Fighting Final Fantasy XII - Episode 2: If This Game Is Basically Anime Star Wars, Why Don't I Like It More?

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Author's Note: Episode 1: Why, Oh Why, Is Vaan The Protagonist?

Part 12: A Lot Of This Game Sure Does Look The Same

This is exactly how everyone should talk to Vaan during the story.
This is exactly how everyone should talk to Vaan during the story.

Level with me for a bit, Final Fantasy XII showcases a myriad of spectacular environments throughout its story. While not on par with Final Fantasy IX or X, it features a diverse assortment of memorable set pieces as the characters move from one plot beat to the next. Throughout your journey, you witness dozens of races and societies each with their own distinct culture. However, the game rarely uses these set pieces to its advantage. More often than not, your interactions with these environments devolve into grinding against trash mobs in caves and dungeons. I cannot help but view this structure as game design malfeasance.

Before anyone chimes in with a witty retort, I understand the Final Fantasy games are dungeon crawlers at heart. Nonetheless, previous entries in the series have done a better job about scaffolding worldbuilding while exploring even the most benign locations. Say what you will about the Cloisters in Final Fantasy X, but at least each of those felt like a treck through an alien world. Plus, they felt deeply integrated within the mythos of the narrative. With Final Fantasy XII, especially during its opening hours, the dungeons feel tacked on. In the first five hours, every underground environment appears to be a different permutation of the same desert-themed cave.

Unless you like
Unless you like "Earth Tones," I doubt you are jumping for joy over these dungeons.

This point highlights a significant disconnect that plagues large swaths of Final Fantasy XII. Which is to say, the environments do not lend themselves to the game's epic mood and tone. Take, for example, the scene following your dramatic escape from the Nalbina Dungeons. After navigating two sets of similar looking underground passageways, the game unceremoniously returns you to the Dalmasca Estersand. There's no pomp or circumstance, and the game drops you into this environment with no sense of where you need to go next. I understand the designers wanted to provide the player with "breathing room," but like many of its predecessors, Final Fantasy XII struggles during its transitional chapters.

Final Fantasy XII's juxtapositional issues worsen during its climactic bookends. For example, after you fight Judge Ghis, you are graced with an elongated fetch quest. Worse, this specific questline requires you to traverse through TWO open-world desert levels! Talk about knocking the wind out of your sails! Time and time again, this game doesn't use its eclectic mix of environments to reinforce its story. Quite the opposite, the settings feel like they are entirely in service of the gameplay.

Part 13: Why Does The Story Slow To A Crawl?

I bet y'all forgot about these oddly placed dream sequences involving Vaan!
I bet y'all forgot about these oddly placed dream sequences involving Vaan!

We now return to our regularly scheduled program at the Nalbina Dungeons. After Vaan awakens from his stupor, our plucky protagonist finds himself in a maximum security prison. Several of the dungeons' convicts disclose that no one has successfully escaped from the torturous complex. Of course, this point means we will miraculously find a way to break out within two hours. Nonetheless, I loved the worldbuilding found in this level. You discover it is a lower portion of Nalbina Fortress that the Imperials now use to house political dissidents. Several of the prisoners are guilty of offenses like running a resistance newspaper or sneezing at an inopportune time.

Furthermore, there are several fun character bits while you attempt an escape from the prison. The introduction of Basch is the bread and butter of the location, but there are other amusing moments to enjoy. Balthier maintains his usual swagger but shows his heart of gold when Vaan finds himself surrounded. Alternatively, the interplay between Balthier and Fran continues to be delightful. The two talk to each other respectfully and you understand they have a longstanding working connection. Which reminds me, I enjoy how most of the relationships do not require full-blown origin stories that absorb hours of your time. In this case, Fran and Balthier are friends and the details of how are not disclosed for the time being.

I fucking love Balthier so goddamned much!
I fucking love Balthier so goddamned much!

Speaking of which, I guess we need to talk about Fran. As you may recall, I have been punting sharing my thoughts about Fran and will continue doing so until we reach her homecoming at Eruyt Village. Until then, I will reiterate what I said in the previous episode. Fran's voice actor does an outstanding job, but her character model is rancid. Every time she is in a cutscene, the game cannot hesitate to zoom in on her bottom or chest. On top of that, she looks ridiculous. Who thought it was acceptable to have her running around in high heels and a bikini? Alternatively, the game takes its sweet-ass time to develop her relationship with Balthier which stagnates her character progression until the game's twilight hours.

On the other hand, Balthier is a consistent ray of sunshine. With your options limited; Balthier's cavalier attitude holds your attention as the story plods along. If there's one criticism to be had, it's Balthier's trope laden nature during the initial chapters. Specifically, the similarities between Balthier and Han Solo are too numerous to list. Moreover, while I appreciate the thought, Balthier too often takes the piss out of the other characters. The use of this trope is acceptable when Balthier is shit-canning Vaan. However, it's wholly inappropriate when Balthier tries to have the last word while Asche or Basch are attempting to brainstorm the party's next steps.

A wild Darth Vader appears!
A wild Darth Vader appears!

Which leads me to an issue: I think Final Fantasy XII overstays its welcome. Let's stop and look at why we are in the Nalbina Dungeons from a storytelling perspective. From that vantage point, we are here to pick up Basche and observe the Archadian Judges. Why in the world does the game force you through two distinct dungeons? Flat out, I HATED playing Final Fantasy XII from here to the Shiva. First, the forced grinding does nothing to build upon the tone of the story, nor does it reinforce our interest in the characters. Second, it causes large swaths of the game to screech to a halt. Later, after you escape the Shiva upon its self-implosion, you stomach through FIVE FUCKING open-world levels before any part of the mainline narrative kicks into gear. That is not pacing; that is Square not knowing how to string together a story!

Part 14: The First Dungeons Are A Massive Drag

Speaking about the dungeons, let's talk about them for a bit. They are long, tedious, and no fucking fun to play. More often than not, they are designed to bake grinding into the core of Final Fantasy XII. Enemies respawn, and most of the underground vaults feature multiple layers. In other words, it takes FOREVER to make even marginal progress. This problem is worse during the first hours of Final Fantasy XII because your available gambits and party compositions are limited. What is more, several of the jobs are hours away from being able to hold their own in combat.

Hey, maybe put the most wanted man in Ivalice under constant watch to prevent his escape? Just an idea!
Hey, maybe put the most wanted man in Ivalice under constant watch to prevent his escape? Just an idea!

To compound my frustrations, my struggles with several of the mechanics worsened. In case you were not aware, my party compositions are not exactly "perfect." If you want a reference, here they are:

  1. Ashe - Black Mage & Monk
  2. Balthier - Foebreaker & Shikari (Ninja)
  3. Basch - Archer & Red Mage
  4. Fran - Uhlan (Dragoon) & Time Mage
  5. Penelo - White Mage & Machinist
  6. Vaan - Samurai & Knight

I feel confident about my set-up for Vaan, Balthier, and Ashe. Unfortunately, everyone else is stuck with the leftovers. It's worth noting; I made some SIGNIFICANT blunders during my second gameplay session. First, I thought if you purchased weapon licenses, they would appear in the appropriate marketplaces. That is not the case, and as a result, several of my characters have weapon slots that will go unused for hours, if not, forever. Second, some of the license slots are utter gobbledygook. Seriously, what the fuck is "Green Magic?" When did that become a thing in Final Fantasy?

Just look at the equipment screen! Look at how busy it is!
Just look at the equipment screen! Look at how busy it is!

I mention my struggles in part because they highlight Final Fantasy XII's almost impenetrable nature. As I stated in the first blog, too much of this game feels like "Trial By Fire: The Video Game." The tutorials fail to review essential concepts and don't clue you into the possible pitfalls of your choices. The fact the game does not coherently warn you cannot reverse job assignments is one such example. Not to mention, the combat running in real-time makes learning on the fly all the harder. When in battle, I often struggled to overcome even the simplest mistakes. The unfortunate result is I have yet to play the game without feeling overwhelmed.

Now that you've listened to me rant let's discuss our motley crew's dramatic exit from the Nalbuiuna Dungeons. After Balthier saves Vaan's ass during a gladiatorial battle, they identify the presence of an Archadian Judge. Balthier surmises the appearance of this judge means Basch is somewhere nearby. After a bit of sleuthing, they discover Basch hanging in a cage. Once everyone trades barbs with Basch, they use the enclosure to crash to the basement of the dungeon. What ensues next is one of the most asinine dungeons in Final Fantasy history.

Oh boy, it's my favorite Final Fantasy trope! Switch puzzles in an underground dungeon!
Oh boy, it's my favorite Final Fantasy trope! Switch puzzles in an underground dungeon!

Good God, some of the dungeons in Final Fantasy XII are downright indomitable. The caves in the Barheim Passage are long, monotonous, and littered with respawning enemies. In other words: it's zero fun to play. It, unfortunately, follows a formula I know too well. Each location has a set of levers that need to be switched to alleviate an environmental barrier blocking the player's progress. On top of that, the level ends with a boss battle that feels entirely disconnected from the mainline story.

Worth mentioning, this location features our first mission involving Basch. It's supposed to be an exciting prison break, but you wouldn't know that from playing the game. Despite this fascinating premise, Final Fantasy XII whittles away your patience with endless amounts of grinding. Worse, there's no sense of stakes as you toil away in the inner depths of the prison. While most games implore you to escape a prison post-haste, Final Fantasy XII does no such thing. The only attempt to add some much-needed variety comes in the final level where players stop electricity eating monsters from turning the lights off. This "minigame," if we can even call it that, sucks shit.

Part 15: Let's Talk About Final Fantasy XII's Identity Crisis

Hooray! It's a new color palette to a dungeon level!
Hooray! It's a new color palette to a dungeon level!

What I find especially disappointing about Final Fantasy XII's early worldbuilding, is how inconsequential it feels. You spend the better part of an hour in the Nalbina Dungeons and Barheim Passage, but neither feels especially worthwhile. Sure, the central atrium of the prison underscores the harsh realities of Imperial rule, but it doesn't feel like an organic ecosystem. It, like most of the dungeons, is an immersion breaking reminder that you are playing a video game. In these scripted sequences, you don't learn about a long-forgotten culture or society. Most of the dungeons are designed to be in service of Final Fantasy XII's grind-heavy mechanics.

Regardless, after you defeat the Mimic Queen, the depths of the Barheim Passage begin to collapse. When everyone exits the cave unscathed, they discover they are in the middle of the Dalmasca Estersand. As they celebrate their newfound freedom, Balthier suggests they make the trek back to Rabanastre. At this point, the game opens up its world to the player. They can either return to Rabanastre or tend to other matters. It's during these "quiet moments" when the player can peruse side quests and optional locations, though, at this point in the story, their choices are limited.

I know this is a weird thing to ask, and this is the only screencap that shows it, but is Basch wearing a thong? I'm asking for a friend.
I know this is a weird thing to ask, and this is the only screencap that shows it, but is Basch wearing a thong? I'm asking for a friend.

Many an intellectual has debated the merits of calling Final Fantasy XII an "open world" game. I would err in calling it a half-measured step towards Final Fantasy XIV. This odd structure is why I think Final Fantasy XII has an "identity crisis." The game has a unique story the player has little to no agency in directing. Nonetheless, large swaths of your time consist of navigating vast expanses and attending to the needs of NPCs. As I continue to play Final Fantasy XII, it appears stuck between two distinct eras of Square-Enix. While the story opines for the epic fantasy storytelling from Square's past; the gameplay feels and plays like a failed MMORPG project.

Final Fantasy XII never seems to shake this apparent disconnect. This malady is why I think it drags significantly. The mainline story can only justify a thirty to forty-hour video game experience, but there's at least seventy-hours worth of gameplay in Final Fantasy XII. It's during these irrationally long journeys from one vast wasteland to the next when I felt the game's length. Rarely do the open-world sequences have an overt connection to the progression of the main story. That shit might fly in an MMORPG, but in a single-player RPG with a linear story, it leads to unbearable "dead time."

Aw, cool! I get to fight desert critters for the nineteenth million time! Thanks, game designers! (Also: Totally a thong!)
Aw, cool! I get to fight desert critters for the nineteenth million time! Thanks, game designers! (Also: Totally a thong!)

This structure is why I think Final Fantasy XII is in dire need of focus. If it wants to have an epic fantasy storyline, then everything in the world should reinforce that theme. If the game wants to revert the series to its job-focused roots, then the environments should play into mechanical experimentation. Unfortunately, Square-Enix tries to do both in Final Fantasy XII, and the results are "mixed." I struggle to get immersed in the narrative because it unfolds at a snail's pace. However, it is hard to enjoy the gameplay because everything feels like busywork.

Which leads me to another issue: the fact there's no experience point sharing in Final Fantasy XII is a consistent bummer. Why the game shares License Points between characters, but not experience points is one of life's greatest mysteries. Time and time again, I feel I have to rotate less optimized party members into the fold. This situation worsens with characters whose jobs have yet to gain access to essential weapons or items that make them worth a fuck in combat. The Ninja and Uhlan classes are the clearest examples, but even the magic-based jobs take FOREVER to bear fruit.

Part 16: Hooray! It's a New Environment! But Aw Shit, It Devolves Into Another Dungeon

Maybe it's just a weird looking codpiece, but I honestly cannot stop thinking about this shit now.
Maybe it's just a weird looking codpiece, but I honestly cannot stop thinking about this shit now.

We transition to another chapter of Final Fantasy XII's story. I will give credit where credit is due; Final Fantasy XII has plenty of great character moments. Balthier is the perfect foil to Basch, and Vaan is at his most tolerable when he's interacting with other cast members. When the script allows the characters to talk to one another, the world of Ivalice starts to shine. In these conversations, you learn more about the world and its current state of affairs. However, herein lies another problem: Final Fantasy XII's narrative is "busy."

To illustrate, the moment your party enters the gates of Rabanastre, they break up and the story fractures with them. When Vaan is left to think to himself, he endeavors to reconnect with Penelo but discovers pirates have kidnapped her. For the next chapter, rescuing Penelo is our objective. While this adventure plays out, the game inundates us with FOUR new plotlines on top of the general theme of ending the Imperial occupation. Those arcs include Basch needing to prove his innocence; Vaan squashing his beef with Basch; finding out a use for the recently acquired stone from the royal palace; reconnecting with "Amalia" and her Resistance. That's too much storytelling for an expertly crafted magnum opus, let alone a Final Fantasy game.

Final Fantasy XII, more than any Final Fantasy game I have played, manages to use its anime sensibilities for something good.
Final Fantasy XII, more than any Final Fantasy game I have played, manages to use its anime sensibilities for something good.

Above all, the writing does not commit enough to any of these individual story arcs. In particular, when Basch strikes up a conversation with Vaan, Vaan absolves him of his brother's death. At no point do we have a clear understanding of what tips Vaan into his change of heart, only that it happens and it cannot unhappen. Likewise, it is obvious the Resistance does not trust Basch given his interactions with Vossler. Nevertheless, Vossler and company tag along with Basch with nary a complaint. The worse is yet to come when Ashe suddenly accepts Basch into her movement after leveling a single charge of treason. These cases are examples of Square-Enix not fully understanding how to best move Final Fantasy XII's story from one point to the next.

No matter, after we tie up some loose ends, our company sets off for the "Skycity of Bhujerba." I want to clarify that I like Bhujerba and found it a refreshing change of pace in comparison to the desert wastelands from before. However, after a breathtaking introduction, your activities in the kingdom boil down to sleuthing through ANOTHER abandoned mining facility. I kid you not, after two GORGEOUS CG cutscenes, you hook up with Larsa, and toil away in a literal salt mine! Within five minutes of setting foot on Bhujerba, the game throws you into another gameplay loop!

I love how every cutscene shows magicite jutting from the ground, but you rarely see that when you explore the proper city.
I love how every cutscene shows magicite jutting from the ground, but you rarely see that when you explore the proper city.

Even more, Final Fantasy XII starts spewing a mountain of proper nouns. In this case, we discover Bhujerba is situated on top of the best "magicite" in all of Ivalice and is under the governance of a "Maquis." Larsa wants to visit the Lhusu Mines in a quest to find "manufactured nethicite." As he explains, magicite exudes magical energy, whereas nethicite absorbs it. We also discover the glowing stone Vaan picked up at the royal palace is "deifacted nethicite." What does any of this mean? I HAVE NO FUCKING CLUE! There are like ten magical MacGuffins in this game, and none of them make any sense!

All of this narrative nitpicking makes Final Fantasy XII's grind-heavy focus all the more awkward. With a dozen proper nouns whizzing past you, the game doesn't give you enough time to absorb your change of scenery. In actuality, it does the opposite. The game instead funnels you down a multi-tier dungeon populated by a total of FIVE distinct enemy types. Your progression down this monotonous mine system doesn't add to the characters or story. It is here because the developers can think of no other way to string together Final Fantasy XII's set pieces.

I swear, sometimes this game feels like it is built using glue sticks and bubblegum. (Note: Looks like they gave Basch shorts!)
I swear, sometimes this game feels like it is built using glue sticks and bubblegum. (Note: Looks like they gave Basch shorts!)

Part 17: Let's Talk About The Grinding In This Game

I do want to say a few positive things about the Zodiac Edition. For the past two blogs, I have spent a considerable amount of time taking the piss out of the Zodiac Edition. In a lot of ways, Square-Enix brings these criticisms on themselves. Not being able to play Final Fantasy XII in its original form is utterly bizarre, and other aspects of the HD Remaster are "rough." That said, I cannot go back to the original PS2 version. For one, the job system adds much-needed depth to each of the characters. More importantly, and it pains me to say this next part, I cannot play this game at its default speed.

The game's normal playing speed is excruciatingly slow. For one thing, the running animation looks like the characters are swimming in Vaseline. Not only that, but fighting trash mobs is downright painful. Why a game this focused on grinding makes beating swarms of enemies a ten-minute process baffles my mind. Not to mention, playing the game at a faster speed makes practicing its mechanics easier. Previously, taking advantage of the game's combo system took hours. After I set the game to double its average rate, I attained my first significant combo in seven minutes. It was at that point when the gameplay started to "click."

Now, let's talk about Bhujerba's Skeleton Bridge!
Now, let's talk about Bhujerba's Skeleton Bridge!

That does not suggest that I enjoy grinding as a gameplay concept. Overall, I view grinding as a waste of the player's time because it rarely services the story and characters. In truth, it exists to impede the player's journey and nothing more. Still, at least in Final Fantasy XII, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. When I gain access to a new ability or weapon; I can visibly see it impact my characters. Level jumps feel impactful, and that's especially so when you explore different corners of the license board. I categorically love how your decisions significantly change how your characters play. I especially respect the care the developers put in making sure these decisions do not fuck you over.

Another odd aspect of Final Fantasy XII is its exploitability. Not since the likes of Final Fantasy VIII have I seen a game this easy to exploit. Every person I have talked to can name at least three locations where they took advantage of the game's respawning enemies. For me, I had a ball with the skeleton soldiers at the Lhusu Mines. I mention this information because Final Fantasy XII galls you into finding its exploits. The procedural treasure chests, real-time combat, and respawning enemies all make for a frustrating but rewarding experience. Everything in the world funnels back to the gambit and job systems, and that's laudable to a certain extent.

WHY THE FUCK CAN YOU NOT SAVE OR COPY GAMBITS! WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK!
WHY THE FUCK CAN YOU NOT SAVE OR COPY GAMBITS! WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK!

Speaking of which, there's one last thing I want to say about the gambits on this blog. Final Fantasy XII is in dire need of an "Optimize Gambit" option or at the very least a "Copy/Paste" feature. It took me FOREVER to figure out how to set up a gambit for the "Steal" command, and I had a similar struggle when trying to set up buffs and debuffs. The game doesn't provide example gambits, nor does it warn you if you have broken a character's scripting. On top of that, once you do find a winning combination, you still have to input that gambit manually.

Full disclosure, I still hate the gambit mechanic. I will not belabor you with what I said in the previous episode, but I do wish to share a new headache that has presented itself. You waste literal HOURS OF YOUR TIME preparing your gambits for upcoming battles, bosses, and environments. To illustrate, let's say you are about to face a boss, and they have a specific elemental weakness. To be victorious, you have to tear down the gambits you already have and construct a new set of gambits from scratch. Once the boss battle is over, you have to pause again and rebuild everything you ripped apart from before. That may not sound like a time-intensive process, but it honestly is one of the most annoying rigmaroles in Final Fantasy XII.

Part 18: Larsa Is Fine; Penelo Not So Much

I think I might genuinely hate Penelo more than Vaan.
I think I might genuinely hate Penelo more than Vaan.

Returning to the story, it's a damn shame your introduction to Bhujerba boils down to rescuing Penelo. With dozens of ongoing storylines, it's a bit bizarre the game spends as much time as it does on Penelo as a damsel in distress. It doesn't help Penelo is NOT a great character. More than any other cast member, she reeks of Square-Enix pulling from their playbook. She's an odd amalgam of Tifa from Final Fantasy VII and Selphie from Final Fantasy VIII. The fact she wears the same skin-tight yellow jumper Square's been using for the past TWENTY GODDAMNED YEARS does not help her case.

Worse, Penelo is in stark contrast to the rest of the female characters. While I could go on about Fran's distasteful design, she's a strong-willed and independent figure. Conversely, Penelo is perpetually strung along the story by strong male leads. In her introduction, she fawns over Vaan and too often acts in amazement of his abilities. Following her rescue from Ba'Gamnan, she apathetically takes a seat as Larsa flings her across the world. To compound these issues further, she spends half the game clueless, and then at its midpoint, becomes an expert in Ivalice's mythology. Above all, while the rest of the cast has their character moments, she remains critically underwritten for the duration of the game.

Finally! A new character worth listening to!
Finally! A new character worth listening to!

These points are not meant to condemn Final Fantasy XII as lacking compelling characters. There are plenty of great characters in Final Fantasy XII, and Larsa is one such example. Larsa reveals himself to be Vayne's younger brother and second-in-line to the throne of the Archadian Empire. Overall, he acts as a foil to what we have come to expect of an Archadian royal. Despite his age, Larsa appears to be a level-headed leader. Additionally, we watch Larsa take the reigns of his destiny. When he suspects his older brother is up to no good, he makes it his mission to find out what Vayne's plot may entail. The point with Larsa is not that he's happily holding hands with the main cast, but proactively attempting to reach his end goal.

Larsa also acts as a decent exposition dump. Throughout the game, he assumes a Greek Chorus-like role during crucial story moments. After acquiring the manufactured nethicite, he rescues Penelo from Judge Ghis. Larsa makes a conjecture that Vayne is collecting an assortment of powerful runes, but is unable to disclose to what ends. It is at this point the Archadian Judges start to develop as legitimate characters. As loyal servants to the throne of the Empire, you assume they are the muscle of the Emperor. That's far from the truth, and when the narrative starts to play off the Judge-Magister dynamic, the story gets interesting.

And you lost me....
And you lost me....

Speaking of Larsa, I guess it's high time I address my distaste for Vayne. As mentioned before, you have to assume that he's as evil as the characters make him out to be as the game is still coy about his ulterior motives. While some might view this as a budding mystery, it also means the story is nebulously stuck on the concept of the Imperials being evil far longer than it should. This beat is problematic now that we have Larsa as a point of reference. A valid frame on why Vayne is not to be trusted would have made the words of Ashe and Basch more meaningful. Regrettably, the game relies too heavily on a tale of Vayne killing two of his brothers off-screen.

Part 19: And Now for Something Completely Different!

What the fuck does that even mean?
What the fuck does that even mean?

We will return to the story summary in a bit, but I do want to address the half-dozen hunts I attempted during this segment of my playthrough. For those wondering, I tried every quest in Final Fantasy XII at least once. As such, I can say with total certainty the Hunter's Guild fucking sucks. Not only are the enemy instances harder than anything in the mainline story, but nothing in the proper game prepares you for its encounters. For example, getting some of the monsters to spawn can entail a five-step process.

Furthermore, the optional quests feel like they were designed to sell game guides. Knowing how to beat a boss requires hours of trial and error when playing the game blind. Equally important, elemental weaknesses are not immediately evident in combat. The game's status effect warning system flickers at a breakneck speed. Thus, when your characters cease dealing damage, it's often impossible to figure out why. As a result, the side quests frequently place Final Fantasy XII's gameplay shortcomings under a spotlight.

WHY CAN'T ALL OF YOUR CHARACTERS HAVE STARTING GAMBITS LIKE LARSA! WHY?!
WHY CAN'T ALL OF YOUR CHARACTERS HAVE STARTING GAMBITS LIKE LARSA! WHY?!

Speaking of which, we need to talk about how much time it takes to make any given command usable in combat. First, you need to have the appropriate amount of License Points to purchase an ability. Next, you need to find a merchant that sells that exact ability, weapon, or accessory. This situation isn't as simple as it should be. Some spells and trinkets are only accessible through quests or chests, and others are exclusive to a single merchant. To add insult to injury, the game provides NO CLUES as to which merchants or areas have which items or abilities.

A related issue stems from the game's treasure chests and loot. Let's say you open a treasure chest and discover an impressive battleax. Usually, you would scan the item and see what its weapon classification is, and match that with a character's job. In Final Fantasy XII, the game adds in an extra two or three steps. Not only do you still need to identify which characters have the appropriate classes to equip the item, but you also need to find where the thing is on the license board. Without an auto-find or search feature, this process takes FOREVER!

Because killing this wraith really brings the whole game together.
Because killing this wraith really brings the whole game together.

Then there's the game's atrocious teleporting system. At first, I was excited when the game introduced its fast-travel system, but once I found out how it worked, I was immediately disappointed. For those unaware, each story significant location has at least one teleport point. These appear in the game as large glowing stones no different than the standard save crystals, but this time around they are orange. When you approach them, you can use a warp stone to open up a list of previously visited locations and immediately travel there.

Right off the bat, there are two things wrong with this system. First, you utilize the fast-travel mechanic through the use of consumable items. Second, when the game presents the list of available locations, it does not display an accompanying map. Unless you have the outline of Ivalice memorized by heart, you end up wasting a decent number of warp stones. Finally, and this issue drives me bananas, the warp stones are in the same inventory slot as your loot trash. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I accidentally sold my warp stones.

Part 20: 90% Of The Story Involves McGuffins

Right, this fucking scene....
Right, this fucking scene....

After Larsa bolts and takes Penelo under his wing, the rest of the characters are left wondering what to do next. Not only did they fail to rescue Penelo, but they are no closer to joining the Resistance than when they first set foot in Bhujerba. Basch uses this time to bring us up to speed about Bhujerba's importance to the Resistance. The leader of the mineral-rich kingdom is currently at peace with the Arcadian Empire but is secretly funding rebellions against it. Basch surmises they can get a meeting with the Marquis if they prove he is still alive. What ensues next is the worst minigame in Final Fantasy XII.

After accosting enough citizens and town criers, a mob swarms Vaan, and a scene ensues at a local bar. When the real Basch arrives, the Marquis grants our heroes a meeting. During the conference, Marquis Halim Ondore intimates he wants to help Basch, but doing so would bring untold harm to his kingdom. Basch shares his desire to free "Amalia," which is an alias for Princess Asch, and Ondore's interests pique. To aid them, the Marquis sends the party to the Dreadnought Leviathan as prisoners knowing well they will break free and rescue the princess.

It is here when Final Fantasy XII starts bearing its teeth. While your immediate reaction is to be disappointed with the Marquis, you understand his perspective. When the narrative paints characters in morally ambiguous or complex shades, the cast members more often than not, rise to the occasion. Though, and it pains me to say this point, it's incredibly off-putting that Ondore's voice actor is a white guy faking an Indian accent. Regardless, during a cutaway involving Penelo and Larsa, we discover a few of the prince's weaknesses. His repeated assurances that his brother is well-intentioned frame him as a "perfumed Mikado."

What are you talking about? Is he going to
What are you talking about? Is he going to "put things right" before or after an act of genocide?

On board the Leviathan, Ashe reunites with Basch, and the meeting goes as well as expected. Ashe believes Basch to be guilty of assassinating her father and repeatedly calls him a "traitor." While they squabble, Vaan presents the Dusk Shard, and it promptly glows when near Ashe. After their initial rescue effort fails, Vossler arrives while undercover to save them from execution. With the team reformed, they make a swift escape from the warship. While the dreadnought itself is a pain to navigate, it is nonetheless an exhilarating experience. You can feel the tension as you move from one corridor to the next.

Throughout this adventure, Ashe expresses justifiable skepticism in joining Basch. What I appreciate here is how the game does not paint Ashe as being "in the wrong." Her hatred descends from her belief that Basch is a murderer, and there is no real evidence to prove the contrary. Besides, I appreciate how Basch does not win Ashe over with a long-winded explanation or heavy-handed emotional plea. He instead lets his actions speak louder than his words. I will tell you, after playing Final Fantasy XIII, my jaw hit the floor when I saw Square-Enix use restraint when contextualizing the characters at their disposal.

Part 21: The Amount Of Proper Nouns Ruins The Worldbuilding

Ondore honestly deserves more screentime outside of the weird storybook narrations.
Ondore honestly deserves more screentime outside of the weird storybook narrations.

Speaking of Ashe, she is by far my favorite character in Final Fantasy XII. She is a driven and passionate character on a clear mission. Moreover, I like how she is actively involved in the activities of the Resistance. While Larsa, Vayne, and Halim sit on their thrones and play political chess, Ashe is in the trenches. So often, JRPGs use female characters as passive figureheads. We can all think of examples where a princess from a recently defeated kingdom needs protection and knows nothing about the lives of commoners. It's a trope Final Fantasy has worn too often in the past.

Equally important, Ashe leads by example and commands respect both in combat and during cutscenes. She does not accept Balthier's sarcastic quips and is quick to correct Vaan's bullshit. Not to mention, Ashe reminds the characters of their place and refuses to take any quarter from the supporting cast members. Unfortunately, she, much like Penelo and Fran, is plagued by Square-Enix's outdated and unhelpful female character design. While she rightfully deserves a suit of knightly armor; she instead dons an incredibly short skirt with an equally revealing cropped shirt.

You said something similar about Vaan and Balthier, and that didn't stop you from partying up with them.
You said something similar about Vaan and Balthier, and that didn't stop you from partying up with them.

In contrast, I want to applaud the level of emotion the animators manage to squeeze out of the character models. To illustrate, when Vaan and Penelo reunite on the Leviathan, the look she makes when she first sees Vaan is masterfully done. It showcases a perfect mix of relief and happiness all within a limited amount of time. Speaking of which, Final Fantasy XII is a tour de force of framing. When your battle against Judge Ghis commences, the prior cinematic establishes an epic tone. An expertly crafted CG cutscene showcasing the party's escape compliments this boss encounter. Unfortunately, the following scene is where Final Fantasy XII fumbles the ball.

With our blood pumping and excitement at an all-time high, the game rewards us with another goddamned fetch quest! This call to action demands we locate a different piece of nethicite known as the "Dawn Shard." On top of that, the next batch of expository cutscenes come across as incoherent nonsense. We hear out a long tale of King Raithwall and the three pieces of nethicite he cut from the "Sun-Cryst." To make matters worse, you still contend with the naming conventions for critical locations. It's a lot to take in, and it wastes the action-filled drama from the previous set piece. Honestly, I dare ANY OF YOU to defend the two fucking Sandsea sections we are about to slog through!

Like I said, sometimes this game delivers raw emotions that resonate with you.
Like I said, sometimes this game delivers raw emotions that resonate with you.

Not to mention, the proper nouns worsen more when the subplot involving the Archadian Empire presents itself. Interspersed within the story are cutaways to the throne of the Archadian Empire. Here we witness a slew of newly introduced characters. Lamentably, few of these characters have a proper inauguration. Lord Gramis, the Senate, and several of the judges appear before the player with little pomp or circumstance. This subplot is also when Final Fantasy XII bites off more than it can chew. Not only does it need to juggle the adventures of our player characters, but it now needs to take time for a secondary storyline involving the Judges.

As it stands, Ashe needs to prove she is the rightful claimant to the royal throne of Dalmasca, but how the story justifies her next steps is glorified gobbledygook. First, we need to find the Tomb of King Raithwall and locate the Dawn Shard. This shard is "deifacted nethicite" and is different from the "manufactured deifacted nethicite" we encountered in the mines. And I think there's regular nethicite, but that's not important to the story right now. Anyway, Vayne wants to use these magical stones because if you put them together, you can form Voltron or some shit like that. If there's one thing I learned from EVA, it's you cannot trust weapons of mass destruction in the hands of an anime villain with a bad haircut. But with that, I think we'll call an end to this blog.

Next time we get to watch this low-rent Kitana eat shit!
Next time we get to watch this low-rent Kitana eat shit!
Moderator
Avatar image for monkeyking1969
#1 Edited by MonkeyKing1969 (7538 posts) -

I hate being a broken record...but damn I love most of the character art and architectural art in these game, and loath everything else about these games.

I wish a group of hackers would take this game, rip out most the art, most of the characters, and settings to re-code an entirely new game around it. Just "illegally" grab of all the assets to sift through to build a good game. Its sad that is what it would take, but honestly I think the producers/designers: Hiroyuki Ito, Hiroshi Minagawa, Akitoshi Kawazu think this works as a enjoyable video game. It can't be tweaked, it need to broken-down and rebuilt.

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#2 Edited by soimadeanaccount (612 posts) -

You mention XII feels like a partial MMO and FFXIV, but the truth is much easier to gleam and closer in timeline. This game came out after FFXI, their first FF MMO. I have said it before, they borrowed a lot of the less than stellar part of FFXI and integrated it into XII without questioning why...or worse yet, system that weren't popular in FFXI to begin with. Slow travel time, grinding, chest farming, loot farming, monster camping, etc.

There are some good points in XI, and I wish we get to see that in a single player setting, but XII is way off mark. I could gush about how much of a better FF game could have existed if they can just fit FFXI gameplay into a single player game mold, without all the MMO grinding bullshit, but we don't have time for that.

The gambit system feels somewhat like marcos of XI although more about controlling AI rather than just making hotkeys and shortcuts, so in some sense it is not completely foreign, but admittedly unreasonable to expect a player to have prior knowledge. However the feeling of running across the field in XII with somewhat leveled characters and good gambits felt like a much more fluid version of XI that we never had. While the combat and gameplay system are overall slow, complex, and at times annoying than it needs to be; there is a dynamic which its predecessor never mange to capture. Also I think the drawn out dungeon of FFXII is part of what makes me accepts FFXIII linear gameplay because the alternate was worse.

In terms of story...oh boy how far it fell. The political intrigue in the beginning is actually interesting, but then the game became a magic McGuffin hunt all the way till the end which really sour the whole thing.

Character is...honestly the more I look at these the more concern I get regard what is consider "good" characters. Balthier is fun yes...in the same way Han Solo and Nathan Drake are popular and fan favorite, but ultimately the "punkish rogue" is either a character type or have become a character type through its popularity and Balthier is merely filling that certain popular role in this story. Vaan isn't fun, much like Ken (Persona), and Hope (FFXIII), aren't popular, yet he too fills a role. At some point I feel like we are now type casting fan favorite vs truly trying to create a character character, furthermore I see characters are being judged purely on how agreeable the characters' actions are to the viewer more and more and I don't know if it is good or bad.

Let's take Vayne, the villain, for example. As a villain should the viewer truly dislike him because of his ruthlessness which the viewer doesn't agree with or does that comes with the territory of a villain or is he a "bad character" and is that even possible for someone that should meant to be dislike? Initially I had hopes for Vayne as a character with his charismatic ways, shadowy past, and pragmatic needs for a kingdom to survive, eventually his role as a villain boils down essentially knowing that he has to play his part in this story in an almost melancholy way which was a bit strange but also kind of interesting in a meta-commentary sort of ways. Yet, spoiler, at the very end it seems like Square gave him the usual this dude went mad treatment.

I feel like FF have been tipping their hats to playwright for a while now, from 6 (opera), 7 (loveless), 9 (traving troupe), 10 (listen to my story), 12...are these guys literally role players?

Basically Fran is bunny Chewbacca and Basch is wearing a sublingar

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#3 Posted by imhungry (1116 posts) -

So far your feelings on this game have pretty much exactly mirrored mine and, quite honestly, after all this time reading your blogs and finding them interesting but mostly disagreeing, this is a bizarre experience.

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#4 Posted by Jesus_Phish (3848 posts) -

Everyone in the history of forever told me that "This Game Is Basically Anime Star Wars" and I asked myself the very same question you did. If it's anime Star Wars, and I like anime and I really like Star Wars and I really like Final Fantasy, why do I just not care about the story in any way whatsoever.

That was ultimately why I gave up on the game. I got to a certain point and looked at how much of the map I had cleared any how many hours I'd played. I gauged it against other FF games in the past. And then I just stopped playing because I didn't care about the story at all or most of the characters.

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#5 Posted by ZombiePie (7404 posts) -

Everyone in the history of forever told me that "This Game Is Basically Anime Star Wars" and I asked myself the very same question you did. If it's anime Star Wars, and I like anime, and I really like Star Wars and I really like Final Fantasy, why do I just not care about the story in any way whatsoever.

This comment is my new "spirit animal" and if I could wear it as a t-shirt, I would. I think a bigger issue with Final Fantasy XII is it attempts to be too many things. If it was just a jaunty Star Wars-inspired story, I think I would enjoy it more. But that's not the only thing the game is trying to do. You have the b-plot with Larsa and the Judges, Ashe restoring her kingdom, Balthier's daddy issues, Basch's drama llama with his brother, and whatever the fuck the game tries with Vaan.

Also, Star Wars: A New Hope is two hours. There's simply too much game stretched for too long in Final Fantasy XII. If the progression of the Licenses was faster and more fulfilling I think the overall game would be better, but that's dancing around a bigger issue. The game, in general, is FUCKING SLOW!

THIS IS LITERALLY THE SLOWEST GAME I HAVE EVER PLAYED! HOW DID ANYONE PLAY THIS GAME AT ITS NORMAL SPEED?!?!

@imhungry said:

So far your feelings on this game have pretty much exactly mirrored mine and, quite honestly, after all this time reading your blogs and finding them interesting but mostly disagreeing, this is a bizarre experience.

I'm just going to say something that I originally planned to share on the final blog. If you "like" Final Fantasy XII, you're basically telling the world Final Fantasy XIV is your favorite Final Fantasy game ever made. Square really tries hard to patch its a single-player RPG storyline to MMORPG trapping, and unless you are The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, that is not a winning combination. MMORPG gameplay is designed to suck up people's time so you have to buy into a subscription service. There's no reason why the game subjects to the same arid desert wastelands over and over again. It doesn't benefit the story, nor does it add the overall experience.

Which is frustrating, because I WANT to like Final Fantasy XII. It's honestly the last Final Fantasy game that feels like a fantasy game. Not only that, but Square's stamp of approval means something. There's a level of technical excellence that is unheard of in any other video game franchise. Unfortunately, from what I have read that came at the cost of the development team as the original design lead left the game mid-way due to burnout.

I wish a group of hackers would take this game, rip out most the art, most of the characters, and settings to re-code an entirely new game around it. Just "illegally" grab of all the assets to sift through to build a good game. Its sad that is what it would take, but honestly I think the producers/designers: Hiroyuki Ito, Hiroshi Minagawa, Akitoshi Kawazu think this works as a enjoyable video game. It can't be tweaked, it need to broken-down and rebuilt.

It is a testament to people love of the Final Fantasy brand and Square-Enix's name that this game was as well-recieved as it was when it launched. Flat out, I think the original game is unplayable. It's slow, boring, and no fucking fun to play. Not only that, but the original license system is duller than bath water, and when that is one of two major selling points, that's a huge problem.

Also, and this gets into a discussion point for another blog, what does it say that Square basically had to redesign this entire game in order to make it fun? That, to me, is evidence enough to call the original version of Final Fantasy XII BUSTED! Unfortunately, I don't feel as if the Zodiac Edition fixes a lot of the major issues that prevent me from loving the game.

You mention XII feels like a partial MMO and FFXIV, but the truth is much easier to gleam and closer in timeline. This game came out after FFXI, their first FF MMO. I have said it before, they borrowed a lot of the less than stellar part of FFXI and integrated it into XII without questioning why...or worse yet, system that weren't popular in FFXI to begin with. Slow travel time, grinding, chest farming, loot farming, monster camping, etc.

There are some good points in XI, and I wish we get to see that in a single player setting, but XII is way off mark. I could gush about how much of a better FF game could have existed if they can just fit FFXI gameplay into a single player game mold, without all the MMO grinding bullshit, but we don't have time for that.

The gambit system feels somewhat like marcos of XI although more about controlling AI rather than just making hotkeys and shortcuts, so in some sense it is not completely foreign, but admittedly unreasonable to expect a player to have prior knowledge. However the feeling of running across the field in XII with somewhat leveled characters and good gambits felt like a much more fluid version of XI that we never had. While the combat and gameplay system are overall slow, complex, and at times annoying than it needs to be; there is a dynamic which its predecessor never mange to capture. Also I think the drawn out dungeon of FFXII is part of what makes me accepts FFXIII linear gameplay because the alternate was worse.

In terms of story...oh boy how far it fell. The political intrigue in the beginning is actually interesting, but then the game became a magic McGuffin hunt all the way till the end which really sour the whole thing.

Kind of like imhungry, I'm just surprised to see you actually agree with me about a Final Fantasy game. This is such a weird feeling. Anyway, let's address your points about the gameplay issues I have with Final Fantasy XII. I understand that Final Fantasy XI was a game that informed Final Fantasy XII's development. The point I am trying to make in this blog, is that Final Fantasy XI's gameplay, and MMORPG gameplay in general, does not serve a single player RPG storyline. I know we had some fun disagreements when I ran the Final Fantasy XIII blog series, and I loved those debates, but something about Final Fantasy XII feels even more off than Final Fantasy XIII. Final Fantasy XIII at least felt fast, right up until you get to Gran Pulse. Final Fantasy XII slog around with entire dungeons because the gameplay doesn't feel good, and it never operates at 100% efficiency. There are just too many variables running at the same time for you to ever feel like you are fully in control of Final Fantasy XII.

In regards to storytelling, I think Final Fantasy XII is a high-water mark in a lot of ways. It's honestly the point where Square really started to double down on gameplay over storytelling. Why else do they carbon copy as many tropes and idioms as they do in Final Fantasy XII? My guess is the mechanics and art assets took so long to generate that this is what they went with for the final game. Or, and this is if the reports are true, the writing staff had a better plot in mind, but executive meddling prevented it from coming into fruition.

I do not know which scenario is worse. I honestly do not know.

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#6 Posted by sjaak (35 posts) -

Again, really enjoying the blog series, just went through the FFXIII blogs and that was a blast (to read for me, not to play). For FFXII I didnt hate the gambit system and thats about the most positive I can say about it. After really enjoying FFX it was a real downer to play this one, but I wanted to like it, I wanted to finish it, but it never gave any satisfaction. Last summer I tried it again with the remaster and the speed option was a delight, especially with all the boring enviroments which I just brute forced through with correct gambits. The breaking point for me was the desert enviroment before the temple you mention, its just a drag that keeps on going. Put some gambits on, max speed option, turning on a podcast and just roll through it. When I died, I just pushed through again, 4 out of 5 runs I would survive and go through to the hellish system of changing the gambit system. Really, I dont know how I finished this game without the speed option.

The story is not big enough to sustain the many many dungeons, I would guess the total story would be like 5 hours and thats the parts you can remember. Its starts good, reaches high point introducing the judges and their stances to the plot and then it all just falls apart when you have to retreive a stone from the temple. I expected a cheap twist or turn in the end, but even that was to much to ask from this story which really went out like a candle. Im curious to hear your thoughts about the last few hours of the game, because for me it never felt satisfiyng once you leave the big city in the east, the entire game feels like one big fetch quest.

The characters Im 50/50 on:

Interesting: Balthier, Basch, Fran, Ashe, Marquis, Judges, Larsa, the guy with the white sideburns

Useless or boring: Vaan, Penelo, Vayne, all the bosses, the guy with the sunglasses

Cid I cannot place in any catogory, one moment I think hes interesting, next scene Im screaming. Liked his voice though, feel out of place in a good way.

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#7 Edited by Mittens (10 posts) -

Great read! Just saw your 2 posts on FFXII. Thanks for taking the time to make these writeups.

I agree with a lot of your comments, at least from my memories of the PS2 original, which is the only version I played. Here's my FFXII take, from what I can remember:

Positives:

-Very pretty (especially at the time, though it came late in the PS2 lifecycle)

-Great soundtrack. A different style from other FF OSTs, but very fitting (which makes sense, since Sakimoto had done the soundtrack to every Matsuno games since before they were even at Square). My personal highlight: A Land of Memories, the piece that plays in the Nabreus Deadlands, the "Hiroshima analogy" area.

-The job system introduced by the international version, then in Zodiac Age, seems like it fixes a major problem I had with the progression in the original game.

-Most of all, I love Matsuno's style of worldbuilding. I get that it's poorly introduced and very convoluted, but it felt more interesting to me than the personal journey of most of these characters. If anything, I thought the geopolitical stuff was relegated to the background too much; I would rather see more of this and less of Vaan's dumb shit.

-I liked the Judges, altough maybe it's just because I thought their custom armor looked really cool.

-Getting rid of random encounters was overdue. Although... (see negatives)

-Ashe grew on me. On the surface, not too far from the princess-type character from every previous FF game (Terra, Aeris, Rinoa, Garnet, Yuna to some extent). But I liked how she was a little forceful, a little haughty, a little distant, a little dismissive of basically everyone in your party (rightly so; I mean, she's still a fucking princess, and they're a bunch of orphans and pirates and traitors). Not as likable as Balthier, but a better character. For me, the best princess-type character in a FF game.

Negatives:

-Vaan and Peleno. Won't add much to what's been said here already.

-The party never gelled very well in this game. Maybe it was particularly noticeable because it's something FFX did exceptionally well, but for most of FFXII, it felt like you had Basch and Ashe (mostly Ashe) doing the plot-critical stuff, Balthier and Fran coming along as helpful hired guns, and Vaan and Penelo eating crayons and being pointless.

-As you mention, the actual plot of the game was very forgettable, evidenced by the fact that until reading this, I had completely forgotten most of it, despite spending close to 200 hrs with this game.

-The license board. Probably not as bad in Zodiac Age, but it was such a poor way to gate progression all-around. Especially tying it to equipment; who thought it was a good idea to have you find great items, then have you wait two hours to wear them because you still need to unlock the license for it?

-The gambit system. I felt the same way you do about it: it felt like debugging, and I don't find that fun. Even as I tweaked, and tweaked, and tweaked, the gambits always felt at least a little suboptimal, never quite doing what I would have done if I had control of the character, which was very frustrating. I eventually gave up and just started micromanaging as much as possible. Though to be fair, being able to control the game speed probably makes that system 10x better, since it likely makes automating fights actually worthwhile.

-They got rid of the tediousness of random encounters, and replaced them by having the dungeons be some of the longest slogs in FF history. Your post gave me flashbacks of how some of those areas went on and on forever (Fuck the Pharos).

-Not related to the game, but the worst thing FFXII did was making Yasumi Matsuno leave Square. And partially game development, maybe? As far as I know, aside from doing Crimson Shroud for that 3DS compilation, he hasn't directed a game since. I miss him (I loved FFT, and the PSP remake of Tactics Ogre was fantastic).

Minor:

-Some of the callbacks to previous FFs were cool (like the hunt that's a big homage to the Battle on the Big Bridge in FF5), but some felt like weirdly aimless branding (LOOK AT THE CRYSTALS! CRYSTALS EVERYWHERE! THAT'S AN FF THING RIGHT? CRYSTALS!). It was the first time I felt that from an FF game, though Square really doubled down on that attitude in the following decade.

-Vayne was a boring antagonist, but I give him points for being the first FF villain in a while (since 6? 7?) to not be actually controlled by some kind of God entity that winds up being the final boss.

-Balthier and Fran were fine, but as you mentioned they were trying a bit too hard to go for "Han Solo + Sexy Chewbacca". They might as well have replaced Balthier's name with Charming Rogue. Still, he brought some much needed personality to a pretty dour group.

-The hunts were hard, and way too time-consuming (I think just prepping for Yazmat might have taken me 30-40 hours). Still, there's an audience for that, as Monster Hunter has long proved. Overall, it was a meaty chunk of side content, well-made, and pretty rewarding. Except for...

-The sword you got for beating 10 million HP Yazmat, Omega and the fishing game was awful. Fuck you, game.

-The way to obtain the Zodiac Spear, one of the best weapons in the game, in the original version, was one of the stupidest things I've ever seen in a videogame. Only way I could explain it is that they had some kind of arrangement with Prima Guides. Think they've changed it in Zodiac Age, which is good.

-It's interesting how you noted in your previous post that the game misleads you into how you should build your characters. I have no idea why otherwise great RPGs do that so often (FF6 and KOTOR for example).

Woah, I guess I had a lot to get off my chest about that game.

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#8 Edited by Onemanarmyy (4321 posts) -

Ohhh that's right, this game has all these dumb rocks in it. Decaffinated nethicite, sure i'll have some of that!

I remember people making a big deal out of Final Fantasy getting rid of it's random encounters when this was released. And you could walk around during the combat! One step closer to being able to play the game like it is presented in the iconic Final Fantasy cutscenes of yore! Like that always seemed to be the goal. To get the gameplay to look on a similar technical level as the cutscenes that people would gush over.

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#9 Posted by jondan (138 posts) -

Excellent blog post, loving this series! Great work :)

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#10 Posted by Gee_rad (199 posts) -
As I stated in the first blog, too much of this game feels like "Trial By Fire: The Video Game."

Excuse YOU! Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire is a much better video game than FF XII. (I quit the original version of FF XII like 10 hours in and never looked back.)

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#11 Edited by soimadeanaccount (612 posts) -

FF having entries that are more gameplay focus than story isn't really new. I think FF5 is one, and the battle system is generally well received. IMO I would say FF8 and FF10 are fairly gameplay focus also in their own ways especially if you want to play it the "right" way. I can almost squeeze FF6 in there base on its lopsided optimal character leveling method.

The latter half of FF13 becomes a grind fest, and FF15 definitely has way more gameplay and its 3 sentences story.

While I am a die hard story > gameplay person when it comes to FFs and JRPGs in general, the truth of the matter is a lot of players come into these games for the gameplay and the systems for better or worse. This ends up being the evil that I just sort of put up with.

As for the Star Wars connection. Honestly the game really only evoke Star Wars in some of its cut scenes. The large airship flying and the smaller planes hovering looks like the star destroyers and the tie fighter, some of the judges look like Darth Vader, and maybe some of the Empire scene looks like the Emperor and the Senate. Barring that Star Wars is a typical chosen one/hero story and FF12 didn't really walk that path.

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#12 Edited by ZombiePie (7404 posts) -

Woof... I really fell behind in responding to the input on this blog. Well, without further ado, let's jump into it.

@sjaak said:

The story is not big enough to sustain the many many dungeons, I would guess the total story would be like 5 hours and thats the parts you can remember. Its starts good, reaches high point introducing the judges and their stances to the plot and then it all just falls apart when you have to retreive a stone from the temple. I expected a cheap twist or turn in the end, but even that was to much to ask from this story which really went out like a candle. Im curious to hear your thoughts about the last few hours of the game, because for me it never felt satisfiyng once you leave the big city in the east, the entire game feels like one big fetch quest.

Cid I cannot place in any catogory, one moment I think hes interesting, next scene Im screaming. Liked his voice though, feel out of place in a good way.

I think that's ultimately where I stand regarding Final Fantasy XII's design and structure. It's decent, but there's not enough story to hold together the vast amounts of gameplay at your disposal. The clearest example of this is, as you mentioned, how often the game ferrets you around on a series of pointless fetch quests. It doesn't help the game's worldbuilding takes a turn for the worse after you reach Archades. Too many of the later environments just feel vapid and empty.

In regards to Cid, I love the bastard. Look, his voice actor was provided the worst script in the entire game, and he clearly did not give a fuck. That man had FUN voicing Cid, and it honestly shows. I bet he looks back at the role, and without an once of shame, says to himself "Damn, I had a lot of fun playing Cid in Final Fantasy XII." And you know what? I'm completely happy how it went.

@mittens said:

Negatives:

-The party never gelled very well in this game. Maybe it was particularly noticeable because it's something FFX did exceptionally well, but for most of FFXII, it felt like you had Basch and Ashe (mostly Ashe) doing the plot-critical stuff, Balthier and Fran coming along as helpful hired guns, and Vaan and Penelo eating crayons and being pointless.

-The license board. Probably not as bad in Zodiac Age, but it was such a poor way to gate progression all-around. Especially tying it to equipment; who thought it was a good idea to have you find great items, then have you wait two hours to wear them because you still need to unlock the license for it?

-They got rid of the tediousness of random encounters, and replaced them by having the dungeons be some of the longest slogs in FF history. Your post gave me flashbacks of how some of those areas went on and on forever (Fuck the Pharos).

Minor:

-It's interesting how you noted in your previous post that the game misleads you into how you should build your characters. I have no idea why otherwise great RPGs do that so often (FF6 and KOTOR for example).

I never got around to thanking you for your exhaustive comment, so I guess better late than never? Regardless I edited you reply down to a few topics I wanted to respond to the most.

  • I think Final Fantasy XII has the least cohesive party in franchise history. They never really seem to congeal together and form long-term relationships with one another that did not exist already. More than anything else, they all appear to tolerated each other while pursuing their own goals. Say what you will about Final Fantasy XIII, and there's a lot to say, but at least the party in that game had a sense of camaraderie and friendship.
  • I played the original game for about three hours and found it to be far worse than the Zodiac Edition License Board. As I mentioned in the first episode of this series, more often than not, your characters feel like fiddler crabs with the same top-heavy strengths. Nonetheless, its bonkers Square-Enix couldn't find a middle ground between "everybody can be good at everything, and nothing matters" and "make a blind choice you will never, ever, ever get to change."
  • I have played my fare share of RPGs that do not use random encounters, and I do not think real-time encounters fit with the general structure of Final Fantasy. So much of the game is about justifying long journeys from one location to another, and I honestly think random encounters assist in making those journeys all the more memorable. Maybe I'm wrong, but after wallowing with Final Fantasy XIII and now THIS I kind of miss random encounters.
  • Man... KOTOR is a great example of screwing over the audience in the early game. I cannot begin to tell you how angry I was when I discovered my skill points invested in heavy armor and blasters were WASTED when my character became a Jedi.

Ohhh that's right, this game has all these dumb rocks in it. Decaffinated nethicite, sure i'll have some of that!

I remember people making a big deal out of Final Fantasy getting rid of it's random encounters when this was released. And you could walk around during the combat! One step closer to being able to play the game like it is presented in the iconic Final Fantasy cutscenes of yore! Like that always seemed to be the goal. To get the gameplay to look on a similar technical level as the cutscenes that people would gush over.

Look, random encounters aren't THAT BAD! Especially when every Final Fantasy game since the dawn of time included an "Enc-Half" or "Enc-None" feature! Honestly, it's better the game force you into random encounters as you trek from one location to the next, and remain relatively prepared for what the game presents you, than needing to go back and grind. That's happened to me in Final Fantasy XII a few times, and it is INFURIATING! It doesn't help the gameplay progresses at a snail's pace.

@jondan said:

Excellent blog post, loving this series! Great work :)

Thank you for the kind words and for your continual support!

@gee_rad said:
@zombiepie said:
As I stated in the first blog, too much of this game feels like "Trial By Fire: The Video Game."

Excuse YOU! Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire is a much better video game than FF XII. (I quit the original version of FF XII like 10 hours in and never looked back.)

Someone mentioned Quest for Glory and it wasn't @sparky_buzzsaw, so I guess now is as good enough time to remind the world the ending of Quest for Glory III: Wages of WarIS BULLSHIT! It's a crappy cliffhanger ending that completely negates everything you did in the first two games!

FUCK THAT NOISE!

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#13 Posted by DrM2theJ (232 posts) -

I'm Captain Basch fon Ronsenberg

of Dalmasca!

Never forget.

Nah, but seriously, I loved this game when it came out and I'm loving it a lot more this many years later because it has a fast forward button.

One of the reasons I loved it, I think, it because it had something that I had felt was missing from JRPGs for a long time--it let me go to places I shouldn't be, fight monsters I shouldn't yet fight, and yet be able to beat them through a tireless exercise in keeping the party alive by any means necessary. I suppose this was present in past games, but in this one in particular, I remember just wandering off down a path that wasn't on the main route and encountering the Bomb boss in the forest far, far earlier than I was supposed to. It resulted in a knock-down drag-out fight with me burning through items and such that felt like such a grueling experience. Yet I beat it, and then realized that I was in an area way out of my league. And that felt really cool.

Anyway, I don't really get the comparisons to Star Wars. Maybe because of all the various humanoid creatures throughout it and the fact that the bad guys are kind of aesthetically similar to the Empire in Star Wars? I don't know. The narrative is pretty different, though. I do love the idea of the tiny nation between two empires in the plot. Maybe that's just because I love Al-Cid, the Rozarrian you eventually meet. Oh, and yes Balthier and Fran are great thoughout.

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#14 Posted by soulcake (2753 posts) -

Basch is: A wearing a butt suspender or B wearing a bad texture, take your pick. "I cannot play this game at its default speed" yeah the best thing about this is speeding up the game speed it's weird to say that a game is better when you speed it up but it's much needed for XII else i couldn't play this thing.

Anyway always nice reading your struggle through a FF game especially on slow work days :D.

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