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.
- Episode 1: Why, Oh Why, Is Vaan The Protagonist?
- Episode 2: If This Game Is Basically Anime Star Wars, Why Don't I Like It More?
Part 21: The Problem Facing My Enjoyment Of Final Fantasy XII: There's Too Much Of It!
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 F 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.
Additionally, and I hate to beat this drum yet again, Final Fantasy XII is not a welcoming experience to newcomers. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Speaking of which, 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.
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: 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?!
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.
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.
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.
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. T 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.
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.
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 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: . 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.
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!
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,
Part 28: A Progress Report On My Jobs And Gambits
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.
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!
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
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
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.
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.
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... 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.
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‽
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 ! 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.
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: . 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.
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.