Today we're digging deep into the Final Fantasy XII Art Collection, an art book that came with the Bradygames collector's edition of the strategy guide.
I was blown away by the aesthetic and art style of Final Fantasy XII. Not since the magipunk stylings of FInal Fantasy VII had I been so invested in the art style of a Final Fantasy game, and it really boils down to two subjects: Airships, and Judges.
Airships remain one of the coolest and most fascinating parts of Final Fantasy XII. For the first time, a Final Fantasy game really explored the military and domestic uses of airships. Not only that, the airship designs themselves were incredibly cool. Take the Shiva: as an airship, she has streamlined tailfins and a graceful stern, which sharply contrasts with her blunt and warlike prow. At the other end of the style spectrum lies the Xezat Surgate, the resistance's flagship. Born from a chameleon's face and a slave galley's body, she stands out in stark contrast to the Shiva, Ifrit, and Leviathan's sleek curves. The airship designs set out to look cool, and they exceeded all expectations.
Speaking of cool, the Judges didn't even need to say anything to command attention. Re-watch the English trailer for the game, and skip to 0:50 in the video - can you remain unmoved? Five armored figures, marching to war with the Shiva rising behind them. It's the kind of cool that you see in 300, the kind of cool you see in V for Vendetta. It's obvious, but it's also extremely effective.
The art collection takes those production pieces and puts them in a single book. For production art, they're quite well detailed, rendered, and presented. Each character gets a full page, and some receive two or more. In typical Final Fantasy style, the book is clearly defined as Characters, People (extras and common folk), Airships, Espers, Weapons, and a few environment pieces. This is not Yoshitaka Amano's The Sky; this book is as much marketing material as it is art.
Still, the art that is in there is impressive. As I said, the airships get a significant portion of the book, with the espers and characters seeing a similar number of pages. The character details are all finished, with no concept or pre-production art, but the beginning of the book does show a few mood pieces for Ashe, Balthier, and the others. For cosplayers interested in Final Fantasy cosplay, this book is invaluable. You're unable to tell in the game what decoration Ashe has on the turn-down portion of her boots (it's a sort of stylized fleur de lis) or whether Balthier's sandals have a heel (they don't). But for designers or artists, these pieces may provide ideas, but they will not show the design process that went into each character.
Espers and airships are more interesting. Airships are something that screams Final Fantasy, and few other games attempt them in the same way. Seeing the individual struts of an airship, and where it turns into airy lace and where it has hard engines, is something that is much easier to see in the book than the game itself. Similarly, the espers are useful as comparisons to the Guardian Forces of FF VIII and the summons of FF VI, VII, IX, and X. Each iteration of Final Fantasy allows the art team to reimagine their summons, and with the Final Fantasy XII Art Collection, you can really see how they mixed golf leaf and inlaid decoration into almost every Esper.
If you're a fan of Final Fantasy, airships, or fantasy games in general, this is a worthy book. It's one of the better Final Fantasy art books that has come out in the United States. It does suffer from the same deficiency as a lot of Bradygames art books: a serious lack of commentary, discussion, or explanation of the art. There is practically no discussion about the pieces or the creative process behind the art. That's really a shame, because I would love to know why they took some summons and renamed them as Airships, or why Viera ears are so tall.
Lastly, there is additional art as part of the U.S. Collector's Edition of the game. I did not go into that art as it's on a DVD, but you can see many pieces of it online, or through the Collector's Edition DVD.