A Travelog of Ivalice, Part 1: A Long Time Ago, in a Dynasty Far, Far Away…

By The Rocketeer Posted Wednesday Jan 12, 2022

Filed under: FFXII 119 comments


The game starts out with a ton of backstory and exposition that goes on way, way too long and drops too many proper nouns. But it all boils down this: the big, evil empire from up north, Archadia, stomped its way south and took over its next-door neighbor, Landis. Then it took over your country’s next door neighbor, Nabradia.

Your country, Dalmasca, just married off its princess, Ashe, to Nabradia’s Prince Rasler, who runs off to fight them and gets his shit wrecked along with most of Dalmasca’s army. The Dalmascan King Raminas heads off to strike a surrender and keep a little bit of autonomy in exchange for not everyone getting killed.

<b>Basch:</b> ''Reks, lad, I know you're scared. But I swear to you, on my honor as a knight: I'll be just fine.''
Basch: ''Reks, lad, I know you're scared. But I swear to you, on my honor as a knight: I'll be just fine.''

That’s when Basch, a Dalmascan Knight Captain,A captain to us Yankee folk; in the original Japanese version, Basch is a general. and some nobody footsoldier named Reks, are marching down the road when they get word that the surrender is all a setup and the king is walking into a deathtrap. Whatever forces they can scrape together haul ass back to the negotiations at Nalbina Fortress to try and rescue him.

While fighting their way up to the king (and really, if they’re already openly assaulting the fortress, is there any chance the king is still safe?) Reks gets separated from Basch for a second, and when he runs up to the treaty room to catch up, finds the king already dead (No shit!) and gets backstabbed by Basch… who’s now talking with a completely different voice, presumably feeling it more appropriate for admitting he killed the king himself for surrendering like a wuss.

Reks is bleeding out on the floor when the Archadians bust in and Basch gives the story to them. The Imperials basically say “Well sucks to be Dalmasca I guess” and then Dalmasca surrenders anyway, except without the part where they aren’t Imperial property afterward. Basch is executed for being a total prick, and Princess Ashe kills herself after having about the worst few weeks ever.

Cut to two years later, and you take over Vaan, who is, in deference to Final Fantasy VI and IX, an annoying fucknugget thief. Vaan is Reks’ brother, and carries a raging hateboner for the Empire, which he indulges by stealing their pocket change. Given that you never fight an Imperial who carries more than about ten bucks, this can’t be a productive hobby. This next part of the game is just Vaan fucking around learning various game systems before they finally start the actual plot.

Vaan's already no good to anyone, unless maybe someone was hiding a crush on him. Know anyone like that?
Vaan's already no good to anyone, unless maybe someone was hiding a crush on him. Know anyone like that?

After killing some rats, because this game has zero self-awareness and forgot that it already had an entire tutorial dungeon, Vaan runs into Penelo. Penelo is that standard JRPG character who’s waiting to be Vaan’s girlfriend when the game grows the balls to pull the trigger on a real relationship.

(This never happens.)

Penelo scolds Vaan for being an irresponsible shit, then sends him to a bar to become a poacher.

Some jerk at the bar gives you the first of the Hunts, side missions in which you track down and slay boss monsters. The first Hunt is against some Kingdom of Loathing reject, a fanged tomato head on the body of Piglet from Winnie the Pooh. Apparently, slaying this means Vaan is badass enough to join Fight Club, so the jerk from the bar inducts you into the local clan, a guild for getting more Hunts.

The first Hunt is the only mandatory Hunt, which is sort of strange considering how much of the game they account for. There are whole subplots linked to the Hunts and the clan that never intersect with the main game. I can’t help but wonder if this was deliberate or a product of the game’s troublesome development… but more on that later.

As we wrap up our Clan business, Lord Vayne Carudas Solidor, son of the Archadian Emperor and dead ringer for Pete Burns from Dead or Alive, rolls into town to take over the management of Rabanastre, the only real city in Dalmasca. Vayne actually received Basch’s confession at Nalbina Fortress, but good luck catching that brisk little detail on your first time through this hot fucking mess of a narrative.

Vayne rolls into Rabanastre like Aladdin rolling into Agrabah, then Kanyes his own ceremony by telling the angry Dalmascans he knows they hate his guts but he’s going to do a killer job as consul anyway.

<b>Vayne:</b> ''Rufus Shinra had one of the best inaugural parades of all time! OF ALL TIME!''
Vayne: ''Rufus Shinra had one of the best inaugural parades of all time! OF ALL TIME!''

The extremely fickle crowd decides they like his jib, and Vayne fucks off to get ready for some hardcore welcome dinner action.

Vaan decides that if you want to rob your own city’s palace of its national treasures, it’s best to wait until after a belligerent nation will have stripped it of everything valuable but not until it is occupied by a top VIP of the world’s most powerful nation. Thus, he claps his scrawny hands together and goes to see a tricksy fellow named Old Dalan, which is actually a brilliant maneuver on Vaan’s part. Dalan, despite never leaving his easy chair in the sewers, has unlimited access to information and resources and gives no fucks about sharing it with anybody who asks. When Vaan, a disenfranchised, sticky-fingered peasant kid like thousands of others in Rabanastre, asks if he knows an easy way into the palace, Dalan not only knows exactly such a thing, but has the magical key to the treasure vault in his nightstand and will eagerly hand it over as soon as Vaan grabs a spare battery for the thing.

Vaan fucks off to the wilderness to grab one, and Penelo tags along because she doesn’t want her only friend in the world to die fighting anything tougher than a living tomato stalk. Naturally, gathering the magical thungumbob, a “sunstone,”Why yes, people that have played this game, this section is foreshadowing. turns out to be a daily chore so common and tedious the tribals in the area make their kids do it to keep them out of their hair, and then sell them to tourists as tchochkes. No, they don’t have any on hand. Yes, you will have to make one yourself.

<b>Vaan:</b> ''Sure, I guess. Hey, did you see Filo's new hoverboard? She's so cool!''
Vaan: ''Sure, I guess. Hey, did you see Filo's new hoverboard? She's so cool!''

With sunstone in hand, Penelo lets on that she, a lonely 17-year old girlMore Nippon trickery! Penelo is 16 in the Japanese version. Strangely, I can’t think of any content in FFXII that would make her too young in the West. She doesn’t start wearing skimpy outfits and shaking her goods until the sequel, Revenant Wings, ironically making her 18-year-old NA/PAL incarnation too old for her role in Japan. ditching work to spend time with him, actually sort of enjoys being around Vaan-kun, and would onii-san care to drink from her oasis? Vaan ripostes like a champ and pile-drives her back into the friendzone, saying, “Thanks for your time, but it’s late, and I need to go get slaughtered committing a felony.” Treasury key in hand, Vaan heads off to the sewers. That’s right, Vaan’s story kicks off with rat-slaying, two fetch quests and a sewer level.


Luckily, it’s only a short walk through the sewers from the worst part of town to an unguarded palace storeroom. The rest of the palace is a bit more populated, but in true Final Fantasy fashion, the guards are essentially stormtroopers; a kindergarten-level forced stealth segment versus these attention-deficit jackasses is all it takes for Vaan to bumble into the secret treasury.

Now, here a few things happen solely because of plot: as Vaan stumbles around the room appraising the priceless treasures the Empire so graciously left undisturbed, a random statue apparently thinks, “Oh, shit! A protagonist!” and opens up its face to bare a crystal, which Vaan instantly seizes because, numerous faults aside, he knows a MacGuffin when he sees one. Then, two people waltz into the room right behind him, thanking him for finding it for them. These folks are Balthier and Fran, who apparently possess enough ninjutsu to intuit that Vaan is looking for the exact same thing they are (despite Vaan not knowing it exists) and possesses the only means of obtaining it… and are able to follow him to it stealthily enough for Vaan never to notice them… yet are too inept to find the crystal themselves, or to seize it before Vaan after he’s opened the way. They also don’t seem to expect Vaan to want to keep it for himself, as once he refuses to relinquish it, they engage in a harrowing 2v1 staring contest until a door in the back opens completely of its own accord and sounds of a ballyhoo waft in.

<b>Balthier:</b> ''She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid.''
Balthier: ''She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid.''

Vaan hightails it out of there, getting as far as an upper courtyard balcony before realizing, “Oh shit, this place is under some sort of all-out assault,” as an airship bombards a rowdy melee below. Vaan seems alright with standing there and dying— since that would be pretty metal— but Balthier and Fran grab him by the collar and abscond with him on their equally-metal flying crystalpunk motorcycle.

Apparently this exceeds the craft’s weight limit though, as it immediately crashes despite not seeming damaged in any way, and the makeshift party somehow winds up back in the sewers again. Balthier remarks that the Imperial forces seemed suspiciously quick to act once La Resistance attacked— which I would point out is just their fucking job. But sure enough, it seems like they were counting on, if not baiting the rebels into attacking to trying and kill off Lord Vayne, just to entrap and rout them. This means that Vaan’s hunch about the guard being lax during the fete was dead fucking wrong, and he really did choose the worst possible night to rob the place, what with everyone there literally counting on disgruntled peasants skulking in and causing a fuss.

<b>Fran:</b> ''Of course. I have three payments left on this bike. Of course this happens.''
Fran: ''Of course. I have three payments left on this bike. Of course this happens.''

At this point Balthier chides Vaan for ogling Fran like a sultry zoo creature, so I guess I should introduce them. Balthier is essentially what Vaan would be if he wasn’t pathetic, pubescent, and penniless. He introduces himself as “the leading man,” and periodically refers to himself as such. This seems to be an in-joke, in that he might have been, at some brief in development, exactly that, before Vaan had sufficiently polished Akitoshi Kawazu’s doorknob. Balthier is, thematically, far more suited to this role, and this gets on my tits mightily, but I’ll save it for a more apt juncture. Fran is a Viera, a bunny-elfgirl. There are actually a handful of nonhuman races in FFXII, but fucked if any of them are going to end up in the party except the fanservice race. Fran doesn’t really have a character; she is Balthier’s Chewbacca, and any chance of development or an arc she might have had is neatly capped off fairly early in the game. She will, however, provide timely gazetteering and cryptic insights in as few words as possible. So that’s something.

With the amoral career criminals agreeing, for the moment, not to shank the scrawny bottom-rung-of-society cockblocker in a witness-free sewer for his priceless treasure— in point of fact, the only treasure they thought to leave with— the rabble proceeds to blunder about the sewers until they happen upon a damsel in distress. She’ll introduce herself as Amalia, the Resistance leader, in a few moments, but if you’ve read the fucking manual, seen the cover of the game, or if you’ve ever experienced a work of media in your life, you might already have puzzled out that it’s the “late” Princess Ashe. She’s cornered on a ledge by some Imperials, but, at Vaan’s urging, jumps down into his arms.

This lady is in grave danger of earning roughly 170 EXP. And a Potion, if she's lucky.
This lady is in grave danger of earning roughly 170 EXP. And a Potion, if she's lucky.

Now, allow me a short tangent. The game now indulges in the first of a handful of spots where they hint at some sort of deeper connection between Vaan and Ashe. This time, they just sort of have a too-long gaze at one another when Vaan catches her. It’s part mystic, part romantic, and nothing, nothing at all, ever comes of it. Ever. I suspect it’s just a ripple in the game’s tumultuous development, but of course I can’t prove that, and indeed it’s what I say eight out of ten times the writing goes somewhere inexplicable, but there it is.

So you wallop a few Imperial goombas with fingerquotes Amalia as a guest star. They try and present Ashe as a stone cold badass, but given that she was cornered by a few hilariously incompetent mooks, froze like a doe instead of defending herself, and then had to be caught by a young man that probably weighs less than she does rather than jump that perilous TWELVE FUCKING FEET, she comes off as being pretty ungrateful once she immediately flips the Bitch Switch to the “ON” position and leaves it there for the rest of the game.

Now, I’m not gonna make fun of all the particulars of this game’s dialogue, because if I do that we’ll be here all goddamn night. But I do think this is worth pointing out: so Ashe, after spending two years in obscurity before blowing her Resistance’s best shot at killing or ransoming someone worthwhile, has the news gently broken to her that everyone she knew or was working with is definitely dead now. When she walks away in a bad mood, Vaan flippantly asks, “What’s wrong with her?” I know! Women, right Vaan? Balthier wisely calls him out, but then thinks to deride his skills as a thief, despite being 0 to 1 with Vaan in terms of goods stolen, where they both shall remain for the rest of this fucking game.

With a fourth party member in tow, the crew of thieves and seditionists mow through the rest of the sewers, to include two token boss fights, neither with any bearing on the plot. But just as they reach the slums, they are ambushed and arrested. Vayne is here for this scene, for reasons I won’t even try to guess. Did he sprint here through the streets with his personal guard, and hoof it down the stairs to intercept us here, somehow? The shots imply Vayne probably knows who Amalia really is, but if that’s the case, I can’t fathom why our foursome wasn’t shot to fucking pieces without a second’s delay. Actually, I already can’t fathom why that doesn’t happen anyway. As we’ll find out much later, Vayne’s scheming may not be at it’s most diabolically sublime where Ashe is concerned.

I like Ashe.
I like Ashe.

Penelo arrives to see the four clapped in irons… for the robbery. That’s right! Amid the massive slaughter of Resistance infiltrators and the entire palace in chaos, the steadfast Imperials not only totally noticed the robbery of goods they didn’t know existed by folks they never witnessed, but were able to determine exactly where you would emerge from a massive sewer complex they hadn’t mapped and didn’t know you had entered. That’s damn fine policework! After Vaan has the taste slapped out of his mouth by an Imperial for glancing in her direction,For some reason, Sergeant Bitchslap’s visor is suddenly raised after cutting back from Penelo, which is a very strange decision. They never show Imperial troopers’ faces, and doing so here means they have to lipsync his line. I’m assuming this is the last remnant of a cut subplot where this guy would appear from time to time to waste Vaan with his 9999-damage backhand. Balthier calmly hands her what appears to be a handkerchief. Because while a throwaway remark to a passer-by is worthy of a beating, letting known thieves make handoffs to acquaintances isn’t worth a raised eyebrow? Naturally, they cart you all off to prison without trial.

The Travelog continues next week.



[1] A captain to us Yankee folk; in the original Japanese version, Basch is a general.

[2] Why yes, people that have played this game, this section is foreshadowing.

[3] More Nippon trickery! Penelo is 16 in the Japanese version. Strangely, I can’t think of any content in FFXII that would make her too young in the West. She doesn’t start wearing skimpy outfits and shaking her goods until the sequel, Revenant Wings, ironically making her 18-year-old NA/PAL incarnation too old for her role in Japan.

[4] For some reason, Sergeant Bitchslap’s visor is suddenly raised after cutting back from Penelo, which is a very strange decision. They never show Imperial troopers’ faces, and doing so here means they have to lipsync his line. I’m assuming this is the last remnant of a cut subplot where this guy would appear from time to time to waste Vaan with his 9999-damage backhand.

From The Archives:

119 thoughts on “A Travelog of Ivalice, Part 1: A Long Time Ago, in a Dynasty Far, Far Away…

  1. MerryWeathers says:

    I don’t think I remember this many fucks in a Twenty Sided post before.

    1. Olivier FAURE says:

      Yeah, normally I don’t mind profanity, but in this case it really detracts from the article. It feels like it the author was trying way too hard to be edgy (no offense, Rocketeer).

      1. MelTorefas says:

        I guess I’ve been watching/reading different stuff than you, because it didn’t even really register with me. >.>

        1. smosh says:

          I found it funny, it made the whole thing read like an angry rant, and that very much fits the tone of it.

          Also makes it very easy to distinguish Shamus’ and Rocketeer’s texts.

          But I was definitely surprised.

          1. Narratorway says:

            Wow, I got a completely different vibe from the article. Nothing about this feels angry. Like…at all. I suppose you can look at something like the repeated phrase of “THIS FUCKING GAME” as some kind of explosive release of built up frustration for example, but to me, it felt almost enthusiastic over the sheer audacity this game has to present itself the way it does.

            Which is really closer to what I get from it. This is the tone of someone who was handed a massive narrative lemon…and that someone’s favorite drink is lemonade!

        2. Fred Starks says:

          Yeah, same here. Didn’t even take notice of it until seeing the comments. The amount of profanity is pretty much on par for what I read these days.

          I do get it though, years ago I would’ve balked at it as well. Nowadays most profanity has really lost that *gasp*-worthy factor for me, particularly the f-bomb for some reason.

      2. Daimbert says:

        To counterbalance my support below, I did find that the swearing bugged me a bit. It’s too constant to be used for emphasis and so just seems extraneous to me.

      3. Would you believe this is the cleaned-up version?

        1. Laserhawk says:

          Works for me, I like Rocko’s style just fine. But I get it is different from Twenty Sided’s norm. Glad to read through this let’s play again, but even more glad to see I’m not delusional. I thought it read differently from the original, but was too lazy to look it up again.

          1. kincajou says:

            Now now, let’s be refined here


            1. ContribuTor says:

              Summer Glau

      4. Ninety-Three says:

        I didn’t notice the profanity specifically but I definitely felt the tone to be overall… less charitable than Shamus normally is. I think it works: if you’re going to be a hostile to a game you might as well wear it on your sleeve.

  2. mdqp says:

    Just to make sure, this is identical to the “surprise preview” we got, right? It seems the same post, but I wouldn’t want to miss anything new that was added, if that’s not the case.

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      I seem to recall that version being blatantly incomplete.

      1. mdqp says:

        Did it now? I seem to remember the same sections, but I could be wrong. Oh well, I guess I’ll eventually read through this one to make sure.

  3. Syal says:

    Digging this new enhanced version. I’ve learned so much about limes, and that I was thinking of the wrong Dead or Alive this whole time.

    Since they weren’t listed, the opening gives us:

    The Empire of Archadia, in the East
    The Empire of Rozzaria, in the West
    Ivalice (region undefined, but definitely the area between Archadia and Rozzaria)
    Nabradia, the country between Dalmasca and Archadia
    Nabudis, a city (presumably in Nabradia)
    Dalmasca, a country
    Rabanastre, capital of Dalmasca (the only capital to not have the same name as its country)
    Nalbina Fortress, on the Nabradia/Dalmasca border (It starts with N, so obviously it’s Dalmascan.)
    Lord Raminas, King of Dalmasca
    Lord Rasler Heioh Nabradia (presumably of Nabradia)
    Princess Ashe (presumably of Dalmasca)
    Basch, of Dalmasca
    Reks, of Rabanastre
    Marquis Halim Ondore IV, our Narrator (unknown affiliation)

    We’ve also skipped over Migelo, who Vaan and Penelo work for by running errands, and is enough of a local big shot to get a meeting with Vayne (who spends the meeting chiding him as a suckup). And that’s the end of Migelo’s time in the plot.

    1. Mopey bloke says:

      Basch hails from Landis. He even has a different accent from Dalmascans. That’s likely one of the reasons why the people is willing to accept he has betrayed them.

      1. Syal says:

        I don’t remember if that’s mentioned here; I rewatched the opening but didn’t replay the tutorial. He’s firmly established as being a leader of the Dalmascan army either way.

      2. Thomas says:

        Do they establish that anywhere? FFXII has so much lore, but it never sticks in my head.

        1. Syal says:

          There’s a cutscene later on with characters we haven’t met yet, where one mentions they knew Basch when they were both citizens of Landis.

  4. Joshua says:

    After Vaan has the taste slapped out of his mouth by an Imperial for glancing in her direction,[4] Balthier calmly hands her what appears to be a handkerchief. Because while a throwaway remark to a passer-by is worthy of a beating, letting known thieves make handoffs to acquaintances isn’t worth a raised eyebrow?

    I’m a little confused here. The first sentence implies that the imperial is female (Vaan looked at her and she smacked him), but the rest of the text implies that Vaan looked at Penelo and that earned him a slap from a male imperial? Confusing because there are a couple of sentences between naming Penelo and switching to the pronoun.

    Cut to two years later, and you take over Vaan, who is, in deference to Final Fantasy VI and IX, an annoying fucknugget thief.

    I remember posting on this site a year or so ago when playing IX and having the protagonist be a Thief again. Going back to the well one time too many here? At least in VI, Locke wasn’t the central protagonist (which there really isn’t one).

    1. baud says:

      From that video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IM9dW6q4CrE&t=769s

      It’s Vaan looked at Penelo and then a male imperial slap him. But yeah, at first I though it was a female guard that slapped him.

      1. Daimbert says:

        Actually, I had thought that Vaan looked at a female Imperial and then a male Imperial slapped him for doing that, but then the other guy slipped something to the female Imperial. I DID manage to work it out eventually, however.

  5. Joshua says:

    Can you file posts under multiple sections? It appears that only this and the last article are filed under FF12, whereas Shamus’s introduction of this series is under Retrospectives, and something like this is under Game Reviews.

    1. Joshua says:

      Oh, speaking of going through the older FF12 posts:

      At first, I was disappointed at how short the game was. It takes about seventy hours for a normal run through FFX. I’m estimating, but I’ll bet I put about forty hours into FFXII. This made it seem like there was a lot less to FFXII, but after thinking about it I realize the game was just wasting less of my time. The elimination of the battle screen means that each battle isn’t prefaced with that pointless twenty second animation that began each encounter.

      I remember when FF VI came out when I was in high school and it promised 30-40 hours. In reality, there’s about 20 hours of plot. I like to be cheeky and estimate that there’s about 10 hours for the World of Balance, 10 hours for the main plot through World of Ruin, and 10 hours of fighting *#$%ing dinosaurs. To hit the 40 hours claimed, you’re probably aiming for ~100% completion of having everyone reach level 99, learn all spells from Espers, get all or at least most of Gau’s rages, etc.

      Also, I estimate that you’re probably spending about 1-2 hours of this playtime constantly futzing with the Esper system to swap Espers between characters so they’re constantly working on learning new spells, and have the “right” Esper equipped whenever that character is about to level to get the ideal stat bonuses each time. I’m guessing that FF12/XII has some similar mechanic that ends up hogging a lot of your playtime to manage?

      1. Chad+Miller says:

        So, I think a big part of the rub, and possibly a dividing line regarding whether someone would like this game or not: Is monster hunting part of the fun part, or is it “fighting *#$#ing dinosaurs?”

        I found monster hunts more fun than the main plot, so most of my game was spent tracking down hunts until I found I was underleveled for them, then running off to do more plot to gain more levels and unlock more hunts. The last few of the hunts are definitely grindy JRPG endgame tedious bullshit in the same vein as farming Economizers or Gau’s rages or whatever. Also, the entire Bazaar is maybe the most tedious strategy-guide requiring mechanic that any FF game has shoved in the player’s face, and keep in mind I just said that despite the fact that we’ve already mentioned the Veldt. You want the best gear in the game, you better have multiple fan sites and a spreadsheet open.

        For people who don’t like the monster hunts; well, they tend to tire out and not finish the game. Even aside from the problems with the plot that will show up in this blog series, there are a few stretches where only focusing on the main plot means you’ll be traipsing through 2 or 3 huge empty zones at a time with nothing of interest (the trek to Archades being the most infamous offender). The game actually has a really nice fast travel system (or rather, multiple distinct, overlapping, yet not redundant fast travel systems), which means what you’re supposed to do is get sidetracked, pop around various sidequests (many of which take place in zones that literally never interact with the plot at all) and eventually stumble your way back to Empire something whatever.

    2. Retsam says:

      Shamus mentioned in his introduction that he’s intentionally filed his contributions to the series under a different category so that people going through the category can read TheRocketeer’s uninterrupted:

      Note that I didn’t want to make my series part of his. So the two posts will be filed to different categories. Rocketeer’s work will stand alone, as it originally did. From the archives, you’ll be able to walk through his series without having it mixed in with my stuff. My own posts will be filed in the now-familiar “Retrospectives” category, with cross-links to the Rocketeer’s post for the week for people who need the plot summary.

      1. Joshua says:

        Ah, ok. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Olivier FAURE says:

    Honestly, I’m not liking this very much. It feels like it was written for an audience that already played the game and knows the plot, and as someone who didn’t and doesn’t, I’m super lost. This needs way more exposition, and less snarking at how stupid everyone is.

    Like, this:

    Cut to two years later, and you take over Vaan, who is, in deference to Final Fantasy VI and IX, an annoying fucknugget thief. Vaan is Reks’ brother, and carries a raging hateboner for the Empire, which he indulges by stealing their pocket change. Given that you never fight an Imperial who carries more than about ten bucks, this can’t be a productive hobby. This next part of the game is just Vaan fucking around learning various game systems before they finally start the actual plot.

    Ok, cool. So where are we? In a city’s suburbs? The countryside? An island village? The capital?

    Establishing these details is important when you’re doing a written adaptation of a video-game media, because the reader can’t just rotate the camera 360 degrees to look at the surroundings. Same principle for a long-form review.

    (Yes, I know this was written years ago and The Rocketeer probably isn’t going to do an editing pass now, you get my point.)

    1. Syal says:

      Ok, cool. So where are we? In a city’s suburbs? The countryside? An island village? The capital?

      We’re in Rabanastre, the Dalmascan capital. But as an aside, I had that same basic question when I was playing; “We’re in Rabanastre? Where’s Rabanastre?”

      1. Mopey bloke says:

        You do have a world map since the beginning of the game. They also show one a few times in the opening scenes.

        1. Syal says:

          I literally only saw the “Region” part of the world map a few minutes ago, when I double-checked to make sure you couldn’t tell where you were.

          80 hours in before I realized. Spent the whole game not noticing it.

          The opening scenes, as the Rocketeer said, have way too many proper nouns, I lost track of things instantly.

    2. BlueHorus says:

      Ok, cool. So where are we? In a city’s suburbs? The countryside? An island village? The capital?

      I get the impression that those very questions would be running through the mind of a new player…Rocketeer mght just be giving us a properly authentic FFXII experience.

    3. Geebs says:

      I’ve started this game at least three times on different platforms. Trust me, the Rocketeer is doing a considerably better job of explaining what the ever-loving heck is going on than the game’s introduction ever manages to.

    4. Daimbert says:

      I haven’t read the series before or played the game, and found that I could follow things well enough. For your specific question, I pictured it as some sort of city where the main character was a thief. So not the suburbs and not a small village and not the countryside. Turns out it’s the capital, which also follows from the big palace thing being there for the protagonist to try to break into while a party is going on.

    5. BlueHorus says:

      Holy shit, I got a bit confused reading Rocketeer’s TL;DR summary of the opening cinematic! That’s hilarious.
      How/why do you make such a simple plot (Evil Empire is taking over) so needlessly complicated?

      Makes me think of Tyranny‘s opening cinematic, which conveys a very similar plot – and more – in just over two minutes.

      Also…the in-engine graphics make Vaan look about 13, to me. Which makes his costume choice even more awkward…

      EDIT: Damn, this should be its own comment, not a reply.

  7. Dreadjaws says:

    I haven’t read any version of this series before, and I’m enjoying it immensely. I decided it’s not worth the time and effort to hunt down the game to play it. All of this is jogging my memory anyway. I distinctly remember being puzzled at the game trying to pretend Amalia wasn’t very clearly Ashe, as if it wasn’t the most obvious thing in the world. And characters adopting a different identity is a staple in FF games, but they’re never so preposterous about it.

    When Gerad tries to pretend he isn’t really Edgar in the second part of FFVI, the game has at least the decency of changing his color palette, and has all of his old friends make it clear that he’s not fooling them. When Garnet tries to hide she’s the Princess of Alexandria she has the presence of mind of wearing a cowl to hide her facial features. I’ll never understand the reasoning of being a famous person and think you can go around without hiding your face and not be recognized. At least do the minimal-effort MCU staple of wearing a cap and sunglasses.

    And yes, when Balthier and Fran introduced themselves I figured they’d secretly be the actual protagonists, but no. Balthier remains a much more interesting character than Vann (which, frankly, isn’t that hard, but still), but he’s still sidetracked by the latter, and Fran is as eloquent as Chewbacca while being only slightly more dressed. A shame. I love fanservice, but I still expect characters to be more than just that. Who knows. Considering how troubled the production was maybe that was the original intention but something changed while in development and she ended up the loser.

    1. RamblePak64 says:

      In Edgar’s case, I realized in my last playthrough that part of the joke is he’s a big dork and not actually that charming or dashing after all. So it works that all his friends know he’s not this Gerad character, though if I recall, he was also in disguise due to the people following him and what he was up to, so his friends were more blowing his cover than anything.

      1. Joshua says:

        The problem is that you have multiple times where you confront him and he’s completely by himself, so it’s just a weird little segment in the game. His little ruse to find a back way into Figaro castle is somehow more important than having an honest conversation with his twin brother that he likely thought was dead?

        1. bobbert says:

          Technically, the brother is optional.

    2. Parkhorse says:

      I decided it’s not worth the time and effort to hunt down the game to play it.

      For what it’s worth, FFXII: The Zodiac Age is on Steam, Switch, and PS4. Unfortunately that means it’s still going for $50, but at least “hunting down” a copy of the game is trivial.

      1. Retsam says:

        It’s also on Xbox Game Pass so you can play it on PC with a subscription there.

      2. Dreadjaws says:

        Well, I was referencing a comment I made in the previous post. I had already decided not to pay Squeenix’s ridiculous fee for a 16 year old game, and Xbox Game Pass is not available in my country. But I do have an old PS2 copy of the original game, which I briefly considered “hunting down” by basically turning over the entire house to see just where the hell did I put it.

  8. Thomas says:

    Basch being a general makes so much more sense. Why did they change that in translation?

  9. MilesDryden says:

    I’m pretty sure it was Basch, not Balither, who was originally planned to be the main protagonist before Vaan came along.

  10. Retsam says:

    For as much as the rest of the plot is a mess, I always loved the opening cinematic to this game. If anyone hasn’t seen it, I think it’s definitely worth watching as a “primer” to this game.

    It does a great job establishing a fairly unique setting, (… though admittedly if I were to describe it in a few words it’d be “a cross between Naboo and Tattooine”, which really isn’t helping the Star Wars vibes), and the basics of the plot quickly, while having essentially an entire arc of its own within the 7 minute cutscene.

    And to some degree, unlike the rest of the game the story of the opening cutscene is a much more grounded and human story – beginning with a wedding and ending with a funeral and focused on the central pair of Ashe and Sir Neckarmor.

    It sets up Ashe to be an interesting and sympathetic character… something that the game (or at least the 1/2-2/3rds that I’ve actually played) never really delivered on. From what I remember, she always has this “distance”, a real gruff exterior (the more socially appropriate term for “bitch switch”) and Vaan (and by extension, the player) really doesn’t get to see “inside the shell” very much. Nor does the plot really slow down and take the time for the sort of human moments that FFX did.

    1. kincajou says:

      I know this is a weird hang up… but why do their chicken horses (I don’t know anything of ff lore, these things probably hanve actual names) make horse noises?

      Like i’m pretty sure they miss the body parts for those noises…

      1. Syal says:

        They usually don’t. That cutscene sounds very horse-like, but it’s actually a prolonged high note from the standard Chocobo squeal.

  11. Rho says:

    Really, why in the world wasn’t Reks the main character? This, at a glance, solves a number of different problems the game ends up with.

    * First, Reks is directly connected to the main series of events in the game. Vaan basically has no personality, partly because he knows absolutely nothing about the world and has no connections to any character. Frankly, he doesn’t even have a very good connection to Penelo. As we’ll se later, everything that might tie him to another character is distant and tenuous, making him a very poor choice to carry any emotional weight.
    By contrast, Reks would be directly tied to more characters and events. Vaan is someone who heard about things happened secondhand in a character relationship we never see. This could 100% work in a story where we had flashbacks (this would be more congenial to a television or movie setup, but it could work here). However, why introduce Reks in the prologue and then immediately kill him off-screen? Heck, why not merge Reks and Vaan if they serve no separate purpose?

    * Second, Olivier FAURE above mentioned that this text “feels like it was written for an audience that already played the game and knows the plot”. Yes, that’s exactly what playing the game feels like, too, so this is remarkably faithful!
    I’m not really joking about that, either. The first section throws a ton of jargon at the player and it doesn’t really establish location very well. One thing FF games traditionally did excellently was to build a strong sense of the world. FF12… does not do this. Yes, there is a bit of a map, but the character bounce around much of it, you’re never very clear as to how the world works, and the capital city is basically one gigantic Arcology in the desert.
    In addition, the “voice” of the characters runs all over the place, and that’s a script problem rather than a voice acting problem. Characters run every bizarre accent and weirdly convoluted ways of speaking you could imagine, but it never coheres into a real sense of a diverse world. Some people talk like Victorian professors, others like modern Americans, but there’s no sense of why, whereas good directors often use details like this to build a sense of class, culture, background, etc.

    * Third, Fran should have made Wookie noises with all her dialogue. If you’re going to rip off Star Wars, do so in a shamelessly hilarious manner. Also, her dialogue basically has no more value than random barks and grunts anyway.

    * Fourth, yes, Balthier would have made a much better protagonist than Vaan. Granted, a wooden plank would have made a better protagonist, too. It’s a low bar to clear: Penelo’s left shoe would make a better protagonist than Vaan.

    1. Syal says:

      Had the same thought about Reks. In fact, if we’re going whole hog on the Star Wars angle: instead of Basch stabbing him unprompted, we have Reks attack Basch, and Basch cuts off his sword hand. Two years later, a one-handed Reks has become a bottom-rung thief, constantly talking about how he was taken in by Basch the traitor and lost everything he had because of it.

      This also solves a major narrative problem that hasn’t been covered here yet, where everyone has heard about Basch’s betrayal… from REKS. The guy who was stabbed to death, in an empty room, in a different city. News travels fast, I guess. Impossibly fast.

      1. Chad+Miller says:

        Now I’m imagining the alternate conversation where everyone else finds out about Gabranth. But with Vaan as the main character who got his hand cut off because that’s somehow funnier.

        VAAN: Wow, what a trick! You guys look exactly the same!
        BALTHIER: So, I have to ask…did he talk? At all?
        VAAN: What do you mean?
        BALTHIER: I mean, you saw a man, claiming to be Basch, in that voice?
        VAAN: Right, he really made me believe it.
        BALTHIER: Oh, I’m sure he did.

      2. Joshua says:

        This also solves a major narrative problem that hasn’t been covered here yet, where everyone has heard about Basch’s betrayal… from REKS. The guy who was stabbed to death, in an empty room, in a different city. News travels fast, I guess. Impossibly fast.

        Worst movie I ever saw (although humorously awful) was Uwe Boll’s House of the Dead. There’s a part where the main characters come across the captain’s log in a ship where the captain narrates how a prisoner escaped and killed everyone on board. You almost expect a “Perhaps it was dictated” from off-screen.

  12. MelTorefas says:

    I found this very entertaining and oddly cathartic, considering I’ve never played the game in question. It sounds like it does a lot of things I find super annoying in games (and especially JRPGs) though, so, maybe that’s it. Looking forward to more of it in any case!

  13. John says:

    I tend to answer the question “What is this game about?” with a description not of the game’s plot but rather a description of whatever it is that the player spends most of his time doing. So, for example, CRPGs from the 1980s are about making carefully annotated maps on graph paper. JRPGs from the 1990s are about spamming attack in random encounters. Late-period Bioware games are, if the internet is to be believed, about trying to get in to the pants or pants-analogue of every NPC in the party. You get the idea. Now, I know that Rocketeer’s series is focused mostly on the plot of FFXII rather the gameplay and does not necessarily closely correspond to the experience of playing the game, but good gravy that’s a lot of plot. I fear to ask, but just what is FFXII about? Watching cutscenes? Clicking through dialogue?

    1. Syal says:

      It’s actually about wandering the world, relying on your Gambits to control the party and win fights against the local wildlife. Hunting elusive monsters, trying to avoid human-sized balls of living, incredibly angry magic. Solve obtuse puzzles to find ever larger monsters to fight (there are four separate series of hunts in the game; Guild Hunts, Rare Hunts, Esper hunts, and Wyrm hunts. Game loves its hunts.) There’s a lot of non-plot, which is good fun if you like that sort of thing, which I mostly did.

      It’s also about getting lost and checking your map. Even in town. People didn’t like how linear 10 was, and Square’s like, “I’ll show them! They’ll be BEGGING for a straight line when I’m done!”

      1. Geebs says:

        It’s important to note that the game doesn’t actually let the player use any gambits apart from “heal party members with low HP” and “attack the same thing I’m attacking” for somewhere north of 20 hours. During this time, the only combat mechanics available other than auto-attacks are magic elemental single-use doodads which are barely explained, and a sort of tag-team limit break which isn’t explained at all and seems to do hardly any damage.

        1. Syal says:

          and seems to do hardly any damage

          Have to disagree with that one, those limit breaks dissolved half a dozen bosses from full health, and were instrumental in skipping one boss’s “I’m invincible for the next five minutes, neener neener” phase. They drop off unfortunately quickly but when you first get them they’re auto-wins.

          1. Chad+Miller says:

            Yeah, it’s easy to get all Quickenings before you’ve even finished the Sandsea which turns the optional Demon Wall fight into a joke. I think the Zodiac Age may have toned them down a bit, but that’s somewhat offset by the fact that respecs are now allowed so you can beeline Quickenings for everyone then reset their boards if you need a “real” build later.

            1. Syal says:

              Oh, that could be it. I’m playing Original. Only had level 1’s by the Sandsea so couldn’t handle optional Demonwall but chumped everything main plot and Hunt-related until… Golmore? Somewhere around there.

              1. Geebs says:

                Well, yes, exactly. If the player:
                – understands what “mist” is on the basis of one or two oblique lines of dialogue
                – already knows the correct job boards to use for each character
                – understands that most of the job board squares are licenses to use items of gear that they don’t have and can’t buy yet, and can be skipped
                – knows where the best quickenings are on each board
                – understands a single line tutorial about pressing a button at some point to do….. something? during a very quick timed sequence
                – knows in advance exactly when they’re about to tangle with an optional surprise miniboss

                then, yes, quickenings might be overpowered?

                I imagine most people’s experience as new players was closer to mine, which is “hey let’s try the limit break system, ooh this is flashy, wait, what’s happening? *Sad trombone*”.

                1. Chad+Miller says:

                  There is no functional difference between the quickening slots on any board. The only reason to prefer one to another is if a specific character wants the slots leading up to that particular slot.

                  I’m guessing the real reason they seemed underpowered is because you never ran up a large combo with them. The key is that quickenings become especially bonkers when you run up combos with them, then swap out some characters and swap some in to start another combo, etc in succession. As such one character with one quickening is generally just going to get lame results, and if you stopped there it’s understandable that you weren’t impressed.

        2. bobbert says:

          The GAMBIT system is a lot of fun, BUT they are intolerably stingy with giving you good words to play with.

          1. Chad+Miller says:

            FWIW I think this may be one of the quieter changes made in later rereleases.

            That is, I seem to remember the gambit deck being more flexible in The Zodiac Age than it was in the original (I’ve played all three major versions but each was years apart)

            1. Karma The Alligator says:

              Yeah, for Zodiac Age they don’t wait until you’re halfway (or more) through the game to give you most of the gambits, they’re available from the start (or near enough).

    2. Chad+Miller says:

      I think it’s worth noting that monster hunt sidequests have been a major part of every FF starting with XII.

      Okay, X technically had the monster catching thing, but that was quite a bit different and really mostly involved fighting things you’d already killed before. XII had you hunting down a series of unique (even if often just palette-swapped) beasts as a sidequest in its own right. XIII had a similar sidequest as literally the only one anybody remembers (there are a couple others but they’re so minor you could be forgiven for forgetting they existed), and XV had a lot of monster bounties too.

      XII was the first mainline FF not to have a separate encounter screen. It also had decent fast-traveling and let you automate the easy combat encounters. All of this made it so that hunting down rando monsters in various corners of the world, even places you’d already been to, was surprisingly enjoyable. This also meant that it could do cutesy things like send you right past a monster you’d never be able to beat (infamously there’s a T-Rex you can’t possibly beat in the same area as the Rogue Tomato mentioned in this post) and then have a reason for you to come back later when fighting that monster is actually realistic. You’d take a wrong turn and find monsters with 30 levels on you and realize “oh, I’m not supposed to be here…yet.” Or maybe you’d press on anyway and see if you can sneak or cheese your way to something you’re not supposed to see yet!

      My first FF was the very first one on the NES, and XII’s combat actually makes all the early games hard to go back to for me (and I suspect I’m not alone in this; XIII’s combat worked a lot like older FF games but dropped the random encounter aspect for “touching an enemy means you fight that enemy” and Square’s present-day games are tending toward straight up action outside of that MMO). It made slogging your way through rando dungeons and environments more fun than in the previous games, which is good because that’s just about the only thing worth doing in it.

  14. Smith says:

    Oh, right, my first mainline FF game*, and a game I never finished.

    I thought it was just because turtle-hunting so I can get a Mcguffin was boring. I’m starting to think it’s a lot more complicated.

    * FF Tactics was in my shameful teenage emulator-using days, and Crystal Chronicles don’t count. Finished not a one. In fact, I think the only RPGs I ever beat have been Pokemon Red and Blue.

    1. Joshua says:

      I’ve played I, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, and IX.

      I’ve only beaten IV and VI.

      Something about these games usually loses me in the third act or so (except for VIII where I played for only a couple of hours). I think VII was because I found the Chocobo racing tedious but didn’t decide to just skip it and move on.

      1. tmtvl says:

        Of the mainline I’ve played and finished V, VI, VII, VIII, and X (though I didn’t 100% X).
        I also played I, II, and IX to near half-way through, and I started but did not put any real time into IV, X-2, and XIII.

        X-2 and XIII I really didn’t like coming off X, because I really liked the turn-based system of the latter compared to the more real-time like battle systems of the former two. Those just remind me too much of CRPG RTWP systems and not only am I not overly fond of those, they have been done way better in other games.

      2. Smith says:

        Confession: I’m pretty sure I only finished Red/Blue because I used the duplication glitch to force feed my Pokemon rare candy.

        I have also never finished a strategy game. Or an adventure game, without cheating. And even then, only once; Day Of The Tentacle.

  15. smosh says:

    I remember finding FF12’s plot and characters very confusing. Reading this instantly reminded me why.

    These are the names of places: Dalmasca, Landis, Nabradia, Nalbina, Archadia

    These are major characters so far: Rasler, Raminas, Basch, Ashe, Vaan, Vayne, Fran, Balthier, Reks, Penelo

    I suspect they wanted to give people from same regions similar-sounding names, so we can match them together. Sanderson does this in Stormlight too, for example. This can work, but it risks that the readers gets lost because the names are too close. In FF12? Way too fucking close, and way too many, way too quickly, and way too many “A”. In Japanese this would be a bit different, but still, this is something you actively try to avoid when writing, because you gain very little from making the names similar, but you lose a lot of readers when they can’t follow the plot without opening a wiki. Choosing distinct names for a gigantic complex fantasy epic is really important!

    I find it really really hard to keep track of characters when their names are too similar. Vaan and Vayne? Why not make them Vaan and Wyatt? Or Weyn? Or turn Fran into Frami?

    It’s minor, but it boggles the mind why this wasn’t done better, and as far as I remember, naming conventions of different countries were never even mentioned in the whole game, when clearly that would have helped at basically zero cost.

    1. Syal says:

      Well, Vaan and Vayne share a bit of justification, in that they both probably think this game is about them, don’t they, don’t they, don’t they.

    2. John says:

      Whoops! I commented in the wrong spot. Nothing to see here. Sorry.

  16. Richard H Sanford says:

    ” Penelo is that standard JRPG character who’s waiting to be Vaan’s girlfriend when the game grows the balls to pull the trigger on a real relationship.”

    omg, *YES*. Each. And. Every. Single. Time.

    What is so difficult about writing a respectful and…fck, what’s the word? Means when the two people are on board and are invested in each other? Damn, I need more coffee…

    Anyway, writers either dance around it, use “sexual tension” (criminy I abhor that) or, as you observed, just don’t bother when you *know* it’s RIGHT THERE.

    Okay, thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

    1. RamblePak64 says:

      I don’t know if it was a factor when FFXII was made, but unfortunately, for a lot of Japanese works these days (games, anime, manga) it’s basically a fan thing. They want to avoid making a canonical pairing so that fans can write all the pairings or porn they want in their unofficial works without violating the canon.

      There might be other reasons they do it, too. In Final Fantasy VI, for example, Locke and Celes never officially got together, despite there being a clear romantic connection between the two. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of “maybe now, when we’re trying to fight an evil demi-god that’s off his rocker, is not the best time to try and go on a date”, or maybe it’s for other reasons (Locke spends the whole game haunted by what happened to his ex and unable to move on, after all). Additionally, you’ll have films like the original Japanese version of Shall We Dance? where there’s a non-sexual romantic connection of spirits between the salaryman and the woman at the dance studio. The salaryman is married and has a wife, and he never actually cheats on her, but he manages to share a connection with the woman at the dance studio that he’ll never share with anyone else, including his wife. There’s a romantic element to that, but the English language and Western perception of “love” is pretty limited compared to other cultures.

      It’s just one of those things you either get used to or drives you out of it all.

      1. Richard H Sanford says:

        You are absolutely correct, and I know it, but still, just *once*, I’d like to see a mature, *mutual* romantic relationship.

        1. bobbert says:

          Lufia II had PCs that got married and had children in a mostly realistic way. (Granted they sort of jumped into the marriage part)

          This was all back in ’95.

      2. Retsam says:

        IMO, the catering to the fans is really only true in certain specific genres – e.g. Fire Emblem is a game that gets flack for “canonical pairings” (because at some point that series became a waifu/husbando simulator with a side of tactical combat in the public perception.

        And it makes sense in the RPGs that are still trying to lean into actual “roleplaying” – if you’re going for the “blank-slate protagonist” then having multiple romance options is sort of low-hanging fruit, even if the result is fairly tepid.

        I’d argue it’s not really a Japanese thing, because you can see basically the dynamic in Bioware games.

        I’d guess it mostly boils down to writing good romance is hard, and it’s especially hard when it’s not the focus of the story, and bad romance can do a lot more damage to the story than leaving it ambiguous.

        1. RamblePak64 says:

          Nah, I’ve definitely seen plenty of anime, manga, and non-RPG games (or at least ones without romance mechanics like Fire Emblem or BioWare titles) that avoid canonical pairings, even if there’s heavy undertones that certain characters belong together more.

          It’s funny, because I’m trying to think of a specific example and can’t, because the last anime I watched with a romance plot was My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong As I Expected, and definitively concludes with a canonical pairing, with all the heart break of love triangles addressed in full. Which, admittedly, is one of the reasons I’m a big fan of the anime: it actually addresses the reality of heart break and tough decisions. I guess I just don’t watch as many anime these days because it feels like they mostly cater to doujin communities.

          1. Retsam says:

            Yeah, I’m just not sure where you’re drawing that conclusion from. I’ve never seen a creator come out and say “we’re leaving this ambiguous to cater to the doujin writers”, and short of that, I’m not sure how you’d decide that must be the motive, otherwise.

            There is a level of cultural difference in how romance is depicted – Japanese culture is, at least stereotypically, more reserved about open displays of affection, so it tends to leave stuff more to implication than a Western equivalent, but that’s not exactly because of catering to fandoms.

            And even then, it’s not like fairly clear canonical pairings are exactly rare in Anime/Manga.

            (…and even that cultural tendency seems to be changing. “Big Reiwa energy” is a meme term for the idea that modern manga/anime characters tend to be a lot less reserved in modern stories)

    2. Daimbert says:

      You might have meant “mutual”?

      1. tmtvl says:

        Drat, I was going to proffer “reciprocal,” but mutual is way more obvious. Overthinking never works (until it does).

    3. Richard H Sanford says:

      “Mutual”. That’s the word I was thinking of. Thank you.

    4. I mentioned Wild Arms 2 last week as a joke, but let me mention it again. In WA2, your character has a girlfriend when the game begins. Your relationship is never in peril. She’s not a party member. You return to her throughout the game to discuss things. Your relationship with her deepens, you knock her up and marry her. You’re parents of twins in the epilogue. I have never seen this in a JRPG before or again.

      1. Mattias42 says:

        Honestly, that sounds adorable and neat.

        A lot of games have a lot of trouble making you give two figs about the non-party, slash non-combat members of your crew, though. Like, the writers slash designers just does not have a CLUE how to make you care about them, unless they can suddenly pull out fifteen mini-guns and make it rain lead.

        I know they’re not everybody’s cup of tea, but an example of doing that stuff right I’d say is the modern XCOM series, actually. They’re a bit too chatty at times, sure, but you really get to know people like Dr Valhan, Central and Dr. Shen over your playtime. They’re not just slightly different sprites/models for your head engineer, scientist and second in command, but pretty cool, rounded characters with flaws and virtues of their own.

        Adds a lot to the game, that a lesser studio wouldn’t even have considered needing to characterize at all.

        1. Shufflecat says:

          The Dishonored series comes to mind as well. It’s not a party-based gameplay genre, but you’ve got a handful of support characters in each game who are functionally your posse.

          I remember in the first game going out of my way to try to save the scullery maid in the Hound Pits from being murdered by the cabal for being a “loose end” once they reveal their true colors, because earlier interactions had made me sympathetic to her, despite how minimal they were. You’ve got like two minor optional interactions with her prior to that, but it’s well done enough to make her feel like a person. That’s the low end of the bar.

          1. Daimbert says:

            The Persona games are explicitly based on that model with the S-links, where you have non-party members that you are encouraged to get to know in some detail in order to be able to fuse better Personas and get more XP when doing it. In the middle of the game after you’ve maxed their links out you can end up ignoring them, but the ones you finish always show up at the end to give you some kind of encouragement or boost, and you are always encouraged to go around and talk to them at the end to talk about what you’ve meant to them and usually to say goodbye (you are always going somewhere at the end of those games). The best one is probably Persona 5 as the support characters are explicitly support — proceeding through their links gives you bonuses — and at the end all of the ones you max out play a role in helping the MC out using their specific backgrounds and abilities. It’s a short scene for each, but it does fit with who they are and what you did for them.

      2. RamblePak64 says:

        I never got far in Wild Arms 2. I’ve only beaten the first and got decently far into 3 but never finished. Nevertheless, it’s stuff like this that leaves me feeling the series as a whole was just tragically overlooked.

      3. Joshua says:

        Well, FF IV has the whole Cecil and Rosa thing where they’re an established couple. You know this because Kain is constantly frustrated because he loves Rosa, but the main couple never acts like there’s any doubt about their relationship.

    5. Retsam says:

      I’d argue FFX is probably the best example of a game that averts this – there’s the clear canonical pairing, it’s central to the plot, clearly mutual, with no hint of any love-triangles.

      1. Thomas says:

        There was a light smattering of triangle tension with Rikku.

        But yes, X actually resolved it’s romance and it’s explicit about it instead of having two oblivious people only hint at UST

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          You could also have Tidus hit on Lulu, a bit. It affects all of one scene (you share a sled or snowmobile or something)

          1. tmtvl says:

            Hang on, there’s more to it than just the snowmobile scene!
            It also changes who throws the blitzball at Tidus in his blitz ace overdrive.
            Really making players feel what their agency is worth.

    6. John says:

      The sad thing is that Penelo can’t even manage to land Vaan in the sequel, where more than one character takes Vaan aside to say “How ’bout that Penelo, eh? Eh?” Vaan displays truly heroic levels of shonen incomprehension in Revenant Wings. In fact, Revenant Wings gave me the impression that Vaan was much younger than he appears to be in Final Fantasy XII screenshots, to the point that I thought he might still be in a “girls are icky” phase.

    7. Chad+Miller says:

      The really funny thing about Penelo is that it would probably be less irritating if there were anything else going on with her. But as it stands she’s “empty love interest who exists solely to be the love interest” and then they mostly left out the “love interest” part.

      1. bobbert says:

        I really liked her. Mostly because she made Vaaan look more like a tool.

        “Here is your ISO-standard pretty girl ready for you when you pull your head out of your butt.”
        “Thank you for the kind offer. My head is quite comfortable where it is. Check back in 10 hours, please.”

    8. Buta Yaro says:

      I feel the need to bring up a Gundam series that went in a different direction with all this, just since reading about the trope reminds me of the childhood friend girl in Iron Blooded Orphans.

      See, Atra Mixtra starts in the same position as most characters of her archetype. She’s in love with a young man who seems primarily interested in murder (chokeholds, double taps, giant robot based… the hero of the show gets creative) and farming, in that order, with very little in the way of clearly expressed emotional intimacy. Then, as tends to happen, the boy meets a princess type and has clear romantic tension with her (including kissing her right on the lips in a spur-of-the-moment decision). It’s a general foregone conclusion here… except that Atra has way, way more gumption than most, with her response being “Okay, I like both of them. I can make this work.”.

      And then, in the face of two people who are doing all they can to keep up the status quo, Atra charges forward to set up some polygamy, and somehow, she pulls it off. Has the male lead’s son, gets married to the female lead, and lives to enjoy it.

      On the less robomurder and polygamy side of things, one of the writers for that show writes a novel series that started with a book called “Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunnygirl Senpai” (how appropo). It’s notable for being a series where the hero declares his feelings for the heroine at the end of the first book, they start dating at the end of the second, and then as the series goes forward they work through the various difficulties of their high school romance by actually talking to each other, even when things are complicated by her career as an actress, him having to look after his emotionally traumatized little sister, and the possibility he’s going to die as part of a stable time loop caused by the dream of a fourth grader with a terminal heart disease.

      You know. Typical couple stuff.

  17. RamblePak64 says:

    This is actually making me want to finish up Symphony of the Night so I can make this my “Xbox” game and give it a stab again. I started it on PS4 some time ago, but too many other releases came in and distracted me.

    The funny thing is, reading this summary, it has me thinking this is partially a matter of Square Enix or Yasumi Matsuno trying to adjust things to be “more like Final Fantasy”. On one hand, there’s the well-documented fact that Vaan and Penelo were demands from Square Enix to better appeal to the teen girl demographic, which, if you’ve played Tactics Ogre, Vagrant Story, or Final Fantasy Tactics, isn’t really what Matsuno is known for. Simultaneously, if you’ve played Final Fantasy Tactics, then you know half the dang story takes place in the codex and information gathering in the pubs, as there’s all kinds of Game of Thronesing going on while you Lord of the Rings your way to a battle with Jesus-But-the-Devil-Actually. So, when folks are jumping into FFXII thinking “Where am I, what is this place, who are these countries?”, yeah, that’s pretty darn Matsuno. But the worthless teen boy street rat protagonist with the girl crushing on him? That’s not Matsuno. At the same time, I’m not sure crazy exciting escapes on hover bikes are Matsuno’s style either, though running into the throne room to find the king is already dead and, oh, what a surprise, there’s a knife in my back! Yeah, that stuff is totally Matsuno.

    I think that’s potentially where there’s such a clash. Matsuno is very heavily influenced by Western fantasy and politics in his works, though filtered through a Japanese story-telling lens. Final Fantasy was, at the time, losing more of that influence in favor of anime influence. With FFXII, it’s like an awkward clash between the two.

    The only thing that really kept me from pursuing FFXII further was the fact that I didn’t really gel with the combat. I know it’s easy to be sarcastic over JRPG turn-based combat, especially for the Final Fantasy series, but FFXII’s seems to be an attempt to evolve the Vagrant Story combat but in the wrong direction. I’m not a big fan of what they’re doing here, and actually avoided using Gambits in order to get some degree of engagement from it. That said, I didn’t even get far for gambits to be all that useful, so…

    Nonetheless, I’ve wanted to give the game more of a try, and I think I’ll try and do so with this series.

  18. Mattias42 says:

    Cut to two years later, and you take over Vaan, who is, in deference to Final Fantasy VI and IX, an annoying fucknugget thief.


    Now that it’s mentioned, there’s a lot of JRPGs where you just plain play thieves, huh? Hadn’t thought about that before.

    Guess it’s an easy excuse to explain why your helpless idiot needs everything explained to them AND entered the plot? AKA; they tried nicking something, and somebody higher up the foodchain thought: ‘those sticky fingers could be useful?’

    To thought be honest it seems REALLY strange that Vaan isn’t some sort of, you know. Hunter. Given how much dang hunting this game excepts you to go do, and how I vaguely recall how there’s quite a bit of focus on that dang hunter’s rank while at the same time trying to make you ignore it…

    1. Fizban says:

      Thief seems to be the least combat-defined “occupation” you can have which which doesn’t also conflict with beating people up and having improbable athletic skills, which are needed if you want to get straight to some sort of action. It’s an extremely broad umbrella term which has more practical use than “fighter” (which begs the question of who you’re fighting if you’re not military), has no particular baggage, allows backstory connection to pretty much anything, etc.

      Compare how Fire Emblem will have “mercenary companies.” You get a few common folk recruited early game, maybe a super-baby to make a project of training later (and usually a child-prodigy mage, where all mages are combat mages), but otherwise you’re always recruiting turncoats and mercenaries. The games where you start out with kids who are already supposed to know how to fight, it’s because they’re born mercenaries or. . . street rat thieves who are forming a resistance.

      So if you want a non-magical character without an explicitly combat-linked background who doesn’t immediately beg the question of how they could possibly fight people whose job is fighting, you end up with “thief.” And once you’ve mowed down a few hundred low-tier goons with brute force and teamwork, the level system says you ought to be mighty no matter what your occupation.

      But yeah. In a world with monsters that can be hunted for valuables, Hunter would be most appropriate- but then you lose the “non-combat background” that lets the character whine about combat. Street-rat into monster hunter is about the most inoffensive way to generate a character with absolutely zero ties to anyone or anything while having arbitrarily high combat ability.

      1. Thomas says:

        Mercenary company is an under-exploited role for the central party in (non-tactics) RPGs. It’s a great reason to have a diverse group of people will specific skillsets who tangle in politics.

        You could also use it to make a RPG protagonist who isn’t initially so _nice_

        1. Syal says:

          Grandia 2 comes to mind*, though that’s one guy, not a group. And of course Cloud from FF7.

          I think you don’t get companies often because you want to introduce characters one or two at a time so the player can focus on them. Mercenary also requires everyone to be mainly motivated by money, which makes it harder to create emotional investment for them. Tactics games can do it because most characters are just filler in tactics games.

          *(“Aren’t Geohounds known for being savage? You don’t bathe, and you drink the blood of the monsters you slaughter, right?”
          “Close. We bathe IN the blood of our kill.”)

          1. BlueHorus says:

            Hey, don’t forget FF VIII’s main character, that many people hated. Though that was less that he was unpleasant and more that he was chronically misreable and spent the first part of the game rejecting the attention of hot girls.
            Plus, he was a mercenary fighter!

            …at a high school…that had a machine underneath it that made it move…that no-one knew about… that was secretly training teenagers to fight sorceresses all along…by sending them to warzones…where they used really powerful Guardian spirits…that no-one else ever thought to use.

            Man, I MISS the times when these games were about fighting evil wizards called X-Death…

            1. Mattias42 says:

              Honestly, even as a kid I found it deeply refreshing just how no-nonsense and professional Squall Leonhart was.

              No romance BS. Next to no small talk. Tries to keep both eyes on the prize, and have a plan. And sure, how he bottles up all his insecurities and doubts isn’t healthy, but that sort of stoicism is pretty dang important in a leader that has to at least appear cool under pressure.

              He’s honestly one of the few Final Fantasy characters where I actually totally buy his leadership role, and why so many other characters trust him implicitly. He’s not some sort of chosen one, ‘just’ a very effective professional

              I know a lot of folks LOATHED that ‘no fun’ aspect about him, but just my two cents as somebody that genuinely liked him and his character arc, even when much younger.

            2. Syal says:

              I have trouble calling Squall a mercenary. The game calls him one, but Garden is so heavily structured it feels like a country of its own. Both a school and a country. And dammit Cid, how can you not know what a machine does when you’re the one who built it?

              FF8 is nuts, and I love it.

              1. Mattias42 says:

                To be fair to Sid in FF8, the Guardian Forces outright have amnesia as a side-effect.

                It’s not completely impossible that being so close to so many GFs has some sort of similar effect over time, even if he himself never used them.

          2. Chad+Miller says:

            Mercenary also requires everyone to be mainly motivated by money, which makes it harder to create emotional investment for them.

            I really wish there were more Shadowrun games.

            1. kincajou says:

              Have you tried the banner saga?

              I know the setting is different, and it’s not a group of mercenaries motivated by money and….

              Ok i just realised someone said “ah i wish i had a quiche” and i replied “but have you tried the soufflé”

              I quite enjoy the banner saga though and it does scratch a similar itch to the shadowrun games for me…

          3. Also Tom says:

            Mercenary also requires everyone to be mainly motivated by money, which makes it harder to create emotional investment for them.

            Not necessarily. They could be diehards from the losing side of a war, who take any opportunity to injure the interests of their enemies while getting paid to do it. Or it could be that they’re from an area that’s dirt poor, and hiring themselves out to fight and die is how they try and make a better life for their families. Or they could be burnouts who came back from war, realized they couldn’t live in normal society, and so went out to go look for wars to fight. Or exiles, looking for a place to settle down and trying to build up the resources needed to build up a place.

            There’s a lot you can do with the mercenary concept, and “just fights for the money” is both the least interesting and least realistic option.

            1. Syal says:

              See, I wouldn’t call half of those mercenaries. The first are outlaws, who have picked their side beforehand; the last are exiles. The second one could make a good mercenary story (though they’re totally motivated by the money there), but the third one has more of a villain feel to it, unless you’re giving them an arc of “oh, I guess I can fit in this society over here.”

              1. Thomas says:

                But all of those people are people who could end up _working_ in a mercenary company.

                Theoretically people working in any business are motivated by money, but actually people in a company have a wide array of interests.

                That’s why I’m more interested in a mercenary company than a mercenary character. A mercenary character is probably motivated by money, a mercenary company is full of people with very different life backgrounds and experiences.

                Equally characters in a mercenary company don’t have to be all recruited at the same time. That’s why the concept is so great, if anything it makes more sense to recruit people to a mercenary bcompany than it does to add new people to the standard adventuring party.

            2. Dalisclock says:

              I haven’t read/seen it, but IIRC Area 88 is about a guy who apparently signed himself up as a combat pilot in mercenary company while drunk one night, and he’s forced to stay there until he earns enough money to buy out his contract. So he ends up spending a long time flying combat missions over some third worlds country in a war he doesn’t care about because apparently that’s the only way he can go home.

              I may be summarizing that wrong but there’s a lot you can do with that.

  19. tremor3258 says:

    I remember getting a little bit into this one before basically getting smacked in one of the earlier open world bits. Which made younger me decide the combat tutorials were a crock and play something else.

  20. bobbert says:

    Honest question for those with better memories:
    What was the deal with Ash’s marriage?

    Later in the game she makes a big deal of how her ring is all she has left of her loving husband and avenging him is job #1 (or #2, but still very important)

    But, you watch the intro, and the impression I got was: They only met on their wedding day and he was KIA before sundown. It was never consummated, and they may not even have spoken.

    Maybe in an earlier draft, they wanted to set her up as being pregnant with a posthumous heir?

    1. Thomas says:

      They knew each other from childhood. But I don’t know if I learned that in the game or just got mixed up with the plot of FFXV

  21. Mark says:

    Having played Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Tactics A2 but not FFXII, I find it very interesting that Fran is the only playable non-hume. The various other races are a huge part of the Tactics games and seemed to me to be a strength of the Ivalice setting.

  22. Narratorway says:

    Okay, Imma hafta check out some youtube walkthroughs, cause I’m pretty sure those lines would’ve stuck with me if Ashe had actually said them.

    1. Retsam says:

      Hate to break it, but I just played this section yesterday and it’s not.

  23. Retsam says:

    Apparently this exceeds the craft’s weight limit though, as it immediately crashes despite not seeming damaged in any way

    Not sure if this is just a joke, but pretty sure the actual explanation is that the power of the bike is drained by the magic-draining MacGuffin Vaan is holding. Hence why Fran comments on how the bike just suddenly stopped working.

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