrative and likeable cast, even if it felt very different from its predecessors in terms of flavor.
Now, from a meta perspective, this is actually an intriguingly good idea on the part of Square-Enix. Regardless of one’s personal opinion on its qualities (or lack thereof), there’s no debating that the chasm of opinion that FFXIII opened has changed perception of the franchise, for better or worse. Particularly, the section of the fanbase that found the tremendous amount of structural changes the game brought on, such as the lack of true exploration or sidequests, the removal of towns and NPCs or traditional leveling OR equipment progression and the lack of likeable characters which were instead replaced by human-shaped meat-slabs with the combined reasoning powers of a stuffed oyster and the emotional dimensions of my left asscheek.
Barring perhaps slightly less vitriol, FFXII found itself in much the same position upon its release, which is why this is such a fortuitous time period to be releasing the game in. In the shadow of FFXIII, XII‘s changes will seem comparatively small and inoffensive to those who formerly found the game’s departures from tradition intolerable, while those who simply missed the game the first time around or had a much more rigid opinion of “proper” eastern RPG construction can now experience it with the benefit of the genre’s evolution in the intervening decade. In short, Squeenix will use the unease of the fanbase and questions surrounding the nature of JRPGs in the modern age to give one of its underappreciated offspring a new chance at life. And placing it after the release of XV also works to its advantage, since even if it turns out to be the masterwork the company is purporting it will be, there will nevertheless be fans who will be craving Final Fantasy Classic after taking that new hotness for a spin. And wouldn’t you know it, your pal Squeeny just happens to have one of those old games you may have missed…
As for me, I’m just glad this will hopefully help its place in the series canon. As I said, I didn’t get as far in the game as I would have liked, but even with my limited exposure I could tell that it was a fundamentally well-made, ambitious game. I plan to revisit it in the coming months, god willing, so maybe my opinion will change by the time it’s cresting the horizon. But until then, let’s savor this unexpected bounty, birthed seemingly from the void of forgotten desire.