Author's Note: Episode 1: Why, Oh Why, Is Vaan The Protagonist?
Part 12: A Lot Of This Game Sure Does Look The Same
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Ashe - Black Mage & Monk
- Balthier - Foebreaker & Shikari (Ninja)
- Basch - Archer & Red Mage
- Fran - Uhlan (Dragoon) & Time Mage
- Penelo - White Mage & Machinist
- 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 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?
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.
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
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.
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."
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
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.
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 Within five minutes of setting foot on Bhujerba, the game throws you into another gameplay loop!
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.
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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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
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."
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
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.
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
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, . But with that, I think we'll call an end to this blog.