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Posted by ZombiePie (7421 posts) -

Author's Note: Many apologies for the long hiatus, hopefully I can keep at it this time around and finish Final Fantasy XII. More details on what caused me to fall of my normal blog cycle next episode.

Part 21: The Problem Facing My Enjoyment Of Final Fantasy XII: There's Too Much Of It!

Sure... this seems to be a troupe I would trust with the fate of the world.
Sure... this seems to be a troupe I would trust with the fate of the world.

Before we jump into it, I wanted to address a common complaint directed at this series. Many have commented I gripe about minor issues while ignoring positive attributes about Final Fantasy XII. This claim is, in theory, a fair point of contention because Final Fantasy XII has significant victories worth commending. For the most part, it showcases a diverse and robust cast whose journey is compelling to watch. On top of that, the game paints a visually stunning world that encourages exploration. Finally, Final Fantasy XII is undeniably ambitious. As Square-Enix struggles to redefine itself in a rapidly evolving industry, Final Fantasy XII represents a moment when the company's creativity mostly paid off.

Where I start to push back, however, is when Final Fantasy XII struggles to strike a balance between new and old school JRPG sensibilities. Most of the time, it is essentially a single-player MMORPG, which in and of itself isn't a bad thing. Nevertheless, Square-Enix consistently feels obligated to arbitrarily insert Final Fantasy tropes and idioms that undermine this structure. To illustrate, Final Fantasy XII tries to embrace open-world game design while also crafting an epic single-player storyline. It dabbles in real-time combat while utilizing drop-down menus. Some of these gameplay and narrative marriages work, and others exacerbate the game's accessibility issues. Thus, in my mind, Final Fantasy XII is defined by a series of small to medium missteps rather than a single monumental failure.

And I wish I was the King of England, but we can't always get what we want.
And I wish I was the King of England, but we can't always get what we want.

Additionally, and I hate to beat this drum yet again, Final Fantasy XII is not a welcoming experience to newcomers. The Gambit System is not intuitive. It just isn't. The game does a shitty job of teaching how it works, and it requires a lot of patience. That same sentiment applies to all versions of the License Board. While I prefer the Zodiac Edition, I actively dislike how often it forces you to make "blind choices." Yes, I know recent editions remedy this issue, but the mechanic itself always requires hours upon hours of grinding before bearing any fruit.

It is worth mentioning the Ozmone Plains is when I dropped the original PS2 version of Final Fantasy XII. I want the record to show I think that version is long, tedious, and no fun to play. I would even go so far as to say it's objectively a bad video game. There, every open-world dungeon progresses at a snail's pace, and the combat is a sluggish mess. Alternatively, due to the combat's pacing issues, you cannot take full advantage of several of its gameplay incentives (i.e., the combo system). With grinding baked into its core, you'd think Square-Enix would find a way to make fighting trash mobs fun. In the case of the game's original release, I found that not to be the case.

Personally, I cannot play Final Fantasy XII without the "quality of life" features found in the Zodiac Remaster. Without these additions, every dungeon or open-world environment becomes a chore. The slow pace of the gameplay irreparably hurts Final Fantasy XII's otherwise excellent story. In-between story moments, a player will often have to navigate through two to three transitional environments. Under normal circumstances, these levels can take up to three to five hours! Worse, dead ends and copy paste design plague these levels. While the cityscapes and story set pieces are undeniably beautiful, you spend too much of your time wallowing in desolate desert wastelands or overgrown forests.

Thank goodness for the fast forward feature, because the two Sandsea levels are BRUTAL without it!
Thank goodness for the fast forward feature, because the two Sandsea levels are BRUTAL without it!

Even in the Zodiac Age, Final Fantasy XII drags for hours upon end. Every dungeon features the same respawning enemies. Alternatively, every open-world environment is astoundingly vast. I would hazard to say a full third of your play time consists of trekking through deserts, plains, or forests. This structure comes at an astounding cost to the story's pacing. Because two to three dungeons divide the narrative set pieces, you often catch yourself struggling to remember previous scenes.

Part 22: Final Fantasy XII's Side Quests Are WEAK!

Something that continues to baffle me about Final Fantasy XII is how often it "presses the pause button" on its story. Rarely do these lulls feel helpful in coloring in the more delicate details of the characters. Indeed, while Final Fantasy XII has dozens of interstitial levels, few contribute anything to the story. For those who may not know, interludes in role-playing games are when the story returns the player to a previously encountered location. I'm not against transitions such as these as they do an excellent job in showing the player how far they have come. Unfortunately, in the case of Final Fantasy XII, it uses moments like these to remind the player of its portfolio of side quests.

Do any of you remember murdering a family of cactuars in Final Fantasy XII? No? Well, you are not alone!
Do any of you remember murdering a family of cactuars in Final Fantasy XII? No? Well, you are not alone!

That is not to say the game does not try its hand at worldbuilding. For example, the game showcases a visually impressive weather system to craft a sense of time progression. At the same time, while the intent here is respectable, the execution is questionable. Locations like the Giza Plains or Garamsythe Waterway change as you move forward in the story, but these transformations feel artificial. Indeed, many of these changes happen after fulfilling an unknown list of criteria. Even more, when completing specific hunts, this weather feature can significantly impede your progress.

Nonetheless, let's return to the aforementioned optional quests in Final Fantasy XII. For the most part, they are Square's attempt to graft your typical MMORPG fare onto a Final Fantasy experience. Conversely, and I have mentioned this point before, these optional questlines are more obtuse than they have any right to be. Getting any of the hunts to spawn can involve a three to four step process. Furthermore, the lack of a mission log makes it incredibly easy to lose track of which side quests are active, or where your progress stands.

Seriously, why the fuck is Penelo a character in this game? She's the most pointless character in the entire game!
Seriously, why the fuck is Penelo a character in this game? She's the most pointless character in the entire game!

Even when you ignore the hunts, the optional content in Final Fantasy XII could hardly be called "compelling." Honestly, how many of you remember retrieving Pilika's diary or delivering Ann's letters? The problem here is the design of these quests is about as cookie-cutter as they can get. The vast majority involve talking to a character, learning about an object they want, and defeating a monster to return said trinket. To illustrate, one NPC asks you to round up a family of cockatrices. This task entails you talk to random NPCs throughout the world, but without any cinematic window dressing.

To make matters worse, what the designers decided warranted further exploration is bereft of all reasonable logic. By its middle act, the game discards first chapter characters like Migelo or Kytes, even if those characters could act as storytelling vessels. On the other hand, a random Viera at Rabanastre and sickly desert explorer each get multi-chapter spanning side quests. Above all, these interactions rarely are interesting. I guess it's nice to see Ktjn at the Clan Hall in Rabanastre, but that's all it is, "nice." It's not like her journey suddenly sheds new light into the current issues plaguing Ivalice. Instead, every side quest feels like a one-off vignette designed to hand off an item to the player.

Because returning a Moogle their diary is what I call
Because returning a Moogle their diary is what I call "compelling."

Moreover, what frustrates me the most about these missions is how Square-Enix cannot be bothered to "own" their shit. Final Fantasy XII is an intentional effort to blend their modern-day MMORPG leanings with the long-standing sensibilities of the mainline Final Fantasy franchise. Nevertheless, the side quests do not borrow enough of the lessons from World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XI. Quest givers do not have name tags or quest icons over their heads, nor can you set up custom waypoints. For fuck's sake, the dialogue does not even employ the color-coded Legend of Zelda "YOU OUGHT TO KNOW THIS" font. The result is a frustrating half-measured step towards Final Fantasy XIV, and I do not mean that as a compliment.

Part 23: Can We Talk About How 90% Of The Story Relies on MacGuffins?

Let's return to the story as I continue to grouse. When we last met, our intrepid troupe of rebels saved Princess Ashe from Judge Ghis. After a climactic battle aboard the airship Shiva, our party reconvenes at Bhujerba to plan their next steps. Upon returning to Bhujerba, the characters rendezvous with the Marquis. Without a doubt, Marquis Ondore is one of the game's most successful secondary characters. He is a reflective pragmatist whose actions, while occasionally disagreeable, feel reasonable. When he hesitates to support Ashe's efforts, you at least understand his perspective.

What I want to nitpick is the game's failure to surface the brewing animosity between Ashe and Ondore. The story heavily implies Ashe leaves Bhujerba in part because she fears Ondore will prioritize Bhujerba's interests over Dalmasca's. Sadly, you have to draw this conclusion on your own as Ashe attempts to hijack Balthier's airship. Speaking of which, I love and hate the scene involving Ashe's failed attempt to steal Balthier's ship. On the one hand, it does a masterful job of underscoring Ashe's sad state of affairs. On the other hand, Penelo and Vaan's dialogue makes me want to rip my eyes out.

Balthier, being
Balthier, being "over the top" is my middle name!

For the most part, the characters are enjoyable throughout the game's second and third act. What I am less enthused about is the game's main narrative. For lack of a better word, the story of Final Fantasy XII becomes dressed up fantasy schlock before its geopolitical drama kicks into high gear. I'm not suggesting there isn't a proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel." Instead, Final Fantasy XII's second and third acts are long-ass "tunnels." We eventually discover Ashe has no means of proving she is the rightful heir to the throne of Dalmasca. This revelation, in turn, forces us into another protracted fetch-quest involving a magical MacGuffin.

Look, I enjoy the worldbuilding behind King Raithwall as much as the next person. However, that does not change the fact we have to stomach through TWO open world deserts before learning what the fuck is happening in the story! The first Sandsea environment takes the better part of two to three hours, and dead-ends and environmental traps litter the map. I'm not sorry when I say I did not find navigating this environment "fun." Seriously, I dare any of you to look at the map of the Ogir-Yensa Sandsea and tell me it is a "well-designed" level!

Yeah... FUCK THIS SHIT!
Yeah... FUCK THIS SHIT!

Finally, I'd like to share a nitpick that has been bugging me since chapter one. Somehow, none of the NPCs know the identities of our party members despite Basch and Ashe being the most wanted people in the world. Furthermore, we spend half the game with Larsa, and virtually NO ONE notices the prince of the Archadian Empire. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?! Are there no cameras in the world of Ivalice? The worse is yet to come when we learn about Balthier's backstory, which blows dozens of anachronisms into previous events.

Part 24: There Are Too Many Protracted Open-World Environments

Going back to a previous point, I cannot fathom who thought it was high time for another fetch-quest. What I find especially heinous about Final Fantasy XII's structure is how rarely the environments feel connected with the main story. It's nice we learn about the society and culture of the Urutan, but ultimately, it feels like window-dressing. Even worse, the characters rarely interact with each other as you progress through the open-world environments. The result is the game doesn't have a compelling carrot at the end of its loot-grind stick. Another consequence is the game drags during its transitional levels.

I do appreciate the Sandsea is literally a sea of sand. Everything else about it can die in a fire.
I do appreciate the Sandsea is literally a sea of sand. Everything else about it can die in a fire.

Speaking of which, Final Fantasy XII may have the most interstitial levels I have ever seen in a video game. Nearly half the game exists in transitional sequences where the party moves from one place to the next. During these moments, you spend hours grinding on random enemies with little to no storytelling. The only attempts at storytelling occur at the starts and ends of levels. More importantly, the quips we do see are about as rudimentary as can be and they rarely reinforce the characters. Balthier doesn't make humorous quips about sand getting into his breeches, nor does Ashe clue us into the legend of King Raithwall. All the game does is push you in a direction and place a bunch of bullshit in your way.

Admittedly, the levels are technically beautiful. Moreover, it's respectable the game doesn't maintain Final Fantasy X's blasé approach to its environments. In Final Fantasy XII, each environment feels like a vibrant ecosystem teeming with life. Even then, I cannot appreciate the game's art because I feel like I have seen the same desert or grassy plain three or four times. This point is why I cannot fathom why the game needs TWO Sandsea levels. They both play like the other and broadly share the same enemy encounters. It sucked the first time, so why would anyone think it wouldn't suck the second time? More importantly, it's not as if the extra Sandsea environment sheds new light about the world of Ivalice.

Oh, we'll talk about important magical abilities being hidden in random treasure chest. Worry not, my children.
Oh, we'll talk about important magical abilities being hidden in random treasure chest. Worry not, my children.

As a matter of fact, the game does not communicate what it wants you to get out of these environments. In truth, it maliciously hides magical abilities and game-changing equipment in random chests throughout the world. Usually, this wouldn't be that big of a deal, but in the case of the Zodiac Edition, it's a constant nuisance. In the Zodiac Edition, several of the game's jobs feature highly specific build paths that necessitate the use of a handful of items and abilities. When random treasure chests obfuscate dozens of these abilities, you feel the game is unfairly stacking the cards against you.

Ultimately, this nitpicking is ignoring the biggest issue with the open-world environments: THEY'RE FUCKING BORING! Each of the game's settings is teeming with five or six enemy types, and with the levels as massive as they are, you tire of them quickly. Speaking of which, what makes things exceptionally monotonous is the scale of the environments. Everything in Final Fantasy XII is BIG! Consequently, moving to different parts of a level can take HOURS! Worse, the proper nouns for the locals are ridiculous. For instance, when you enter the "Nam-Yensa Sandsea," you are meant to cross the "Augur Hill," "Withering Shores," "Demesne of the Sandqueen," and "Trail of the Fading Warmth." WHAT THE FUCK DOES ANY OF THAT MEAN?!

Wait, there are fossil fuels in the world of Ivalice? When did that happen?
Wait, there are fossil fuels in the world of Ivalice? When did that happen?

Admittedly, the Final Fantasy franchise has always had a proper noun problem. Nonetheless, Final Fantasy XII is an extreme example of this issue. Every time you enter a new environment, the game forces you through six or seven sub-levels, all of which have over-the-top naming conventions. Likewise, the gameplay's sluggish nature makes each of these settings more time-consuming. First, you need to identify the elemental weaknesses and immunities of the enemies, and manually optimize your Gambits accordingly. Second, each environment features a particular status ailment you need to be aware of as you navigate it. In the end, you spend hours futzing around in menus as you desperately try to take in new surroundings!

Part 25: The Inclusion Of The Espers Is WEIRD!

Mercifully, when you reach the Tomb of King Raithwall, the story finally kicks into gear. As Ashe and company enter the tomb, she divulges the significance of the monument and its mythical inhabitant. Over a thousand years ago, Raithwall the Dynast King ruled over a united Ivalice. The gods of Ivalice gave Raithwall a sword known as the "Sword of Kings." From this sword, Raithwall cut three shards of nethicite from a powerful object called the "Sun-Cryst." These three shards are the MacGuffins the story's main characters spend most of their time collecting.

In other words... he had the one ring to rule them all.
In other words... he had the one ring to rule them all.

This exposition dump is a welcome change of pace after the dreck that was the Sandsea levels, but it's just that, an "exposition dump." Ashe lectures for the better part of twenty minutes, and when she's finished talking, the game unceremoniously transitions to an Egyptian-styled dungeon. To add insult to injury, the game promptly employs the cheesiest boss I have seen in a long time. I am, of course, talking about Final Fantasy XII's Demon Wall! Fuck that boss battle; it's total bullshit! I understand you are not meant to defeat the first Demon Wall, but thrusting one of the hardest bosses in the game, this early mind you, is fucked. Moreover, the Demon Wall and Espers highlight a considerable flaw with the boss encounters in Final Fantasy XII.

Final Fantasy XII's bosses employ an almost Vancian line of logic. Especially in the later portions of the game, bosses require you to take advantage of specific weakness or vulnerabilities. In previous Final Fantasy games, preparing for these encounters was easier said than done. Sadly, in Final Fantasy XII's case, its mechanics add dozens of time-consuming steps to this simple process. To illustrate, let's say a boss is weak to fire magic. First, you need to have a character that can use magic. Second, your character requires the license of a fire-based magical ability and the actual spell in their inventory. Once both are acquired, the player then needs to set up a Gambit that allows their character to cast that spell.

This asshole is a real fucker.
This asshole is a real fucker.

There is no more frustrating feeling than reaching a boss and realizing you do not have the equipment or abilities to beat them. As mentioned earlier, these dungeons take upwards to three to four hours to complete on the default speed. As such, backtracking to a merchant is a demoralizing experience. The first time this problem happened to me was during the encounter with Belias. I entered the battle without water spells or items that could remove the "oil" status effect. Hence, when I went up against the Esper for the first time, I had no idea what to do.

Furthermore, the Esper battles suck. They are cheap, and there's no other way to describe them. Often, the Espers employ a smattering of attacks at virtually no penalty. Furthermore, when an Esper used a hard-hitting spell that annihilated my party, I didn't feel like the game was playing fair. I understand several of you will chime in most of the Espers are optional, but that's ignoring their atrocious design in general. Likewise, as every Esper unlocks two to three abilities, they are not as voluntary as they seem.

Though I hate how they play, I do love the cinematic dressing supporting the Esper battles.
Though I hate how they play, I do love the cinematic dressing supporting the Esper battles.

Above all, the Espers allow me to address one of my fundamental issues with Final Fantasy XII. I don't think the game gets enough out of the world of Ivalice. The inclusion of the Espers is both weird and oddly offensive. For those who may not know, the Espers were the looming threat clouding the events of Final Fantasy Tactics. To see them used in such a blasé manner raises the question if Final Fantasy XII should take place in Ivalice in the first place. Nothing in the world pines for the events seen in Final Fantasy Tactics. At no point does the game refer to the adventures of Ramza and Delita. I get the setting of Ivalice is a nightmare to parse out, but a little fanservice would have gone a long way. I would almost hazard to say Final Fantasy XII is better off taking place in an original backdrop, but more on that another time!

Part 26: A Great Set Piece That Leads To NOTHING!

Luckily for all involved, Final Fantasy XII's story comes to the rescue! Upon defeating Belias, Ashe acquires the Dawn Shard and muses about the legend of King Raithwall. As she prepares to exit, Ashe sees an apparition of her dead husband, Prince Rasler. While temporarily disturbed by this spirit, she and the rest of the party leave the tomb. As they exit, a massive fleet of Imperial warships greets them. In yet another impressive display of their technological superiority, Imperial airships can travel where other vehicles cannot.

Awesome, it's another magical orb that will likely bring ruination to life as we know it!
Awesome, it's another magical orb that will likely bring ruination to life as we know it!

When our party reaches Judge Ghis, the pompous officer demands Ashe hand over the Dawn Shard. Vossler reveals he tipped our location to the Imperials and justifies his actions by saying resistance to the Empire will only bring Dalmasca more misery. While you are meant to be furious at Vossler, you also understand his perspective. Now that the Imperials have defied one of Ivalice's laws of nature, you know the odds are stacked against you. Additionally, because you know Vossler's point of view, his eventual redemption doesn't feel forced. We know first-hand the Imperial navy and army are efficient killing-machines, and thus, relate to someone not wanting to stand and fight for their ideals.

Where things start to get muddled is when Judge Ghis begins playing around with the Dawn Shard. Drunk with power, Ghis places the Dawn Shard in the reactor of his dreadnaught to test its energy. Why would anyone do this? BECAUSE HE'S EVIL! Before this folly, Ghis drones about the incredible power of "deifacted nethicite," and the game assumes if it repeats its terminology over and over again, you'll understand what it means. Regardless, the Dawn Shard reacts to Ghis' experiment by exuding a deluge of "Mist." Mist is a transient source of magical power in Ivalice. In truth, the story does a piss poor job of establishing what role it serves in the world. In this case, the Mist causes the Leviathan to lose control of its reactor and explode.

Why does any of this happen? WHO THE FUCK KNOWS AND WHO THE FUCK CARES?!
Why does any of this happen? WHO THE FUCK KNOWS AND WHO THE FUCK CARES?!

Meanwhile, on the Shiva, our party is being transported in shackles. In an earlier scene, Ghis offered to guarantee peace between the Kingdom of Dalmasca and Archadia if Ashe promised to act as the Empire's puppet. Ashe of course refuses, and as such, our party is in its present circumstance. Curiously, as the Dawn Shard begins emanating Mist, Fran goes wild. I'm pretty sure we have seen Mist before, and the game doesn't establish how Mist causes Fran to go berserk, but that's neither here nor there. As the Shiva explodes in the background, Vossler attempts to apprehend our party. Vossler is no slouch, and the ensuing fight is one of the tenser moments in the game.

After you dispatch Vossler, he has a few words with Ashe and Basch. He wishes everyone the best and begs Basch to protect Ashe from harm. Next, we watch Balthier pilot our party from the exploding Leviathan. Ashe notices the Dawn Shard floating in the sky, and captures it before they dispatch from the wreckage. This cutscene showcases the technical excellence expected of Square-Enix. Every part of this scene is utterly stunning, and you leave with a genuine feeling your characters are meddling in affairs they cannot handle. More importantly, the destruction of the Archadian Eighth Fleet furthers the story's brewing sense of mystery. In this case, we do not have a clear picture of what exactly caused the Leviathan to explode. However, my praise here comes with a caveat.

I honestly wish the game spent more time building Vossler as a character, but I will take what I can get.
I honestly wish the game spent more time building Vossler as a character, but I will take what I can get.

I want to clarify when I say the story experiences a "peak" I am not implying the story has reached a "high point." A story can "peak" at sea-level and then fall back into the sea. Indeed, that is what happens in Final Fantasy XII's third act. The drama that ensues on the Shiva is spectacular, but part of what makes it so memorable is how dull the previous three hours have been. Furthermore, like every climactic moment in the game thus far, Final Fantasy XII does a shit job of juxtaposing from one story moment to the next. When the next chapter begins, it abruptly cuts away to Ashe holding the Dawn Star in Rabanastre. More lamentable, the following two gameplay levels are the Giza and Ozmone Plains.

Part 27: Final Fantasy XII Has The Most Inconsistent Cast In Franchise History

I hate how the characters of Final Fantasy XII never reflect on their actions. In this case, they witness the destruction of the Archadian Eighth Fleet and carry on with their business as if nothing happened. Not to mention, Ashe and Basch both put to death Vossler, a long-time friend! All this seems to suggest the characters should be experiencing some form of stress or trauma, but you wouldn't know that from the game. Which leads me to a severe gap in Final Fantasy XII's storytelling: the characters blow through world-shattering events like nothing. There's nary a moment of doubt, and the result is Final Fantasy XII becomes a world without consequences. For pity's sake, in an upcoming chapter, the characters witness an act of genocide and recover from the event within an hour!

To hit home my point further, let's look at Ashe. I refuse to believe after the death of her husband, and the destruction of her homeland, she does not have post-traumatic stress. After the battle against Vossler, she directs the party to another far-off city that contains yet another MacGuffin. She appears to be emotionally and physically unscathed, and that critically impairs the weight of her arc. On top of that, at no point do the characters slow down, and reflect on their actions. While the game does an admirable job of creating a sense of camaraderie, it rarely allows its characters to form "real" relationships. More often than not, I felt a majority of the characters were on this journey for the sake of it, rather than a genuine desire to help Ashe.

You have got to be shitting me... Ashe is LITERALLY being haunted by her past. They did it, Square-Enix finally tried their hand at a visual metaphor.
You have got to be shitting me... Ashe is LITERALLY being haunted by her past. They did it, Square-Enix finally tried their hand at a visual metaphor.

Long story short, there are ancient pieces of nethicite from the time when King Raithwall ruled as the Dynast King. Ashe plans to use the Dawn Shard as a weapon to both protect Dalmasca from further harm and convince the Archadian Empire to cease its occupation. It is a foolish scheme, but a plan the story purposefully presents as such. Ashe does not know what her next steps are, and when she shows signs of vulnerability, there's a sense of desperation in her words. While the forces behind the Imperial Army have an almost singular goal, Ashe appears to be running on fumes, and that's to the story's benefit. Ashe not having an "easy out" adds stakes to our otherwise rosy adventure.

Be that as it may, not everyone is created equal. Far too many of our party members lack a raison d'être. Ashe, Basch, and Balthier avoid this problem because they have interconnected character arcs. Unfortunately, Vaan, Penelo, and Fran feel like afterthoughts. If the designers want to waste hundreds of hours animating pointless characters like Penelo, that's their prerogative. However, would it have killed them to include a few moments where she details how she met Vaan, or what killed her parents? I'm not asking for a lot here, just the basics!

We now transition to something different.
We now transition to something different.

Regardless, and this is a point I have meant to bring up earlier, Final Fantasy XII's "B Story," is FUCKING AMAZING! Flat out, the storyline involving Larsa, the Judges, and Vayne blows the main narrative out of the water. It's an incredible accomplishment due in no part to how little time you spend with the Judges. Despite this, you understand their mindsets better than some of the members of your party. In the short story moments involving the Judges, their banter perfectly articulates their stances regarding world events. Which is crazy to say because this is a Square-Enix game, and straight to the point storytelling isn't something you associate with that name.

The consequence here is easily recognizable. Because characters like Gabranth are so straightforward and articulate, you cannot help but root for them. While the Judges are guilty of genocide and warmongering, they are driven individuals with the best of their homeland in mind. Because the game takes forever to fill in the gaps of Ashe, Basch, and Balthier's character arcs, you cannot help but prefer the Judges. On top of that, Vayne feels more developed as a character than a majority of your party. Thankfully, for once, we have a Final Fantasy villain who isn't being manipulated by an unknown force. Likewise, while Ashe and company spend most of their time bullshitting in random temples, Vayne is busy nation-building. You cannot help but respect the man for having a goal and executing it perfectly. Well, except for the fact he's a fascistic asshole.

Part 28: A Progress Report On My Jobs And Gambits

I cannot preface this enough, but the names for the jobs are glorified technobabble.
I cannot preface this enough, but the names for the jobs are glorified technobabble.

We now return to my monthly grousing about Final Fantasy XII's Gambit and License systems! Since my last two inflammatory blogs, I must admit I am warming up to the Gambit System. Notably, when everything works as intended, there's an unmistakable sense of accomplishment. Still, there's one recurring issue that continues to grind my gears. When you fight large masses of enemies, there's no easy way to distribute your attacks. In a turn-based combat system, you can distribute offensive maneuvers with finesse, but that's never the case in Final Fantasy XII. The Gambit System is an all-or-nothing system, and you are better off mobbing one enemy at a time.

Admittedly, I have received a bit of criticism for repeating the same sound bite when rambling about the job and license systems. This assessment is entirely fair, so I'll spare you from what I have complained about in previous entries. Of course, there's one significant addition to the job system I need to discuss. After you beat Vossler, the game presents you with the option of teaching your characters a second job. When combining two jobs, you open your characters up to further specialization. For instance, you can double down on the strengths of your initial assignments, or use your second job to create a more well-rounded character. While this sounds interesting on paper, the execution is where Final Fantasy XII screws the pooch.

Quick question, is it me or do guns totally suck in Final Fantasy XII? I'm asking for a friend.
Quick question, is it me or do guns totally suck in Final Fantasy XII? I'm asking for a friend.

Much like when you select your first job, the game forces you to make a blind choice with no communicated end-goal. Namely, the game fails to inform you which licenses are complementary. As a case study, let's say you have a "White Mage," who functions as your primary healer. Now, let's say you want your white mage to act more like a "cleric" so they can hold their own in combat. I cannot preface enough; this line of thinking is what Final Fantasy XII wants you to do. Unfortunately, every job feels like a close amalgam of another. The result is it is impossible to optimize sub-classes without a guide. For instance, in my cleric scenario, I cannot tell you which combination results in the outcome I want.

Likewise, I want to return to my earlier bellyaching about the Espers. While visually flashy, they add a level of complexity that is entirely unneeded. Each Esper can only be used by one of two character classes. On every board, there are bridges and corners which can only be unlocked if you choose to link an Esper to that board. With no way to test out what any of the abilities or items translate to, the game once again forces you to make a blind decision. Moreover, it is deranged how much harder the optional Espers are in comparison to the rest of the game. The fact those optional Espers unlock abilities that empower certain classes is game design maleficence!

Let's just say mistakes were made during my playthrough.
Let's just say mistakes were made during my playthrough.

Speaking of the Espers, let's talk about their location in the world. It's FUCKED they put the non-compulsory Esper dungeons in the story critical environments! Take, for example, the Ozmone Plain which is the next open-world environment you navigate after the events on the Shiva. Once there, you can enter a dungeon which holds the Esper, Adrammelech. If a player is exploring the Ozmone Plain blind, as was in my case, it is possible for them to encounter Adrammelech on accident. Unless you enjoy having your ass handed to you on a silver platter, this encounter is not enjoyable. Again, to me, this scenario is poor game design. Having super bosses is one thing, but placing them in easy to access locations is beyond fucked!

Another frustration I have with Final Fantasy XII is the lack of a "companion" feature. At different segments of the game, new characters join your party as "guests." These helpers include Larsa, Vossler, and Reddas. When one of these characters tags along, your party's strength increases exponentially. However, these opportunities are limited, and the game does not allow you to opt into them willingly. There are no mercenaries to hire to fill these positions, nor can you revisit these characters on your own time. To add insult to injury, you cannot fill that extra slot with one of your unused party members.

Part 29: Having Great Lore Is Not The Same As Having A Great Story

I'm just going to say someone had
I'm just going to say someone had "fun" writing the bios for the loot in this game.

With my gameplay grumblings beyond us, let's return to the story. After a brief discussion at Rabanastre, the party endeavors to find a Garif elder at the village of Jahara. A few things about this scene stick out to me. First, I love how fed up Balthier is with everyone's bullshit. After going unpaid for weeks, he outright demands Ashe give him her wedding ring as payment for his services. It makes him seem like a total scumbag, and ILOVED every minute of it! Second, there's a moment when Fran confronts Vaan and asks him why he's still tagging along. When he struggles to form a response I couldn't help but laugh. In my mind, this scene is the writing staff flipping the bird to the producer who forced them to include Vaan.

After navigating the Giza and Ozmone Plains, our motley crew makes their way to Jahara. There they encounter the Garif, a society of tribal warriors. The worldbuilding here is by far some of the best in the game at this point. While the Garif village is small, it feels like a livable world. Each NPC interaction shares a different aspect of Garif society. If you seek out these interactions, you are provided a surprising amount of worldbuilding. Even more, while your time here is short, it is incredibly memorable due in no part to the game's attention to detail.

Trust me, this guy knows as much about the story as you and I do.
Trust me, this guy knows as much about the story as you and I do.

If there's one critique I would like to share, it is one that applies to video games in general. At some point, I would like to see games depict indigenous cultures without playing into the "noble savage" trope. If there's something the film "Black Panther" proves, it is indigenous societies can respect the environment, while being technological equals to their "western" counterparts. The Garif, like many tribal cultures in video games, are a low-tech nature-focused society Final Fantasy XII paints into a corner. The Garif live in a community free from the world's violent global politics. Consequently, to remove themselves from these conflicts, and also become in-tune with nature, they have to sacrifice their use of modern technology.

As the characters explore their surroundings, they eventually meet up with the leader of the Garif. When Ashe presents the Dawn Shard to the elder, he admits he does not know of a way to bring back its "luster." After a bit of mythologizing, the Garif chief explains once a piece of nethicite loses its Mist, it is no longer useful as a weapon. Additionally, while he knows Ashe is a distant relative of King Raithwall, he too cannot prove her ancestry. After this disappointing meeting, Ashe retires for the night and eventually crosses paths with Larsa.

Can you also call for better pacing? I'd greatly appreciate that right about now!
Can you also call for better pacing? I'd greatly appreciate that right about now!

Larsa reveals he has a plan to end the wars plaguing the world of Ivalice but requires Ashe's co-operation. As you would rightfully expect, Ashe immediately rejects Larsa's proposal. Nonetheless, Larsa's idea makes sense. He plans to join Ashe at Mt Bur-Omisace where a religious leader, Gran Kiltias Anastasis, can bless her with the throne of Dalmasca. After Ashe's proclamation, she can sue for peace and end the Empire's bloody invasion. Much like our previous encounters with Larsa, the game doesn't paint its characters in shades of black and white. While Ashe understands Larsa's plan, she still rejects it. Nevertheless, because the Empire is a source of non-stop agony, Ashe is not painted as a "villain."

As I have repeatedly stated, Final Fantasy XII works best when its characters show real emotions and blurred moralities. That's what happens at Jahara... until the story remembers Vaan is a character. In what I can only describe as the game's most cringe-worthy moment, Vaan confronts Ashe about her visions of her husband. As you may recall, since acquiring the Dawn Shard, Ashe has seen her recently deceased partner, Lord Rassler, on several occasions. Apparently, Vaan knows this because he can see ghosts. Not only that, but he lectures Ashe on the importance of not running away from your past.

I shit you not; this is a real scene that happens!
I shit you not; this is a real scene that happens!

What's worse is when Vaan begins sharing the story of his dead brother. Here, Vaan explains losing his brother caused him to irrationally harbor ill-will against Basch. Not only that, he wants Ashe to know his anger made him feel "hollow," and he's afraid Ashe is making a similar mistake. But the cherry on top of the shit sundae comes when Vaan finally musters an explanation of why he needs to join Ashe in her quest. You see, since joining Ashe, Vaan finally feels he's standing up for something rather than running away from his problems. That's it, that's what he says is his reason for joining Ashe. I fucking kid you not. I want to remind you an adult wrote this script and thought they did a good job.

Part 30: MMORPG Game Design And The Death of Final Fantasy As We Know It

I cannot stop thinking about Vaan's scene in Jahara. For one thing, why is Ashe taking life-advice from Vaan? Vaan has consistently proven he's the least rational character in the game. I wouldn't trust him with my silverware if I invited him over for dinner! Additionally, it's not like what Vaan says is groundbreaking information. Quite the contrary, it's common knowledge Ashe is going through a lot as the story progresses. Lastly, when the fuck did Vaan become a pensive philosopher? In a previous scene at Rabanastre, we saw him acting like a buffoon. Now the game wants us to believe he's a tragic figure worthy of sympathy‽

I would like to nominate Vaan as having the most punchable face in all of video games.
I would like to nominate Vaan as having the most punchable face in all of video games.

But even so, Ashe approaches Larsa and eventually accepts his proposal. After joining your party as a guest, he plots out your trek to Mt Bur-Omisace. It is at this point I told the game to "go fuck itself." Without a doubt, the journey to Mt Bur-Omisace is the biggest pile of shit you will experience in Final Fantasy XII. Before reaching the next story moment, you complete SIX interstitial gameplay sequences. To add insult to injury, of these six levels, two of them involve the Ozmone Plain, and another is a second run through the wretched Golmore Jungle. The designers couldn't even be bothered to make new environments for their transitional sequences!

Usually, Final Fantasy games have the common courtesy of grafting character arcs when exploring transitional levels. Over the next SIX HOURS, all the game provides is Fran's origin story and some early hints of Balthier's past. THAT'S IT! And let me tell you, it doesn't help Fran's character arc is HOT GARBAGE! Even then, it's one moment in a six to seven-hour slog! Besides, as I mentioned earlier, none of these levels are especially memorable. I double dog dare you to name a single notable event at the Ozmone Plain, Golmore Jungle, or Paramina Rift.

Hot Tip: In the Zodiac Edition Larsa uses your fucking potions and you need to turn off his Gambits to prevent him from wasting your money.
Hot Tip: In the Zodiac Edition Larsa uses your fucking potions and you need to turn off his Gambits to prevent him from wasting your money.

Above all, the story's pacing is heinous during its middle act, and I blame the game's MMORPG sensibilities. With massive open world dungeons plaguing a whole third of the game, Final Fantasy XII loses sight of its heritage. Because the developers feel obligated to remind the player of the Gambit and License systems, grinding DEFINES whole HOURS of your time. As a result, unless you like MMORPG loot-grind gameplay hooks, Final Fantasy XII is a chore to play! As someone who enjoys experiencing role-playing games for their stories, I cannot help but view most of this game as a bummer.

I cannot preface this enough: Final Fantasy XII is supposed to be a role-playing game. I get role-playing can take various forms, but Final Fantasy XII never commits itself to any individual approach all the way. Even in MMORPGs quest givers often clue you into pages upon pages of lore. For fuck's sake, I could name you dozens of World of Warcraft NPCs because they had hour-long origin stories. Which leads me to my next point: Final Fantasy XII has the structure of an MMORPG, but with none of the upside. Quest givers are soulless automatons whose single utility is to hand away trinkets and spells. Even more, the NPCs never feel invested in the events of the story. At no point does Montblanc and his bullshit hunts feel connected with the greater narrative.

AW FUCK! WHY?! WHY WOULD ANY ONE MAKE THE NEXT LOCATION THIS FAR AWAY?!
AW FUCK! WHY?! WHY WOULD ANY ONE MAKE THE NEXT LOCATION THIS FAR AWAY?!

Maybe you subscribe to the belief Final Fantasy XII's appeal lies in its gameplay rather than its story. As I say, to each their own, but even in that regard, I think Final Fantasy XII is incredibly flawed. When waltzing through the gameplay-focused environments rarely do you feel you need to act with urgency. Instead, fighting enemies slows the game to a crawl. While grinding has its place, it's rarely a compelling number one option. Consequently, the gameplay is in constant contrast to the fast and hard-hitting nature of the story and vice-versa. In the end, I cannot help but call Final Fantasy XII a video game "Chimera."

Yes, Final Fantasy XII is a beautiful and awe-inspiring video game. Nonetheless, that does not change the fact it feels artificial. Playing the game and making progress with its systems feels arbitrary and inorganic. The story forces character moments down your throat and with no rhyme or reason. Pacing issues continually plague the narrative, and the set pieces are poorly spaced out. None of these complaints are meant to suggest I hate Final Fantasy XII, but hot damn does the game make it difficult to love it. Just as I start to get invested in the world or characters, something pulls me out of the experience. It is on that note I end this blog. Next time we meet, I will cover Fran's homecoming and the tumultuous events at Mt Bur-Omisace.

It's not funny how much better the story gets when you spend more time with the Judges.
It's not funny how much better the story gets when you spend more time with the Judges.
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#1 Posted by TheRealTurk (523 posts) -

*extremely Final Fantasy nerd voice*

The game doesn't refer to the events of Final Fantasy Tactics because XII takes place earlier in the timeline.

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#2 Edited by Dreamboum (1 posts) -

I cannot stop thinking about Vaan's scene in Jahara. For one thing, why is Ashe taking life-advice from Vaan? Vaan has consistently proven he's the least rational character in the game. I wouldn't trust him with my silverware if I invited him over for dinner! Additionally, it's not like what Vaan says is groundbreaking information. Quite the contrary, it's common knowledge Ashe is going through a lot as the story progresses. Lastly, when the fuck did Vaan become a pensive philosopher? In a previous scene at Rabanastre, we saw him acting like a buffoon. Now the game wants us to believe he's a tragic figure worthy of sympathy‽

The game makes it pretty clear that Vaan is the one who suffered the most from the war. He lost his parents to the plague, his brother was made a buffoon who was used as an useful idiot during the very last day of the war before he died of his wounds being so shell-shocked he was unable to move or speak.

Vaan is the most rational character between him and Ashe. Ashe is an entitled, blood-thirsty princess who wants things because she thinks this is what she deserves to have. Vaan is mature by the very exposure of the suffering he lived that no 17-year old has to live through. He has to live as an orphan, under occupation, treated as less than human, and with no future in life. He is mature, he wouldn't be alive if he didn't learn to grow up in the environment he lives in.

You're not doing the scene any justice, so here it is to witness:

Loading Video...

This is a very Matsuno-esque device to have class struggle in mind. Vaan says it himself to Ashe: "Before, I didn't even know what you looked like.". Vaan's plight isn't the same as Ashe's, had it been any other circumstance, they would have never met in their lifetime.

Vaan doesn't just offer perspective, he reframes the conflict as something he wants to own. The whole beginning of the game is about how he wants to fight back, but suffers from the fact that he doesn't have the means to do it because of his very position as a commoner, which is why he resorts to thievery.

He also shares the same fate as any other orphans in Rabanastre, something that many NPCs remarks throughout the game: they have no future and dreams in this city. This scene also reframes that his dream of becoming a Sky Pirate is one of the few things that made him hold on in life. In this scene, Vaan acknowledges that it was a coping mechanism, if it wasn't already clear at this point that he suffers from PTSD. A character with this level of introspection doesn't feel cringe-worthy to me, it is understandable and sensible.

It's not entirely dissimilar in the way Ramza was living a life of privileges all of his life but still takes the time to understand the class struggle at hand and make the right call as to what path he should follow after seeing the cruelty of Algus treating anyone he sees as beneath him as less than human. Ashe was living her own life of privilege, but still plays the victim like she was the one who had to bear the suffering and oppression of everyone who actually had to live under the occupation of the Empire. It's not the case. She was sheltered all this time.

But the cherry on top of the shit sundae comes when Vaan finally musters an explanation of why he needs to join Ashe in her quest. You see, since joining Ashe, Vaan finally feels he's standing up for something rather than running away from his problems. That's it, that's what he says is his reason for joining Ashe. I fucking kid you not. I want to remind you an adult wrote this script and thought they did a good job.

I feel a lot of your misgivings are because Vaan is by his very station someone who doesn't matter as a political force. He's a regular person, not some legendary hero, or the son of royalty, or anything like that. He's just a kid who wants to make a difference. What do you expect him to say? His story and motivations are deeply personal, he has been given a chance to stand up to the Empire, to have one single chance to liberate the people he cares about from the cycle of the misery they're in. The whole beginning section is about this: how he couldn't accept that his father figure Migelo has to grovel in front of Vayne, how he doesn't like living like this but knows he can't do much. If given the chance, wouldn't you stand up? Would you just give up and come back to the place you are oppressed? Why should Vaan do so, even in a scenario where he didn't actually give his motivations?

His reason to join Ashe is a more noble, realistic reason than any character in the game, because he comes from a place where he knows and understands how vile and dehumanizing the Empire truly is. He is a kid who needs to know why he had to live like this, and why his life was so thoroughly ruined just for some people to climb up in power. He is not as educated or savvy as the others, but his perspective is not just invaluable, it is critical for the whole story.

If you think Vaan doesn't have the right to say things that are personal about his life and how it could somehow help Ashe understand that not everything is about her - in a scene where she refuses to call for peace just because she wants to stick it up to the Empire at the expense of her subjects -, then either you're not giving him enough credits, or you have been missing a lot of things about what his character is about, intentionally or not. It's a great scene where two persons from two wildly different stations in life are bonding by acknowledging their differences and understanding what they have in common, in this case: the loss they suffered through. There is nothing cringe-worthy about this in my opinion, in fact I wished any FF lead showed as much introspection as Vaan did in this scene. This, in my mind, is a sign of maturity.

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#3 Edited by cmblasko (2940 posts) -

Strongly agree with @dreamboum, really liked the exchange between Vaan and Ashe. The growth that Vaan showed was relevant to Ashe's internal struggle so sharing it with her made sense. It honestly didn't feel weird or cringey to me at all.

I am getting close to the end of the game (just got to Giruvegan) and keep waiting for the moment where it becomes clear why people think Balthier should be the "main character" of the game and that moment keeps slipping away. And really no one truly feels like the protagonist at this point, even Vaan, and I am fine with that, the narrative isn't presented in a way where it is crucial for everything to be anchored around a single character.

I agree with the sentiments about the license boards, ESPECIALLY the criticism of "blind choices" which totally hits the nail on the head. By the time you begin to really understand how the license board affects your character's growth, it is too late, you can't go back and change anything. (Well, I guess in the Switch version you can? But I am playing on PS4 so it is of no help to me!)

Also agree that there is no reason this game had to take place in "Ivalice!" So far what I've seen hasn't really built or drawn upon the lore from Tactics and I would rather this game distinguish itself since Tactics is perfect on its own.

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#4 Posted by Efesell (4504 posts) -

That scene with Ashe is like the only good moment the poor boy gets.

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#5 Posted by FLStyle (6649 posts) -

*extremely Final Fantasy nerd voice*

The game doesn't refer to the events of Final Fantasy Tactics because XII takes place earlier in the timeline.

That's what I was going to post. Society & technology as it is in XII needs to collapse before the events of ye olde Final Fantasy Tactics who's people are knights and stuff can happen.

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#6 Posted by soulcake (2776 posts) -

As someone who writes computer scripts daily i felt the Gambit System pretty intriguing and directly clicked for me. So i am wondering if someone with a Computer science background will more likely understand the gambit system the second he/she sees it or this is just dumb luck, Cause when i saw the Gambit system it instantly reminded me of a scripting language and immediately clicked for me.

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#7 Posted by TheRealTurk (523 posts) -

@soulcake said:

As someone who writes computer scripts daily i felt the Gambit System pretty intriguing and directly clicked for me. So i am wondering if someone with a Computer science background will more likely understand the gambit system the second he/she sees it or this is just dumb luck, Cause when i saw the Gambit system it instantly reminded me of a scripting language and immediately clicked for me.

I never had any problem with it and my background is in law. It always seemed very straightforward to me.

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#8 Edited by MezZa (3048 posts) -

@soulcake: Ehh I played the original in middle school and had no issue understanding the If this Then this nature of the setup. I can understand how it may be more of a convoluted slog to set up than some people may like, but I've always enjoyed it. I eventually went to major in computers also though, so maybe that's just my preference.

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#9 Edited by Onemanarmyy (4398 posts) -

I never found the gambit system hard to understand, but i don't remember having fun with it neither. It's a lot of fiddling in menu's before battles and not doing much during the actual battles. It doesn't help that the PS2 version i played rolled the gambit options out at such a glacial pace that it took a while before you could actually set up the gambits the way you wanted to do. I spent many hours doing stuff manually. I do like the concept of being able to write a whole behavior script for your partymembers and see it play out, but when the game is so long and puts you against trashmobs over and over, it gets boring real fast. I'd rather have the gambit system in a puzzle game.

Btw, is it just me or are half of the images not working? I tried 2 browsers.

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#10 Posted by Efesell (4504 posts) -

The gambits are just a big list of If A then Do B so none of it particularly complicated or hard to understand. It's just a question of whether or not all of the setup is more useful than if a normal AI or Person was handling it by default.

For XII I would say that it is since I always found the gambits to operate more or less how I wanted them. Over in Dragon Age Origins which uses a very similar style for its tactics I found that I never trusted it and would always shift into micromanaging instead.

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#11 Posted by ZombiePie (7421 posts) -

Alright everyone, thank you so much for the positive reception to this blog! As you know I try to address the input provided on my blogs to the best of my ability. So, without further ado, let's jump into it!

*extremely Final Fantasy nerd voice*

The game doesn't refer to the events of Final Fantasy Tactics because XII takes place earlier in the timeline.

Alright, I admit this was a goof on my part, but in general I think my major point of contention still stands. This game does not benefit from being set in Ivalice, and the fact it does feels less about filling in the gaps of Tactics' timeline and more a factor of Square-Enix wanting to re-use assets from another game to save development time. Otherwise, the game should have leader more into the almost legendary and high-fantasy nature of Ivalice. The Gods and Espers should be interacting with the mortals like the Greek/Roman Pantheon in legends. And honestly a stronger connection to Tactics other than the bland storybook narrations between chapters would have been neat.

@dreamboum: Right, first off I want to thank you for the time and effort you put into your comment. I read over your reply twice and it's by far one of the best I have ever received on a blog I have authored. Regardless of how I feel about the scene in general, I am so glad it resonated with you the way it did and hope in no way my blog took away from the magic you see in it.

That said, here's a slight rebuttal that adds more detail to my perspective on this specific scene. First, I don't think there's anything wrong with the concept of a character finding greater meaning in joining an adventure. Vaan realizing his true purpose in life while helping Ashe is a decent concept. However, its a concept and trope Square-Enix has used before and I'm honestly sick of it. Did we not see this exact character arc with Cloud Strife, Squall Leonhart, and Zidane Tribal? This is part of the reason why I'm not as impressed with this scene as other, because it feels like Square-Enix is just pulling something from their playbook.

Second, the fact the game does not commit Vaan's characterization to a single direction or arc seriously hurts my ability to take him seriously in this scene. In the scene prior to this one we listen to him make jokes and have groan-inducing small talk with Bash and Penelo. What does he end up doing in he very next scene? Make jokes and have groan-inducing small talk with Larsa. If the game just double-downed on his tragic backstory, I would feel more invested in his words and life-experiences. Sadly, this, much like most of Vaan's development, ends up coming across as a one-off vignette never to be recognized ever again.

@cmblasko said:

I am getting close to the end of the game (just got to Giruvegan) and keep waiting for the moment where it becomes clear why people think Balthier should be the "main character" of the game and that moment keeps slipping away. And really no one truly feels like the protagonist at this point, even Vaan, and I am fine with that, the narrative isn't presented in a way where it is crucial for everything to be anchored around a single character.

Also agree that there is no reason this game had to take place in "Ivalice!" So far what I've seen hasn't really built or drawn upon the lore from Tactics and I would rather this game distinguish itself since Tactics is perfect on its own.

I just got to the scene you referenced in your comment, and I cannot even begin to describe my anger. One, why the Hell does the game wait that long to introduce Balthier's backstory? Two, doesn't this blow a crap ton of anachronisms to previous events in the story? Again, as I mentioned in this blog, how does no one recognize each other in the story? Third, that revelation begins and dies in one or two story set pieces, and it's shitty more time isn't spent building up and resolving it.

But I have to say, and this may well be the most controversial thing I say about Final Fantasy XII, but I LOVE Doctor Cid. The voice actor for Dr. Cid was given a shitty script and that man sold his lines like his life depended on it, and it's GREAT! He's the only character that feels like they love life and their place in Ivalice.

@efesell said:

That scene with Ashe is like the only good moment the poor boy gets.

Again, that's part of the reason why I dislike that scene. It's never addressed again, and the story doesn't even bother to build upon it until you learn more about Gabranth ten hours later. Vaan's role in the story is to be a silly child who cracks jokes and one-liners, and that continues to be his role for 80% of the story. While his scene here is fine, it is one that represents an awkward character break the writers couldn't even bother commit to in the long-term.

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#12 Posted by purpington (60 posts) -

Seems like you hate this game, maybe move on to the next?

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#13 Posted by Vamino (285 posts) -

The dungeons (hell, all map design) in this game can be so fucking terrible sometimes. There is a dungeon that straight up made me Alt+F4 the game and I haven't touched it since. It was really disappointing to me, actually, because I was enjoying all the rest of the trappings of the game. I liked the characters, the setting is fantastic and the lore of the world is great too. I even didn't hate the grinding with the Zodiac Age quality of life improvements.

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#14 Edited by KgKris (297 posts) -

Don’t you mean why are FFT and FF 12 set in the Vagrant Story universe?

(It’s because they all have the same game designer)

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#15 Edited by soimadeanaccount (615 posts) -

Gambit isn't hard to use, but it is a pain in the ass to set up, reset, and test.

Vaan is no where near the chosen one of Cloud, Squall, and Zidane, which is the exact reason why Vaan seems to be just a tag along; he has no physical nor "destined" connection to any of these. Imbalance character development has been an issue with FF, Vaan's case seems exceptionally apparent since he plays and feels like the main character of the game, but barely has any valuable screen time. That scene might very well be his only scene where his background as the every man comes into play and it is implicit at best as compared to Ashe's character and actions are very explicit.

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#16 Posted by ZombiePie (7421 posts) -

It's time for another batch of responses from me to you! Once again, sorry for the delay!

@flstyle said:
@therealturk said:

*extremely Final Fantasy nerd voice*

The game doesn't refer to the events of Final Fantasy Tactics because XII takes place earlier in the timeline.

That's what I was going to post. Society & technology as it is in XII needs to collapse before the events of ye olde Final Fantasy Tactics who's people are knights and stuff can happen.

My general point still stands. This game gets NOTHING out of using the world of Tactics/Vagrant Story. At best it allows Square to re-use assets they already had in their systems. Worse, the attempts to blend the storybook-inspired structure and cinematics from Tactics are by far the weakest part of Final Fantasy XII. So, what elements from the past the game does try to borrow are in constant conflict with the high-budget sensibilities of the mainline Final Fantasy series.

@soulcake said:

As someone who writes computer scripts daily i felt the Gambit System pretty intriguing and directly clicked for me. So i am wondering if someone with a Computer science background will more likely understand the gambit system the second he/she sees it or this is just dumb luck, Cause when i saw the Gambit system it instantly reminded me of a scripting language and immediately clicked for me.

@soulcake said:

As someone who writes computer scripts daily i felt the Gambit System pretty intriguing and directly clicked for me. So i am wondering if someone with a Computer science background will more likely understand the gambit system the second he/she sees it or this is just dumb luck, Cause when i saw the Gambit system it instantly reminded me of a scripting language and immediately clicked for me.

I never had any problem with it and my background is in law. It always seemed very straightforward to me.

@mezza said:

@soulcake: Ehh I played the original in middle school and had no issue understanding the If this Then this nature of the setup. I can understand how it may be more of a convoluted slog to set up than some people may like, but I've always enjoyed it. I eventually went to major in computers also though, so maybe that's just my preference.

Right, so I'm going to take all of these comments about the Gambit System in one fell swoop rather than individually. For one thing, I cannot preface enough, this blog series is a blind play-through. This is my first go at Final Fantasy XII. As there is no other game that controls as it does, I feel it's not outrageous to expect the game to explain itself in a more coherent manner. Flat out, 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. You tinker around with the system for HOURS hoping to find a working combination that gets you through difficult portions of the game.

Additionally, it's FUCKED the game forces you to buy Gambits and commands from vendors. It is the mechanic that makes the characters usable in combat, and for some reason, it is part of the in-game economy. 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.

In terms of its impact on the narrative, and I have said this before, but 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!

I never found the gambit system hard to understand, but i don't remember having fun with it neither. It's a lot of fiddling in menu's before battles and not doing much during the actual battles. It doesn't help that the PS2 version i played rolled the gambit options out at such a glacial pace that it took a while before you could actually set up the gambits the way you wanted to do. I spent many hours doing stuff manually. I do like the concept of being able to write a whole behavior script for your partymembers and see it play out, but when the game is so long and puts you against trashmobs over and over, it gets boring real fast. I'd rather have the gambit system in a puzzle game.

Btw, is it just me or are half of the images not working? I tried 2 browsers.

It is also worth noting how SLOW the original PS2 version of this game can be. Seriously, beating a trash mob takes forever! Therefore, when you have to stop and spend minutes of your time tinkering around with the Gambit System, you honest spend hours of your time on "filler" And as you mention, for what? Killing wolves and goblins a few seconds faster? How is that in any way "compelling?"

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#17 Posted by cmblasko (2940 posts) -

It is also worth noting how SLOW the original PS2 version of this game can be. Seriously, beating a trash mob takes forever! Therefore, when you have to stop and spend minutes of your time tinkering around with the Gambit System, you honest spend hours of your time on "filler" And as you mention, for what? Killing wolves and goblins a few seconds faster? How is that in any way "compelling?"

Think the reason why I am on track to beat FF12 now and stopped somewhere after Leviathan when I played the PS2 version years ago is because I can listen to podcasts now while grinding or fighting through dungeons. And I really have tried to setup my characters in a way where I can leave their gambits alone, for the most part.

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#18 Posted by faridmon (189 posts) -

I am playing the Switch version, and I have to say my impressions are exactly opposite of yours. I absolutely adore going through the vast land and explore every nook and cranny, and having done that, I happen to level up my characters, License points rather easily because it was just a byproduct of me getting lost into the voyage. Also, the game is gorgeous, you haven't even reached the forest, the mountain, the jungle because they were just too pretty to complain about the treacherous road.

To be fair, I am finding the story rather low-key and I have feeling its not gonna land the end pretty well, but so far I am engrossed.

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#19 Edited by Teddie (2145 posts) -

I really love gambits because they balanced it with the rest of the combat system and how much of itthey want you to do. I don't really want to cast Esuna every time someone gets a status ailment, I don't really need to remember every enemy's elemental weakness and then have everyone with the appropriate spell to exploit that weakness, and man it sure is nice that I can get the AI to cast a debuff the second an enemy tries to power up.

Basically, I enjoy the efficiency you can have when you figure out how to use gambits. Buying them and getting to "upgrade" your AI's commands throughout the game is my replacement for your idea of character progression. It rarely became rote in my case because, very often, I still had to pause and manually issue commands to everyone, especially in the case of espers/superbosses where tactics can change on a moment's notice, and there's no 100% foolproof gambit setup. In those fights, I often just played it like a CRPG.

As for using Ivalice, it's a good collection of races/lore/history that they could build off, and it seems like the creator really likes the idea of expanding his universe through multiple projects, which I can relate to (and tend to enjoy in other stuff, like Yoko taro's fucked up miseryverse). If it feels wonky, it probably has something to do with Matsuno leaving midway through development due to creative differences.

I'm glad someone else in here defended Vaan, he's not a strong character overall but his place as the everyman doin' what he can never bothered me the same way it seems to most others. Still think his tire-track abs are weird, though.

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#20 Posted by soimadeanaccount (615 posts) -

I am going to guess the reusing of Ivalice is because that was when Square shifted to trying to build franchises and sequels. Remember FFX-2? even though you probably don't want to.

That FF7 postmortem story a some years ago talks about that was the direction Square started to head towards around that time. It is basically sequelization and franchise building that many games have been doing, but FF used to not do since they used to always start anew, and they started with FFX-2; With FF12 world based on existing fiction, FF13 was originally 3 games, and ended up spawning 4, FF15 was originally an off shoot of FF13 and was suppose to be based on the same lore, 11 and 14 are their MMOs with expansion packs. This is a somewhat "modern" problem FF has, but can't seems to solve.