Final Fantasy XII: Too Clever to be Understood

By Shamus
on May 13, 2007
Filed under:
Game Reviews

Hey, remember when I ran out of the room and let you guys all get captured? Yeah, I was just messing with you.  Pretty funny, huh?
Hey, remember when I ran out of the room and let you guys all get captured? Yeah, I was just messing with you. Pretty funny, huh?
After my initial post on FFXII I realized I needed to lower my expectations if I want to enjoy this game. It’s not a terrible game. If it wasn’t carrying the Final Fantasy banner I would have been a lot more accepting of its shortcomings. It’s just that I was expecting FINAL FREAKIN FANTASY here, and for me it was falling short of that lofty ideal.

In the comments yesterday several people said they found the politics and scheming in this game to seem small and uninteresting alongside the planet-smashing threats we’ve faced in the past. I said the same thing at one point, but after reading responses from people who like the plot I can see there probably is a gripping tale here. There isn’t any real reason a war and struggle for freedom can’t be just as thrilling as fighting Jenova and Sepheroth or Sin and Seymore, as we did in games past.

The problem here isn’t the scope, it’s the presentation.

If you don’t get a firm grip on things during the game’s laborious half-hour introduction, you’ll spend the rest of the game struggling to catch up. When I entered the mines to rescue Ponello, there was a cutscene with several important NPCs. What they were saying was intended to build suspense and establish relationships between the various factions in the game. But it meant nothing to me because while the scene played I was trying to figure out who these guys were, why the game had switched me to their POV (a hackish storytelling device, in my opinion) and how they related to the main character.

So the game force-feeds the player a half hour of names, nations, conquests, leaders, and events, and then doesn’t allow for the possibility that the player might not have gotten it all down the first time through. Bhujerba, Rabanastre, Nalbina, Dalmasca? A little help reviewing things or giving the player some context would have gone a long, long way to making this work for me.

After sinking over ten hours into my game, I abandoned it and started over. This let me review everything and try to match some names to faces and locations to events in the hopes that I can sort things out. The game makes a lot more sense the second time through, although I still have many nagging questions and I’m not sure if the questions are there to keep me interested and curious, or if I’m still missing something.

Case in point: The party goes to see “The Marquis”, who is named Ondore. (Another nod to realism – there are many different ways to refer to someone. The problem is, if you’re already struggling to keep everyone straight this does a great job of making things much worse.) Ondor secretly helps the resistance, while pretending to support the Empire. (The bad guys.) Basch (a party member) asks Ondore for help in freeing a girl from the Empire. Ondor gives a cryptic answer about needing to keep up appearances. Then Basch draws his sword and darts out of the room. Guards come in and arrest the remaining members of the party. Nobody speaks. I’ve seen the scene twice now and I still can’t figure it out.

<i>Perhaps you forget all that Ondor has wrought?</i>  Well, maybe she does and maybe she doesn’t, but why don’t we go over it again for the benefit of those playing along at home, yeah?
Perhaps you forget all that Ondor has wrought? Well, maybe she does and maybe she doesn’t, but why don’t we go over it again for the benefit of those playing along at home, yeah?
So Ondore can’t do anything to jeopardize his position, so he can’t help. Ok, but why turn the rest of us in? Or, since we were all dragged to the prison where we did indeed rescue the girl in question, was this part of his plan and he was just too absent-minded to bother explaining it to the rest of us? Why did Basch draw his sword and run out of the room? Why didn’t the rest of the party follow him? The next thing we see is that everyone – including Basch – is in irons, being hauled away by the bad guys. So what was the deal with him running off if he ended up captured anyway? Is Ondor a double-crosser, pretending to help the Empire while really helping the resistance, or is he a double-double crosser who is pretending to help the resistance by pretending to betray the Empire? Cripes.

Actually, I’m fine with a little mystery, but what really eats me is: What are the characters thinking? Do they feel betrayed? Impressed? Angry? Confused? Are they supposed to be in on it? We don’t know. Nobody brings it up. They never discuss this event among themselves. They never say, “I can’t believe he betrayed us” or “Why did you run off, Basch?”.

Then while I’m trying to unravel all of this, the game cuts to the bad guy’s POV and we see that he doesn’t trust Ondore. But does this mistrust come from Ondor’s loyalty to the Empire, or his lack of it? Since the bad guy doesn’t get along with the other nebulous powers within his own Empire, we can’t really tell. Mercy already.

I feel like one of the players in DM of the Rings. I’m hacking my way through a complex plot I don’t understand, the world is filled with confusing and unpronouncable names, and the writer is so enamored of his plot that he forgets that this is supposed to be about the player characters. Kudos to the people who have an appetite for all of this politics and intrigue and who can follow this mess. For the rest of us, a few after-the-fact reaction conversations would go a long way to keeping the player up to speed on what’s going on, as well as filling in these shallow characters. I’m willing to give this game a chance (two now, actually) but the writers need to meet me halfway here.

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From the Archives:

  1. Steve says:

    I haven’t played all the way through, but my guess: if Marquis Omdore is to help the resistance, he needs to keep his position as Marquis. If the Empire finds out that Omdore had the party members (wanted criminals) in his custody and just let the party go, they’d become suspicious about his loyalties. That’s why he has to call the guards.

    Basch realizes a few seconds before the rest of the party what Omdore means, and so he tries running out to escape. [I don’t know why he doesn’t yell to the rest of the party; maybe he doesn’t think there’s enough time, or maybe it’s instinct from when he was on his own.] He doesn’t make it, though, as you see when he gets dragged back in chains.

    Think Lando Calrissian in Empire Strikes Back — he didn’t want to betray Han to the Empire, but he didn’t have much choice if he wanted to remain as governor of Cloud City and continue to help the Rebellion.

    • Vic 2.0 says:

      Don’t fall for the way the story is being retold in this article! Basch never runs out of the room. He pulls his sword on Ondore so that Ondore has an excuse to arrest them all. If Basch really intended to do harm to Ondore or even take him as a hostage so that they could escape, he would’ve; Ondore was right there!

  2. LethalSpoon says:

    You are quickly making me glad I haven’t put down the money to buy this game. Perhaps it would make a gift one day, for I would like try it out. But from the sound of it, screw giving up some hard earned cash.

  3. Fieari says:

    This is a fair criticism. Perhaps I feel like I have a head start in analysis of this game being an English major. After doing in depth character studies of Shakespeare’s Prospero and coming up with five different contradictory potential motivations for the character, each of which is valid depending on how the director stages the scenes, FFXII seems perfectly transparent to me. There’s only one or two possible interpretations per scene! Not only that, but as the story moves along, the correct interpretation is practically spelled out for you!

    Why, that’s as simple as pie! Or pi. I guess it’s the literary equivalent of your distinction between how people view the difficulty of gameplay. You said there are those who say “That’s easy! I only died a couple times per level!” and those who say “This is impossible! I died a couple times every single level!”

    It also helps that I’ve been sinking my teeth into some other heavy political works lately, such as Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, and George R R Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice. The benefit there, of course, being that you CAN see inside the character’s heads, whereas here, you can’t. But after being trained to see inside their heads after reading a lot of this stuff, inferences and puzzling out what they mean by their actions becomes second nature. I don’t even realize the level of analysis I’m doing.

    That said, they really could have giving a leg up to those without the ability to do these things, and given the level of sheer enjoyment I’m getting out of this game, I’m sorry to see and recognize it isn’t as accessible to everyone else. I hope that with effort you can get everything out of the story… there’s so much here. There really is.

    • Dalten says:

      Thank you! after reading so many people review this game saying things like “oh my gosh this game sucks, I can’t even tell which empire is which” or “the characters motivations completely elude me” it’s a relief to see someone who actually understands and, much like me, enjoys the complexities of the plot and characters within the game. I have to say that in my opinion Balthier is one of the most well written characters from a video game that I’ve encountered so far. His resentment towords his father fueled by his fathers obsession over venat is a device that really spoke to me.that, and he’s a bad ass who gives no shit about how much armor you have! hahaha

  4. Valthun says:

    Hell the game is like 39 bucks now, it’s still selling like crazy. It has already exceeded the limit for it to become a Greatest Hits title. At the same time, GameStop sill has the Collector’s Editions copies and they cost the same as the regular version. I give the title another couple of months and it will be re-labeled Greatest Hits and have a green bar on it. I stopped playing, not because I wanted too, but because my Memory card got transported across the state, so I started to play other titles in the mean time. At this point I will probably start over, just to get 100%. Which means i will be reading the strategy guide the whole time. That will make it even more fun.

  5. Boobah says:

    There are ways to handle the “Unfamiliar-With-The-World” problem, and you’d think folks that reinvent the wheel as much as the Final Fantasy XII team do would have a better (i.e. any) way of handling it. Aside from FF VI’s or Xenogear’s Amnesiac Heroes, or FF X’s Trapped In Another World Guy, you’ve also got stuff like Xenosaga I’s encyclopedia (which is specifically addressed to the player, not the PCs… the PCs already know this stuff).

    It’s criminal that they don’t always bother with the PCs reaction to the events around them; it’s THEIR story, even if it IS hung on a grand, world changing event.

    Advantage: Tabletop roleplaying. Your players have the opportunity to ask what all that backstory is, and can at the very least find out that, yes, they should be confused at this point.

  6. Chargone says:

    possible spoiler but…

    when your guys get captured and stuck on the airship after the scene you describe, they then proceed to do a number of things, including cause events to occur that take out one of the empires more powerful warships, if i was paying attention, and several key officials. they also recovered an item or two, i believe, removed a lot of suspicion from the marques, and escaped.

    personally, I’m having a little trouble with the difficulty curve in places, but i am Loving the game. of course, grand strategy and things such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms are my thing.

    it’s very much an “all will be revealed” thing. generally, when something seems confusing regarding motivations or plans, if you keep playing, things drop into place [so far, anyway]. sometimes you have to stop and Think about it for a bit, but they do.

    with Ondore, i wasn’t sure What was going on when the player characters got captured, but i was pretty sure the marquis wasn’t the one who betrayed them, if anyone did.

    by the time they got out of the ship and back to him, it was fairly obvious that he was at least partially responsible for their capture… but that he’d been planning for things to happen how they did [or at least hoping and not seeing any other way]

    as for the whole main character bit, stop thinking of Vaan as “you” or “The Main Charicter”. simply put, so far as i can see, he’s not. in fact so far he, and to a lesser extent Penelo, seem to fill the same general role as C3PO and R2-D2. they’re there, they’re observing, they’re the link that ties the story together…. but they’re not really Significant to any of it.

    actually, the comparisons to Star Wars and Romance of the Three Kingdoms are both very apt, and more so the more i think on it.

    regarding favorite “Final Fantasy”s, i must admit to being somewhat typical with regard to the whole “first is favorite” bit. 8 was the first i played, and i still like it best, though i consider 10 and 12 to be Better. which seems odd.

    with regards to the games being in kind of taste ‘sets’, however, i don’t really fit it. i was never that enamored with 7, and after playing 10 and 12 the graphics make it painful. i have no patience with the pre-PSX final fantasy games [or at least those ones I’ve played].

    the ones i really like are 8,10 and 12. 8 and 10 are the only ones I’ve finished. 12 i just haven’t got done with yet[much as i like it, it’s Very easy to put aside. it’s almost got obvious chapter breaks]. 10-2 i liked quite a bit [though not as much as 8,10 and 12] but i kept getting Stuck. which annoys me no end. 7 i got up to fighting sepharoth in the north cave or whatever. got stuck. gave up, couldn’t be bothered coming back.

    i find that with final fantasy, it’s not the story, or the graphics, or the game play mechanics, or what have you that make it good. people claim one thing or another makes this one good or another one bad, one better than another… but ultimately, it’s the over all combination of all three, as well as music and other factors, that make them what they are.

    as usual, i lost my original point somewhere in my ramblings, but i hope they make sense and make some useful points.

    there should be no more spoilers in this post after this line, as i am done writing :D

    • Dalten says:

      you have no idea how relieved i am to hear that someone else broke the mind set of “Vaan is the main character.” I mean his role in this story is more or less to create a tie between the other characters. He does, however, get to taste the limelight in the sequel for the DS. But as far as FF XII goes, you’ve got a fallen Princess seeking to regain control of her country, a knight who despite failing to protect his homeland manages to maintain his honor by protecting someone precious to him, a viera who chose to leave the wood to find something more to life, and a sky pirate whose father shunned him in an attempt to wield the power of the gods. Yet somehow I’m supposed to believe that petty thief (for now) is the main character of the tale? no thanks. haha

    • Vic 2.0 says:

      You’re absolutely right. How any thinking person could regard Vaan as anything more than an avatar is beyond me. Further, you’re VERY right that FF12 does a good job of answering the player’s questions soon enough. In fact, it answers the question of “(Why) Did Ondore betray us?” rather quickly! Right after they escape, Basch reveals that Ondore, Basch, and Vossler were in on the plan from the very beginning (It’s why Basch draws his sword on Ondore without attacking AND without trying to escape, despite what the author of this article claims). The player just needs to pay attention, particularly if they’re going to turn around and write a critique of the story!

  7. AJ says:

    For the most part, I haven’t played a Final Fantasy I didn’t at least find to be “alright”, but this one pushed it for me.

    The characters were swept up in the motions of the world but I never felt like they were functional characters. Princess Ashe was one of the most annoying characters throughout the whole thing. She drove me completely nuts. There were more than a few parts that confused me as to why she was doing what she was doing. Why anyone would feel the need to be loyal to a largely worthless leader like her I couldn’t say.

    Anyway, the game stays cryptic and not all that great all the way through to the end when all the reasons basically stop mattering and you’re just out to stop something horrible…standard final fantasy, but poorly led up to.

    What kept this game interesting for me was strictly the wonderful mechanics. They were fresh and interesting for a final fantasy, even if they stole a lot from other games to get there.

    • Vic 2.0 says:

      I’m seeing any elaboration on exactly what you found “annoying” about Ashe, but the point of a plot-driven story is precisely that – the main characters are not the emphasis, the gravity of the situation they find themselves trapped in is. It’s a perfectly legitimate and widely accepted style of writing.

  8. mark says:

    Perhaps basch wasnt running away, but towards the guards, to try to fight them off?

    • Vic 2.0 says:

      Actually, the claim that Basch ran ANYWHERE is entirely imagined on the part of the author here. He only draws his sword on Ondore so that Ondore has an excuse to arrest them all. If Basch really intended to do harm to Ondore or even take him as a hostage so that they could escape, he would’ve; Ondore was right there!

  9. Stranger says:

    Honestly, I watched the game played through, mostly because I couldn’t get near the console for the first week . . . month . . . or so. My roommate was hooked.

    It’s something worth noting this game is by the same team who did Final Fantasy Tactics and Vagrant Story. The style of storytelling is not that dissimilar from the previous entries, but is FAR extended and deeper in detail. The problem is, indeed, their choices of how to dole out that detail to the player through the cutscenes. It is also a common device of this team to switch perspectives (even shortly) in order to show a little more of what is going on in a wider view. FFT was notable for this, VS was not.

    Now, your frustration with how things appear . . . especially the Marquis (mispronounced, noted, but that’s okay). The problem is you stopped just shy of things starting to fall into place better . . . after the rescue mission on the airship you enter “chapter 2” and you begin to see what is going on and how it all relates. By the true “chapter break” which comes up (more text and voiceover from the Marquis’ memoirs) the plot starts to shape the conflict and why you’re all traveling together.

    That’s a while in, but really I can list why Vaan is going along with Fran and Balthier, as well as Basch going along with Vaan . . . because Vaan has something the two pirates want (the “Goddess Stone”) and they feel if he’s around they might get a chance at being offered it (they ARE honorable, in that sense). Basch is around out of guilt from the prologue scene’s events, more than anything.

    Seriously, I can only say the story makes more sense the longer it runs but it is convoluted political scheming and maneuvering between all the factions in play with the player’s characters being caught in the middle. By the time you reach the end of the game, it DOES all make sense and you can see where all the things wove together and WHY things happened this way. And you do get your apocalyptic end-of-the-world Final Fantasy moments too.

    But if you don’t like the style of the storytelling (which is reminiscent of books I’ve read, in the past, truth be told), I don’t blame you. Final Fantasy X was a lovely tale but it was more . . . cinematic. It was more heavily on rails than FF12, and I can name several instances in previous Final Fantasy outings which were a lot like your statement of “step out of line of the plot and we’ll kill you hardcore”.

    Final Fantasy 1 – Numerous places where you accidentally slip into a different “monster spawn zone”, which can be FATAL nearly without fail.

    Final Fantasy 2 – Head straight south of the starting castle, to find stuff WAY WAY WAY out of your league, and it’s just innocently along the coastline.

    Final Fantasy 4 – Numerous places where you can poke your head in curiously and be beaten to a bloody pulp. Eblan Castle, for instance.

    Final Fantasy 6 – Exploring in the World of Ruin can be . . . very . . . deadly.

    Final Fantasy 7 – Instances in this game are rarer, largely because it holds your transportation to by foot for a large part of the first disc. It limits your potential to get into trouble by limiting where you can go. But you cannot tell me Emerald Weapon isn’t a “potential deathtrap” waiting to happen . . .

    Final Fantasy 9 – Disc 1, Grand Dragon Plateau. I need say nothing more.

  10. ngthagg says:

    I’m sorry the game isn’t clicking for you, Shamus. Certainly the way you keep saying “the main character” indicates that you aren’t experiencing the story the way the writers wanted you to.

    Regarding the difficulty of the game, it was rough on me until I figured out how to use the resources I was given. First, you can look at a monster’s stats before you get into combat range. My characters can usually handle a five level difference. Around ten and things start to get iffy. Second, the run button doesn’t work well to escape from combat, as it has a delay for your characters to put away their weapons. Instead, it is most useful to keep your characters from auto-attacking enemies that you want to ignore. If you start “running” before you encounter enemies, you can avoid them quite easily. Some monsters can still tag you with spells, but that’s about it. Third, learn to use running to pull monsters. This is useful if an elemental keeps wandering into your fights with other monsters. Elementals start green, so they won’t attack you at first. Ignore them and engage the red monsters you want to fight, then run away. The red monsters will follow you, and the elementals won’t. It’s a pretty standard MMORPG tactic, modified a bit to handle three characters at once.

  11. Kian says:

    I’ve found two main different ways to look at FFXII. The first is the Star Wars viewpoint, which is pretty obvious. Relate all the characters from FFXII to characters in Star Wars. That helps make the characters a little more interesting at least.

    The second is the ‘Vaan is not important’ viewpoint. Stop thinking of him as the main character or the hero. Focus on the other characters. In D&D terms, think of all the other characters being experienced roleplayers…they have accents, they have decent lines, they do some pretty cool stuff. Then think about Vaan as being a complete beginner, who has maybe a paragraph of backstory compared to everyone elses pages.

    That was one of my gripes when I first played it…all the other characters had something unique about their voices, from accent to speaking in olde english, or just having really interesting lines (Cid). Vaan speaks like any normal American kid, which was annoyingly obvious when everyone around him was not.

    Complaints aside, the story gets better the farther in you go. Also, the Judges and Cid are my favorite characters of the game.

    • Vic 2.0 says:

      A person doesn’t have to use a different “viewpoint” to appreciate a story like FF12’s. They just need to learn about the differences between character-centered stories and plot-driven stories (or at least stop condescendingly talking about “Storytelling 101” until they have done so).

  12. Whiskeyjack says:

    I played through most of this game a few months ago and was happy with it, it kept me more interested than Neverwinter Nights 2. The only thing I found bad about this game was the story was WAY to similar to the original Star Wars plot.

    You have a young blond haired boy who wants to explore the sky and be a pirate (aka Luke). You have the brash sky pirate that has a strange non-human side kick (aka Han Solo and Chewy). You have a displaced rebel princess that has sworn vengence against the empire (aka Leia). Thats just the characters the plot is just as similar. The small kingdom is evaded by the large evil empire that takes over and the people start a resistance to try and free its people.

    Oh yeah, I forgot theres even an evil villian guy that wheres a set of creepy black armor and a face covering mask!!! (SPOILIER) At least they didnt make the guy someones father….. NO just one of the main character’s BROTHER!

    Those were the only problems I had with the game, it’s kind of hard to get into a story when you keep thinking its story was a rip off.

  13. Jeff says:

    To address a specific statement more than the post overall:
    “There isn’t any real reason a war and struggle for freedom can’t be just as thrilling as fighting Jenova and Sepheroth or Sin and Seymore, as we did in games past.”

    Actually, if the story was well written (pacing, plot, characterization), then something as integral to human history as war and a struggle for freedom and recognition WILL be thrilling. In fact, having to fall back upon fighting a BBEG with the McGuffin of World Destruction is a narrative shortcut.

    In other words, saving the world isn’t what a story needs to aspire to. Saving the world is pulling in faux-importance because the story itself cannot sustain itself WITHOUT saying “The whole world is at stake!!!111!!one!”

    How many of your favorite novels have the entire story arc about a protagonist becoming powerful enough to single-handedly save the world? Generally, the best stories are more subtle.

  14. T-Boy says:

    I don’t know about you, man, but I’m just finding it hilarious that your post has attracted the narrativist equivalent to the “The game’s difficulty wasn’t too hard for me“.

    I mean, yeah! I just spent last weekend analyzing and dissecting Humbert Humbert’s motivations in Lolita and reading up on The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in my spare time! While drunk! Final Fantasy plotline? Psssh, easy.

  15. braincraft says:

    It’s okay for the subtext to be incredibly deep and intricate, but the text itself has to have a certain transparency. It doesn’t take a lot, and it doesn’t have to be patronizing, either; in the scene cited, a quick closeup of Basch’s eyes narrowing, and/or a quick shot of soldiers coming down the hall, would have given the viewer enough cues to keep him from having to spend precious moments of analysis when he could be enjoying the suspense of betrayal.

    It’s not that the plot is super-complicated, it’s just that, as Shamus says, it feels like the writer/director/whatever is too busy being pleased with himself to acknowledge his audience.

    • Vic 2.0 says:

      “in the scene cited, a quick closeup of Basch’s eyes narrowing, and/or a quick shot of soldiers coming down the hall, would have given the viewer enough cues to keep him from having to spend precious moments of analysis when he could be enjoying the suspense of betrayal.”

      This is rather incoherent. You’re SUPPOSED to be trying to figure out what’s going on! Why not? Your CHARACTERS are! Maybe betrayal isn’t what the author wasn’t going for, but intrigue (which would make sense, as it is a prime theme of the entire game).

      “It’s not that the plot is super-complicated, it’s just that, as Shamus says, it feels like the writer/director/whatever is too busy being pleased with himself to acknowledge his audience.”

      What “audience” do you speak of? The vast majority of reviewers (professional and customer alike) are giving this game extremely high ratings. The writers SHOULD be pleased with themselves, they did a remarkable job.

  16. DocTwisted says:

    Maybe because it’s because I mainly play this game at night after a full shift, but…

    …I have had the worst time following the story of this game, even with my BA in Modern Literature. I do think that there really did need to be more said along the way. I also think that if Vaan and Penelo are so insignificant, they shouldn’t be the first and second PCs you get after the tutorial level. Balthier sure does feel far more relevant to things, with the connections he has and the deeper understanding of events he carries… they should have made him the center. He’s a more interesting character anyways, IMO.

    Also, I started with the original FF (back on the good ol’ NES) and have played all of them except IX, X, and XI… I’d like to try going back and playing IX and X sometime, I’ve no interest in XI after all the horror stories I’ve been told of the game’s layout. My favorite is probably VIII, with Tactics being a close second. My least favorite is easily Crystal Chronicles, which seemed to have been designed solely to make you convince your friends to buy GBAs.

    • Vic 2.0 says:

      “I also think that if Vaan and Penelo are so insignificant, they shouldn’t be the first and second PCs you get after the tutorial level. Balthier sure does feel far more relevant to things, with the connections he has and the deeper understanding of events he carries… they should have made him the center. He’s a more interesting character anyways, IMO.”

      Vaan and Penelo are introduced immediately specifically because they ARE insignificant to the plot. It’s your first clue that this is what is called a plot-centered story, in which the emphasis is on the gravity of events in the world – not on the characters. He is an avatar, nothing more. Exploring the world of Ivalice no more/less than the player.

  17. DocTwisted says:

    As to a war and a struggle for freedom being interesting… I’m reminded of Front Mission 4. And, for that matter, Front Mission 1 and 3. (I have never found a non-Japanese version of 2 to play). These games had a gripping story, involving military actions and bands of rebels trying to resist an oppressive regime. Front Mission 4 easily did the best job of making a great story… well, more like two great stories that tie together at the end. And in it, every PC is very important to the outcome.

  18. scragar says:

    FF12 is my least favorite FF and to be honest I’m considering not buying any more of them, the greatest ones to date are still 7 and 8 so why they diverge in such a crazy way is beyond me.

    I mean seriously what where they thinking with 10-2? and what was 11 about! and now they produce this as a hope of renewing the series after such failures?

  19. Aaron says:

    I bought this game a while ago, played it up to about lvl 25, then my house got broken into and my playstation and memory card were stolen. So I got a new PS2, started over, rehashed the plot, releveled up to 20, and realized why I wasn’t liking the game. It wasn’t about the plot for me (which I actually liked quite a bit), it was about mechanics.

    I bought the game to play it. If I wanted to watch a soap opera I’d have shut off the game and tuned into Days of Our Lives. The “gambit” mechanic is fine and all … until you start to realize that all you’re really doing is moving the characters and making a minor impact in combat. Once the gambits are set up (and if you’re smart you got them early) you need to input very little info. I got so bored just running around and watching the characters fight with nothing to do I just stopped playing. A week later I took the game into GameStop and traded it.

    My fav of the series: FFX and FFX2. I liked 7, but something in X and X2 appealed to me.

  20. lonster says:

    First: I’ve never played FFXII, so I cannot comment directly on that.

    But your complaint about lack of explainations is exactly the same as my friends’ complaints when I introduce them to some of the more “mystical” martial arts movies that I’m partial to. “Big Trouble in Little China” parodies this quite well, with Jack saying the whole time, “What the hell?!” ’cause he doesn’t get it, and no one explains it to him.

    Second: I quit playing FF games after X. I have kids now, I don’t have time for a 45 minute boss battle. I could usually get time to play from save point A to save point B. Someday, RPG designers are going to realize that their fanbase is growing up, and there may need to be some design changes.

  21. The Pancakes says:

    It sounds like it would be more fun to just rent a movie.

    Lonster @ 20: Don’t hold your breath for those design changes. Games are Big Business now and they KNOW what people want in their games beyond a shadow of a doubt.

  22. Nat says:

    It’s too bad that you aren’t enjoying the story. I am really getting sucked into it, and now at 30 hours i am loving it. I will admit that there are points in the game where i go WTF. But then i just play a little more, follow the trail and kill a few things, and then things are made obvious. If I come to a boss or something, i usually save and then go back and explore the previous area more to figure out if there was any item or mini-boss that could help me destroy this new boss.

    I do hope that this game eventually clicks for you. I really like the story, but hey to each his own right?

  23. Dan says:

    Just wondering, but has anyone noticed that the storyline has a starwars feel? Just think about the storyline for a little bit and you can see some obvious parallels. I mean, the opening cutscene battles seemed like a cross between The Two Towers and Attack of the Clones. The characters all seem to be modified versions of of the Star Wars characters. I don’t know, but it seems to me that somebody had the brilliant idea of “What if Star Wars took place soley on Tatooine?”

    Anyway, besides my impressions of the storyline (and presentation), I think that this game is pretty good. The battle system reminds me of The Legend of Alon Dar, but revamped and much more user friendly. I also discovered that the game allows ample opportunity for free roaming (if you earn up enough). This goes back to old RPG fan saying “Noobs get lost. We call it earning up”.

  24. Telas says:

    Wait, you mean a Final Fantasy game has vague emotions, clever but confusing cutscenes, and a really topheavy socio-political environment?

    Whoda thunk it?

  25. Joshua says:

    “Just wondering, but has anyone noticed that the storyline has a starwars feel? Just think about the storyline for a little bit and you can see some obvious parallels.”

    Yeah, um, Whiskeyjack said it in post 12. If you really want to engage in discussion, and not just try to be clever, read what the other posters said first.

  26. braincraft says:

    Re: The Pancakes,

    Yeah. I believe my exact words, after sitting through the first half-hour of cutscenes and exposition before I even got to control a character, were “why don’t they just go back to making movies if they don’t want to make games?”

  27. Xanthir, FCD says:

    I can sympathize somewhat.

    I finished FF12 a few weeks back, and I must say that I loved it. But it can definitely be confusing in some parts. I really wish the acting was a bit better for Basch and Ashe, as they are the two subtlest characters and need the most attention paid to them to be played right. I never picked up nearly as much sympathy for Ashe as I feel I was supposed to until the very end. It didn’t help that she was dressed like a whore. ^_^

    I also echo others who say that Vaan and Penelo aren’t main characters. It definitely seems that they are, what with the game starting out with them and with you showing as Vaan in towns. If you could at least change your town character you’d get a better feeling of the game being about everyone. That could have been done a lot better.

    However, I feel that it’s worth it. The story really pays off as you go further. I loved Vayne all the way through, I love the eternal guys, and I love Balthier and Fran. The Marquis is confusing, but you gradually see the web he’s weaving, and it becomes quite clear later on.

    Finally, the Star Wars vibe was evident from the very beginning. If you didn’t get a Clone Wars feeling from the opening movie, something’s wrong with you. ^_^

  28. Lolly says:

    I think the major downfall of Final Fantasy XII was the lack of character depth and interaction. Unlike previous games where you had fair insight into the character’s personalities, ideologies and relationships. Sure you get their base motives and shell of their personality, but that isn’t enough for a 50+ hour game.

    The plot itself is fairly simple to follow, it’s just given to you in large periodic doses, it should have been managed in a more timely fashion. However, the characters themselves are very interesting, but again they were hardly given any time to make an impression. I think overall, it’s a worthwhile game, but other titles in the series were more satisfying. But each to their own, can’t wait til Final Fantasy XIII.

    • Vic 2.0 says:

      “I think the major downfall of Final Fantasy XII was the lack of character depth and interaction. Unlike previous games where you had fair insight into the character’s personalities, ideologies and relationships. Sure you get their base motives and shell of their personality, but that isn’t enough for a 50+ hour game.”

      Unless of course we’re talking about a plot-centered story, which we obviously are.

    • Damascus says:

      Hmm. The characters are less well developed than in some other FF titles, but there is still a lot to dig up there. E.g. the relationship between Vayne and Cid- they obviously knew each other for a while and were in on the master plan together. When Vayne says “Larsa is as he should be.” That is very thougth provoking. When Vayne repeats his father’s words “And so house Solidor lives on.” it pretty much reveals who Gramis was as a person. Lots of moments, subtle (for a game, after some literary analysis this is a piece of cake.). Balthier’s many masks, and you can see how he slowly drops them off a bit and becomes more genuine. Ashe’s struggle. A lot more. It just takes more time and effort to uncover those bits.

  29. Dylan says:

    i agree and disagree. the plot is very complex and it was hard for me to keep up with it but that does not mean the game cant be fun. my advice: buy the game. i have played through it 3 times and i had a great time defeating all the marks and killing yiazmat.

  30. Kate says:

    I Loved Final Fantasy XII. To me, it was the most fun since 7. But the plot does get confusing.

    It’s been a while since I saw it, but The way I understood that scene you are complaining about: Ondore said he can’t help them infiltrate the empire to rescue the chick because that would look bad, and he can’t risk being imprisoned, but said something about how basch shouldn’t mind it so much, and that’s when Basch drew his sword, and got the party arrested. I saw it as Ondore basically telling Him that, since he can’t sneak them in, their best chance was to get arrested and wreak some havoc on the airship. And Basch got them arrested, thus scoring Good points for Ondore with the empire, and getting them put on the ship where the princess was, so it all worked out for everybody.

    But I don’t know why Basch ran off. Are you sure it was him, and not somebody who looked like him? I seem to remember that being a recurring theme.

    I love your site, by the way.

    • Vic 2.0 says:

      No, Basch never ran anywhere; that just plain never happened. He only draws his sword on Ondore so that Ondore has an excuse to arrest them all. If Basch really intended to do harm to Ondore or even take him as a hostage so that they could escape, he would’ve; Ondore was right there!

      Right after they escape, Basch reveals that Ondore, Basch, and Vossler were all in on the plan from the very beginning.

  31. Catherine says:

    This is also my second time round for this game. I agree, I found the characters shallow and the story line extra confusing at first. Hell, because of that, it took me months of picking up and putting down the controller to get through it. But now, after I’ve gone through it once, I’m really involved with the storyline. Yes, they told the story backwards, and it was rather confusing, but there were many other elements of the game that made it decent. The graphics, the large and complex areas, the extra little side quests and beastiery titbits helped to prop up what the makers let flop.

  32. Bryan says:

    I’m actually playing through FFXII now, and I just got to this scene last night. I’m glad it’s not just me, at first I thought Basch had betrayed the party, then when he came in with the rest of party in irons, I was like “wait!……what?” So far the game is a bit baffling as far as the various politicians, wars, deceptions and plot threads. The battle system is a microcosm of the story for me. The difficult battles are somewhat chaotic and I end up staring at everyone’s health bars trying to keep them alive and hoping my AI controlled party members are doing their jobs.

    Still, I’m enjoying this one more then any other FF game I’ve played in the past. We’ll see if it holds up.

    • Vic 2.0 says:

      Basch never ran anywhere; that just plain never happened. He only draws his sword on Ondore so that Ondore has an excuse to arrest them all. If Basch really intended to do harm to Ondore or even take him as a hostage so that they could escape, he would’ve; Ondore was right there!

      Right after they escape, Basch reveals that Ondore, Basch, and Vossler were all in on the plan from the very beginning.

  33. Katrani Merack says:

    Hey! I’ve watched this scene since you seemed to point out that Basch leaves, but they never show him running away. He just draws his sword. My theory is that he did that so Ondore would have a reason (because how would he know what insurgents looked like right off the bat, since at this point you’ve basically just started and he’s just been told Basch and Ashe are still alive?) to call the guards and arrest them.

    I like 12, personally. 6 is still my favorite, followed by 5 and 4. None of which I’ve completed. 9 is next, then 10, 7, 12, and 8. Don’t make me mention X-2. By no means is it the best. But I like the change. You do find a lot more about two of the characters later on. Once you reach the Golmore Jungle area, you get a bit of backstory about Fran. Later, starting at about the Phon COast, you find out about Baltheir. Vaan and Penelo I think are just supposed to be the normals that got pulled into this. Basch and Ashe’s backstories are told in all that political mumbo-jumbo.

    The game is easy ot understand. Maybe not on a first playthrough (about 5 hours in I started a new game because I was confuzzled), but once you know to keep track of the names it is. And there is a way to find out more about the world- defeat monsters, and you start unlocking what could be called a minipedia about Ivalice, though it’s by no means nessacary.

    I loved how many named characters there are- you just do a sidequest for Woman with Red Hair 15, you do one for Gatsly the poor merchant! And how easy it is to get lost in everything if you do the sidequests. I was so intent on finishing one of the hunts (Gilgamesh) that I almost jumped out of my skin when my dad started yelling at me for ignoring him for the past ten minutes while he’d been calling my name.

    • Vic 2.0 says:

      “Hey! I’ve watched this scene since you seemed to point out that Basch leaves, but they never show him running away. He just draws his sword.”

      I’m glad someone else caught that :)

  34. […] then there’s this one scene… *cough* But for the most part it’s a provocative […]

  35. The Truth says:

    Ok, let’s see here. Basch never darts out of a room letting the others get captured, that never happened. Marquis Ondore didn’t spell the plan out for the others because he didn’t want to chance someone else hearing (You’ll notice he didn’t have to shout very loudly to have the guards rush in a second after, implying they were right outside the door, possibly listening to every word). But yes, they were put on the same ship as Ashe so that they could rescue her. And yes, he did it this way so he could give Vayne word that he had captured them, to ensure his loyalty to the Empire wasn’t doubted. There’s even a cut scene right afterward that spells this out for you. Further, it’s obvious the plan entailed for Vossler to free the others once they were put in their cell(s), as he and Basch give mention that Ondore was in fact behind the whole rescue attempt (Ashe included). You just have to pay attention to the cut scenes, is all.

    Why they never said about Ondore, “I can’t believe he betrayed us” – Because by the time they had the chance to have this conversation (i.e., by the time they were no longer surrounded by guards), they understood that the Marquis DIDN’T betray them at all, but helped them instead.

    Why they never asked Basch why he ran out of the room – He DIDN’T. The game simply does not show or even imply that he ran after drawing his sword on Ondore.

    It was one of the Judges who doubted Ondore (briefly), and it was just a passing guess based on finding the resistance in Bhujerba to be well-funded for no discernible reason. Vayne might’ve considered the Judge’s half-baked accusation, had it not been for the letter Ondore sent to report he had captured the “insurgents”.

    Who ever said the story was supposed to be about the player characters? Clearly, FF12’s story is a plot-driven story, in which the events themselves are the focus, not the feelings, ambitions, development, etc. of the characters. It’s quite an established form of writing. I see no reason why it can’t belong in video games.

  36. Vic 2.0 says:

    “After my initial post on FFXII I realized I needed to lower my expectations if I want to enjoy this game. It’s not a terrible game. If it wasn’t carrying the Final Fantasy banner I would have been a lot more accepting of its shortcomings. It’s just that I was expecting FINAL FREAKIN FANTASY here, and for me it was falling short of that lofty ideal.”

    Actually, FF12 is a lot more like the original Final Fantasy games than 10 (which you praised) was. FF12 brought EXPLORATION back to the series, for example. And the first stories were also about an ensemble cast (in which none of them were the “main character”). If anything deserves the whole “I should’ve lowered my expectations” line, it was FF10, IMHO.

    “If you don’t get a firm grip on things during the game’s laborious half-hour introduction, you’ll spend the rest of the game struggling to catch up.”

    Not really. The gist of it is quite simple. The big bad Empire has taken over Rabanastre and surrounding areas, and you need to stop them before they take over EVERYTHING. The details of who’s who is fleshed out later.

    “When I entered the mines to rescue Ponello, there was a cutscene with several important NPCs. What they were saying was intended to build suspense and establish relationships between the various factions in the game. But it meant nothing to me because while the scene played I was trying to figure out who these guys were, why the game had switched me to their POV (a hackish storytelling device, in my opinion) and how they related to the main character.”

    What’s to figure out? Everyone had different interests, but they were leading them to the same location. And I don’t even know what you mean by “switching POVs”; Vaan is the avatar from start to finish…

    “So the game force-feeds the player a half hour of names, nations, conquests, leaders, and events, and then doesn’t allow for the possibility that the player might not have gotten it all down the first time through. Bhujerba, Rabanastre, Nalbina, Dalmasca? A little help reviewing things or giving the player some context would have gone a long, long way to making this work for me.”

    Such as the narration by Marquis Ondore after or before almost every plot-related mission?

    “So Ondore can’t do anything to jeopardize his position, so he can’t help. Ok, but why turn the rest of us in? Or, since we were all dragged to the prison where we did indeed rescue the girl in question, was this part of his plan and he was just too absent-minded to bother explaining it to the rest of us?”

    With the guards listening in? How much sense would THAT make? Besides, Vossler and Basch both say immediately after they rescue Ashe that they were in on the plan. You just need to pay more attention, particularly to things you want to criticize afterward.

    “Why did Basch draw his sword and run out of the room? Why didn’t the rest of the party follow him?”

    Huh? He doesn’t, he just draws his sword. Balthier tells him “Wait” because he thinks he’s going to try and kill Ondore, but clearly he never meant to (or he would’ve; he had plenty of opportunity). He just draws it so Ondore has an excuse to arrest them all.

    “Actually, I’m fine with a little mystery, but what really eats me is: What are the characters thinking? Do they feel betrayed? Impressed? Angry? Confused? Are they supposed to be in on it? We don’t know.”

    Why do we need to be told that the characters are bummed about being imprisoned? Isn’t that a given? Sure, maybe if there was some downtime between their arrest and their conversation with their captors we’d reasonably expect them to talk about their feelings. But, realistically, there wasn’t time for that. They were presented with an opportunity to escape and they took it. By the time they could slow down and chat, they had already learned that Ondore was in fact helping them. Again, you just have to pay attention.

    “Then while I’m trying to unravel all of this, the game cuts to the bad guy’s POV and we see that he doesn’t trust Ondore. But does this mistrust come from Ondor’s loyalty to the Empire, or his lack of it? Since the bad guy doesn’t get along with the other nebulous powers within his own Empire, we can’t really tell. Mercy already.”

    ‘The bad guy’, if you mean Vayne, never questions Ondore’s loyalty; he’s the one calming the judge who DOES question it. Ondore’s plan worked to bolster the Empire’s trust in him. The judges are pretty much just looking for a fight. But, again, you get it wrong because the judge DOES tell us (in telling Vayne) why he wants to interrogate Ondore – the resistance in Bhujerba seem well-funded for no discernible reason.

    “and the writer is so enamored of his plot that he forgets that this is supposed to be about the player characters.”

    This only confirms what I said in response to the previous article: that you simply haven’t heard of plot-centered stories and therefore cannot recognize them as legitimate styles of writing – much less appreciate them. The writers KNOW what they are doing. That you don’t is not their fault.

  37. Magdalena says:

    Harvard Business Institution and Kellogg Institution of Management.

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