A few weeks ago, Arnie Roth, a composer for the Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds concert, unceremoniously let slip plans for a Final Fantasy 12 remake or remaster- a statement that was quickly squashed a few days later. Gamescom came and went with no official announcements from Square Enix on an updated Final Fantasy 12, leading everyone to wonder why the hell Roth would even bother mentioning something at all. It's a real damn shame, too, because I can't think of a game more deserving of a second shot than this JRPG classic.
While releasing in 2006 to critical acclaim and commercial success, popular opinion on Final Fantasy 12 seemed to quickly split down the middle. Depending on who you talk to, it's either one of the best games in the series, or one of the most infuriating. The story is either a trend-bucking tale of global politics, a story whose heroes feel like cogs in a far larger machine instead of all-powerful world-changers… or it's a loosely plotted mess that takes forever to get going, then goes nowhere fast. Its combat either feels like a brilliant melding of single-player spectacle and MMO-style automation… or it's an empty grind-fest that largely plays itself.
Personally, I find Final Fantasy 12 to be fascinating, a truly unique entry in a series that's constantly reinventing itself. It marks a return to single-player adventuring after its slight detour into MMORPG land with 11, but still retains a lot of the same concepts, like wandering sprawling, wide-open spaces filled with creatures of varying levels and beating them up using a real-time/turn-based combat typical of the genre, with nary a random battle in sight. 12 fills out its grander story beats with opportunities to traipse through the rolling deserts surrounding Rabanastre and partake in side-quests that encourage exploration, monster hunting, and growing your characters by unlocking 'licenses' on a giant chess board-like grid. It's a bit ridiculous that you can't wear a hat until you earn enough points to purchase the license to do so, but it allows you to customize each of your characters how you see fit. Plus, it's even justified by the narrative, as Final Fantasy 12 is filled with all-seeing, all-knowing Judges that show up to enforce the laws of the bureaucratic nightmare that is the kingdom of Archadia.
See, despite being its own separate story (like every other Final Fantasy game that doesn't have a '-2' awkwardly tagged at the end of its title), it's also set in Ivalice, the world first introduced Final Fantasy Tactics, then expanded on in the GBA quasi-sequel. It's not a coincidence; Tactics director Yasumi Matsuno originally co-directed the title along with Final Fantasy 9 director Hiroyuki Ito, helping to develop the original concept and flesh out its plot, but ended up leaving partway through development due to his ailing health. Despite Matsuno's departure, the world of Final Fantasy Tactics still shines through, creating a universe that feels as alien as it is familiar.
In fact, this massive directorial overhaul led to its protracted development cycle, which undoubtedly resulted in Final Fantasy 12's more idiosyncratic nature. While the initial concept remained the same, and retained the overall plot and combat system, the focus shifted dramatically from the gruff Basch to the younger Vaan and Penelo - characters that were added late in development to appeal to a broader audience, who don't really hold much sway over the plot. Even playing it, you can get the sense that too many hands were pushing and pulling it one way or the other, and while Final Fantasy 12 largely succeeds on its own merits, I wonder how 12's development would have turned out had Matsuno stayed on the project to the end.
The behind-the-scenes drama may have led to a story that loses some steam near the end and characters that seem more like archetypes than fully-realized people, but it's still absolutely worth experiencing, if only for the fact that it's totally unlike any Finally Fantasy before or since. Typically, Final Fantasy games follow a group of plucky adventurers as they try to prevent a super-powered villain from summoning some form of planet-destroying calamity. There's some of that in 12, but the drama here comes from the threat of all-out war between several kingdoms, and how our heroes attempt to reclaim the throne for its rightful heir.
Interestingly, the stakes here are smaller than typical Final Fantasy games, but they feel no less important. For once, our heroes aren't the center of the universe, as they attempt to work within the political structure of an age-old society. Events in Ivalice impact our heroes more than our heroes impact the world, as each person they meet has their own agenda and their own vision for the future of the kingdom. It makes for a much slower but no less interesting burn, and for a series that's used everything from apocalyptic meteors, to moon people, to time compression, to flat out destroying the planet at the end of the second act to ratchet up the drama, its methodical pacing is surprisingly refreshing.
That's to say nothing about how gorgeous the game is, filled with lush, vibrant expansive worlds that pushed the PS2 to its limits, or the sweeping orchestral soundtrack, both of which would get an overhaul in an HD remaster. The HD release of Final Fantasy 10 proved how gorgeous the series' first PS2 outing could look with a new coat of paint, and a remaster of 12 would look even better thanks to its highly-detailed, fully three-dimensional environments. Even the voice acting is great, featuring an understated delivery with a heavy European flair, a far cry from the cringe-worthy awkwardness of that one scene in FF10. You know the one I'm talking about.
A remaster could also expose a new version of Final Fantasy 12 to the West that many never got to play. The "International Zodiac Job System", as it was dubbed, replaced its single license board with 12 unique boards, allowing for greater specialization and customization, and closer resembling the class-based system (or 'jobs') of Final Fantasy Tactics. It also included a widescreen option and a handful of tweaks to the battle system, not the least of which one which let players speed up battles with the press of a button. This version never made it outside of Japan, making it the perfect candidate for a remaster - returning fans get to experience a modern classic in a new light, and new fans get to see what all the fuss is about.
When thinking about the lineage of Final Fantasy games and which ones to remake or remaster, there are the obvious choices, and I'm just as excited to see how Square's return trip to Midgar pans out as anyone else. But 12 deserves just as much remaster love as any other game in the series. No, it's not perfect, but in a franchise filled with games that are as unique as they are similar, Final Fantasy 12 stands out as something truly special.