final fantasy xii

a review of Final Fantasy XII
a videogame developed by Square Enix
and published by Square Enix
for the sony playstation 2 computer entertainment system
text by Ario Barzan

3 stars

Bottom line: Final Fantasy XII is “the wisp of a thing promised to us in our youth.”

When this site was a little younger, we had a review go up for Final Fantasy XII. I didn’t like that review too much; to be honest, I still don’t like that review. I’m compelled to re-review Final Fantasy XII not just for being “fed up” with having the game represented on our site with two stars, but because I’m playing it again, right now, and the unexpectedly huge balls hanging from it should be enough to get anyone wanting to talk. Things were going a bit slow – the disc was lying around – I decided I would keep going, stick to the thing and try to see it through. Know that there are things wrong with this game. Some of them are big, and some of them are little. This is both important and unimportant, in that, yes, this could’ve been much more – but I’m partly giving Final Fantasy XII three stars because it was trying to do something, against whatever pressures it was going up against, and partly because of what it actually is. The sheer presence of taste is a sort of miracle, magnified by its emergence from the pleather-bound toilet known as Square-Enix – a company whose agenda centers around releasing products that would make any person with the consciousness to make sane judgments deadbolt their doors in shame, if ever the products slipped their way into a nearby console.

A long story is forced to be short by limited information: Final Fantasy XII was to be Yasumi Matsuno’s bold renaissance for the series and the genre – a genre which kind of doesn’t exist, since most of the creaking, aching oddities defining it are now relics from a time when technology couldn’t do what it now can. Sooner or later, Matsuno, the man behind titles such as Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together and Vagrant Story, exited from Final Fantasy XII’s development. If there are any persons who can say precisely why he quit, they haven’t decided to speak, yet (or ever). If we’re forced to make suppositions, it might’ve been the sheer size of the task laid ahead of Matsuno – it might’ve been that size paired with rogue elements and interventions that began to compromise his vision. Suffice it to say, Matsuno left, Final Fantasy XII was released, and the latest videos for Final Fantasy XIII proudly exhibit Advent Children syndrome, where Zippers and Pleather do weightless battle for the distinctive honor of who has the most outrageous hairstyle, where there is a “warp” effect before battles, even though the terrain hasn’t changed. The Fans are beside themselves. Whatever the cause may have been, it’s easier to guess when Matsuno left: earlier, rather than later.

The biggest reason for this supposition is the general execution of dungeons. Everyone who has played Final Fantasy XII is bound to remember a specific dungeon above the others. This is an early dungeon, where robotic monsters are feeding on exposed electric sources. Kill these monsters to stop their power-theft. An icon on the right-hand side of the screen shows how much electricity, percentage-wise, the dungeon has. “If things go black,” one of the characters says, “it’s not going to be good for us.” Why does everyone remember this dungeon? Answer: because it’s the only dungeon to harbor a slightly interesting mechanical theme. A dungeon in the desert has you walk down a series of steps; before you is a bridge that leads to a door. You may be inclined to look at the multi-armed sculpture that’s set away from, and facing, the bridge. Having at least played Final Fantasy IV years ago, and seeing the barrenness and length of the path ahead, I knew that this sculpture would come to life and give chase. This is, of course, exactly what happened, so I fled (by holding R2!) and exited the chamber through the door at the end. A similar, weaker sculpture – that must be felled – appeared at the other side of the bridge in the subsequent room. It’s just too obvious, too easy of a concept. The rest of the complex is about dashing through two identical “mazes” to touch lamps at the end of either, lowering a barrier.

Yet another dungeon beyond uses a gate-system, where pressing a button will open gates and simultaneously shut others. I was hoping for a Braid-like level of care applied to the puzzles’ clockwork. Again, the element is barely toyed with, left on the side as a Thing to Do, “solved” by traversing the only available paths. What the dungeons end up being are gorgeous (and I mean gorgeous) to run around in and look at, but functionally stunted. It doesn’t seem to be that Final Fantasy XII’s dungeons are the way they are because the developers believed interaction was synonymous with “tarnishing,” thus resulting in the experience of traversing a gallery of hands-off props, so much as no one seemed to know what they wanted to do, period, after Matsuno left. Each dungeon might have a thing, but it’s such a little thing, such a little, inconsequential thing, it often might as well not even be there at all. You can see the start of a desire for some clever, situational aspect in the power-gobbling monsters dungeon, and barely anywhere else.

Going on: take the License Board. Like the clunky camouflage feature in Metal Gear Solid 3 being, in all likeliness, not Hideo Kojima’s idea, the License Board is, in all likeliness, not Matsuno’s creation, but one of another genius. Upon death, every enemy yields L.P., or license points; access the in-game menu and select “License Board,” and you’re taken to plane with two irregularly outlined, chess-like boards where every square on a board represents something that may be unlocked, provided you’ve enough license points. The game begins by placing you somewhere near the middle of each board. Ultimately, however, there’s nothing to the License Board. It exists as an artificial barrier to enlarge the game’s heap of numbers (“because,” says the genius, “more numbers means more progressive sensations” (truth be told, said genius hates himself)). There is no actual strategy to branching out; you’re hardly guided by the incidence of whatever has been uncovered. Final Fantasy X had the sphere grid, which simply existed, though credit should be given where credit’s due: as you were able to see everything ahead of time, you could begin to map out mental charts for where you would go, according to how many places you could move. It was decently board-game-like and un-board-game-like enough to work, at least as a thing unto itself. That it floated in a void separate from the game’s world was another issue. With Final Fantasy XII, the License Board is both weirdly abstract and a pointless, un-tactical Rite of Passage to learning spells and being able to don equipment, on top of having to pay for said spells and equipment. I mean, why? Isn’t the fact that I have to buy spells strange in and of itself? And if the License Board has to exist, why not let me learn the spells in that square, on the spot? To go on, if I, say, use that spell enough, why not let that dictate the spells I learn? If I have enough money, why not let me buy and equip that sword or gauntlet? Et-cetera.

There’re also the Gambits – specific commands players ascribe to each character via slots on the respective menu. It’s a much better idea – in concept, even – than the License Board. It’s definitely from Matsuno’s head; to what extent is the question. It’s a nice enough idea that we can see it being nurtured to where it becomes a Thing that other games take and elaborate upon. Or, we could’ve seen that. In Final Fantasy XII, it’s the start of a paragraph. Any avatar can use gambits, including your “main” character. Able to be purchased or found in treasure pots (here’s where your warning alarms go off), they tell an avatar what to do on their own, freeing one up from the need to micromanage their party. Suppose you have a Gambit called, “Ally: HP < 60%.” If you equip this to a slot, and add, in the side-slot, “Cure,” that character will cure another if their health drops below sixty percent. If the slot it’s in is higher than others, it will have a higher priority than the ones below. But this is already leading into a problem: you both have to increase your character’s slots on the License Board, in addition to buying or finding Gambits. Why? There’s not a solid argument in the world for why every Gambit, and every slot, shouldn’t be available from the start. It’s not so much a question of, again, the “mechanic floating in a void,” (well, it is, partly (you look in a pot, and any character suddenly has the ability to prioritize their dealing with flying foes? Really?), but that it just feels kind of backwards, and meaningless.

In any case, you have the framework of a battle system, lambasted by some for, in their words “basically turning the game into a single player, massively-multiplayer online RPG.” That there’s nothing actually, fundamentally wrong with MMORPGs makes this complaint flimsy enough. And what is a single player MMORPG? It seems that the label is used because Final Fantasy XII sees your party walking around, uninterrupted by the fetishized banality of random battles, because the swiftness and general flow of the action (pro-tip: turn the battle speed all the way up) begins to distinguish Final Fantasy XII from the typical Japanese RPG, turn-taking though it still may be. You’re never separated by The Line of Division, only breached for a second by selecting Attack and seeing your avatar leap twenty feet in a single bound to slap the enemy on its side, and then return to their spot with an equally enormous backwards leap. Here, the monsters are running around you, and you’re running around them. They’re attacking, and you’re attacking, observing your team-mates do what you’ve set them up to do, which is strangely, satisfyingly prophetic. This is it, really: people are honest-to-god angry and confused that the game lets one take the initiative to fight or not fight enemies without forcibly being sucked into an alternate dimension, and that its world is consistent in what it shows itself to be. I wonder if they have maintained a twelve-year hard-on for the multiple models of Final Fantasy VII’s protagonist, Nimbus Conflict.

To whit:

* A normal (read: LEGO-like) model for walking around
* A LEGO-like model, made to be the “size” of a city, for the overworld
* A slimmer, more realistic model for fighting
* A spruced up model for cutscenes
* A drawing or two, provided by Tetsuya Nomura

Final Fantasy XII is a role-playing-game that was made in Japan, but we salute it for attempting to be more of A Video Game by making its seams less seam-y, establishing a base shuddering with potential, and freeing itself of various antiquated baggage.



I do so like the thing; yet, for it being so fiercely defined by its statistical quantification, it’s hard to, uh, quantify exactly why. If it can’t be narrowed down to one definite point, it might be possible to narrow it down to the more indefinite point of whatever word you may use for “feeling.” Atmosphere? Attitude? Vibe? You don’t even have to consider it in a relative context, though it sure as heck couldn’t hurt; having played parts of Star Ocean: The Last Hope several months ago – where it wasn’t uncommon to hear witnesses express a desire to see the developers be visited by the local prison and have their hands broken – coming back to Final Fantasy XII just feels so right. It can feel like grasping onto the wisp of a thing promised to us in our youth: there are blue skies, strong women, and good-looking men. There is deliciously orange and tan architecture, caught somewhere in between a future we’ve not seen and the buildings of 13th and 14th century Italy. There is the green-grassed, noble-citied music of Hitoshi Sakimoto, who might be the most talented person in his field, overflowing with delightful melodic twists and plucks that makes us yearn for a new age of discovery. If life were nothing but a series of adventures on plains and mountains with a band of monster hunters, we would be listening to Sakimoto’s music on our iPods. As life isn’t that way, the music is still good enough to warrant a listen on our iPods, anyway, and good enough to make us wish that life were that way (even though . . . really, we don’t).

With random battles gone, everything is more able to be about things happening, rather than things that are about to happen. It feels so much more “real,” so much more true to the idea of the game’s world having its own pulse. I love seeing a man-sized toad leap from the water, take a few steps around, and then fall asleep. I love that particular animals, large and small, are content to co-exist with me, lest I decide to attack them. I love that I can see a great, crackling orb of electricity roaming in a place I’ve never seen it roam before, and have a lump of anticipation and dread fizzle in my gut. And I wish there were more of these things to be had. I’m craving a day and night cycle, where animals that emerge at night don’t come out at daytime, and vice-versa – or where the nocturnal temperature of a locale is so cold that it slightly slows down the frequency of my attacks. Such a cycle must’ve been mentioned once during development, perhaps rejected because of the priority of the plot. Someone out there would complain that, as the story went along, and a character said, “Okay, we’d better hurry up and go here,” any player could actually not go “here,” and instead spend two in-game weeks slaying monsters. Keeping the game in a constant state of daytime, save for the cinematics (or when a section of the story demands it be night for a set period), relieved this potential conflict. And we’re not about to argue with that to the death. It’s a fairly logical decision. Still – still.

And if there aren’t monster hunts in real life, there are monster hunts in Final Fantasy XII. Every city has a Notice Board; walk up to one and you can see the bills people have posted, requesting Whosever Haveth the Balls to kill a troublesome creature. Find the respective person, talk to them, and set out to find where said beast is lurking. One soldier says that he saw a Wyvern flying around the sand dunes, and might you be able to exterminate it, please, because it could cause casualties if it ever made its way to the city. Another, a chief in a tribe, claims that a malevolent spirit has been terrorizing the miners of a nearby quarry. Money and items reward a successful hunt, but it’s quite enough to see each animal (and then promptly read about it in the deliciously worded bestiary). There is the most fascinating, attractive array of creatures I’ve seen in a three-dimensional video game; even the god-damned wolves are interesting to look at, though it might just be on account of my curiously strong fetish for that flat-topped, rectangular build of animal heads.

If we’re going to address an argument that the other review makes, let’s address what was at the heart of those two stars – the characters and their story – and start with the latter. The story, for what it is and what it’s surrounded by, is surprisingly okay. Some have said that “nothing” happens in the story. This is false: enormous things happen in the story, sometimes with the utterance of a few words, sometimes with the collapse of a kingdom. That such a great deal of it plays out with a subtlety uncommon in the genre and medium could account for the naysayings; as in, no, there are no cloaked priests murmuring about evil gods’ resurrection, no men wearing jock-straps on their faces and searching for the ultimate expression of monotone angst. There is a teenager in the game named Vaan, though, and most people consider him to be the main character. That he, in fact, isn’t the main character – that the lead role is actually occupied by Basch, a man initially labeled by Vaan as a traitor and the murderer of his brother – is a feather in the story’s cap. It’s impossible to say if Vaan had always been intended to provide the story’s perspective, or if it was one of those interventions. Was it believed that the game absolutely would not sell in Japan if a scarred, gruff man were the unquestionable star (unfortunately, this belief is accurate – there goes a lot of your female market, as well as whoever can’t connect with an avatar that isn’t youthful and/or androgynous)?

Does this sound familiar? It should; Metal Gear Solid 2 sort of did the same thing by relegating the player’s effeminate avatar to act as witness to the legendary, gruff man who has been deemed a tratior. Most players – at least, non-Japanese players – were displeased by this, especially when the game led them, with its opener on a storm-tossed ship, into thinking that they would control the legendary, gruff man the whole way. The largest difference between Sons of Liberty and Final Fantasy XII, however, is that MGS2’s switch-around felt like a spiteful joke (even if it wasn’t), while the point of view in FFXII feels “real.” In a way, the narrative lens of Van, as a dusty orphan and the “lowest” part of the game-world’s society, heightens the scale of the occurring events. What meets his eyes and ours is all the more cataclysmic. Vaan doesn’t become the Hero of Legends, but he doesn’t need to: he survives, and the world around him changes from his own decisions, and those of his companions and enemies. Whatever that choice may have been about who occupied the lead slot, we’re pretty satisfied with the way things are. Even the visual design of Vaan works as an elaborated, Japanese version of Disney’s Aladdin, snugly set in the context of his city’s bustling markets. It’s far from the result of Mr. Nomura gurgling over the photograph of a lederhoser-wearing Gackt. We could, however, do without the amazing shortness of the princess’ skirt that makes us wonder, now and again, how she sits around all those guys.

Final Fantasy XII, of course, is what it is to you. For me, it’s a step closer to what I saw buried beneath Dragon Quest VIII, a game that charmed the heck out of me with its excellently laid-out landscapes and somehow generic-yet-appetizing veneer, but tortured me with its constant, plodding battles and hollow dungeons. Final Fantasy XII’s inner workings are cleaner, clearer, making for a healthier exterior. On my side, it’s such an easy thing to get along with and cheer on, despite its fumbles and stumbles. One may not like it because it’s “not their thing,” and I nod and say, Okay – though, can we try to see what it was striving for? I’d like to. I’d like to believe in this incomplete game, and what it tried to stand for before whatever happened happened. Final Fantasy XII had the potential to be the hurling hunk of space rock that made impact, scorching old things and choking weeds, and allowing the new to sprout up. In the present state of reality, I don’t even remember how many off-shoots Square-Enix has released, or have in store, for Final Fantasy VII, and how many they have planned for Final Fantasy XIII. Would they be willing to take such a chance with the franchise, again? If so, when? And if when, would it be capped off by a similarly crushing conclusion? I’m running around in idealistic and fatalistic circles, here. Maybe I should cut this off before a vein in my other eye bursts.

–Ario Barzan


25 Responses to final fantasy xii

  1. One of the things I thought was nice about this game is that its characters have names that sound sort of exotic in that fantasy book way without being violently &^#$#ed. Where is it written that an RPG character’s name must beat you over the head with obvious character traits while also sounding painfully stupid? Cause I’d like to get my hands on that piece of stationary and burn it. Unless of course, its already written in stone. Then I am without hope.

    Cloud Strife? Squall Leonhart? And for christsakes, there’s a character in Star Ocean named Welch Vineyard. I mean, what the hell? I’d prefer a normal name like Lisa or Daniel instead of something ridiculous that the scenario writer clearly thought WAY too hard about.

  2. I can see, and respect what it was striving for. For me, FF12 was something of a tragedy – I could see everything you’re talking about, gauze-like, beneath the surface, but the thing actually sitting before me demanding to be played was pure tedium. I hear that manipulating gambits gets cool with some of the final hunts – but all I know is that I played for hours and still had three (three!) measly slots to use. Making the main character not the main character and the subtly presented plot – that’s awesome, except each individual sentence is a travesty of English writing. It’s not so much a flawed masterpiece as a moldy piece of bread. Sure you can pick all the mold off, but is there really enough bread left under there to be worth the trouble?

  3. FFXII is undeniably a mess of a game. It is the great ideas of Matsuno taken to highly illogical places. This review is surprisingly good, but still none seem to address the main problem, that the battles are the most bland in the series since the earlier entries. Still, FFXII is such an untapped potential. With just more variations of the standard Attack (on a Megami Tensei level), extra Gambit sets for defensive tactics, and much less filler we could have the RPG killer. I still agree with the points of the review, but it’s shameful that such an exotic degree of creativity has gone to waste.

    On the subject of your DQVIII comparison, it’s awfully striking that the two games have opposite flaws; VIII has the maze-like, creative landscapes (where XII has straightforward and bland ones, especially later on), VIII has extremely slow battles (whereas XII has possibly the fastest battles ever), and VIII has more thinking in battle with almost every move being viable (XII likes the Attack command a bit too much while other spells/skills simply are useless). Perhaps this isn’t important at all, but I just find it so ironic that these games are from the same company.

  4. @cuba: i know what you’re saying about the slots. it’s delayed gratification without worth. also, if we’re talking about the plot, i mostly agree with you on the quality of dialogue (maybe tim will come in here and say that something big was lost in translation; kind of doubt it), though i have respect for the overall story. i suppose it’s similar to my admiration for the lord of the rings, whose dialogue is often hokey (way too many people saying “alas!”) and written with an academic dryness. even so, i enjoy the story for the attention given to the world and the nature of its events (what the event is / how it is led up to / how it is then given to us).

    @sws: i don’t necessarily agree about the fights (that they’re substantially worse than recent, previous entries). i’ve never felt real involvement on the minor scale battles in a final fantasy. this is not to excuse ffxii. there’s still a detachment — “still a japanese role-playing game.” i at least considered the larger fights rather exhilerating.
    is there more thinking in dq8’s battles? it may be an illusion brought on by the more procedural nature of the game (as there are, for example, no gambits — though there is an auto-fight option, isn’t there). the “thinking” seems to be about the time taken to employ the continual selection of a strategic maxim (hero: attack or double attack. angelo: attack or double attack. yangus: attack. jessica: multiple-whip-hit or fire/wind spell). for me, this applied to the bosses, as well — except for dhoulmagus (i never played beyond the point where you’re supposed to get the bird to fly on).
    maybe what i’m trying to say is that almost every japanese rpg has, at its core, pretty much been an analog experience with the facade of “tactics” attached via menus. ffxii is more blatantly analog, but a lot of the expected, pace-stunting barriers are gone. it’s a more well-paced type of game, and has a better, freed-up base to work from. it just doesn’t really work from that base, which is the killer.

  5. That is the other problem, of course. I understand that Tolkien was an imagineer, not a novelist. But the story moves at a decent clip, and every crag of it is stuffed with his singular vision of Middle Earth. Quite literally, it goes as fast as I can read. The problem with FF12’s story is that I have no idea if it’s any good – after ten hours I had only uncovered the barest wisp of it, strung out as it is between oceans of “dungeons”. Dungeons where I only have three gambit slots. And when that wisp was revealed only by stultifying prose, well. I could hardly be expected to keep with it.

  6. Wait, it irked you so much that I gave it two stars, that you had to re-review it to give it three? Why not just change my review to three stars? I don’t mind…

  7. By the way,

    “The problem with FF12’s story is that I have no idea if it’s any good – after ten hours I had only uncovered the barest wisp of it”

    By the ENDING you will only have uncovered the barest wisp of it. That’s my problem with the whole thing. If JRPGs are going to be ‘cinematic’ (like Final Fantasy, that is, and unlike Dragon Quest) then the story actually needs to come to some sort of resolution. I loved the art, the characters, the voicework, and the battle system, and everything else… but I’d give a movie with such a wishy-washy story two stars, and that’s why a Final Fantasy game like that gets two stars too.

    With Dragon Quest 8, which has only the barest ghost of a story, I didn’t feel anything like as robbed as I did after playing FF 12.

  8. no bennett i must preserve what you believe to be true to you

    it’s good to have multiple reviews on this website with different conclusions. i’d never go back in and alter a score.

  9. FFXII’s battle system definitely took some huge balls on Square’s part. Too bad it seems like they’ve firmly retracted those balls into their abdomens for FFXIII.

    But I can kind of understand why people would be wary of an innovation like that. I don’t think it’s that FFXII was too much like an MMO or not “Final Fantasy enough”; it’s that people could see where that line of innovation would lead. A horrifying chain of events where their favorite classic RPG series sloughs off any vestiges of “classic-ness” and transforms itself into Devil May Cry with hit points.

  10. “A horrifying chain of events where their favorite classic RPG series sloughs off any vestiges of “classic-ness” and transforms itself into Devil May Cry with hit points.”

    But uhh, that’s basically what Final Fantasy XIII battles are, inasmuch as Advent Children’s aesthetic and physics crosses paths with Devil May Cry’s.

  11. FFXII didn’t bring the FF series instantly back to its 4/6 days, where it was (in my mind) at its peak. It did seem to undo some of the damage that 7-11 did. But, then, it didn’t entirely feel like a Final Fantasy game to me that much. So maybe it was just a pretty good game.

    Also, tampering with review scores? How astonishingly corporate that would be!

  12. ario: I didn’t say alter my conclusions, I said alter the score. In the first place, the scores here (or anywhere?) are basically arbitrary. And in the second place, we’re talking about 2 vs. 3, not 0 vs. 4. I could easily have put three stars at the end of my review, if I’d been feeling less grumpy.

    I’m not seeing how you can feel like I lowballed the game when you gave it 3/4 – all the fanboys would have us both shot as Sony-haters.

    Anyway, looking back at the game a year or more after I reviewed it, here are my thoughts:
    – It still bugs me that there is no actual story despite the game constantly promising to deliver one.
    – The gambit system is fine except that it takes 3/4 of the game before you’re allowed to use it in an interesting way.

  13. Since ABN uses a zero to four star rating system, a one star difference is actually kind of a big deal. I’ve always interpreted 2 stars (the middle of the scale) to signify something like indifference (“meh”?), whereas 3 stars would imply at least that the reviewer likes the game.

  14. “A horrifying chain of events where their favorite classic RPG series sloughs off any vestiges of “classic-ness” and transforms itself into Devil May Cry with hit points”

    Aren’t those the Devil Summoner games?

  15. Thank you – THANK YOU – for this review. Your views on FFXII mirror mine wonderfully (THE PRINCIPLE CRITERION FOR SUCCESSFUL CRITIQUE, of course), and serve only to make me more cynical about not just what’s becoming of the franchise, but, well, about what it is in retrospect (though I still own an autographed copy of the non-Greatest Hits release of FFVII…).

    Hell, FFXII kind of makes me depressed about JRPGs in general, but only because it’s so good and different. Alas.

    I’d be interested to read your thoughts on FFVI, since it is often lauded as the pinnacle of the FF franchise. FFXII rivals it, in my opinion!

  16. “But uhh, that’s basically what Final Fantasy XIII battles are, inasmuch as Advent Children’s aesthetic and physics crosses paths with Devil May Cry’s.”

    Well, XIII’s got the air combos in there I guess, and you can still move around. But I was mainly talking about how you actually have to enter “battle land” for every fight again, as opposed to just running around the map killing stuff. That’s definitely a big step away from an action game.

    “Aren’t those the Devil Summoner games?”

    Never played Devil Summoner. But youtube says, yeah, kinda 🙂

  17. @ario I don’t think anything in this review resonated with me more than that statement near the end about Dragon Quest VIII’s hollow dungeons. Really, in a game that’s meant to “simulate” an experience here, at least ostensibly, considering all of its numbers and equipment, why am I wandering around these giant, epic, beautiful, but empty dungeons most of the time? It never struck me as all that big a deal in the 16-bit days, but, come to think of it, it’s really quite unacceptable in a post FF XII world for me to not be able to see the enemies I will be fighting on the screen and run into them.

    As for the battles being “not Final Fantasy enough,” I’d say that it’s plenty FF, considering the pedigree ATB system. The only real difference is that if you choose to not slow it down to a crawl, the participants make decisions on their own. The menus and commands are all there and you can pause it for more precisely-timed tactical decisions.

    I also agree with you that PLENTY happened in the story, just far more subtly than the past four or five FF games. How many of you think that FF XII had no story, but KH did? A whole lot more *seemed* to happen in KH, but nothing actually did happen despite all the pandering and overwrought storytelling mashed into our faces.

    Meanwhile, FF XII features kingdoms rising and falling, alliances forming, and, thank god, less of the bullstuff they call acting out there in Japan nowadays (see MGS4 for examples there). It’s Squeenix showing maturity as they move forward and age. We had fun with all the brooding, effeminate protagonists who brought nothing to the table, but I was thankful to move forward.

    I do agree that the plot felt a lot more forgettable than prior games, but that was because, for once, we weren’t battling a world-ending catastrophe, just dealing with a conflict between three countries. Is it a Final Fantasy if the story isn’t planet-encompassing? Maybe that’s where the issue lies, but I’ve got to say that I prefer the direction it seemed to be going with this than the direction it was headed in before.

  18. Absolutely agree with everything ElCapitanBSC had to say about FFXII’s story, especially in relation to Kingdom Hearts (seriously I have never encountered a plot more contrived and incomprehensible). I hate it when people rag on XII’s story. Hate it. But then, these are the same people that look for deeper meaning in Advent Children, so.

    In fact, the only thing in the whole plot that I can really recall making me wince is Vayne’s Tetsuo-esque transformation at the climax. For a game that so nimbly defied business as usual for Square-Enix, that in particular felt a rather glaring misstep, especially given how grounded (relatively speaking) the rest of the plot was.

    I mean, sure, you don’t get as “much” plot as you do in Final Fantasy VII, for instance. We understand that, purely by the numbers (the “giant monsters summoned from beyond to wreck the world” statistic, the number of plot “twists,” etc) you don’t. It’s a crisp, well-told story that doesn’t overstay its welcome and gets it all out pure and simple. What’s wrong with that, again?

  19. More importantly, ElCapitanBSC, is an RPG an RPG if the story isn’t planet encompassing?

    And it’s okay to have brooding, effeminate protagonists, I’d hope, so long as they actually manage to act like human beings at some point. The problem is that too often, too much is invested in the design of a character rather than in writing the personality. Images are more marketable than description, in this modern age. You know those character profiles on the websites and in the manual featuring pointless stats like height and weight? There’s your “Character Creation” spreadsheet right there.

    Ario, do you know of any other games that avoid this problem of having plot-neccessary characters while doing nothing with them? I’d like to play one of those some day.

  20. guys, tim has confirmed to me (proving my assumption in an above comment wrong) that the japanese script and voice acting and far superior to the english version’s.

    @bennet: i know you said “alter the score” — and i said that i wouldn’t go back and alter the text or rating. that would be silly. also, i’m pretty sure that all the frothing fans would have my head on the basis of my decrying random battles, etc., rather than the actual three stars. 🙁 in addition: i got the impression that most of said fans did not like xii (while those comparatively foreign to final fantasy were more prone to enjoying it), thus leading me to believe that they would prefer your two stars over my three.

    @dberes: i would very much like more games with final bosses that match me in size (or, on the other side of the spectrum, a boss whose hugeness forces you to travel vast, almost cosmic distances of space to attack different points on it)

    @fiero: you’re talking about a game that uses every one of its characters to an impressionable effect? silent hill 2 comes to mind. i’d have to think more about this.

  21. @fiero You’re right, of course, there’s a place for them so long as their only hook isn’t brooding and I hope no one is arguing that “…” is strong character dialogue (I’m looking straight at you Squall!)

    As for the question of planet encompassing? Why not? Why can’t an RPG story be something smaller. I think it’s fair to say that games are caught up in this notion that if Life As We Know It (TM) isn’t in danger, the story is boring. I’m sure you’ve seen/read plenty of movies/books where the plot was planetwide and enjoyed them, but haven’t you also seen stories that were more personal or smaller scale that were fantastic too?

    I think it’s territory that JRPGs rarely explore, so I guess you’re right from that standpoint, but I’m all for defying expectations in a neat way. BoF: Dragon Quarter had a story whose breadth was limited to the known world AND it had a neat mechanic that was intimately tied into the story (I’m a fan of using the medium to tell a story). I honestly think that the problem stems from 1. Lack of legitimate writing talent and 2. The need to fill ~60-100 hours of game.

    Ultimately, the likelihood of change comes down to what I said earlier, “Will it still be interesting?” For most people, it doesn’t seem to be, at least w.r.t. XII. Anyone have any examples of smaller-scale JRPG stories that were still great?

  22. I wholeheartedly agree, Capitan. I would love to see RPGs grow up, so to speak, and try to actually encompass the little human details that stories are capable of. Mephistopheles did tell Faust, “First the little world, then the big we’ll explore,” after all. In an ideal world, people would see Persona 3 for the flimsy anime cliche sham that it is, and we wouldn’t even be having this admittedly lovely conversation on the topic.

    I asked that question more as a musing on the identity of what we call “RPGs,” and the fact that the Final Fantasy series seems to have written too much of that identity. How we as gamers receive and interpret that identity, while ultimately up to us, has been influenced too much by Square’s bad habits.

    I am of the opinion that, at least as far as their stories are concerned, RPGs are in a Pinnochio state, caught between being real boys (the Ur RPG) and lovingly carved toy puppets (Brave Story/Final Fantasy/Phantasy Star/Dragon Quest). They make a lot of mistakes along the way (Kingdom Hearts/Star Ocean/Xenosaga/Any Tales game) but they also show signs of promise (Final Fantasy XII/Lost Oddysey), giving you hope that they actually know what’s good for them, and at some point, maybe not now, maybe not tommorow, but someday RPG’s will do the right thing and become more than just “something to play if you want a longer experience.”

    @Ario: Ah, yes, Silent Hill 2 really was such a wonderful little gem. That’s an example of a series that aims high in the story department for sure. Even if they aren’t always impressive, they certainly are compelling. I’m a bit surprised, honestly, that there’s no review for it on this website. It really nails its presentation, but I’d imagine it would lose a star somewhere for its backward mechanics. Perhaps Action Button will wait until Shattered Memories comes out, and then review it for that relevance-of-the-throwback effect?

  23. I don’t think it’s fair to criticize the English voice acting as a unit. I think the only thing that saves Vaan from being absolutely hateful is that he’s voiced in a quite nuanced, unusual way, by that guy from Veronica Mars. Balthier is also voiced unusually well.

    Having said that, I really felt like a huge problem for the plot was the voice acting, since Basch, Larsa and Vossler are extremely dull to listen to and sometimes almost incomprehensibly gruff (this latter criticism applies mainly to Basch). I honestly can’t tell you what happens in their part of the plot, because I stopped paying attention each time they started to talk. This is a big part of why I was so pissed off when the game suddenly ended.

  24. Capitan, although you mention that it’s unconscionable for a jRPG to have random battle encounters after FF12, I think you are forgetting Chrono Trigger.

    I’m pretty sure I played that first and, therefore, have always found the random battle encounters of the Final Fantasy series very, very annoying. I wouldn’t mind it so much if it didn’t get in my way of enjoying the puzzles. I should only face random enemies on the world map where I can save after each battle. And if I die, I can continue right there.

    Because of the random battle in dungeons and because of my lack of free time as an adult, I find myself using walkthroughs whenever I get to a dungeon. As a kid it’s one thing, but as someone who only has so much time to play games, losing 2+ hours worth of gameplay and exposition because of constant random battles without a chance to save and tent up is just annoying! Frankly it sometimes makes me reluctant to play.

  25. @djotaku I always think about Chrono Trigger and I wonder if the real limitation was actually hardware resource-related or just The Way Things Were Done. It’s all irrelevant, really, because by now the hardware constraints are definitely not there and it’s just a question of:

    1. Design

    Blue Dragon has on-screen enemies (that go into battle screens). Lost Odyssey has random battles. They are both made by the same company.

    2. Convention

    Dragon Quest IX was flooded with 1-star reviews on Amazon the past two iterations for the same reason: change. VIII lacked a world map and IX is on DS, multiplayer focused, and features no random battles.

    Hopefully Squeenix continues this trend and keeps enemies on screen. Now that FF has done it (and seems poised to continue to do it in XIII) and Dragon Quest has done it, the industry should continue to mimic it.

    It would certainly change the way I play Pokemon…

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