Beyond Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age’s playful mask, beyond the surface of its nostalgic appearance and its carefree attitude, there is an additional layer that underlines the game’s hopeless notion, its desperate loneliness. While every other feature of the game suggests some kind of hope and a future for Dalmasca, there are some places in which the emptiness cannot be overlooked and, as will be discussed henceforward, this is a relevant aspect of the game’s reception.
Whether you played the original game or not, once you play the first hours of Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age, you are supposed to believe that the vivid colours can be the eventually overpowering force, withstanding the empire’s conquest of Ivalice. Although the citizens of Rabanastre have suffered, the game wants you to believe that the protagonists can be the vengeance and will stop the war that divides the continent. The game constructs this idea of the rightful heroes on their quest, of a land that retained its rapture.
However, even the cheerful soundtrack cannot conceal the empty deserts and streets. The remake of Final Fantasy 12 highlights the lack of textures and, even more important, the lack of diverse NPCs in every area. This is by no means something lamentable, but arguably a deliberate choice that conveys a sense of senselessness and offers an additional layer to the game, which makes it so brilliant. Said additional layer is the sublime and it can be experienced many times throughout the game, taking on different forms. Whether it is the sheer size of an area and the feeling of being lost, not being in control of the situation, the view over something so isolated and lonely that it becomes unbearable, or the notion of hopelessness during an endless wander – there are no boundaries within the realm of the sublime, it all depends on the player’s reaction to the terror he or she witnesses while sitting safely in front of a screen and realising that there is no immediate danger.
Loneliness and hopelessness are especially evident in Nabudis, an abandoned city, which used to be the capital of the once flourishing kingdom of Nabradia. The city has been destroyed by the power of the necithite and the havoc caused by the corruption of Ivalice’s most powerful people left the city in ruins. It slowly submerges, making the narrow corridors almost impassable. There are no survivors and those, whose souls were unlucky enough to be imprisoned there forever, haunt the city. Nabudis is an optional place, players are free to enter the city and the adjacent Nabreus Deadlands, but never forced to do so. You have to explore and look closely to witness the sublime, the game is careful to not give away its best feature easily.
Another area, where vastness and despair are inevitable, is the sandsea, which exhibits nothing but sand and industrial buildings that are on the verge of being perished by the sand. One cannot help but feel small and marginal considering the endless desert that extends beyond the horizon. The mines are opposed to the greatness of the sandsea. They were abandoned long ago and are now inhabited by monsters. They are vestiges of exploitation and devastation, witnesses of the corruption that led to the ongoing war. The magic responsible for the fate of so many was collected here and later synthesized. Both places are lost, the only life there is hostile and one gets lost easily. Moreover, the places demonstrate human’s incapability to handle great power and live symbiotically with nature, also alluding to the vastness of the world and the feeling of being thunderstruck by the sight of those gigantic areas. A similar effect can be recognized in the crystal in Giruvegan. There is no map, all passages look identical. Albeit the player sits at home, knowing that there is no danger lurking behind the next corner, one’s anticipation triggers the sublime and eventually leads to the acknowledgement of the crystal’s magnitude the player is confronted with.
The notions of hopelessness and vastness can be found in many places, but none of them expresses the combination of pain and pleasure as well as the following: The Ridorana Cataract is an isolated construct, far away from humanity and luring the player further and further into a maze of abominations, nightmares and dangers. The incomprehensible size of Pharos, the tower overlooking the Cataract, leads to another kind of terror. Even with all their powers, the protagonists barely stand a chance when they face enemies and situations the game avoided thus far. At one point, to proceed in the tower requires the loss of abilities and a distortion of the map. Some areas in the game unfold in front of the player’s eyes, but instead of offering a way out, they confuse players and invite them to get lost in the multitude of possibilities – Pharos showcases this excellently. Apart from the terror within the tower, the Ridorana Cataract itself, which appears calm and peaceful, is home of the strongest enemy in the game, Yiazmat. Even enabling this fight takes numerous hours (as it includes fighting other very powerful monsters and finding rare items) while the fight itself might take several hours. The Ridorana Cataract and Pharos thus signify a place where all hope is lost.
The decay of values and civilization seems to be omnipresent and although our heroes attempt to stop this abominable process, the world conveys a feeling of utter despair and vastness, contrasting the soundtrack and at times even the plot and dialogues. After all, the game wants to motivate players and this is certainly not achieved by telling them that there is no point in fighting for the good cause. However, the game expresses its nihilistic and even misanthropic attitude subtly, hinting at themes like loneliness and magnitude here and there. Subsequently, terror lingers over the otherwise carefree game, yet this results in a cohesive experience and ends with a happy ending and a relieved player. In the end, a weird form of pleasure is derived from the vague taste of loneliness and the aesthetic value of the sublime that permeate Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age.