Over the past year or so, I have had the distinct craving to play Final Fantasy XII again. I held off for a bit on the vague hope that an HD version would be announced. But seeing how long it has taken Squareenix to even give us a look at Final Fantasy X HD, I decided it was a bit of a silly reason to hold off.
I apparently lost my copy, so after an emergency borrow from a friend, I re-embarked on the quest for the Ash Stones. Er, or Sun Princesses. Or whatever the plot is supposed to be about.
Although, to be fair, it was plot that was the first thing to surprise me. The game gets so caught up in uninteresting things later on that I forgot that the intrigue is pretty strong out of the gate. While it takes a bit for actual gameplay to start, the game marries and kills off a young royal couple, starts a war and reveals a traitorous kingslayer in its opening sequences.
Hell, despite his croptop, even Vaan’s humble beginnings are promising. Clichéd, sure, but the next surprise for me was recognizing how many clichés the game rolls out at the start.
The reluctant thief, underground waterways, a secret passage in a castle, being thrown in prison and losing all equipment and weapons for a short time. The game feels so fleshed out and genuine, that it took me until this playthrough to recognize how familiar the scenarios were.
It has been mentioned before, but now after the Final Fantasy XIII games I am doubly impressed at the incredibly natural voiceover and dialogue work in XII. Especially at the beginning when the characters are still interesting and Balthier first enters the picture. They do not just talk about their drama or the main quest or their sappy all-encompassing views on life or where to find their big sister. The characters actually just seem to act according to the situations they are in. For a JRPG, it is especially refreshing.
I mean sure, Vaan is hung up on a sibling as well, but he does not go around in a permanent melodramatic state. Seeing that Final Fantasy XII came out six years ago, it is both impressive and upsetting to see that it is still one of the finest examples of scene tone and direction in gaming.
In fact, it still blows my mind a little that this game seemed to be so ignored by non-RPG fans in terms of its accomplishments. The size of the world, the depth of the lore, the life in the streets. I cannot think of many games even in the current generation that has a town as brought to life as Rabanastre.
The point is that I am very much enjoying my return to the game. I am both appreciating the music more and becoming more steadfast in my opinion that it is far too epic far too often.
I realize that I will likely start to lose some of my interest after I gain all the party members, the scale of the world becomes less novel, and the story becomes far less interesting. But I have no regrets about peeking into the best of Final Fantasy XII and the things I hoped it would be and the things I forgot it was.