Fighting Final Fantasy XII - Episode 1: Why, Oh Why, Is Vaan The Protagonist?

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Posted by ZombiePie (7443 posts) -

Author's Note: Episode 2: This Game Is Basically Anime Star Wars? Then Why Don't I Like It More?

Part 1: Let's Address The "Elephant In The Room"

Good to see Stanley Kubrick's font is alive and well.
Good to see Stanley Kubrick's font is alive and well.

For many of you, the idea of me starting a Let's Play series on Final Fantasy XII might come as a surprise. After ripping Final Fantasy XIII a new fucking asshole, several of you were hoping for a blog about Final Fantasy XIII-2. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I am confident playing XIII-2 would have resulted in my death. I make no qualms about not liking Final Fantasy XIII and took your suggestions to try something "different" to heart. Indeed, some of you may recall me soliciting suggestions a few months back. After several of you recommended Final Fantasy XII, I chose it as my Final Fantasy "palate cleanser."

To clarify, the majority of this series will detail my experiences with the PC remaster of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age. I was intrigued by the game's "quality of life" additions as well as its improved job system. With that in mind, it's time to bring back an old feature. That's right everyone; it's time for me to rant about the default mouse and keyboard controls in a Square-Enix game! At this point, I'm starting to wonder if Square-Enix knows how PC games work. Seriously, what other excuse is there to justify shit like this:

WHO USES THE FUCKING + KEY ON THE KEYBOARD FOR THEIR VIDEO GAME?! WHO?!
WHO USES THE FUCKING + KEY ON THE KEYBOARD FOR THEIR VIDEO GAME?! WHO?!

Look, I get it, I should be playing the game with a controller. Playing PC games with a controller is neither a technological nor cost-prohibitive burden. That said, I'm stubborn, and will defend "Mount WASD" until I die. More importantly, it's a pain in the ass to convert the key bindings in any Square-Enix PC port. That said, Square-Enix's default setup is downright unacceptable. I don't know how you feel about constantly using your pinkie finger while playing a real-time RPG, but I can tell you from experience it isn't a fun time!

With this humorous aside behind us, I have a bit of a disclaimer. Every blog in this series will grouse about Final Fantasy XII's "accessibility issues," because HOT DAMN is this game dense! Not since Final Fantasy VIII has a JRPG made me dizzy quite like Final Fantasy XII. To say Final Fantasy XII has "a learning curve" is an understatement. This game is a brick wall you have to smash your skull against four or five times before you make a dent. Rest assured, I will finish this game, but I admit it has been a tough nut to crack.

Also, it doesn't help that the story fires on all cylinders within ten minutes.
Also, it doesn't help that the story fires on all cylinders within ten minutes.

Admittedly, I have yet to wrap my mind around Final Fantasy XII's several sub-systems. Speaking of which, let's return to the version of Final Fantasy XII I am playing. For a while, I debated if I should have played the original PS2 release. For reasons we will discuss another time, I eventually committed to the Zodiac Age edition. I tried the original version, and if you must know, I found that game far less mechanically interesting, and there's a lot about that version that doesn't sit well with me. First, and foremost, characters sharing the same license board undermines the story's emphasis on diversity.

However, that does not mean the HD remaster is perfect. In fact, this version is highly problematic, but for different reasons. While there are a few quality of life additions I greatly appreciate (i.e., the fast-forward feature), other design decisions left a sour taste in my mouth. While HD textures always sound good on paper, it's the execution that screws the pooch this time around. Simply put, the HD remaster removes a lot of the character in the environments. For example, when we first gain control of Vaan, we find him navigating the depths of a sewer. Unfortunately, the HD textures make the sewer look like a pristine example of fantasy city-planning. Truly, every environment looks "clean" to such a degree the game feels sterile.

I have watched episodes of Star Trek: Voyager with less technobabble than Final Fantasy XII.
I have watched episodes of Star Trek: Voyager with less technobabble than Final Fantasy XII.

There's another point that Kotaku's Ethan Gach made that I have to agree with as well. Final Fantasy XII's world pines for a storybook aesthetic. Significant portions of the story involve us listening to a narrator extol pages from a diary. The muddy but hand-painted style of the PS2 version more appropriately fits the story's mood and tone. In the remaster, everything looks so crisp the environments come across as generic fantasy schlock. Additionally, there's a distinct lack of shadows in the remaster which hurts scenes that take place at night or dusk. Again, I get these complaints sound like nitpicking, but something about the Zodiac Age feels "lost in translation."

Part 2: The Introductory Cutscene Is Overwhelming

"Overwhelming" perfectly describes my initial feelings about Final Fantasy XII. Its diverse cast is dizzying; its gambit system is inscrutable; its job system is a nightmare; its geopolitical-focused story is a lot to take in. However, I'm not saying any of this to condemn Final Fantasy XII. I respect its ambition, but it is undeniable the game could have made a better first impression. Case in point, the opening cinematic is an astounding but baffling affair bound to frustrate first-time players.

Before I rag on Final Fantasy XII, I want to clarify that I eventually came around to its opening moments. From start to finish, its worldbuilding is some of the best I have ever seen. Likewise, I enjoy the reflective elements of its geopolitical drama. However, the game stumbles a bit regarding its storytelling "triage." Too often, it meanders on story beats that feel inconsequential to the greater narrative. The result is the game feels like it's trying to accomplish too much in its initial hours. For one thing, was it necessary to spend ten minutes on Ashe's marriage to Rasler, when that dynamic doesn't kick into gear until the game's fortieth hour!

Speaking of which, let's review the first hour of Final Fantasy XII.
Speaking of which, let's review the first hour of Final Fantasy XII.

The game starts in the Kingdom of Dalmasca where Rasler and Ashe marry in a dramatic ceremony. After a bit of merriment and joy, the monolithic Empire of Archadia invades the nearby Kingdom of Nabradia. Rasler, the prince from earlier, offers to lead a relief army in support of the defending kingdom. He is joined by Basch fon Ronsenburg, one of his captains, who promises to protect him from harm. Despite a valiant effort, the combined forces of Dalmasca and Nabradia are no match for Archadia. The empire dominates the defenders due in no part to its superior air fleet. In the ensuing action, Prince Rasler dies. With their defeat all but guaranteed, the Kingdom of Dalmasca prepares itself for surrender.

If you are willing to humor me for a bit, I'd like to share my first nitpick with the Zodiac Edition. While the cutscenes hold up magnificently, the storybook narrations do not. With the in-game visuals getting an extra coat of paint, the chapter narrations feel incredibly out of place. I understand these sequences are an homage to Final Fantasy Tactics. Nonetheless, looking at static images as an obscure figure drops exposition dumps does not make for compelling content. It's nice the game puts effort into contextualizing its world, but the juxtapositions to these anecdotes are perpetually awkward.

Does anyone want to challenge my notion this game has a proper noun problem? If you do, count the proper nouns in this screen.
Does anyone want to challenge my notion this game has a proper noun problem? If you do, count the proper nouns in this screen.

Even more, Final Fantasy XII's first twenty minutes hit you HARD! It introduces dozens of proper nouns with zero scaffolding. As a consequence, I found it a struggle to maintain my attention during the prologue. As tragic as it sounds, I eventually turned off my brain like I would during a Summer Blockbuster. That's what happens when you mix fancy visuals with contextless action scenes. In the case of the battle at Nalbina Fortress, I could not tell the difference between the two dominant factions at war.

I also noticed something odd about the audio in the Zodiac Edition. Maybe it's me, but the music and dialogue have significant compression issues. This problem is especially noticeable during the CG cutscenes where characters talk for up to twenty minutes. For large portions of the Zodiac Edition, there's a tinny background sound whenever the characters speak. The same applies to the remastered music which sometimes sounds like it is playing through a garden hose. Unfortunately, there's no option to enable the original voice acting or uncompressed soundtrack. Of course, you can switch between the remastered and original soundtrack, but that doesn't seem to fix this issue.

Part 3: Playing Final Fantasy XII Is A NIGHTMARE!

Damn, this guy must love the sound of his voice.
Damn, this guy must love the sound of his voice.

Worth noting, while the prologue represents only a half-hour of your time, it feels far longer than that. The opening cutscene operates for twenty minutes alone, and the transition to the first gameplay sequence is inelegant. After establishing a grandiose world steeped in geopolitical drama, we control Reks, an insignificant Dalmascan foot soldier. None of the characters we saw during the opening cinematic are within our control. Herein lies a pressing issue with Final Fantasy XII. While the narrative opines for grandeur, its gameplay sequences rarely act as a useful scaffold. This problem worsens when the game juxtaposes to Vaan in the following scene.

To begin with, let's run down the scene where you control Reks. After the Archadian Empire rides roughshod over Dalmasca, Lord Raminas, King of Dalmasca, prepares to sign a surrender treaty. When word reaches Basch of a plan to assassinate Raminas, he organizes an intervention. With the help of a small team, Basch attacks the now occupied Nalbina Fortress in hopes of saving the king. In spite of his best efforts, Basch's plan fails and everyone including the king dies. Basch appears to be a traitor and Reks, our initial player-character, is dead.

I doubt Reks having a younger brother has anything to do with the story. There's no way in the world.
I doubt Reks having a younger brother has anything to do with the story. There's no way in the world.

It's an exciting plotline filled with intrigue and mystery, but one the game squanders thanks to a loathsome series of fetch quests involving Vaan. To make matters worse, Final Fantasy XII has some of the worst gameplay tutorials I have ever seen! When you control Reks, your only available command is to attack. That might sound simple on paper, but when you consider this is the first Final Fantasy game to run in "real-time," even the game's baby steps feel overwhelming. After this brief gameplay set piece, the mechanics dole out at a breakneck speed.

Nevertheless, this nitpick pales in comparison to what I found especially heinous about Final Fantasy XII's tutorials. Often, the game plops a significant gameplay mechanic on you after a short explanation. To illustrate, after the game uses a Quickening, it has Basch briefly explain what he did in combat. Following this conversation, the game assumes you can remember this information for the remainder of the game. Hilariously, this tutorial occurs FIVE HOURS before a single quickening is available to you. Alternatively, when you do unlock one, there's no "practice arena" where you can test out the mechanic.

"Trial by fire" does not even begin to describe Final Fantasy XII.

Admittedly, understanding the Quickenings is not as necessary as it seems. However, the game repeats this tutorial format for the Gambit and License Board systems, and these two mechanics practically define the game! Moreover, the first four hours don't allow for a ton of experimentation with either feature. The best Gambits don't open up until later, and without the game's full cast, the License Board lacks its dynamism. Worse, Final Fantasy XII isn't a riveting gameplay experience until its middle act. While the story certainly has its share of dramatic moments, too often you are stuck wailing away at sewer rats or random foot soldiers. That is because more than half of the first chapter involves grinding for the sake of grinding.

Nonetheless, I do want to praise the game's story. Never before have I seen Square-Enix show such narrative restraint. The story establishes a mystery without spoiling too much of the surprise. In particular, I was legitimately shocked when Basch appears to assassinate Reks. Best of all, the characters are charming and pleasurable when you first meet them. While there are a few character missteps, party members like Basch or Balthier are consistent highlights.

Part 4: Why Am I Killing Sewer Rats In a Game About Global Politics And Regicide?

Yo, this game get's DARK real quick!
Yo, this game get's DARK real quick!

I'm just going to say what I want to say — the first two chapters of Final Fantasy XII fucking suck. They just suck. After the story shoots for the stars, it unceremoniously transitions to simulating Vaan's life as a street urchin. The game could have done more to justify this transition if it fully-invested in drawing a connection between Reks and Vaan, but it doesn't. It instead ferrets Vaan on one fetch quest after another. I get it's an attempt to "humble" the player, but it's a rough juxtaposition to say the least.

This preliminary bellyaching is a decent enough segue to my summary of "section two." With the king of Dalmasca dead, the forces of Archadia overwhelm the city of Rabanastre. Imperial agents identify Basch as the culprit of Raminas' murder. Additionally, the princess of Dalmasca supposedly dies off-screen from grief. This event leaves the formerly-independent kingdom leaderless. After the omniscient narrator says their piece, we transition to a sewer at Rabanastre where Vaan is killing rats.

Ah, it's everyone's favorite Final Fantasy XII character! Kytes, the orphan!
Ah, it's everyone's favorite Final Fantasy XII character! Kytes, the orphan!

Vaan is a plucky orphan under the employ of a sundry store owner named Migelo. A troupe of orphans accompanies him; the most notable being Penelo. The breadth of children and citizens living in poverty does wonders to the game's worldbuilding. Thanks to their inclusion, we know Rabanastre has seen better days and is suffering from the Imperial occupation. Conversely, this is the point of the game where I think the HD textures does the story a disservice. As mentioned earlier, large portions of Rabanastre are meant to come across as a slum, but the pristine graphics do not allow for that to happen.

Before we move on, let's stop for a minute to allow me to throw in two pennies. There's a limit to the respectable worldbuilding of Rabanastre. Rabanastre being under Imperial control is a significant plotline during the game's first act. Unfortunately, you have to take Vaan and Penelo for their word about the impacts of this occupation. Sure, we see a few Imperial soldiers rough up some merchants, but it's a far cry from what Vaan characterizes as a "brutal occupation." I understand Vayne Solidor's obsequious nature is an attempt to frame him as a selfish opportunist. For fuck's sake, his name is "Vayne" after all! However, Final Fantasy XII's ambiance is too reserved in its initial hours.

If the game makes me listen to more of Vaan's Robin Hood grandstanding, I'm shutting it down.
If the game makes me listen to more of Vaan's Robin Hood grandstanding, I'm shutting it down.

What I would prefer is more contextualization of the Archadian Empire in the first act. We understand later that there's another empire named Rozarria and it represents a significant security threat to Archadia. The game puts little effort into relating this background information to the recent invasions. Likewise, the Imperials do not feel as menacing as other monolithic Final Fantasy villains. Their acts of conquest are, in theory, in the name of self-preservation. While that sounds interesting in concept, it also opens the story up to weird anachronisms. While Vayne's peaceful facade masterfully breaks away, characters like Dr. Cid are comically evil the moment you meet them. In addition, there's Larsa, who wants everyone to be holding hands in peaceful harmony. Lastly, the foot soldiers of the Empire, more often than not, serve as comic relief. The end result is the game's messaging about the Imperials is a muddied mess.

I'm again dancing around a more significant issue when it comes to Rabanastre. While the location is brimming with storytelling potential, everything you accomplish there is a bore! Seriously, when you first take control of Vaan, the game tasks you with three fetch quests! WHY WOULD ANYONE THINK THAT IS A GOOD IDEA?! Equally important, there's no real connection between these errands and the greater narrative. I could be mistaken here, but I'm pretty sure hunting the "Rogue Tomato" has nothing to do with freeing a country from a fascistic military-industrial complex.

Migelo is a waste of John DiMaggio's talents.
Migelo is a waste of John DiMaggio's talents.

Part 5: Vaan Is FUCKING HORRIBLE!

Before I rag on Vaan, I want to give credit where credit is due. First, I don't hate his voice acting. His voice actor is far from perfect, but more often than not, fits Vaan's ego-driven posturing. Moreover, Vaan's storyline with Basch showcases one of the stronger interpersonal relationships in the game. Once again, Final Fantasy XII shocked me with its restraint. During this story beat, neither Basch nor Vaan comes across as especially preachy or melodramatic. The characters have different perspectives, and the game treats each viewpoint as equally valid. Finally, I appreciate the fact that Vaan is not emotionally static during the game's introduction. Throughout the first chapter, you see him express a broad spectrum of emotions.

Beyond that, he's a shitty protagonist. In fact, he may be my least favorite Final Fantasy protagonist. What sticks under my craw is how miscast Vaan is in the story. Say what you will about Squall or Tidus, but you cannot envision someone different as the player-character in their respective games. The main story of Final Fantasy XII is about restoring the independence of Dalmasca. In that regard, Ashe and Basch are the primary stakeholders! Vaan has very little connection to that plotline outside of his dead brother.

You cannot tell me the crux of this story is Vaan living out his dream as an airship pirate. I'm not having that.
You cannot tell me the crux of this story is Vaan living out his dream as an airship pirate. I'm not having that.

Besides, Vaan is a fucking brat. Whenever he chimes in with his two cents' worth, I want to punch out my computer monitor. Above all, he is made a member of the team out of pure convenience to the story. When you stop and think about it, he adds nothing to the cast other characters cannot provide. Now I've said a LOT about Final Fantasy XIII, but here's the thing. Lightning, for all of her problems, is the only natural-born leader in her group. Vaan doesn't even have that going for him! From top to bottom, the majority of the cast outclasses him in every regard!

And you know what? The game has a golden opportunity to justify Vaan as a character during its fledgling hours. When we first take control of Vaan, he is a poor street urchin. It's not a terrible starting premise, but the game does so little with it for HOURS I quickly grew tired of him. At no point does the game scaffold Vaan's life experiences to the global politics we witness earlier. Worse, rather than embracing Vaan's lack of societal stock, the story conveniently provides him MacGuffin after MacGuffin to justify his presence.

Because I bet all of you enjoyed killing the Rogue Tomato the first time around!
Because I bet all of you enjoyed killing the Rogue Tomato the first time around!

Let's come back to that last point for a minute. If you could, I want you to answer a question for me. Why does Ashe allow Vaan to become a party member? It's NOT because he provides a service no one else can contribute. Neither does Vaan communicate a clear political leaning, nor does he feel invested in helping "The Resistance." Rather, he's permitted to tag along in world-shattering events because he finds himself in possession of critical story items. To add insult to injury, Vaan gains these items through pure luck rather than intuition or physical prowess.

Even more, Vaan isn't an interesting character. Don't get me started about Vaan wanting to become a pirate, because he loudly shouts about it dozens of times! Besides, having your protagonist declare their employment aspirations IS NOT a replacement of good characterization! This criticism is especially the case when the writing serves every part of Vaan's character arc on a silver platter. Furthermore, it's during these enthusiastic exclamations when Vaan's voice actor struggles the most.

Part 6: The First Five Hours Of This Game Are BORING!

That doesn't sound totally arbitrary and endlessly frustrating in any way, shape, or form!
That doesn't sound totally arbitrary and endlessly frustrating in any way, shape, or form!

What does Final Fantasy XII accomplish in its first playable hour? If we are honest, NOT MUCH! It's shocking how much the story drags after showing massive promise during its introduction. Unfortunately, most of this issue is by design. As we will review later, because Final Fantasy XII is packed to the gills with dense gameplay mechanics, the game has to stagger itself. Unfortunately for me, things are worse in the Zodiac Edition. For example, your second job slot isn't available until AFTER you battle Vossler.

The result is much of the initial game involves battling trash mobs with little sense of difficulty. Which is problematic given Vaan's whole starting gimmick is that he's downtrodden and living in the lowest rung of society. For lack of a better word, Vaan kicks too much ass too quickly in the story. Regardless, after Vaan attends to the rats in the Garamsythe Waterway, he meets up with his childhood friend, Penelo. There's a quick scene where Penelo chastises Vaan for picking fights against the Imperials, and we leave with an unshakable feeling the two are close friends.

Are we seriously using a flower as a metaphor for life? Is that really happening right now?
Are we seriously using a flower as a metaphor for life? Is that really happening right now?

In spite of my nitpicking, I cannot deny Final Fantasy XII's innate beauty. Its worlds are teeming with life and colorful characters. NPCs feel like members of a society rather than soulless automatons. Furthermore, there are small touches to the world that add to the game's atmosphere. The Imperials have an all-encompassing presence, and we see the occupiers accost several NPCs in Rabanastre. Another nice touch is the apparent sense of technological superiority the Imperials have over their occupied states. We see hundreds of monolithic airships armed with state-of-the-art weaponry, and no such technology exists elsewhere. The effect is you feel the game is stacking the odds against you, and thus, your accomplishments are all the more impressive.

All the same, most of the story's introduction is held together with bubble gum and masking tape. After completing a mindless errand, Migelo tasks Vaan with fetching a package. Admittedly, the fetch quest serves as our introduction to the Hunts, but it's otherwise an impassive affair. It's here where you can feel Final Fantasy XII's length. When it tasks you with locating and killing the "Rogue Tomato," the simple process of finding it takes upwards of ten to fifteen minutes. All the while, you waste your time offing swarms of wolves and birds with no end in sight. Moreover, it doesn't help each of the game's desert environments look and feel the same.

When the fuck did Kenny G become a Final Fantasy villain?
When the fuck did Kenny G become a Final Fantasy villain?

Granted, there are grandiose moments in Rabanastre worth mentioning. When Vaan successfully transports Migelo's foodstuffs, we witness a parade in Vayne Solidor's honor. Vayne speaks to the citizens of Rabanastre and tries to frame himself as an enlightened despot. He implores the people he means them no further harm and asks they return to life as usual. You know, things a dictator would say during an occupation. Afterward, a quiet moment occurs between Vaan and Penelo. The two dismiss Vayne's speech as grandstanding, but their differences in philosophy are made obvious. Vaan is a dreamer with huge aspirations, and Penelo is a tacit pragmatist.

These moments are visually and narratively impressive. Both do wonders to cement our understanding of the world. However, they are woefully short and not reinforced in the following scenes. After we have another taste of the story's geopolitical framework, the game tasks Vaan and Penelo with collecting desert rocks. I would hazard to say the development team had their story moments in mind when making the game, but no clue as to how to string them together. What is more, Final Fantasy XII's mechanics begin to open up at this point, and you are unprepared for this change. Speaking of which:

Part 7: The License Board System Drives Me Bananas

And now for something completely different!
And now for something completely different!

Before we address my issues with the License Board, let's briefly summarize the story up to this point. Once Vaan attends to the matter of Migelo's shipment of food, he schemes to break into a royal locker room. Penelo directs Vaan to a crime lord named "Old Dalan" who is dressed like a Hindu snake charmer and voiced by a white person trying to fake an Indian accent. It is a bad thing. Old Dalan agrees to help Vaan break into the Empire's treasures, but only after he fetches him a "Crescent Stone." What ensues next is the biggest waste of your time in the entire game.

Worth mentioning, getting from one location to the next is a colossal pain in the ass. In this case, getting to the Giza Plains and starting Old Dalan's quest is three load screens away. Additionally, while the world map marks points of interest, there's no way to set custom waypoints for the side quests. Luckily the game has a teleport system, but bizarrely enough, it's a part of the in-game economy. Teleport Stones are only available as purchasable items or rewards for completing side quests. Even more upsetting, these items are stowed in the "Loot" tab of your inventory. I cannot begin to count the times I accidentally sold my warp crystals when selling loot to merchants.

However, Final Fantasy XII's hardest ask is when it asks you to forget everything you know about equipment in RPGs.
However, Final Fantasy XII's hardest ask is when it asks you to forget everything you know about equipment in RPGs.

Regardless, upon entering a village in the Giza Plains, Vaan locates Penelo. After a brief chat, Penelo assists Vaan in acquiring the Crescent Stone to complete his mission. During this quest, the two find an injured child who tells them to locate the "Dark Crystals" to create the Crescent Stone. It is at this point when Final Fantasy XII presents an outstanding choice. As someone playing the Zodiac Edition, I can attest selecting jobs for your party members is no longer avoidable. More worrisome, this decision is one of the most important you will make in the ENTIRE GAME!

Not since Path of Exile has a game's leveling system felt this intimidating. That statement might come as a surprise because the process of spending points and making your characters stronger isn't in and of itself difficult. Likewise, the Zodiac Edition's design ensures that no individual job combination is nonviable. Instead, the soul-searching comes from the fact the game locks you into a critical choice without any idea what you are doing. The in-game biographies aren't helpful in making an informed decision either. Maybe the terms "Foebreaker," "Time Battlemage," "Bushi," "Shikari" or "Uhlan" are burned into your skull, but as someone playing the game for the first time, I was forced to consult a guide.

How is this sufficient information to decide if this class is an appropriate fit for anyone?
How is this sufficient information to decide if this class is an appropriate fit for anyone?

I want to concede the job system in the Zodiac Edition is preferable to the license board in the original PS2 release. After tinkering with the PS2 version, I found it to be dull. The game spends much of its time highlighting diversity as an asset rather than an impairment. Nevertheless, the original license board is the same across each character, and thus the story's diversity is mechanically hampered. Consequently, the characters spend most of their time playing out like unbalanced fiddler crabs with little variety in-between.

Nonetheless, it seems bonkers Square-Enix couldn't find a middle ground between "everyone is tabula rasa and nothing matters," and "have fun making a blind choice you'll never get to undo." What ended up adding to my anxiety was the knowledge other characters would eventually join my party. For example, if I made Penelo a White Mage would I be smarting my choice when a better magic caster entered the fold? Generally the game does nothing to clue you into what each character's strengths and weakness are, or if any exist in the first place. Likewise, there's no respec option in Final Fantasy XII. This fact alone led me to avoid the License Board for hours upon end. When the inevitable was upon me, I quickly discovered another issue with Final Fantasy XII....

Part 8: This Game Requires A Guide

Anyone who says the License Board becomes more intuitive as you play the game is a fucking lying liar who lies.
Anyone who says the License Board becomes more intuitive as you play the game is a fucking lying liar who lies.

Other elements of Final Fantasy XII's design are astoundingly Byzantine. The story and mechanics cast a shadow over you every minute you play Final Fantasy XII. Even more, simple mistakes can bite you in the ass. To illustrate, let's return to the Zodiac Edition's License Board. There's no one "correct" way to tackle the mechanic. While some feel this design choice allows for the freedom of experimentation, for me, it results in constant second-guessing and uneasy compromises.

So, without further ado, here are my final job assignments. As a bit of a note, I want to clarify that I use every job precisely once. Be warned though, mistakes were made on my part.

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

As you can see, my "A-Team" is solid, but there's a massive drop in prowess when we reach some of my supporting party members. In particular, look at poor Basch's setup on that list. Part of my dilemma stems from the game not communicating the strengths of your characters. Indeed, the game does the opposite in many regards. In particular, Balthier starts with guns and even totes one in his in-game portrait. In spite of this, Balthier is one of the WORST characters to equip with firearms. The same sentiment applies to Basch. While he's seen to have an aptitude for archery during the opening cinematic, he's more potent when given a sword or battleax. When things are already confusing, it doesn't help Final Fantasy XII maliciously misguides you.

There are other examples of the game not conveying critical information to the player. For one thing, you have to purchase equipment after unlocking their licenses on the board. This issue poses a significant problem for the Ninja or Samurai jobs, as their conceit boils down to the use of a few critical accessories. In both cases, you have no hope of owning those pieces of equipment until the game's FINAL ACT! The same goes for the magic-focused classes wherein high-tier spells open up to you far earlier than they should. Often I found myself pooling License Points because there was nothing immediately available to buy from the merchants.

Worse, it's not like there's a compelling story with memorable characters as the game's complexity kicks into gear.
Worse, it's not like there's a compelling story with memorable characters as the game's complexity kicks into gear.

To further highlight how backward the design of Final Fantasy XII can be, let us talk about its loot drops. For lack of a better word, the loot drop spreadsheets in Final Fantasy XII are absurd. For a start, treasure chests are randomly generated, meaning, there's no guarantee any given chest will appear in the first place. On top of that, there's a spreadsheet that determines the contents of every treasure chest. This design decision is a bummer when you are traveling long distances in hopes of finding a specific accessory or magical ability. Finally, if you equip a particular item called the "Diamond Armlet" the loot options for the chests changes dramatically. In other words, someone at Square-Enix spent a lot of time designing how loot works in Final Fantasy XII, and I don't know if I care.

Then we have the Hunts. The monster hunts represent a large portion of Final Fantasy XII's optional content. This fact is painfully apparent as they are often harder than anything in the main story. For instance, the third hunt is the "Flowering Cactoid," and if you do not adequately prepare yourself, it's the hardest boss at that point in the game. Also, several of the hunts are programmed with narrowly defined scripts that necessitate endless amounts of trial and error. Often, getting the monsters to spawn involves a prolonged series of events. Consequently, if you do not take advantage of specific elemental or physical weaknesses, some battles are outright impossible.

Awesome, Square-Enix's creepy voyeuristic streak continues in Final Fantasy XII.
Awesome, Square-Enix's creepy voyeuristic streak continues in Final Fantasy XII.

It doesn't help each step to completing a hunt is laborious. To begin with, you need to locate the bulletin board at a bar and accept any outstanding missions. Next, you need to talk to the person who authored the posting for further details. Following this brief conversation, you need to travel to the monster's location. Sometimes the game asks you to perform a task to spawn the target, and other times it's merely waiting for you. After you defeat the mark, you then need to trek all the way back to the author of the mission and collect your reward. I'm not joking when I say 80% to 90% of the hunts involves aimless walking!

Part 9: I Hate The Gambit System

Seriously, fuck the Gambit System!
Seriously, fuck the Gambit System!

Look, I admit the gambit system was revolutionary at the time. I get it allows you to steamroll through trash mobs with relative ease. I get why people like it. Regardless, the system has been a consistent thorn in my side. It's a robust mechanic to parse out, and the game does not set you up for success. In fact, the in-game tutorial for the Gambit System is downright TERRIBLE! Furthermore, the game neither provides a set of easy to use gambits, nor a sense of an end-goal for the mechanic. Seriously, what ideal am I supposed to be aiming for with my Gambits?

Maybe my musings come across as rantings rather than legitimate criticisms. However, there's nothing more frustrating than spending hours setting up a character's Gambits and watching them do nothing in the middle of a battle. Consequently, there's no "training ground" where you can see if your hard work translates into something useful. More importantly, the Gambit System isn't empowering. More often than not, I felt like I was doing the job of the programmers. When I saw Fran or Balthier fruitlessly casting the same spell over and over again, I felt like I was debugging their A.I. And I'm sorry, but I don't think that's fun!

Also, starting each character with just two Gambit slots is a seriously fucked up move.
Also, starting each character with just two Gambit slots is a seriously fucked up move.

I cannot preface enough how easy it is to misplace a single command that unknowingly makes a character "broken." To illustrate, I setup my characters to "Attack Target at 100%." In this case, I thought the 100% meant my party would focus their attacks on a single boss while ignoring everything else. I was wrong, and after inflicting a single blow, they stopped attacking entirely. However, the game made no effort to warn me of my incorrect assumption. Another annoyance is how slowly Gambits open up to the player. Throughout the game's introduction, there were several conditionals I would have LOVED to use, but the game arbitrarily gates them away until reaching a particular part of the story.

To add fuel to the fire, you must purchase Gambits from vendors. That's right, the mechanic that makes the characters usable in combat is part of the in-game economy! I have no clue who thought this was a good idea, but we need to find them and shoot them to the moon! Not to mention, there are hundreds of Gambits to purchase and no sense of which ones are genuinely helpful. Each Gambit Store has a long and exhaustive list of options, and you have to scroll through this list whenever making a purchase. It's a colossal pain; moreover, you will often not understand the value of these Gambits until AFTER failing a boss battle. For instance, I didn't purchase the debuffing Gambits until an enemy killed my characters using poison.

Even during the game's early chapters, putting all of its pieces together is a daunting affair.
Even during the game's early chapters, putting all of its pieces together is a daunting affair.

And you know what? I find the Gambit System an insult to the main appeal of role-playing games. These are MY characters to control. The world is told through the perspective of the cast, but I control their destiny. I feel having the game automate your characters disconnects you from their evolution. By leveling these characters, I am pushing them closer towards their end goals. Unfortunately, this sense of progression rapidly diminishes because the ideal is to have them play themselves!

Part 10: Did I Mention The Story Takes Forever To Get Interesting?

With the mechanics of Final Fantasy XII out of the way, we can return to its story. After Vaan and Penelo convert a sandstone into a Crescent Stone, they part ways. Penelo returns to Migelo's shop, and Vaan returns to his thieving schemes. When Vaan returns to Old Dalan with a Crescent Stone in tow, the old man reveals a secret passageway into the royal palace of Rabanastre. While convenient, Vaan yet again needs to navigate through the labyrinthine depths of the sewers.

When Vaan finds himself in the Royal Palace, the game's serious tone starts to crack. None of the guards care about our spirited teenager waltzing through the palace halls. While the game initially treats entering the palace as gravely dangerous, it doesn't follow through on this conceit. When you try to dodge guards, there's no noticeable penalty for failing. If anything, the mission plays out like a comedic farce. The Imperial Guards act like buffoons, and Vaan behaves like Bugs Bunny.

Nothing says
Nothing says "Final Fantasy" quite like an out of place minigame.

It's worth noting there are several interjections as Vaan makes progress through the royal palace. When he first reaches the sewers, there's a brief scene where we see Vossler conversing with his men before leading them into battle. Upon entering the palace, we watch a quick cutscene that introduces Balthier and Fran. While abrupt, these juxtapositions are surprisingly effective. You understand there are more significant forces at play and Vaan is bound to get caught in the middle. Likewise, it builds upon the game's earlier sense of mystery and betrayal. Now if only the game knew how to scaffold this brewing sense of intrigue. Instead, it has us complete a bullshit stealth minigame.

While the palace itself is a welcomed change of scenery from the moribund desert wastelands from earlier, it is stunningly non-interactive. You don't fight any of the guards, and your only interaction with the environment is trying to find a secret passageway. Speaking of which, when you discover the entrance to the royal treasures, Vaan runs into Balthier and Fran. After the three exchange words, shit pops off. Explosions boom in the background, and the trio grabs what treasures they can before making a hasty retreat. What ensues next is the best scene in the game's introduction. Balthier and company board his air bike as they desperately try to avoid an aerial bombardment from an Imperial airship.

At least the first act introduces the second best character in the game.
At least the first act introduces the second best character in the game.

Before you ask, I like Balthier. His swagger plays off the other cast members to hilarious effect. My only complaint is that too often the game has him spew terrible one-liners in an attempt to frame him as the party's "lovable asshole." Fran, on the other hand, is so underwritten it's not even funny. However, it's her exploitative character design that irks me the most. The game has a gross tendency to frame the camera on Fran's bottom or chest whenever she is in a scene. Also, her outfit is ridiculous. I get she comes from a different culture, but she's dressed like a Playboy Bunny. With guns and canons readily accessible, her outfit has no practical purpose other than to further modern Square-Enix's lamentable female character design.

Eventually, you meet up with a mysterious female figure called "Amalia." After rescuing her from a troupe of soldiers, you collectively work together to exit the sewers. All the while, Vaan proudly displays the glowing magical stone he stole from the royal treasury. As you progress through the sewers, you eventually encounter your first proper boss battle. This encounter, like many in the Final Fantasy franchise, exists because someone thought it was high time for a boss encounter. The "Firemane" accosts the party because I guess it makes sense for a flaming Pegasus monster to be living in a sewer. Upon defeating the Firemane, a small army led by Vayne surrounds your party. With no other option, everyone surrenders and lays down their arms.

Part 11: Vaan Is The Worst Protagonist In Final Fantasy History

Speaking of characters who deserve to be the protagonist instead of Vaan....
Speaking of characters who deserve to be the protagonist instead of Vaan....

Previously, I mentioned how I felt Vaan's characterization never feels wholly connected with Final Fantasy XII's major themes. The poster child of this issue is when the story develops his character arc. After being knocked unconscious, Vaan has a dream sequence involving his brother. The cutscene briefly shows a side of Vaan that we have never seen before. We discover Vaan genuinely cared about his brother, and his passing impacted him emotionally. This turmoil is what justifies Vaan's unfathomable hatred for Basch.

Admittedly, Vaan's relationship arc with Basch showcases the best of Final Fantasy XII's writing. It is a story based solely on the characters and their experiences in the world. At no point does it bother with inter-governmental politics or complicated mind games. It is a slowly evolving tale that progresses as new layers to the story present themselves. It's a beautiful character arc, but there's a catch. It doesn't do much to justify Vaan's position in the mainline story. If anything, Vaan's character evolution pales in comparison to Balthier or Ashe.

You honestly need to have higher standards when it comes to who you trust.
You honestly need to have higher standards when it comes to who you trust.

Stop and think about Vaan's evolution for a moment. When he finally buries the hatchet with Basch, what is the result? At most, Vaan continues to be a hysterical teenager with aspirations of being a space pirate. There's nothing to Vaan that connects him to the global politics of the Archadian Empire or its occupation! Yes, he's a victim of that occupation, but why is Vaan one of the main actors in ending it? On top of that, the game never justifies what makes him an asset to the team! What does he bring to the table that Basch and Balthier do not?

However, this nitpicking is dancing around the more significant issue with Vaan's characterization. The game painfully stretches his character arc to a literal breaking point. The Nalbina Dungeon presents the introduction to Vaan's relationship with Basch, but this relationship doesn't significantly develop for a solid ten to twelve hours! All the while, we watch the two stand side-by-side one another without a care in the world. To say the game "presses the pause button" on Vaan's character arc would be an understatement. Vaan feels as if he's put into stasis as the rest of the story jumps into hyperspace!

If these are the people responsible for saving the world from destruction, then we have problems. Serious problems!
If these are the people responsible for saving the world from destruction, then we have problems. Serious problems!

Furthermore, and I hate to beat this drum again, but Vaan is intolerable! I don't take Vaan seriously, and neither do the other characters. I can't think of a single time when Basch, Balthier, or Ashe approach Vaan asking for his input on a dilemma. The worst part is when Ashe or Basch think aloud the party's next steps, and Vaan offers his two cents' worth. During these moments, you cannot help but join the rest of the characters when they roll their eyes.

I hope this blog doesn't make it seem like I'm bashing Final Fantasy XII. What I like about Final Fantasy XII means the world to me. It is an admirable change of pace compared to Final Fantasy XIII. Above all, it's a pleasant surprise to play a Final Fantasy game that feels like a legitimate role-playing game. The world is dripping with character, and there are places I want to explore. That said, it's a handful to deal with, and some clear missteps plague it. All the while, I wouldn't say I hate the game, but it's certainly not a game that wowed me in its opening chapters.

Lock Vaan up in jail and throw away the key!
Lock Vaan up in jail and throw away the key!
Moderator
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#1 Edited by soulcake (2811 posts) -

The First FF i played was XIII -2, i know that sounds like a sick joke, but it's true. To bad your skipping it :D, but i totally get it. At least Zodiac age is A OKAY, it's the game the plays it's self, 12X speed, and programing your FF dudes was fun, at least for me it was.

edit: great read i like the descend into Vaan Hate +1.

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#2 Posted by TheRealTurk (548 posts) -

1. I agree Vaan is a terrible Aladdin wannabe who was a horrible premonition of the abomination that was to become Hope in FFXIII - but don't blame the writers on this one. The original director of the game wanted Basch and Ashe to be the main characters of the story, but the Squeenix suits felt they wouldn't be "relatable" or some bullshit and made them put Vaan in.

2. I also agree that not being able to respect and essentially being forced to commit to a class choice blind if horrible, although I wonder how much of this is bad localization. Like, why call a class an "Uhlan?" What the fuck is that? Why not just call it a Dragoon, since that's (a) what the class actually is and (b) what people who have played Final Fantasy, particularly in the West, would understand that class as.

I also think it speaks a little bit to JRPG vs. WRPG design philosophy. In JRPGs you get minimal tutorials and are almost expected to use a guide to figure out the optimal ways to use a class. In comparison, a WRPG like Pillars of Eternity gives you all of the necessary information up front, which usually includes a ton of mathematical formulas that tell you exactly what's going to happen in various attacks. JRPGs tend to not give you enough information while some WRPGs feel like information overload, but on the whole I'd rather be given the information so I can make an informed choice.

3. I 100% disagree with you on the Gambit system. It is easily the best battle system ever in a Final Fantasy game and one that they should go back to. Maybe the tutorials are a bit obtuse, but honestly it isn't that hard to pick up. Just be glad that they unlocked most of the Gambits from the get-go in the Zodiac version. In the original, you couldn't even buy the elemental weakness ones until like halfway through the game.

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#3 Posted by Justin258 (15676 posts) -

Rumor has always been that Vaan was shoehorned into this game at the last possible minute because Square was afraid audiences wouldn't be able to empathize with a thirty something grizzled soldier who may or may not be a traitor or a princess trying to get her kingdom back while grieving for her husband. Shame, as FFXII's writing is mostly more than capable of handling both characters.

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#4 Posted by Jesus_Phish (3890 posts) -

@justin258: More than any other protagonist of a Final Fantasy game, Vaan looks like he was designed by a robot that got fed every protagonist from the Playstation generation of FF games.

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#5 Posted by TobbRobb (6585 posts) -

I remember the story being that Square didn't believe in either Basch or Ashe to market the game as a protagonist and duct taped Vaan onto it with the least amount of effort they could muster for ADDING A NEW PROTAGONIST. But I could be wrong on that.

Man this game really is a handful. I had to restart it multiple times after getting 10-15h in. It took years of occassionally checking back before beating it, and I ended up reading a lot threads around what people were doing with the license board/jobs to make it all make sense. It is quite fun when you get into it though, and I love the gambit system. But I just enjoy automation puzzles in general, it's just novel to have it affect my RPG party.

The random chest stuff was always a ??? thing for me. Dragon's Dogma has the same thing and I don't get it man. At least it's unique iunno.

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#6 Posted by Zeik (5206 posts) -

I do actually think the license board becomes more intuitive as the game goes on. Much like FFX's sphere grid, it seems completely overwhelming and incomprehensible at first, but after like a dozen hours I knew what I was doing well enough to get what I needed out of it. I do think it has a bit of a problem with knowing what is actually worth investing in early on, but whenever I didn't have something I specifically wanted to obtain I just hoarded my points until I did and that seemed to work fine.

The Gambit System though, I pretty much entirely agree with you. The idea of taking away control from the player doesn't actually bother me that much, but locking so many fundamentally necessary gambits away from you for so long, while also restricting your gambits so heavily just sucks. After a few dozen hours it opens up enough to become serviceable, but I can't say I ever found it fun. Mostly because I just fundamentally dislike that style of combat, where it feels like you're constantly fighting the AI's stupidity to get them to do what you want, instead of actually feeling like you have tactical control over them. It's the same reason I dislike Dragon Age: Origins combat, although that game pulls it off a little better than FFXII.

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#7 Posted by Efesell (4541 posts) -

I love any combat system that allows me to program a party to do a bunch of minutia for me. Gambits, DA Origins, love it.

I should really get around to playing Zodiac Age. XII is a game I remember distinctly not liking at the time because of the story but it's one I suspect I would respect a lot more upon revisiting it.

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#8 Posted by Fezrock (732 posts) -

Looks like several people beat me to the punch about Vaan's late addition to the game, so I'll just chime and agree that he's a terrible waste. I would've vastly preferred a game centered around Basch and Ashe, or maybe Balthier and Fran if Square wanted to retread Zidane from IX but without the baggage. And, altogether, the four of them are strong enough characters that no further party members are even needed.

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#9 Posted by Efesell (4541 posts) -

@fezrock: I mean ultimately the game is still completely centered around Bosch and Ashe. Once the game spends its first 2-3 hours trying to convince you that Vahn and Penelo matter you can just watch them quietly shrink into the background forever.

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#10 Posted by hassun (10004 posts) -

Vaan ain't the worst, he's just a non-character. Penelo as well.

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#11 Posted by poobumbutt (961 posts) -

Vaan is such a weird inclusion; even aside from the previously mentioned aspect of him being added at the eleventh hour, he's just an empty character.

Who thought it would be a good idea to have a party member who is never taken seriously by his peers, AND to have that character be our viewpoint into this world? Well, the writers of FFX I guess, but even then, Tidus has a clearly identifiable place in the story, with his dad being the evil glob monster.

Vaan, on the other hand, feels purposefully crafted to not have any stock in this story, like he's a character the party meets while on their adventure and spends a chapter with him to juxtapose "earth-shattering geopolitics" with "the everyday person just trying to live"... before they leave that character because he served his purpose in the plot. Except now he's your PC, with his only interesting feature being that he erroneously blames a character for his brother's death, before realizing he was wrongfully accused and genuinely forgiving and befriending him. An interesting development, sure, but one that ALSO could be handled by the aforementioned single-chapter story arc.

Thinking about Vaan's relationship with Basch like this makes me believe that putting their arc on "pause" wasn't just a lazy writing convenience, but a necessity. "I hate you. Oh, you didn't actually do the thing? Well, I guess I don't hate you, then" can't stand on its own for an entire Final Fantasy story and I think the writers knew that, so with Vaan not having anything else going for him (I never beat FFXII, but I've heard that's pretty much his "peak"), they decided to hope you just ignored, but not forgot about that aspect of their relationship, until the next time it was convenient for the story to bring it up and press "play" on them again.

On a completely different note, unless the remaster does some super weird stuff, that "tinny audio" was definitely present in the original. Or, at least, it had this reverb to all the dialogue that I think someone thought it would simulate cinematic, theater-style sound, but just sounds like it was recorded in an aluminum tunnel. Maybe the remaster turns that up and makes it WORSE, but the weird audio is original recipe, unfortunately.

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#12 Edited by soimadeanaccount (624 posts) -

Do my eyes deceived me? Is this a FF game...where we have the same take on almost everything! so far at least.

Yes the beginning of the game is quite weird, it had a quick story telling phase and then a too drawn out gameplay session that honestly doesn't get shorter as the game goes on.

I am with you that gambit shouldn't have been locked. I don't find the license board too terrible, a little weird, but it is mostly a sphere grid-like chart with requirements tied in. No re-rolling on the job system could very well be the one thing that prevents me from playing the Zodiac version of the game. Would it really kill Square to just do a single player version of FFXI job system...

Vaan I am kind of mixed on. I don't exactly find him insufferable, but yes he doesn't really need to be there, and as many have said above it is likely he wasn't meant to be there in the first place along with Penelo. However there could have been an interesting story angle; an everyman's take on the situation with all the political intrigue and struggle. Did the game ever got there? No...but it could be interesting.

Also if we were to sack Vaan and Penelo, was the game going to have only 4 playable characters? Would it have been a case where the player could have start 4 characters at all times? Which would have made the combat more interesting.

I find the 3 people party quite limiting. With all the different set ups available it still ultimately boils down to the tried and true one tank plus damage, one healer, and one support plus minor damage line up.

The loot system is straight up item grinding with random drops. The game even has camping for notorious monster! I remember there was this one part where an enemy could drop an axe that is better than anything I could have at that point of the game, and I just grind until all 6 characters have it. Not fun, do not recommend.

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#13 Edited by wollywoo (284 posts) -

Nice review. I agree Vaan and Penelo are pointless and annoying. Balthier, on the other hand, is great. But I barely remember *anything* about the story of this one. It probably didn't help that I played it on-and-off over a period of several months while I was in college, so that whenever I came back to it I had forgotten what was happening. Mainly, I *loved* exploring the huge, intricately designed towns and talking to everyone. The game is SO BIG.

I actually loved the gambit system myself. It's a really nice way of giving you more control over your characters without having to constantly back and forth between them or pause ala KOTOR. Basically, the gambit system means that the game's combat is both a) very fast and b) completely under your control. Until FFXII, most party-based RPGs had to choose between (a) and (b), since there's inherent complexity in controlling three or more characters simultaneously.

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#14 Posted by mezmero (3764 posts) -

Heck man you're a way bigger fan of this franchise than I am at this point, and I've played and finished most of these games when they were new. Then again I never finished any passed FFX so you're already ahead of the curb on this stuff. I thought when Zodiac Age released I might give this game another shot but I've seen my brother play some late game stuff in the vanilla version and boy does it not look appealing or rewarding the way you kind of just run your party into mobs and let the gambits do the rest. I'm sure down the line there's some psychotic satisfaction to getting them programmed just right but in the opening hours I could not find anything to like about this game's design, art direction, or characters so I quit prematurely. Same thing happened with XIII where I think I just reached an age where I just don't have time to waste on long games that are mostly bad save for a handful of kinda neat stuff in between.

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#15 Posted by AlvaroFAraujo (379 posts) -

I'm going to comment on what spurred my attention. And note that I only played this game once, but I managed to do 99% of the game, except the Final FINAL Extra Boss (his HP is just bonkers), and only followed a guide for the extra stuff but i digress.

First of all: Vann. Yeah he is a stupid fuck boy, he whines and most of the time makes stupid comments as a joke, that don't land at all. But in all fairness once I picked up Ashe, i completely dismissed him except for Boss battles, since my party was Ashe, Basch and Balthier. I still had to listen to him during the cutscenes but during those i was usually more distracted with something else, running on the background TV.

2nd: Wait you hate the Zodiac thing? Why?! It grants the player full freedom to compose a party and besides the version you are playing allows for double job per character. Thats just Insane, the amount of "power" one char can have + synergise with the rest of the party can pretty much wipe the floor with every enemy. Yes it locks you on whatever you choose but then again as you have said you followed a guide, so there should be no problem with mid-maxing your primary party. The only problem is the Aeons, Summons, whatever they are called here, cause they lock certain skills or passives behind them, so to reach them that character needs to have that summon, which can influence your main party and how you approach things.

3rd: Team composition: I'm very disappointed with what i saw that you pick. Not that it doesnt work. But as i said before I played the PS2 version that could only rant 1 job per char. and they were the following:

  1. Ashe - Samurai
  2. Balthier - W. Mage
  3. Vaan - Monk
  4. Penelo - Green mage
  5. Fran - Red mage
  6. Basch - Archer

As you can see both my highest dmg dealers were Ashe and Balthier. During the late game this was almost unstoppable that is if you take the time to confront the Genji Samurai. I wanted Ashe as my main dmg dealer so in fights where a tank was needed I would replace Basch with Vaan (some guide said his HP growth and Defense were the highest), and late game Monks can take a lot of hits without falling, plus Vaan looks like a Monkey so the Monk's weapon (a pole) reminds me of Monkey King from chinese mythos.

If i had access to a 2nd Job I seriously would not know where to begin adding stuff.

4th: You HATE the BEST Aspect of the game. GAMBITS. ITS SO GOOD, the only reason why i stuck with this game until the end. I like programming and even if this is basic programming it works well the only issue i have with it is not allowing for multiple Gambits pages for each character that you could change on the fly, for example a gambit page for random encounters and another page for 1 target only filled with debufs and bufs. The gambits allowed me to farm most of my LP on that mine bridge by putting the game on 4x speed and just obliterate those skeletons that show up. That area is actually messed up. You can access it on the 2nd city you visit and if you know where it is, you can pretty easily over level your chars by a lot. It will help you punch through the early game and also allows you to sell one of the drops those skeletons have, granting you access to even more gambits. Ashe would just slash dudes while dodging incoming attacks until they reached critical hp, then either Basch or Penelo would finish them off with that skill that only works on critical hp foes and rewards you with an extra drop. It's such a great change from the turn based combat you saw in previous FF. And i like some of them (currently finishing my 1st playthrough of IX)

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#16 Edited by TheWildCard (698 posts) -

Vaan is indeed the worst. And so is Penelo. Honestly Balthier and to a lesser extent Ashe are the only characters that leave much of an impression. I remember being disappointed in Basch's development stalling after such a good introduction early (admittedly it's been a long time so I may have forgotten some stuff).

I'm with you on Gambits. I get the satisfaction of programming a party that works well, and can dispatch trash mobs at ease, but having increasingly less need to interact in combat scenarios as the game goes on (outside of some boss battles) isn't exactly riveting. Course I prefer on-the-fly tactical reaction in general to grand strategy.

Edit: Oh yeah the audio quality of the VOs not being cleaned up is my biggest disappointment with the remaster.

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#17 Posted by jeffrud (717 posts) -

These continue to be the best blog content on Giant Bomb, if not the best content full stop.

Seeing as you're now playing through the last good Final Fantasy game, it seems like the next logical step would be for you to play through the first good/great one. When do you plan on tackling Final Fantasy IV?

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#18 Edited by Onemanarmyy (4443 posts) -

Yeah this pretty much mirrors my feelings on FF 12. Love the idea of Rabanastre with all it's diverse inhabitants. It has a very dusty Star Wars-esque vibe i think. Couldn't care about Vaan & Panelo at all. Basch , Balthier & Ashe are way more interesting. The quickening system is not very fun. I think that originally took away all your MP? I don't think i used it much. Man.. those vocals.. i think they sounded bad on the original release as well. And yeah. In theory the gambit system is pretty neat, but given that you ram through 80% of the enemies without having to create complex AI systems, it becomes kind of boring to run up to an enemy and wait a few seconds for them to die over & over again. I remember only really altering it as i unlocked more slots & before hard bosses. It says enough that the speed up feature is a huge selling point for this release. Gambits make the combat itself boring. And if you really need to use gambits early on, you often feel like you just don't get enough slots from the game to make it work out in the way that you want it to.

I think it's pretty annoying too that the gambit system makes you do the decision making up front while you're browsing menu's. I rather do the decision making on the fly, during the actual combat. That's why i think FF13's paradigm system was quite a neat improvement upon this idea. You get to alter the AI in broad strokes with the tap of a button, and you get to do it while fighting. If only they didn't decide to give you pairings that make it take ages for your team to dish out enough damage...

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#19 Posted by DisAbiLityFisHy (1171 posts) -

Vaan made this game really hard to play for me at the start, but after thinking back on FF12 just now, I hardly ever think of Vaan and just remember liking the game overall... but I guess that just proves your point, he's kind of forgettable.

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#20 Posted by ImmortalSaiyan (4785 posts) -

Baltier and fran should be the protagonists. Every other character in that game was not any good.

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#21 Posted by ZombiePie (7443 posts) -

First off, wow, I'm floored by the positive reception of this blog and want to thank everyone who commented at this point. Your input is greatly appreciated, and to show how grateful I am that you took the time to share your opinion, I'm going to respond to every comment individually until the next blog comes out. So, without further ado, let's jump into it!

@soulcake said:

The First FF i played was XIII -2, i know that sounds like a sick joke, but it's true. To bad your skipping it :D, but i totally get it. At least Zodiac age is A OKAY, it's the game the plays it's self, 12X speed, and programing your FF dudes was fun, at least for me it was.

Starting with any of the XIII games as your first impression to the Final Fantasy franchise sounds like a nightmare. I'm not one to judge, because my first Final Fantasy game was VIII. Now that I think about it, I guess it's not that out of the ordinary that the XIII games were the entry point to the series. They were the first games from the series released on an Xbox console and had a strong presence on Steam and other PC digital marketplaces. That said, I have to ask if you ever explored older games in the franchise after your "experiment."

1. I agree Vaan is a terrible Aladdin wannabe who was a horrible premonition of the abomination that was to become Hope in FFXIII

3. I 100% disagree with you on the Gambit system. It is easily the best battle system ever in a Final Fantasy game and one that they should go back to.

I guess I hadn't connected the dots that Vaan is basically the "Ghost of Christmas Past" for the Final Fantasy franchise until you mentioned it. To his credit, at least Vaan doesn't whine constantly about wanting to kill one of your strongest party members or fretting about holding the rest of the party down.

In terms of the Gambit System, and this is a point that maybe I wasn't entirely clear about in this episode, my criticism has less to do with how well the system plays, and more to do with how it places a barrier between the player and the characters. Once you grapple the mechanic and utilize it as it is intended, the game basically plays itself and you waive almost all control over your characters outside of moving them from one battle to the next. For me, controlling the characters, and physically seeing how they are getting stronger and more powerful, is part of the appeal to role-playing games. I understand that the Gambit System may be fun, but it unnecessarily places a barrier between you and the fruits of your countless hours of hard work.

Rumor has always been that Vaan was shoehorned into this game at the last possible minute because Square was afraid audiences wouldn't be able to empathize with a thirty something grizzled soldier who may or may not be a traitor or a princess trying to get her kingdom back while grieving for her husband. Shame, as FFXII's writing is mostly more than capable of handling both characters.

I have certainly seen this story parroted on the internet, and I guess it makes sense. But, and this is where I really want to put the writing staff on blast, they should have owned their shit when changing their formula. Seriously, if you want to have Vaan as the player-character, make him important. There are plenty of opportunities to justify Vaan as a character, and the game never takes a bite from that apple.

As I said in the blog, Tidus, for all his problems, has a role to play in Final Fantasy X. Shit, you can even say the same about Lightning in Final Fantasy XIII. Vaan is decent side-character, but nothing more. Worse, his character arc plays out in the final act of the game!

@justin258: More than any other protagonist of a Final Fantasy game, Vaan looks like he was designed by a robot that got fed every protagonist from the Playstation generation of FF games.

I don't think I have ever said this on any of these blogs, but Tetsuya Nomura has done more damage to the Final Fantasy franchise than good.

There... I fucking said it.

I'm tired of his fucking belts on belts nonsense. I'm tired of everyone wearing stupid amounts of leather. I'm tired of his shitty spikey-haired characters. I'm tired of everyone having poofy jackets.

I'm done.

@tobbrobb said:

Man this game really is a handful. I had to restart it multiple times after getting 10-15h in. It took years of occassionally checking back before beating it, and I ended up reading a lot threads around what people were doing with the license board/jobs to make it all make sense. It is quite fun when you get into it though, and I love the gambit system. But I just enjoy automation puzzles in general, it's just novel to have it affect my RPG party.

The random chest stuff was always a ??? thing for me. Dragon's Dogma has the same thing and I don't get it man. At least it's unique iunno.

What drives me bonkers is how poorly the game tutorials any of its important gameplay mechanics. As I mentioned in the blog the game plops the Gambit and License Board Systems on you after one character talks to you about them, and then expects you to figure the finer details on your own. If anything, Final Fantasy XII is a case study on the dangers of Final Fantasy placing a greater emphasis on gameplay instead of story. Because Square-Enix, despite having the best designers in the world, still cannot make a tutorial worth a fuck to save their lives.

I will give the game credit where credit is due. I greatly appreciate how the game is deliberately designed to where decisions on your jobs cannot entirely screw you over. While some job combinations are better than others, the game is designed to where it feels balanced regardless.

@zeik said:

I do actually think the license board becomes more intuitive as the game goes on. Much like FFX's sphere grid, it seems completely overwhelming and incomprehensible at first, but after like a dozen hours I knew what I was doing well enough to get what I needed out of it. I do think it has a bit of a problem with knowing what is actually worth investing in early on, but whenever I didn't have something I specifically wanted to obtain I just hoarded my points until I did and that seemed to work fine.

Hey maybe I'm wrong about the License Board, but thus far, it seems like the most unintuitive way to handle equipment in a role-playing game I have ever seen. For example, let's say you open a treasure chest and discover that there were a powerful pair of gloves in the chest. Normally, you would scan the item and see what its armor classification is, and match that with someone who can use that class of equipment. In Final Fantasy XII, the game adds in an extra two or three steps that arbitrarily adds time. Not only do you still need to identify which characters have the appropriate classes to equip the item, but you also need to find out where that exact item is on their license board. Without an auto-find or search feature, this is endlessly frustrating.

Again, maybe I'm missing something here, and I'm all ears if I am, but in my experience it's adding extra minutes and possibly hours to my game.

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#22 Posted by xanadu (2046 posts) -

@zombiepie: Pro Tips:

Steal: on enemy 100% hp

Poach: on enemy 30% hp.

Grind

....

Profit

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#23 Posted by Efesell (4541 posts) -

Can't even blame Nomura much for Vaan that's all Matsuno who frankly should have known better.

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#24 Edited by soulcake (2811 posts) -

@zombiepie For info, i played FF6, 7, 8, 14, 15 after that. Favorite one was FF6 by far it aged pretty well while 7 and 8 aged badly. And i have being playing 12 on and off. i will probably finish it in the next 10 years :D.

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#25 Edited by Superkenon (1704 posts) -

@zombiepie:

Love that you're keeping this feature rolling! I've been (largely too silently, probably) reading every one of these you've been putting out, and I still get excited for each new post. Looking forward to hearing your hot takes on where this game goes. I'm one of the people who considers XII a personal favorite, but I can also admit it's a big doozy of... interesting decisions.

Vaan being one of them. Maaaan, Vaan. There is a moment in the game where characters are discussing pivotal plot matters, while Vaan and Penelo areliterallyin the background playing in the sand. Vaan isn't a horrendous character, but his stakes certainly don't match the plot. The game's story is as uninterested as I am in his sky pirate dream, so it makes his role as main character feel ill-conceived. He's just... there. Meanwhile, Ashe, Basche or Balthier could each easily have been the main character instead.

I'm with you on the License Board missing the mark a bit. I've yet to play Zodiac Age, so I don't know how the classes feel, but even the regular board feels bad to explore. I don't necessarily have big issue with needing to unlock equipment, but I don't like trying to find your way to things blindly. I'm not usually one to use guides, but I definitely referred to one in this game so that I could plan out my characters in advance. That's what I appreciated about the Sphere Grid in FFX, and I guess I wanted to play this the same way. I ultimately had fun building characters both times I played through this, but I still gotta knock it.

Gambits though, I LOVE. Maybe it's because it solves a certain problem for me. AI-controlled allies: I always hate 'em. Seems like they're always either too ineffectual to make a difference (if not be an actual liability), or too smart to worry about, or just simply don't make an impact either way. Whatever it is, they're a part of the game that has nothing to do with me, so I usually find myself just wanting them out of my hair. The Gambit system brings my agency into it, and allows me to be as hands-on or hands-off as I want to be. Whatever my allies are or aren't doing falls with me, which makes me feel better about the parts they play in battle. I'm realizing as I'm typing this that this makes me sound like a super control freak... but I guess when it comes to video games, I am? It adds a certain strategic satisfaction for me that wouldn't be there otherwise.

I think you actually hit on another key point though when you mentioned that it felt like debugging AI. I, uhm... have been a game making hobbyist my whole life. Behavior trees are just exactly my shit and that's what I spend my damn free time on. So when you say it feels like you're doing the work of a dev, you're probably right. That might have a lot to do with why I love it so much, haha. XD

The way you're arbitrarily limited by the kinds of gambits/slots you have at first is a drag though. LET ME RUN LOOSE!

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#26 Posted by ZombiePie (7443 posts) -

@efesell said:

I love any combat system that allows me to program a party to do a bunch of minutia for me. Gambits, DA Origins, love it.

I should really get around to playing Zodiac Age. XII is a game I remember distinctly not liking at the time because of the story but it's one I suspect I would respect a lot more upon revisiting it.

I like the combat in Dragon Age: Origins, but for a variety of reasons am not able to enjoy Final Fantasy XII. The problem in Final Fantasy XII's case is how much prep you have to put into every battle or environment. Take, for example, a common issue I had in the game. Let's say you are about to face a boss, and that boss has a specific elemental weakness. In order to be victorious you basically have to tear down the Gambits you already have, and start from scratch. Once the boss battle is over, you have to pause again, and rebuild everything you ripped apart from before. This adds unnecessary busywork to an already slog of a game.

I literally for the life of me cannot think of a reason why Square did not design a way for you to save Gambit templates or copy paste common Gambit set ups.

@fezrock said:

Looks like several people beat me to the punch about Vaan's late addition to the game, so I'll just chime and agree that he's a terrible waste. I would've vastly preferred a game centered around Basch and Ashe, or maybe Balthier and Fran if Square wanted to retread Zidane from IX but without the baggage. And, altogether, the four of them are strong enough characters that no further party members are even needed.

What's weird is how much of a non-factor Vaan becomes by Final Fantasy XII's middle act. At that point the main characters straight up stop recognizing Vaan's existence and act of their own whims. It works well enough for their individual character arcs, but it comes at the cost of Vaan's place in the story. Which is doubly disappointing because you feel as if you are less a player in the story and more a passive observer.

@hassun said:

Vaan ain't the worst, he's just a non-character. Penelo as well.

Let's talk about Penelo for a bit. She's literally the same orange jumper wearing girl-next-door character Square-Enix has been copy-pasting since Final Fantasy VIII. They have rehashed this exact character over a dozen times at this point, and they could not be bothered to try something different in how she acts or develops in the story. That, if anything else, is another example of Final Fantasy XII's storytelling maleficence.

Also if we were to sack Vaan and Penelo, was the game going to have only 4 playable characters? Would it have been a case where the player could have start 4 characters at all times? Which would have made the combat more interesting.

I find the 3 people party quite limiting. With all the different set ups available it still ultimately boils down to the tried and true one tank plus damage, one healer, and one support plus minor damage line up.

Real talk, I just got to the point of the game where Larsa leaves your party and you go back to just having three characters. IT FUCKING SUCKS SO MUCH! In a game where grinding is the main conceit, working with your normal party compistion is exponentially less efficient than when you have a guest tagging along. Why you cannot have one of your un-used party members acting as a "support" character is beyond me. Or how about a mercenary system where you can hire people to fill that slot?

Thinking about Vaan's relationship with Basch like this makes me believe that putting their arc on "pause" wasn't just a lazy writing convenience, but a necessity. "I hate you. Oh, you didn't actually do the thing? Well, I guess I don't hate you, then" can't stand on its own for an entire Final Fantasy story and I think the writers knew that, so with Vaan not having anything else going for him (I never beat FFXII, but I've heard that's pretty much his "peak"), they decided to hope you just ignored, but not forgot about that aspect of their relationship, until the next time it was convenient for the story to bring it up and press "play" on them again.

Again, I think Vaan's relationship with Basch works, but within limits. It's a decent side dish to the game's main course of global politics and leading a resistance effort. I get many people straight up hate his design, but JRPGs have had worse looking protagonists that I eventually came around to, and that's doubly the case with Square-Enix.

As I said in a previous reply, Square should have just owned their own shit when rewriting the story. If you want Vaan to be the player-character, make the game all about his rags-to-riches quest of becoming a sky pirate. It's not a super compelling story arc, and it retreads on a lot of plot beats from previous games, but it's better than this awkward mishmash that ends up happening in Final Fantasy XII. Speaking of which, the Final Fantasy Trading Card game uses Vaan's original character design as a card, and IT'S FIVE MILLION TIMES BETTER THAN WHAT THEY WENT WITH! SERIOUSLY, LOOK AT THIS:

What could have been....
What could have been....

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#27 Posted by poobumbutt (961 posts) -

@zombiepie: For some reason, I feel the hat is a bit much; is that weird? This is a game where my favorite character in it is a mostly naked bunny girl, and I think an unused design's pirate hat is "too much". Eh. Also, it seems like someone liked this design enough to sneak roughly half of it into Larsa's design. Weirdly enough, if Larsa had been preaching peace while wearing that hat, then it would have worked for me.

Personally, I never hated Vaan's character, just his role. Even on a visual level, his weird open-chest... metal(?) vest is fine to me, especially when compared with Penelo's super-weird jumpsuit thing. He would NEVER be my favorite even in the best situation, but I actually like his VA just fine and for me, that's 50% of the work right there. It's just that what he's given to do once the story actually starts (again, I only beat 60% of this more than a decade ago) is whine, complain, get sighed at by his peers, and bitch. It felt like the developers and by extension, the game itself, were apathetic toward him. I'll take your word on the Basch plotline, though. It probably says a lot about how little I remember that I can't think of ONE scene involving Vaan connecting with/forgiving Basch.

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#28 Posted by jeffrud (717 posts) -

@zombiepie: What could have been indeed. Dress for the job you want to have.

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#29 Posted by Onemanarmyy (4443 posts) -
No Caption Provided

found some alternative designs for Vaan, Mighty Sky Pirate!

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#30 Posted by ZombiePie (7443 posts) -

Do my eyes deceived me? Is this a FF game...where we have the same take on almost everything! so far at least.

Yeah, I don't know, I guess I do not understand the hype that surrounds this game. My assumption is that if you like Final Fantasy XII, you basically are telling the world Final Fantasy XIV is your favorite Final Fantasy game. I get that some enjoy loot grind gameplay loops as they usually create a positive feedback loop. Personally, I've never understood the appeal, and in the case of Final Fantasy XII too much of the game feels like an amalgam of different eras in Square's developmental history.

@wollywoo said:

I actually loved the gambit system myself. It's a really nice way of giving you more control over your characters without having to constantly back and forth between them or pause ala KOTOR. Basically, the gambit system means that the game's combat is both a) very fast and b) completely under your control. Until FFXII, most party-based RPGs had to choose between (a) and (b), since there's inherent complexity in controlling three or more characters simultaneously.

My friend, thank you for leaving a comment, but you are talking to the wrong person because KOTOR is one of my all-time favorite games. That is a game with a galaxy spanning setting that does not overstay its welcome like Final Fantasy XII does. Though to my defense, and this is something I think many of the Final Fantasy XII defenders need to realize, the Gambit system is not user friendly for first time players. Everything about it is obtuse, and the game does not bother to guide you through its most critical concepts. Maybe y'all played the game at the time of its release where you could sink an hour into a single character's Gambit without a worry in the world, but I'm not in that situation at all.

@mezmero said:

Heck man you're a way bigger fan of this franchise than I am at this point, and I've played and finished most of these games when they were new. Then again I never finished any passed FFX so you're already ahead of the curb on this stuff. I thought when Zodiac Age released I might give this game another shot but I've seen my brother play some late game stuff in the vanilla version and boy does it not look appealing or rewarding the way you kind of just run your party into mobs and let the gambits do the rest. I'm sure down the line there's some psychotic satisfaction to getting them programmed just right but in the opening hours I could not find anything to like about this game's design, art direction, or characters so I quit prematurely. Same thing happened with XIII where I think I just reached an age where I just don't have time to waste on long games that are mostly bad save for a handful of kinda neat stuff in between.

I want to just say that it is national tragedy that @thatpinguino has not allowed me to play any of the 8 to 16-bit games outside of Final Fantasy 1. Worse, I suspect he's trying to rope me into playing Final Fantasy 2, the "Real" Final Fantasy 2, before I play 4 or 6.

This is the Hell I live in today.

3rd: Team composition: I'm very disappointed with what i saw that you pick. Not that it doesnt work. But as i said before I played the PS2 version that could only rant 1 job per char. and they were the following:

  1. Ashe - Samurai
  2. Balthier - W. Mage
  3. Vaan - Monk
  4. Penelo - Green mage
  5. Fran - Red mage
  6. Basch - Archer

Yo, I'm willing to take shade for a lot of things regarding Final Fantasy XII, which is to say 90% of your comment so that you for the advice, but making poor job selections is NOT one of them. First, there is no correct combination of jobs. The system was deliberately designed to be viable regardless of which you pick. Second, the game does ZERO tutorializing about how to make an informed job selection for any of the given characters. It doesn't display the character's stats in a clear or coherent manner, and worse it occasionally misguides you. As mentioned in the blog, Balthier starts off with a gun, when that is not his best starting weapon. Additionally, magic is a nebulously communicated stat in the game, and you honestly have no clue which characters should be your primary magic casters.

Vaan is indeed the worst. And so is Penelo. Honestly Balthier and to a lesser extent Ashe are the only characters that leave much of an impression. I remember being disappointed in Basch's development stalling after such a good introduction early (admittedly it's been a long time so I may have forgotten some stuff).

I'm with you on Gambits. I get the satisfaction of programming a party that works well, and can dispatch trash mobs at ease, but having increasingly less need to interact in combat scenarios as the game goes on (outside of some boss battles) isn't exactly riveting. Course I prefer on-the-fly tactical reaction in general to grand strategy.

Much like the rest of the story, the game attempts so much, that every compelling storyline is told in spurts. Take Balthier as an example. His storyline literally starts suddenly and without warning. Then after you take the next step in resolving his past, it is put in the back burner so Basch can have a moment.

@jeffrud said:

These continue to be the best blog content on Giant Bomb, if not the best content full stop.

Seeing as you're now playing through the last good Final Fantasy game, it seems like the next logical step would be for you to play through the first good/great one. When do you plan on tackling Final Fantasy IV?

Jeff, I have been meaning to break the news to you. @thatpinguino wants to play Final Fantasy II next, and I think he wants you to join us. It's going to be another five or so years before we play Final Fantasy IV or VI.

I'm sorry. I'm so very sorry.

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#31 Posted by Zeik (5206 posts) -

@zombiepie: If it was more like FFXIV I'd probably like it way more. XII very much takes after XI, which is the much more old school, slower paced, and grind heavy kind of MMO. Even some of the UI is practically ripped straight out of XI.

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#32 Posted by faridmon (203 posts) -

On somewhat related note: Vaan is actually pretty likable, funny and adventurous in Revenant Wings. He is great there, but in FF XII, he is typically shonen protagonist with 0 personality and have less impact on the story at large.

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#33 Posted by Marokai (3711 posts) -

I love the gambit system but I will grant they never realized its potentially, truly, with extra QoL features like being able to save gambit 'sets' and copy and paste templates between characters, etc. That leads to a lot of irritating fiddling and down-time in menus swapping between different setups for different situations.

It's still dramatically better than the original game, though, where gambits are literally items found in the wild as rewards and not just immediately buyable in a store from the get-go. So originally you would basically just have like a starter pack of a dozen shitty un-optimal gambits to work with and hope that you found "Heal PT member ~ 20% HP" in chests or whatever instead of whatever crap you began with.

As for the license board - I like it - but again, you're right that they failed the landing with it because it makes no fucking sense that it hides updates from you. The whole board should just be visible and you can pick. No one worth their salt is going to place without a giant poster of the license boards sitting in front of them telling them where to best go next. It's pointless.

Vaan does suck though.

A lot of how I got through FF12 when I played the collection over again was to eventually just be permanently on x2 speed, pretty much. I actually like it a lot more than I did when it originally came out, and especially when I compare it to more recent games in the series because unlike them FF12 is actually a fully featured, finished product, but the back half of the game is really padded and a lot of the game's time is pretty shamelessly taken up by "We need Z, but before we get to Z, we need to go through the W Highlands, the X Mountains, and then the Y Valley." kinds of goals where you realize you're just crossing giant zone after giant zone with nothing happening.

I love Rabanastre though - it's such an interesting, multicultural place.

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#34 Posted by Nodima (2620 posts) -

I really enjoyed FFXII, but I also didn't engage with it much, if you get my drift. It was also the last JRPG of any kind I played or wanted to make time for. I hardly engaged with the gambit system other than some basic commands, that sort of battle system has never made much sense or appealed to me, I stayed pretty hands on with the combat other than having some automatic healing commands set up. I don't recall what being hands on with FFXII looks like since it's been over a decade and nobody talks about the Gambit system as something you can almost entirely ignore, but trust me when I say I tried to as much as possible.

I had been in the PS2 version of FFXI's beta program and was completely sucked in; I only got up to near the first Raid-like encounter in the actual game before I got tired of only playing that all the time, but I remember my fondness for FFXI (keeping in mind all but two months of my experience with that game were for free, and it resulted in a free PS2 hard drive that made the ESPN NFL games a lot more engaging) really coloring how much I enjoyed just wandering around certain maps watching the numbers go up over and over.

As others have said, just about as soon as I could my party was Ashe, Balthier and Basche with a good bit of the rabbit lady - I thought all four of them had good - or at least interesting and weird, character designs, and I spent so much time in the open areas grinding levels I really have no memory of Vaan outside his early moments. I know he keeps popping up, but in my memory FFXII is clearly Balthier and Ashe's story. I see most people saying Basche had the bigger role, but for me it was Balthier that stood out. Oh well. After FFTactics and the promotional campaign I was fully prepared for this to be the best FF game ever made, but instead it was the last JRPG I ever played, and I used to play quite a lot of them.

Sorry you played FFXIII.

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#35 Posted by GERALTITUDE (5990 posts) -

Glad you are playing this Zombie. I do think it is a mixed bag in many regards, but it's among my favourites in the series.

There's too many comments to read, so I'll keep this short in case I'm just repeating what others said.

It's a well known story that Vaan was added late to the game, where Basch was intended to play a larger role. Keep in mind as well the game's main writer / director / producer changed hands very late in development. This is one of those "production events" that we can really feel in the game. That said, when I play FFXII I never play as Vaan though, except in towns where you are forced to assume control of him. Otherwise I set other party members as my leader. You could do this in old FFs as well, and it always made it feel like the party was the character that mattered, not one person. This is a small but important detail I think.

Gambits are cool but I only used them in my last playthrough. Previously I would use the menu system to effectively turn this game in to KOTOR, allowing me to pause every action, jump to every character, and queue up what I want them to do. Very slow way to play, but it's there. There are some settings in the menus which get rid of those targeting lines, which for me really cluttered the screen, just a note in case you feel the same.

Good luck!

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#36 Posted by jeffrud (717 posts) -

Sounds fun duder. Not that I will be doing a bunch of Kawazu-related video game stuff this year already.

*stares directly into camera, pointedly*