When Final Fantasy XII strolled into my life the first time, it was ensconced in steel like it was preparing for battle. In some ways, maybe it was; after all, it had a good deal to prove after the dumpy, dimwitted role-playing travesty that was Final Fantasy X - which I’m tired of talking about and won’t mention again in this article or any future article or probably even in person if someone tries to bring it up to me, as I’d rather pretend like it never existed - and I skipped its sequel, Final Fantasy XI, because that was online and, hell, I wasn’t that flavor of Nerd (grape). Still, I was happy to, as they say (whoever they are) “give it the ole college try”. I was in college, for god’s sake - a senior coming up on my last semester - so really, giving it the ole college try was just a matter of giving it a try at all, and I was perfectly happy to boot it up in my dorm room to see what was what. You wouldn’t be wrong to argue that, with only a few months left of paradise, I should have treasured my remaining time and subbed out solo Playstation-ing for frisbee golf or frat parties or freestyle math (not real), but the only 20/20 sight I have looks backwards, and I still carried a pretty hot torch for Final Fantasy after VII through IX left their marks on me, so there I was: closing the door in my roommates’ faces to hang out with Vaan.
Vaan, incidentally, with his stupid, garish outfit and his frosted blonde haircut, reminded me right off the bat of a particular protagonist from an earlier entry in the series that I swore off talking about a few sentences back, so in some ways it’s remarkable that I even made it through the first hour. In the end, I persevered and somehow conquered the whole dirty business, but even in 2006 I’d have been hard pressed to describe the plot with any kind of detail or accuracy. I could have sketched out some vague details about Fran and her big rabbit ears and her metal thong bikini bottom, a menacing gaggle of British-accented judges in thousand-ton armor that obscured their faces and made them impossible to differentiate, and “deifacted nethicite” (lol), but that would have been the end of it. The gameplay was fine without being noteworthy - the quasi-MMORPG battle system was interesting and intricate but grindy on a punishing scale - and the environments looked decent but same-ish, so the feelings I was left with after I plowed through to the finish line were “meh” and “I should probably have been playing frisbee golf - I wonder if anyone wants to play frisbee golf?”
Why, then, in 2017, do I find myself playing this game again, especially when I so recently and publicly put this whole series on ice? Why did I feel the compulsion to repurchase a game (in a plastic case, this time) for which I harbored no secret fond feelings, especially given the bonanza of great, genuinely new alternatives vying for my time? I have a theory: it’s because my first playthrough inspired such heavy indifference, such heartfelt lukewarm-ness, that eleven years later, I wound up convincing myself that maybe I just didn’t “get it” during my first rodeo. Other games in the series at least had the decency to make me feel feelings, whether positive or negative: I loved Final Fantasy VII, I hated Final Fantasy XIII, I don’t want to talk about Final Fantasy X anymore, etc. Final Fantasy XII, though, just left me lobotomized. “Maybe as a grown-ass adult,” I must have subconsciously rationalized before purchasing the remake, “I’ll find the mature reserves deep within my aging brain to fully appreciate this game and its sober depiction of political turmoil and Men In Iron Masks and ‘deifacted nethicite’ (lol).”
To cut to the chase and spoil the ending: that’s not what happened, and I don’t think it’s my fault. The game is goddamn boring, and it always has been, and it always will be, forever and ever, amen. Twenty hours in, I find myself rushing through the towns and the story to get back to battling because I’m bored, and then rushing through battles to get back to the towns and the story because I’m bored, and neither mode is any fun, and it’s become clear that I’ve voluntarily dropped myself into a vortex, a flushing toilet bowl with nothing at the bottom but sadness. What’s more, I’ve devised a foolproof test that will assist in dodging bad gaming decisions in the future: if a game includes a fast-forward button that literally doubles or quadruples the game’s speed so that you can get through it faster - guess what? That game is boring. And the developer knows it.
Final Fantasy XII features one such fast-forward button, and it’s the only reason I’ve made it as far into the game as I have. Without that button, the cyclical monotony of showing up at the armor store over and over again with too few pieces of monster trash to exchange for the fancy duds my party deserves would have been too crushing. With that button, though, Vaan and friends can sprint recklessly across the plains in full-turbo, dispatching baddies as fast as they can respawn, snatching up loot and experience points while I lean back in my chair, frowning mightily at the whole spectacle. All they need from me is the occasional tilt of the joystick to point them towards unvanquished foes. They’re in autopilot, see, because I set up all their “gambits” - the if/then rules that govern their behavior - beforehand. To be fair, outside of the grindfest, it’s not uncommon to stumble upon a boss or a mark that requires those gambits be tweaked, and that’s where good, old-fashioned player input, the kind our grandmothers used to make, becomes necessary, but there’s a problem with that input, and it’s a recurring theme in Final Fantasy XII: it’s boring. It’s an interesting system, sure, and someone invested a hell of a lot of thought in developing it, but in practice it’s a total drag. Look past the noise and distraction and it’s clear that the most interactive, customizable part of the game is a dressed-up Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. I bet it could manage the server system of a Fortune 500 company like gangbusters, but no amount of lipstick on this pig helps it transcend chore-level drudgery when featured in a video game.
So here’s my point: developers need to be discriminating in their selection of remake/remaster candidates if they want their finished product to come across as more than a cynical cash grab. Sure, Final Fantasy XII got a handsome new coat of paint and some features that were previously unique to Japan, but maybe it should have been left alone as a curious relic of a unique, transitional time in gaming’s evolution. It has its legion of stout defenders, and bully for them, but my hot take is that the game a snooze-fest that encourages you to fast-forward through it like a bad commercial. The problem - and it’s a fatal one - is that there’s no good stuff to get to.
When he’s not chained to his desk during the workdays, Lewis Beard is a writer, gamer, and musician living in Atlanta, Georgia. You can read about Chick-fil-A experiments at run4itmarty.com, and you can bask in the sunshine of his music on Bandcamp.