Final Fantasy XII: Just Kill Him Already!

By Shamus
on May 19, 2007
Filed under:
Game Reviews

This game eventually employs one of my most hated plot contrivances: A moment of indecision where the heroes conclude that If we stop the bad guy we will be getting revenge, and revenge is pointless!

I’ve been seeing this one since I was a child. The idea permeates anime, videogames, and superhero cartoons. There are characters that can’t tell the difference between base revenge and stopping a belligerent foe who is bent on causing further harm. Killing him won’t bring our loved ones back! Yes, yes, but killing him will certainly prevent him from killing anyone else’s loved ones you unthinking cardboard moralizer. Get him cornered and disarmed, and then you can agonize all you want.

So the story reached a climactic moment where one of the characters had to make the Big Decision, and I endured it with much sighing and eye rolling. I can understand that Lady Ashe might agonize over the use of Nethecite. That fits and makes sense. But the way they framed the conversation at the top of the tower at Ridorana Cataract, she was agonizing over whether or not to take action against the villain, not what methods she should employ. Vayne is set on starting a massive war that will further obliterate her homeland, and she’s worried about moving against him out of revenge. Aside from the fact that this sort of indecision makes no sense, it fails to add tension to the plot. We know the heroes aren’t going to pack it up and go home. Either they will pull themselves together and come up with more pleasing justifications for killing the bad guy, or he will force their hand by attacking them directly.

It’s like a little mini-game: The challenge is to endure the scene without quitting the game. It helps if I have someone with me so we can take turns giving the game a sort of MST3K treatment. Sometimes I blurt out “YOU JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND ME!” in an angsty teenager voice. Sometimes I make a “wha-whu-waa whaa wuh” sound like all of the adults do in Charlie Brown cartoons. Sometimes I say, “You know, I can see the characters talking, but all I hear is a fapping sound.” I’m curious what techniques other people use to get through this sort of stuff.

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This game is hardly the worst offender in the regard (there are other games which are far, far worse) but I notice that each time I encounter something like this I have less and less patience for it. The only thing worse than a senseless plot device is a senseless plot device which is mercilessly over-used.

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20727 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.

From the Archives:

  1. Mordaedil says:

    BWahahahaha!

    I know your pain.

  2. Mordaedil says:

    As for how I sit through it, most of the time I just hope to see something deeper in it, but if I can’t I just re-enact my own version of it. “Princess?” “Yes, could you think of a way?” *bitch-slap* “Kill that son of a bitch already.”

  3. Hal says:

    While this is, indeed, a poor plot device, I’ve found myself increasingly annoyed with an even worse manner of exposition: The Bait and Switch Villain.

    You spend the entire game chasing after some villainous creep. Suddenly, he’s ripped out from under you and you’re sent to fight the real bad guy. Maybe RBG was controlling the first guy. Maybe RBG was framing the first, or he just steps in a does some evil-er thing. But now this enemy, for whom you have no emotional vendetta, is the target or your holy wrath. And nothing could displease me more.

    Final Fantasy IV (II US) was the first offender I can recall in this regard. I thought the storyline was great when I first played it as a kid, but now I go through the game and I can’t believe I put up with it. In fact, there are quite a few Final Fantasy games that make this move, and everytime I see it I get just a bit more frustrated with the series.

  4. Adrian Exodus says:

    it could be worse, atleast after you beat the guy, the princess isn’t in another castle…

  5. You don’t understand me! My pain! You couldn’t!

  6. Crash says:

    But do you really KNOW that the good guys aren’t going to “pack it up and go home”? Along with what you described, there is an awful lot of instances where the heros do let the bad guys go scott free–because they learned their lesson. Apparently, simply beating the bad guys will often show them the error of their ways. The Spiderman movies have really gone for broke with this idea…

  7. Mordaedil says:

    Hal, your device was pretty well done in Chrono Trigger. You chase after Magus thinking he’s the bad guy trying to summon the threat to the universe. Then you learn that he was actually just trying to be discrete and were on your side all along.

  8. Vegedus says:

    “I’m curious what techniques other people use to get through this sort of stuff.”

    Well, being an angsty teenager (I’m one, and the FF series seem to aim at these in general) helps of course, thoug it does sound kinda ridiculous the way you put it.

  9. IronCastKnight says:

    I am fortunate, in that over the years of my life I have developed an ability to largely phase out and ignore ceaseless whining, primarily to prevent me from bludgeoning my older brother to death.

    I do so despise the “BAWWW REVENGE DOESN’T SOLVE ANYTHING!!!!one!” bit, though. Revenge solves quite a lot of things, like balancing out the vile deed from the past, and preventing the big evil bastard from doing any more evil. If anything, by abstaining from revenge, you merely encourage future murder, rape, and assorted suffering. Congratulations, whiny moralizer! Now you too are a villain!

    FFX is the exception, of course, since killing the big evil guy out of revenge will merely make him come back five times more powerful and as a giant monster.

    I do tend to heckle games and anime, though, because it’s fun.

  10. chiefnewo says:

    “Hal, your device was pretty well done in Chrono Trigger. You chase after Magus thinking he’s the bad guy trying to summon the threat to the universe. Then you learn that he was actually just trying to be discrete and were on your side all along.”

    Well in Chrono Trigger it wasn’t a case of thinking Magus was the main bad guy. You knew all along who the real bad guy was and this just seemed like the most likely way of stopping it.
    As opposed to other games (none come to mind atm) where you defeat the bad guy in battle, only to have the RBG who you’ve never seen before show up 30 seconds later and announce:
    “It was me all along!”

  11. Andre says:

    Final Fantasy has been doing the emo thing since at least VII. VIII was particularly bad, and IX (my personal favorite) toned it down but not completely. X went back to full, raging emo. I haven’t played any of the subsequent Final Fantasy games, as I didn’t like the changes that X made to the series, and they seemed like permanent, “welcome to the future of Final Fantasy” type changes, rather than the minor tweaks that the series has been famous for all along.

    I just started playing FFIII on my DS, and so far it’s devoid of emo-ness. But then again, it’s largely devoid of believable plot, too. Maybe that’ll come after I hit level 10?

  12. Mordaedil says:

    FF3 is one of the good old type games. If you’ve played FF1, you know it’s the classic type before the bad ones, really.

  13. Ishmael says:

    Yeah, I really loathe the “heroes” of most of the Final Fantasy games. Oddly, FFIV doesn’t bother me. I guess I just always liked Golbez. Sometimes, I really wish some of the heroes would take a cue from the villians and be PROACTIVE.

  14. “Sometimes, I really wish some of the heroes would take a cue from the villians and be PROACTIVE.”

    I think the problem there is the fundamental limitations of the FF-style engine, which has persisted from 1 all the way to 10, and I bet still in 12. You just can’t be proactive in an on-the-rails plot. In the worst case you get the Take Your Time trope, because the story engine simply can’t handle having two paths, one for “you made it in time” and one for “you didn’t”.

    To a limited degree, in Fallout and some other more Western style games you actually can “be proactive” if you “psychically” know what’s up; for instance, in Fallout 2 there’s a mystery that is solved by examining a particular item in New Reno. IIRC, that item is always there, even before you take the quest, so you can grab it and finish the quest in about 20 seconds if you know what you’re doing.

  15. DocTwisted says:

    chiefnewo: The bait-and-switch was big and nasty in Dragon Quest VIII. You spend the first half of the game chasing this evil wizard, and then when you finally beat him down… you discover that the staff he was carrying contains the RBG, who controls anyone holding the staff.

    As for the moment of hesitation, I blame Hamlet for its prevalence in adventure stories. Now there was an original in Emo. He could’ve offed his stepdad/uncle early in Act III, but nooo… the guy was confessing his sins at the time, and that would given him a ticket to heaven (according to Catholic dogma that was prevalent at the time).

  16. Hal says:

    Andre, FFIII has only a skeleton of a plot. You’ll be thrown from one place to the next, the only premise being to get you to the next dungeon/find the next crystal. Really, the best part of the game is working with the Job system, and that’s okay by me.

    But, yeah, I should just reiterate how much I hate that RBG-story idea. FFIV had Zemus, FFVIII had Ultimecia (or whoever that transdimensional witch controlling the other bad guy turned out to be . . . I never finished that game), FFIX had the crystal . . . utter ridiculousness.

    Chrono Trigger was not like this, as chiefnewo said. If Lavos had been some alien tool or something to that effect, that would make for an RBG style plot twist.

    I wish I could come up with more examples, but I just don’t have enough RPGs in my library.

  17. Matt P says:

    I hear you there. There’s nothing wrong with considering the consequences of your actions but when game writers try for moral depth by shoving some ethical ruminations in the story it’s just grating. Case in point, KOTOR 2. The bit where Kreia tells you off for giving the beggar money because it got him killed. She uses this as justification to stop being good altogether. After all it could conceivably lead to evil. Leaving aside that this fallacy’s direct mirror was proved wrong centuries ago (if an evil act has an overall good result was it evil?) it’s just preachy. Besides, if we’re all paralysed from doing good because of its possible and unforeseeable consequences then don’t come crying to me when the whole world just gets worse. Kreia’s moral preachiness was what stopped me playing and experiencing the “Fall into a star” ending. Which I count as a bonus.

  18. Matt` says:

    That TV tropes site (comment #14, Jeremy Bowers) just soaked up a large part of my time because of all the internal linking – each page I went to ended up with opening a couple of tabs to check out the other pages referenced, then from those pages in almost every case there was at least one with a further load of things to investigate.

    Eventually it came down to pages without many links or where I wasn’t interested in the page linked to (thank God)

    Great time-sink though :)

  19. Dev Null says:

    MST3K is your friend in times of trial.

    Or crack out the Firefly DVDs, and watch the scene where Mal kicks the pontificating badguy through the starship engine… and then rewind it and watch it again in slow-motion.

  20. Bruce says:

    I was thinking how movie plot endings have changed over the years. I wonder if this is a reflection on society?

    1. Hero defeats bad guy and refuses to kill him, handing him over to the “proper authorities” instead.

    2. As above, but bad guy makes final attempt to kill the hero, forcing them to kill him in self-defense.

    3. Hero kills defeated bad guy.

    One of the best examples of the moral delema IMO was in an episode of Star Trek TNG where Data was kidnapped by some sort of collector guy. I don’t remember the exact details, but the Collector killed a girl who was helping Data and Data had got the Phaser.

    Data was reluctant to take a human life, but he had no way of being rescued. During their discussion the Collector told him that he would continue doing what he was doing and kidnap and kill whom he pleased. The only logical solution therefore was to Data to kill him.

    Of course as he fired the phaser, he was beamed up and was rescued and the Collector survived and was brought to justice, but it still illustrates the point I think.

  21. Telas says:

    Dev Null @ 19:
    MST3K is your friend in times of trial.

    You must be referring to Cave Dwellers.

    Old Man (after Ator disarms the BBEG during the Boss Fight) “No, Ator! He’s unarmed, if you kill an unarmed man, you’ll be a murderer!”

    Joel & the bots: “WHAT?!?!”

    Of course, according to literary imperative, the BBEG then draws a knife and attacks, thus ensuring his death and the consciences of the writers.

  22. Renacier says:

    This pretty much sums it up, I think:

    “Now you see that Evil will always triumph because Good is dumb.”

  23. Deacon Blues says:

    Matt P (#17), I played KotOR II through a number of times (boredom, few games available, and parts of it are really fun, especially if you’re playing a Lightsider with a high CHA, so you can use Force Lightning at no penalty), and I *never* found any way of keeping Kreia happy. Eventually (that is to say, about ten minutes after boarding the ship that docked at Peragus), I gave up, and concentrated on winning the trust of the other characters – you know, the ones whose fates you can alter. I dealt woth Kreia instead by sniping at her out loud, calling her out on her crap (like your example). Made her a lot easier to take, I can tell you…

    Crash (#6), the first Spider-Man movie ends with the Goblin dead. The second one ends with the death of Doc Ock (sure, he was redeeming himself at the time, but if he hadn’t, he would have died anyway – he just would have taken half of Manhattan with him.)

    (And don’t get me started on the whole “unshielded fusion reaction” thing, or the notion that the only way to halt the reaction would be to dump it in the bay, when the biggest problem with fusion is that if the plasma touches anything, it immediately cools to below reaction temperature…)

    Haven’t seen the third yet – maybe in there, the bad guys get away with what they’re planning – but in the first two, the bad guys *die*. Spidey can’t bring himself to do it, because he gets all gooey and emo over Uncle Ben all the time, but they do die. I don’t think this fits in with your thesis.

  24. Lo'oris says:

    i would have certanly quit, dunno how could you endure that

  25. Aaron says:

    Seriously, i’m getting sick and bloody tired of this buggery.
    I want to make a film to submit to the Sundance festival where the hero totally rips the argument “killing him wont bring them back” and “you’d be no better than he is”, ultimately, the villain would yell “you stupid bitch! You’re his love interest! You’re supposed to talk him out of it! Its the only reason I spared your life earlier!” at which point the love interest would gasp and shout “how dare you! you pig!”, and snatching the hero’s weapon, finish the job herself.

  26. lyke says:

    umm…well…for me ffx has the best storyline so far…ffx 12 isn’t that bad it just needs to be understood well…and it has good additions…every ff game are unique so just enjoy the game…has anyone tried ffx 13?

  27. The Truth says:

    “This game eventually employs one of my most hated plot contrivances: A moment of indecision where the heroes conclude that If we stop the bad guy we will be getting revenge, and revenge is pointless!”

    It’s more like “We should stop the bad guy, but not for the sake of revenge”, which is actually a very strong moral, particularly in video games.

    “So the story reached a climactic moment where one of the characters had to make the Big Decision, and I endured it with much sighing and eye rolling. I can understand that Lady Ashe might agonize over the use of Nethecite. That fits and makes sense. But the way they framed the conversation at the top of the tower at Ridorana Cataract, she was agonizing over whether or not to take action against the villain, not what methods she should employ. Vayne is set on starting a massive war that will further obliterate her homeland, and she’s worried about moving against him out of revenge. Aside from the fact that this sort of indecision makes no sense, it fails to add tension to the plot. We know the heroes aren’t going to pack it up and go home. Either they will pull themselves together and come up with more pleasing justifications for killing the bad guy, or he will force their hand by attacking them directly.”

    If you’re talking about Judge Gabranth, his purpose was simply to distract them from destroying the nethicite. He wanted the chance to kill them, or at least buy some time. If he’d have simply run in there after them, Ashe might’ve only destroyed it all the quicker. So Gabranth and the faux Reks were both only trying to keep her away from the stone. This is why immediately after Ashe dismisses the temptation of revenge, Gabranth goes right into a “You need the power of the stone to stop us!” argument. He’s just reaching for ways to keep her away from it. Now there is one criticism I can get behind, and that’s how long they take to destroy the frickin’ thing. But the oddity of standing around talking when there’s something that needs to be DONE QUICKLY is in every Final Fantasy game. It’s a quirky staple of RPGs (some might even say video games, in general), actually. To insinuate it makes a game’s story poorly written is to insinuate that practically no video game is written correctly.

    “I’m curious what techniques other people use to get through this sort of stuff.”

    Taking the time to interpret it correctly. That always works for me, at least.

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