If I had to describe Final Fantasy XII in two words, I would pick “fascinatingly flawed.” The game is like a junk sculpture: a grand amalgam of pieces that, individually, are often nothing special, and are often, well, junk. But sometimes, in the right light, from the right angle, these parts form a whole that pushes back all of your expectations, and, for a moment, appears to take a new form, alien and intriguing, moving as though alive. And in that next moment, a hunk shudders and falls away, and the illusion is broken again. I’d be very hesitant to call it a great game, and at times I’d balk at calling it a good game. But nonetheless, I found myself circling it, time and again, stalking that one special angle, hoping to get one more glimpse of a mystique I was certain it hid.
Then a character would open their stupid damn mouth, and the spell was shattered with my controller.
Around a year ago, I got the chance to play through a real oddity: the final, updated version of Final Fantasy XII, verbosely entitled the “International Zodiac Job System.” I was curious about the mechanical, gameplay-oriented changes, but in the back of my head, I think I’d decided I wanted to play the game one last time, and get it out of my system once and for all. This was a real pull for me; I’d played the game two or three times already, and not in a dabbling, skittish fashion. FFXII, as I’ll be abbreviating it from here on, is not a short, small game, and I had multiple times pressed it headfirst into my mouth and kept pushing its flailing mass until nothing remained of it. This, despite finding the game often infuriating, blatantly flawed in several easily— and widely— observed facets, and, by this time, offering extraordinarily little I wasn’t, by now, well familiar with. Little, but not nothing.
In embarking on my last great odyssey of mist and magicite, the imperial and the empyreal, I set out to record and, with luck, pin down, if even for a moment, this ephemeral but inexorable pull the game seemed to have had on me. In fits and starts, whenever I played the game, I jotted down my impressions of it, assuring myself that when I was done, I’d be left with a concise distillation of all my sophisticated impressions of a bizarre, many-splendored game of our yesteryear. Looking back on the final product, so many months after first embarking upon it, I am struck by what I see:
I have created absolutely nothing of value in this respect.
So I said in 2014.
A gentleman admits when he’s proven wrong: IZJS wasn’t the final version of Final Fantasy XII. Really, it was a pretty foolish thing to assume given Square-Enix’s track record of re-releases. Who re-releases old work just to add visual improvements for a new audience? Move on! Make something new, you hacks!
When it comes to my own work, my opinion’s a little more stubborn. In 2014, I regarded what I’d written as less of a junk sculpture and more as a dump. “Blackmail material,” I called it. A product of long, footsore hours and too much Monster Energy Drink® working themselves out in the wee hours of the morning, when I should have been getting a couple hours of sleep.
When I began posting it, the game and its concomitant complaints and controversies had long been laid to rest in favor of determining whether Final Fantasy XIII was currently killing the series and whether Final Fantasy XIV was currently killing the company. I shared it with no greater expectations than that doing so would grant me the sense of closure with the game I’d so far failed to find. I didn’t expect to “light the Internet on fire,” which is good, because it didn’t.
But there was some part of me that hoped someone else out there might share my complicated feelings on the game, or at least find some entertainment in a different perspective. For better or worse, the Internet excels at connecting people who are crazy in the same ways. I was cheered by those who endured my work, and never more grateful than when I was told I’d put into words the thoughts that others hadn’t been able to express themselves.
It’s in this spirit of profound gratitude that I reinaugurate this series. Seven years passed from when I first completed the game to when I completed my thoughts on it, and seven years more— to the month!— have passed from then to the writing of this new introduction. In seven more years, I hope to have laurels more recent and decent to rest upon. Until then, it’s my joy not to let this game off the hook just yet.
A warning: those seven years have somewhat distanced me from the subject… and, you might say, from the author. I haven’t played the game since then, and I succeeded in my quest to close my thoughts on it. I have not spent the last decade crystallizing further my thoughts on Final Fantasy XII, and whatever response or complaint you might have to this or that assertion or argument, or to the unreasonable extravagance of the obscenities and imprecations with which they are expressed, will be passed along to the responsible party as soon as the time-telegraph becomes affordable. To honor my host’s generosity, I have taken this opportunity to dispense with my old, flimsy excuses and edit the ramshackle old flophouse of an analysis more seriously than I had bothered previously. But I’ve no interest in expanding from revision into recreation, and in principle, it will be now as it was then, and what it was then.
Without further apology, I’ll close this new introduction now as I closed it years ago:
In sum, this [series] mirrors its subject in so many ways: there are severe pacing issues, the tone careens back and forth all over the place, the prose is in sore need of trimming, and I’m not sure the creator was paying much attention at times. If you assert that any section of it is reproachful or appalling, I may be hard-pressed to disagree. But in the end, it’s like a junk sculpture: a calamity of disparate elements, but sometimes, in a certain light…
The Travelog commences next week.
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