Developed from 2001 to 2006, Final Fantasy XII cost approximately 4 billion Japanese yen (35 million USD) to produce with a crew of more than one hundred people.
Final Fantasy XII released two years later than planned, and its delay pushed Final Fantasy XIII to become a next-gen project for PlayStation 3. The executive producer, Akitoshi Kawazu, has said in an interview that back in 2000 when Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XII were announced as being in the planning stages, Final Fantasy X was announced as an offline game while the games Final Fantasy XI onwards would be online games. During the development of Final Fantasy XII, that changed, but, just from the early planning stages the team intended Final Fantasy XII to be a different experience from Final Fantasy X.
Final Fantasy XII has two re-releases: the Japan-exclusive International Zodiac Job System and The Zodiac Age, an HD remaster for PlayStation 4, which was later also brought to other platforms, the Xbox One and Nintendo Switch versions receiving further enhancements to functionality. The Zodiac versions a new take on the License Board system, with twelve boards instead of one, each corresponding to a different zodiac sign and job.
Yasumi Matsuno, originally announced as both producer and director, bowed out of both roles before the game was released. The official reason given for his departure was health concerns. On February 25, 2010, Matsuno spoke out on his departure from the Final Fantasy XII project on his Twitter page, stating that while he had been sick, he had nevertheless let down the Square Enix staff, shareholders, and fans who had been looking forward to the game.
In Matsuno's place, Hiroyuki Ito and Hiroshi Minagawa took over directorial duties, with Akitoshi Kawazu assuming the role of the executive producer. Matsuno remains credited for "Original Work/Scenario Plot/Supervision". The game continued to follow on the same track after Matsuno left. The playable version of the game had been shown at E3, and at that point it was a matter of polishing up the final product.
Characters and story
In early stages of development the main character was to be "big and tough", but as development continued and targeting demographics were considered, he became more youthful. With the casting of voice actor Kohei Takeda, who also did motion capture for the part, he became less so and more "active, upbeat, bright and positive", all traits that characterize Vaan. The change in lead character happened early on in development. In terms of the story, there were slight changes as to which character would appear at which stage, but nothing that would change the plot drastically.
Akitoshi Kawazu, the game's executive producer, has later admitted he thought the game is not perfect. The team received fan feedback after the game was released in Japan, and there were players who felt the story wasn't up to the series's standards. Kawazu said it is because of the way the games are made, the story itself is decided early on and the process of getting that realized makes it difficult to change along the way. Kawazu noted there are things he personally would have liked to change, but, practically speaking, they couldn't. Many players have compared the story of Final Fantasy XII to that of Star Wars, but that wasn't a conscious decision during development. The goal was to create an easy-to-understand plot. However, it has been noted that the plot similarities originate from The Hidden Fortress, the 1958 Akira Kurosawa film that inspired Star Wars.
The logo features Judge Gabranth in blue and purple, with a peach-colored brushstroke on the right. During the time the series's veteran image illustrator, Yoshitaka Amano, created the logo illustration, there was a bit of a distance between his office and the Square Enix office, and he drew up another piece while the Square representative was on the way to pick up the pieces. The one drawn within that hour was the one that ended up being chosen. Amano used Japanese-style ink that was kind of like watercolor, leaving brush marks that led to the the touch and style of that particular piece. Amano has described the forward-thinking brush effect as something that can only come about spontaneously, and said that logos don't necessarily come about following the request.
Despite the struggles that beset the team, the final product closely resembles the team's original creative vision. Gambits and the open world design were part of the plan since early on, but the hardest part of the project was working with the memory capacity of the PlayStation 2 to achieve seamless battles that take place on the field.
Hiroyuki Ito was in charge of creating the battle system and his motivation for the gambit system was to create a "single-player online game" where the player would have independently acting party members who would still perform the way the player wanted them to. The gambit system works on the same basic programming algorithms used for the monsters in the SNES Final Fantasy games. At the time, some people in the development team were concerned about whether the PlayStation 2 could pull it off, as Final Fantasy XII was more complicated compared to Final Fantasy X.
Because the game allows the player to swap the party's reserve and active members at any time, at the start of every cut scene, there are several conditions the game has to take into account. Granting the player's control over the game's artificial intelligence behavior also posed challenges, as party members with active gambits might wander off and trigger a cutscene unintended. Despite the system being a challenge, the team never explored the idea of having the players issue individual commands. Even if there wasn't an intentional sharing of concepts with Final Fantasy XII, at the time, a lot of the staff was playing Final Fantasy XI, and many players have noted similarities.
The driving design philosophy behind the game was to have players exploring a world. As walking around a town has people standing around, the developers wanted there to be the same experience when going through a desert with monsters roaming about. Since that was the type of gameplay the developers wanted to provide, a real-time battle system that got rid of random encounters was chosen.
Final Fantasy XII was initially planned to have a job system, but the idea was scrapped when the developers thought it might be too overwhelming to players in lieu of the gambit system being introduced, so the idea was condensed into a License Board system. However, players did not respond to the License Board system as anticipated, and the team returned to their previous idea of using a job system in the Zodiac Job System version.
One intended theme for the gameplay was to add a feeling of finality and destiny, where the player may or may not end up with the best results. This is reflected with the random treasure chests, as well as perhaps the fact that the game's ultimate weapon is easily missed. The developers did not intend players to unlock every license for every character, but plan different paths for each. In retrospect these ideas did not end up working as planned, as many players kept trying at the same treasures until they got the item they wanted, and many players unlocked all licenses in order, essentially making the player characters clones of each other. Some of these ideas were rectified in the Zodiac Job System version.
When writing music for a movie, the timings are fixed and you can write things very precisely to match each and every cue. Writing for games is very different. Although the music can't always be written to match the scene you have much more time to develop themes and impressions over the course of the game. Using sounds, melodies and chords you can control the impact this has on the player.Hitoshi Sakimoto
Hitoshi Sakimoto composed the game's music while Nobuo Uematsu contributed a single composition—the vocal theme, "Kiss Me Good-Bye", performed by Angela Aki. Renowned violinist Taro Hakase provided performances for Symphonic Poem "Hope", which served as a promotional theme along with "Kiss Me Good-Bye". Angela Aki was approached by Uematsu and Square Enix team, asking if she would be interested in singing the theme for Final Fantasy XII. When Aki heard the song Mr. Uematsu has written, she was deeply moved. Uematsu wanted Aki to write lyrics to it, and first thing in her mind upon hearing the melody was a scene of a new journey after good-bye, and so she structured the lyrics based on it. "Kiss Me Good-Bye" was the first song written specifically for the Final Fantasy XII soundtrack.
Yasumi Matsuno chose Sakimoto to compose the music. Sakimoto described the project as "huge", and that he was nervous about it. The main Final Fantasy series up until Final Fantasy XII had been known for Nobuo Uematsu's music, and Sakimoto was originally wondering whether he should try to emulate Uematsu's previous work or not. After considering the situation Sakimoto decided to go with his own style.
Before starting, Sakimoto already knew where the song "Kiss Me Good-Bye" was going to be used in the game, and how the song was going to sound, so he took that into consideration. By the time Sakimoto joined in the project, the basic battle parts had already been in the works and the storyline and character settings had been done. Sakimoto discussed some basic principles with Matsuno, such as the atmosphere that the music needed to create and the characters' emotional changes, and created the tracks following these principles.
Early on it was decided that the game's music would use a fundamental orchestra form, not because of the image of the game itself, but to avoid a particular kind of arrangement that can be created by an unbalanced orchestration with use of folk instruments. Because battles take place on the field instead of in a separate battle screen like in previous Final Fantasy titles, Sakimoto was initially unsure whether he should put the music's emphasis on battle or exploration.
Ultimately, Sakimoto decided to try to match the game's music to each location, a strategy that would convey the atmosphere regardless of whether the player is engaged in battle. As a result, many pieces alternate between being bombastic and quiet.
The music in the opening and the ending were recorded live and have been fully mixed to support Dolby Pro Logic. Most of the music uses the console's internal sound chip. Sakimoto didn't want the game's overall mood to be too dark, so he tried to incorporate elements to keep things lighter. He names the "Cerobi Steppe" as his favorite piece from the soundtrack.
Almost an entire year before the North American release, the game's playable demo was included along with the North American release of Dragon Quest VIII.
From the dialogue to the flavor text to the menus, everything was translated by two people: Alexander O. Smith and Joseph Reeder. Smith had previously worked on the localization for Vagrant Story as well as several other Final Fantasy installments, including Final Fantasy X. The voice overs were directed by Jack Fletcher, who had previously directed the voice overs for other Final Fantasy games.
The game about halfway complete when the localization process started in earnest, taking two years to complete. By the time localization started the original director Matsuno was already out of the picture and thus has no influence on the localization. Smith was tasked with writing the script around the lip movements animated for the Japanese version, but the game would still have the same audio file length restriction that had been a problem with Final Fantasy X, where the audio files must be the same length in both Japanese and English. However, the English voice work is smoother in Final Fantasy XII because Smith was prepared for this being an issue, and had the Japanese developers add couple seconds of blank sound to every scene to allow for some wiggle room.
The voice script was slightly smaller than the one in Final Fantasy X, but the non-voiced was large. Writing the voiced script took 9 months and was still only 10% of the total text; translating the rest of the game took 5 months. Because the game was still in active development, new text kept arriving during the work, but because the English version had as much time to be translated as the Japanese script had time to be written, the localized version could be polished.
Dialogue was translated first as it requires more time to get right, and helps set the tone for the world. The movie and scenario dialogue tends to be completed first in the Japanese version due to recording schedules, and similarly needs to be done first in the English for recording. The recording proceeded during the middle of the project, after which the translators returned to finish the rest of the text.
While the medieval tone comes from the original game, the localizers could decide on the specific accents the characters would use and voice models were used to guide the writing: Vaan was Leonardo DiCaprio from the Titanic, Balthier was Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings and Fran was the Icelandic singer Bjork. While everyone in the Japanese version speaks with unaccented, standard Japanese, the translators have explained that it doesn't make sense in the context of a global story to use the same accent of English everywhere.
Since the Japanese text lacked specific accents, the localizers had to derive them from the Ivalician mannerisms and culture. Thus the viera became Icelandic to give their speech an alien quality. To avoid stereotypical Indian accents for Bhujerba, a Sri Lankan accent was chosen. Following the "rule of Star Wars" the Empire is British and the rebels American.
While Japanese games are often comfortable breaking immersion to deliver in-game information, this aspect was to be "Westernized". For example, in one place in Rabanastre where Vaan encounters a chocobo vendor, the Japanese had the vendor explain the yellow birds are chocobos that can be ridden. As Vaan, a street-wise orphan, would know what a chocobo is, the English version instead has the vendor lamenting that some guy rode off on one of her chocobos without paying, to deliver the same information more fluidly. Other differences include the Victorian-styled bestiary that reads more like a biology text book in Japanese, and using metered verse with an unusual rhyme scheme for the speech of the godlike Occuria.
The voice recording was done in Los Angeles under the direction of Jack Fletcher in eight weeks. Smith and Reeder sent descriptions to Fletcher who did casting and voice direction, and sent the translators options fro which they picked from. The development team had a final check and veto power, but never disagreed with the translators' choices. The localization team argued for nine to ten weeks to finish, and ended up recording from morning to eve with many nighttime sessions.
The translators did not want to use the "go-to anime voice actors", especially for the Judges who wear masks, and thus didn't need the voice actors to be able to match the lip animations. Stage actors were auditioned for the parts, many of whom had never done voice acting before. The localization team valued great character actors, like John DiMaggio, and have actual young actors as the voices for kids, like Larsa, rather than use adult women for the child parts as is common in Japan.
The voice recording for Final Fantasy XII has been compared to doing a play or a film script, being different from a regular JRPG voice recording. Ivalice was to be a classical sort of world with Shakespearean and Greek influences, and the cut scenes were both relationship- and action-oriented, and key to the story. As with almost all games, the script wasn't released ahead of time and all the actors knew were the character names and a few lines of description. Fletcher as the voice director guided the actors in the game world in filling in backstory and setting and helped make the localization from Japanese to English. In games, and often in regular animation, actors record individually. The team had dialogue already recorded the other actors could follow, and never did a "cast record."
The English voice work for Final Fantasy XII has been highly acclaimed and both Smith and Reeder identify it as the highpoint of their careers, with Fletcher naming it his favorite game he's worked on due to the story and the characters.
Changes to the game's North American version include the addition of widescreen 16:9 support, and additional scenes and content that were left out of the Japanese version, due to rating issues. The scene where Penelo is tied up in Ba'Gamnan's Lhusu Mines hideout was cut from the original Japanese version of the game to get a lower rating. Producer Akitoshi Kawazu has explained the decision to do this thusly: "[...] at the time right before the Japanese release there were various incidents in the real world which...basically there were some similarities there that would have made it a difficult thing to release at the lower age rating that we wanted."
This is a rare case of a Final Fantasy game being censored for Japan, but not for overseas versions. The "incidents in the real world" Kawazu refers to, but does not specify, may refer to Tsutomu Miyazaki, a Japanese serial killer who abducted and murdered four young girls in Saitama and Tokyo Prefectures from August 1988 to June 1989. His death sentence was upheld by the Japanese supreme court in January 2006, two months before Final Fantasy XII came out.
- The making of Final Fantasy 12 (Accessed: August 22, 2018) at Polygon
- Square Talks Firsts for Final Fantasy XII (Accessed: August 22, 2018) at IGN
- Final Fantasy 12 Devs Explain Why It's Re-emerging After 11 Years (Accessed: August 22, 2018) at GameSpot
- Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age Review (Accessed: August 22, 2018) at Gamereactor
- Final Fantasy 12 The Zodiac Age review - A chance to revisit a much-overlooked classic (Accessed: August 31, 2019) at Express
- The Art That Shaped Final Fantasy: Thoughts From Famed Artist Yoshitaka Amano (Accessed: August 22, 2018) at Game Informer
- E3 2006: Interview with the Final Fantasy XII Staff (Accessed: November 27, 2018) at IGN UK
- Final Fantasy's Hiroyuki Ito and the Science of Battle (dead) (Accessed: November 30, 2016) at 1UP.com
- Q&A: Final Fantasy XII producer Akitoshi Kawazu (Accessed: August 22, 2018) at GameSpot
- The trials, tribulations, and Trial Mode of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (Accessed: January 30, 2019) at Retronauts
- Final Fantasy XII International Zodiac Job System Ultimania, p.323-327 (translation)
- Twelve Days Of Final Fantasy: Angela Aki Interview Part 1 (Accessed: August 22, 2018) at IGN
- Final Fantasy XII Hitoshi Sakimoto Interview (dead) (Accessed: June 14, 2016) at 1UP.com
- Twelve Days of Final Fantasy XII: Hitoshi Sakimoto Interview Part I (Accessed: August 22, 2018) at IGN
- Final Fantasy XII Collector's Edition Bonus DVD
- A Voice for Ivalice: The Localization and Voice Acting of Final Fantasy XII (Accessed: August 22, 2018) at USgamer
- EDGE #278 Tale of Tales Meet Alexander O Smith the translator who's brought some of Japan's biggest RPGs to the West, p.94-95