FF12 Sightseeing Tour: Introduction

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Jan 5, 2022

Filed under: Retrospectives 99 comments

You might remember that back in 2016, I did a retrospective on Final Fantasy X. You might also remember that during that series, The Rocketeer showed up in the comments, throwing down these huge walls of text that basically ran circles around my analysis. On one hand, it’s sort of embarrassing to have a member of the audience upstage you like this. On the other hand, I loved his analysis and always looked forward to his comments. I even went back to the series years later, just so I could re-read his posts.

What I didn’t know at the time was that he’d already done a full retrospective on Final Fantasy XII, which he posted to the Escapist forums way back in 2014. Then he re-posted that series to my own forums here on shamusyoung.com.The forums broke ages ago. Fixing them has been on my to-do list for a long time now. You know how it is with maintenance. People sent me links to it saying, “Hey Shamus, did you see this thing? You’d really dig it.” But I get a lot of messages like those, so I missed it again.

Then earlier this year I played through FFXII again. People once again sent me links to Rocketeer’s series, and I finally took notice.

So here is the situation I found myself in:

  1. I loved Rocketeer’s series on FFXII, and it killed me that the only version available was posted to an obscure pocket of the now-defunct Escapist forums.
  2. I wanted to cover the game myself. However, this is a big, complicated game with a ton of plot. I had about 20k words of useful analysis, but recounting the plot for the reader would take 50k words. That just wasn’t worth it. That’s not analysis, that’s just a really predictable Let’s Play. I knew my analysis wasn’t incisive enough to warrant that workload. Moreover, I’m basically an interloper in the JRPG genre. I suspected that my non-expert views on a 15 year old game would have a fairly limited appeal.
  3. I wanted more people to see the Rocketeer’s series. Alarmingly, the whole thing could vanish at any time.
  4. The Rocketeer’s original series wasn’t in the best of shape. No screenshots. No real formatting. It was mixed in with other comments from randos, and the Escapist forums were not designed for readability on the scale of 80k word novels.

The answer I came up with was to repost his series here on my site. We could clean it up, give it some screenshots, and give it a permanent home where it’s not going to vanish the next time someone cleans out the attic over at the Escapist.

By doing so, it will give me a way to piggyback my analysis on top of his. He can recount the plot, and then I’ll have a post later in the week where I use his entry as a jumping-off point to complain about stuff.

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.

All screenshots were captured by me. In both series. This is important because Rocketeer’s series took place in the context of an expert ultra-completionist run, but all the screenshots and footage come from my casual meander through the game. He is going to talk about steamrolling bosses that I did not, in fact, steamroll, and he’s going to talk about picking up espersBig stompy monsters that you can summon. and equipment that I’ve never seen or even heard of.

Also, while Rocketer is the author of the series, blame for formatting oddities should be aimed at me. I thought that, “Hey, would you care to fill my blog with content for the next several months, and also you’ll need to learn the countless eccentricities of my cobbled-together WordPress variant to get your document looking right” made for a lousy sales pitch. So he handed me a word processing document, and from there I wrangled the text into WordPress. If there are any missing paragraphs, wrong fonts, odd spacing, misaligned headers, or incongruous profanity-laden digressions regarding Kai Leng, then it means I messed up somewhere. (You can totally blame him for any spelling / grammatical errors you find, though.)

During this series, I’m going to make a lot of comparisons to Final Fantasy X. This is not because I think that FFX is an unimpeachable masterpiece. In fact, I was all too happy to impeach it myself, on several different occasions. It’s just that both games are part of the same franchise, from the same era, and targeting the same hardware. This makes for a useful apples-to-apples comparison.

I’m also going to refer to the games using numbers rather than the proper roman numerals. So in my series this game will be called “Final Fantasy 12” rather than “Final Fantasy XII”. I realize that looks a little weird, but this gives me a handy way to differentiate between Rocketeer’s stuff and my own when searching archives. This is important because I’ve never run two simultaneous series on the same game at the same time and I want to make sure I have an easy way to do bulk searches / edits.

Please note that I’m not even going to try and keep up with Rocketeer in terms of analysis. He’s already cut the story open and pointed out all the problems that ultimately killed this game.Actually, “killed” is probably too strong a word. “Egregiously wounded and rendered frustrating and bewildering by inexplicable choices” is closer to the mark, although not as pithy. The autopsy is done. I’m just here to mop up. My analysis is going to be a little shallow – and perhaps even frivolous – in a few places. I’m fine with that. Not every retrospective needs to be prosecuted on the level of Mass Effect 3.

If you’d like to play along at home and you don’t have a working Playstation 2 lying around, then you can pick the game up on Steam. I think Square Enix is being unreasonable with the default $50 price tag. That’s a lot for a 16 year old game. But if you can get it on sale, I say it’s worth a look. It’s pretty long, so it might be a good way to burn a lot of hours if you’re cowering indoors in these cold months of COVID-flavored anxiety.

So that’s it. The Rocketeer is going to cover the game in exhaustive detail, and I’m going to piggyback on that and whine about little things that bugged me. The series will launch later this week.

 

Footnotes:

[1] The forums broke ages ago. Fixing them has been on my to-do list for a long time now. You know how it is with maintenance.

[2] Big stompy monsters that you can summon.

[3] Actually, “killed” is probably too strong a word. “Egregiously wounded and rendered frustrating and bewildering by inexplicable choices” is closer to the mark, although not as pithy.



From The Archives:
 

99 thoughts on “FF12 Sightseeing Tour: Introduction

  1. Sannom says:

    I had been expecting this ever since the first part of Rocketeers’ analysis appeared on my Feedly about two weeks ago. That happened to anyone else ?

    1. Shamus says:

      Fun fact:

      In WordPress, when you’re working on the draft of a post, the top button is “save” and the bottom button is “PUBLISH”.

      When you’re working on a post that is already published, the top button disappears, and the bottom button is to save.

      So the save button is in a different place, depending on if a post is live or not. This means that while you’re working on a draft, it’s very easy for your muscle memory to lead you astray and accidentally publish something when you’re just trying to save your work.

      It’s not a great design.

      1. Daimbert says:

        I don’t have a separate build of WordPress and so am using the default WordPress editor for my blog, and the problem I have is that to schedule vs publish you have to hit the Publish button to get the context and then change the time to publish from immediately, set the schedule, and then hit what hopefully is now a “Schedule” button to get it scheduled. I just this past weekend accidentally published something by hitting Publish twice in a row without setting the schedule because I forgot that.

        Also, when it saves a draft it resets everything, so if you are in the middle of scheduling something and the draft is saved it will kick out of the scheduling window but not have changed the day or time, which can lead to some confusion if you don’t notice that.

        1. Philadelphus says:

          WordPress is bafflingly bad at some of the most basic functions of being a blog template for being the biggest such bit of software globally, it’s bizarre. I have experience with WordPress semi-professionally (as a volunteer to the Astrobites site), to which I can compare experience with my own personal blog using Blogger. After a few embarrassing failures to get posts published on a schedule with WordPress I eventually gave up and just published them manually on the day. (As I recall, I also had some trouble getting it to switch back from scheduled posting to “yes I really do want to publish this now when I hit publish” mode.) In contrast, in Blogger there’s just a little drop-down bit where you can toggle between scheduling a date and time for the post, or just to have it post when you hit publish. Simple and easy. Like, after using Blogger, trying to do the exact same things in WordPress always feels like there’s an extra step or three in the way. I get that WordPress is more powerful by virtue of being more flexible, and lets people make more complicated websites (and hence why people use it), I just don’t get why its creators can’t seem to make the basics as easy and uncomplicated as similar alternatives.

          1. Daimbert says:

            The sad thing is that I tend to write things ahead and so schedule them, and under the old UI it was a lot easier than it is with the new one. In fact, I don’t care for the new UI at all. But my blog has been around for over 10 years, so I’m not inclined to switch to a new platform.

      2. Vertette says:

        That is kinda weird now that I think about it. I just got used to it.

    2. ngthagg says:

      Yep, I read it too. A nice teaser for the series!

    3. Lino says:

      Feedly gang represent! I also saw it, but I decided not to read it, because reading a post without Shamus’ custom theme as background just feels wrong…

  2. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    Typolice : You wrote that rocketeer “ran circles around my analysis” instead of “flew circles around my analysis”

    1. Daimbert says:

      I’m not sure if you are kidding here, but “ran circles” at least used to be the common phrasing for that. It might be an issue with different cultural contexts and translations of idioms, but I’ve never heard of “flew circles around”, living in Canada which is pretty close to Shamus’ context.

      (That being said, I think the original idiom was “ran RINGS around”, so there might be much more going on here [grin]).

      1. Dreadjaws says:

        I’m pretty sure it’s a joke (being Rocketeer and all).

    2. Fizban says:

      Took me a second to see what you did there.

      Looking forward to series in concept, even if I don’t actually read it. Still haven’t finished that FF10 replay I stalled out halfway through, which I wanted to do before reading Shamus’s. This series will likely have references to it, and previous discussions of FF12 had me thinking I should give that a try too, so. . .

  3. Dreadjaws says:

    If you’d like to play along at home and you don’t have a working Playstation 2 lying around, then you can pick the game up on Steam. I think Square Enix is being unreasonable with the default $50 price tag. That’s a lot for a 16 year old game. But if you can get it on sale, I say it’s worth a look.

    Square-Enix pricing gets on my nerves. On the one hand you have games from the likes of the Deus Ex and Tomb Raider franchises often having their base price lowered, constantly on sale for up to 90% off and basically being sold for just a few pennies on a monthly basis. On the other hand you have their Final Fantasy titles (and adjacents, like Chrono Trigger) never getting a price cut, rarely going on sale and never for more than 50% off and not even entertaining the notion of using regional pricing, which means that the lowest price we can get this decade-and-a-half-old game at is $25, a price higher than it reasonably should have launched with when the remaster hit stores 4 years ago.

    I still have my PS2 copy stored somewhere, so I could probably dust that off, assuming I can get my old ps2 to work. I’d probably have more luck using the disc on a PC with an emulator. Then again, I’m already playing two large games (also just started the Arkham series for the unteempth time) at the same time and I really don’t have the patience nor the time for yet another one. I think I’m gonna sit this one out and just ride alongside you two.

    1. Mattias42 says:

      Fairly sure this is semi-intentional from Square-Enix side.

      An intentional devaluation of their ‘lesser’ IPs they don’t care as much about and thus believe nobody else should care about either, to contrast with their ‘stars’ they wish to price anchor at a higher point, and thus give a sheen of being of higher quality.

      Or I’m overthinking them just playing favorites with their own stuff. Either way, yeah, total BS.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Why only semi-intentional? People tend to equate ‘expensive’ with ‘better’, so charging more for a product you want customers to perceive as valuable is a fairly obvious ploy.

        I mean, there’s an entire industry based on this principle, in which certain clothes cost a hundreds of times more than equivalent garments, just because of who designed them.
        Or – even better – it’s set up so that wearing those clothes marks the customer out as someone who can afford to pay $10,000 for a shirt*.

        *Quite often when they can’t! Man, humans are fascinating. And horrifying.

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          It’s happened in software too.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Am_Rich

    2. John says:

      As I understand it, Nintendo is similarly reluctant to offer substantial discounts on older games. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing.

      1. Shufflecat says:

        It does seem to be more common in Japanese games, I’ve noticed. Western games aren’t immune (No Man’s Sky hilariously is still charging 60$ so many years after release), but it seems intractably baked into a number of Japanese devs’/publishers’ expectations in a way that suggests some kind of cultural thing.

        1. RamblePak64 says:

          Part of it is “cultural”, though I put quotations since it might be more accurate to call it “conditional”, though in that both the industry and the consumers have been conditioned to nickel-and-dime. If you look at how Blu-Ray sales for anime are handled over in Japan, it’s absolutely ridiculous. A single season of a show might still be sold in individual discs, and if it’s a more dirty/raunchy show then they’ll definitely use the promise of “uncensored” imagery to try and pull as much cash out of customer’s wallets as they can. Just about every JRPG or fighting game has tons of costume DLC because people will buy it. Even if an anime series is sold on Blu-Ray as a box set series, it’ll be far more expensive than you’d see if a (more expensive, higher budgeted, longer episode) Western television series were to release a season box set. It’s a weird sort of ouroboros where the fact that Otaku will spend exorbitant amounts of cash on such products means companies have become wholly reliant upon those Otaku to give them money.

          The games industry is more global, so you don’t see those sorts of issues happen as often (though the recent remaster of SMT 3 is evidence of them trying this stuff on a global market, selling chunks of the original game as DLC rather than packaging it as a complete edition).

          With Nintendo, part of the logic is that, just because a game is old, doesn’t make it any less valuable. When you consider how they’re toy makers, it’s an easy-to-understand perspective, and I’d even say it’s a bit admirable. As someone that likes to go back and replay games constantly, I feel like a lot of ways of determining a game’s worth are arbitrary. At the same time, the economy stinks and money is valuable and I can’t afford $60 on everything. Similarly, Nintendo is only able to have such a stance because they can, as their biggest games will still sell at full price years later.

          Which is where Square Enix fits in with their Final Fantasy games. They sell them at those prices because they can, and because there will always be people willing to get them at those prices. Tomb Raider, oddly enough, isn’t that sort of game. It’s odd to say since, for a while there, Tomb Raider was as big or a bigger icon to gaming than Final Fantasy, but that image has been dwindling for a while, especially when Uncharted has sort of taken over. So they keep dropping the price on Tomb Raider games to the point people are willing to pull the trigger, and it turns out a lot more folks are willing to pay more money for Final Fantasy games (at least, within its target demographic) than there are Tomb Raider.

          1. Chad+Miller says:

            Final Fantasy in particular is not afraid to leverage the Japanese market’s higher willingness to buy the same game repeatedly in a short time frame. In fact, for at least a few Final Fantasy releases (including XII itself), the pattern went:

            * Sell the first version of the game in Japan but keep working on it
            * Translate and release the next version in the US (and possibly other Western markets)? Then continue working on it.
            * Release the newer-er, more improved version only in Japan as an “International Edition”

            X and XII both followed this pattern, only releasing the third iteration’s improvements as part of an HD remaster well after the original console is dead and even many of us who played the games when they were knew have long forgotten much of them. A lot of the new stuff in X/X-2 remaster and The Zodiac Age is stuff that is new only outside of Japanese releases. (XII in particular had a very high-quality fan translation floating around ROM sites that was probably the best way to play that game even for English speakers until Zodiac Age’s release)

            1. RamblePak64 says:

              Yeah, it sort of dates as far back as Final Fantasy IV, where they rebranded the modified US version as “EZ-Type” over there as a whole new package. Other games have done it as well, which is one of the reasons there’s so much DLC for Shin Megami Tensei 3 to nickel-and-dime. All the content was, at one point, on a PS2 disc of the game, even if not all together.

              It’s not something you get away with as much these days in favor of alternate strategies, but you could argue it has sort of fused with the “Game of the Year” version of most games that bundle DLC in together. Hence: Final Fantasy XV Royal Edition.

              1. Chad+Miller says:

                XV is a really odd case because it was the first one that was blatantly unfinished. When it went on Game Pass last year they actually put up the Royal Edition (and all the DLC that entailed) even though standard practice is to release base games only and hope people trying the game on Game Pass end up buying the DLC.

              2. Philadelphus says:

                Hence: Final Fantasy XV Royal Edition.

                For some reason my brain interpreted that as “Final Fantasy XV Battle Royale Edition” and I was like, “Huh, they really will put those mechanics in any game…”

                1. BlueHorus says:

                  I, for one, am all for this. The thoguht of beating certain characters from previous Final Fantasy games to a pulp over and over again has a certain charm…

                  *Vanille from 13, and that frog…thing…from 9 are the first two that come to mind, though they aren’t the only ones.

                  1. John says:

                    Well, if that’s what you want, then there’s always Dissidia Final Fantasy, the Final Fantasy fighting game. According to Wikipedia, Square Enix released the game in Japan in 2008, followed by an international version in 2009, an updated Japanese version based on the international version also in 2009, and then some sort of prequel-remake in 2011. It seems Chad+Miller knows what he’s talking about.

                    The only problem is that it’s a PlayStation Portable exclusive, so, uh, good luck with that.

                  2. tmtvl says:

                    Frog thing from IX? Now I know you’re not talking about Quina, because that would mean pistols at dawn, but I can’t immediately think which other noteworthy character is memorable for frog-like features.

                    1. BlueHorus says:

                      See, I’d take you up on that duel, but sadly I lost my dueling pistol when Quina ate it. ;)
                      I was hoping that they would learn a new ability or something, but no, it didn’t happen.

                    2. Syal says:

                      Ribbit. Gwok.

          2. John says:

            Yeah, cultural is probably not the best word. Unfortunately, I don’t know a short, pithy way of saying “that’s what everyone in Japan is used to”. Probably I should just say “that’s what everyone in Japan is used to” next time.

            1. RamblePak64 says:

              I wouldn’t even generalize so far as to use “everyone”, especially since there’s really not a lot of folks out there translating Japanese forums or social media (which, admittedly, would probably be a horror). I think that we’re largely unaware of what the Japanese audience really thinks about things, unless there’s a rare instance of folks going out of their way to see how those players feel about a certain topic.

              Heck, I’d have still been under the impression Japan wasn’t big on first-person shooters were it not for VTubers proving me wrong, but people only translate them because they mostly take the form of cute anime girls and occasionally boys. I’d love to know more of what the broader gaming audience over there is thinking of stuff.

              1. John says:

                “Used to” doesn’t imply approval or, really, anything but familiarity. If Japanese game publishers tend not to offer discounts on on older games, then Japanese consumers are used to that, whether they like it or not. Unfortunately for said consumers, there’s not much they can do to push publishers into offering discounts. If you’re already not buying a game because the price is too high then you can’t punish the publisher, so to speak, by buying the game even less. Because you aren’t buying the game, the publisher has no direct evidence you exist.

                1. PPX14 says:

                  “What the Japanese market is accustomed to” or even “”What the Japanese market will tolerate” perhaps haha! :D

          3. eldomtom2 says:

            Even if an anime series is sold on Blu-Ray as a box set series, it’ll be far more expensive than you’d see if a (more expensive, higher budgeted, longer episode) Western television series were to release a season box set.

            Correction: far more expensive than a boxset release in the West. Japanese consumers get nickel-and-dimed on Blu-rays of Western shows too.

        2. Chad+Miller says:

          No Man’s Sky is a bit of a different situation because it’s been updating continuously. I mean, they have added a lot of post-launch content that its launch day purchasers never had to pay a dime for. If you accept that the studio is going to expect to get paid for this post-launch work, then the most likely possibilities are:

          * Drop the price, but charge for DLC (often such that “the game + all DLC” works out to about the cost of a new game)

          * Keep the price the same, but also keep piling on content so that your existing players talk it up and so that people who didn’t buy yet may be enticed

          The first is by far more popular, but I don’t see either model as inherently more greedy than the other, and both are a damn sight from “let’s just release literally the same game repeatedly and cash in on the nostalgiabux.” The first is better for new players who may want to try the base game at a reduced price before making a decision on the DLC, while the second is better for players who already bought in and don’t want to get bled repeatedly for more cash to keep up with new content. Which means that it may actually be the more honest move if, say, your game pissed off a lot of people at launch because it was seen as incomplete and it would be nice to be able to give those people free content as an apology without completely undermining your business model moving forward.

    3. Thomas says:

      I saw some analysis somewhere (Arstechnica? Steamspy?) that suggested steep discounts are rarely that profitable. After all if Square Enix can sell just 500,000 copies without a discount, you’d have to sell 5 million copies at a 90% discount to break even. At some point there just aren’t enough people who would want to play the game to make the discount worth it.

      Steep discounts can be a way to bring eyes to a franchise who will then buy the next game full price, but Final Fantasy doesn’t need that, it already gets enough attention, and it gets it by being a ‘high value’ brand.

      1. Dreadjaws says:

        I mean, sure, steep discounts aren’t profitable at the launch window, but there comes a time months after release where selling at a high discount will simply sell more. Sure, you’d be earning more by selling 10 copies at full price than by selling 100 at a 90% discount, but that implies you’ll find those 10 buyers, which is harder and harder the more time that passes after launch. To put it bluntly, if this strategy of never putting high discounts worked so well, everyone would be using it.

        And sure, you can claim that FF sells by virtue of being a popular brand, but it doesn’t change the fact that a large number of consumers will simply go for a cheaper alternative. And these days, alternatives are a dime a dozen. There’s nothing special about FF anymore. Those games rely on their made name. And the more time it passes, that name means less and less. It’ll reach a point where it won’t mean anything and they will wish they had adapted sooner.

        I know it’s tempting to think “Well, these companies wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t profitable”, but that implies companies don’t make bad decisions, which is simply not true.

        I love the classic Final Fantasy games, but I haven’t bought any of the re-releases they’ve pulled in the last few years. The name does nothing for me anymore. There are so many alternatives I just don’t need them.

        1. The+Puzzler says:

          There are downsides to selling more copies for less, especially with epic RPGs. Potential customers might buy your cheap old game, instead of your expensive new game, and then not even finish your cheap old game, and that puts them off ever buying your new game, or the remake of your cheap old game that you’re developing next…

          Or maybe they’re keeping the base price high so one day they can cut it by 75% for a weekend, and that makes it look like an unmissable bargain, instead of just being what the game is worth.

        2. baud says:

          Another negative aspect of putting a game, but more of a corner case, for niche games, discounting it too much might mean people from outside the niche might pick it up, not enjoy it (because it’s a niche game and not really aiming for mainstream appeal) and leave a bunch of negative reviews.

    4. bork says:

      And what you probably don’t know is that Square-Enix is absolutely atrocious when it comes to regional pricing. Their games regularly cost massively more in Switzerland, even though we get the same prices as the rest of Europe everywhere else on Steam.

      Octopath Traveler is a solid $80 here on Steam. FF12 is $60. I blatantly refuse to buy their games at these rip-off prices.

  4. Joshua says:

    As a lay person, it seems to me like the series got hit by a case of complexity addiction, finally reaching the point where it could no longer overcome it to tell an enjoyable story in #12.

    1. This is 100% speculation, but I think it covers a lot of the problems I have with them: I think Final Fantasy has a management structure problem.

      I think they get someone in to write an overarching story treatment. This story treatment is probably fine enough as far as it goes. Then they hack it into pieces in chronological order (you get the first 5 hours, you get the next 5 hours, etc.) and hand those pieces and the story bible to several individual writers. These writers then fill in all the dialog and such for their piece, either without talking to each other to speak of at all, or not talking anywhere near enough. Probably the latter. It just feels like they aren’t talking to each other. But for something like this to retain harmony you need more than a perfunctory once-a-week checkin or something.

      So what is the results? Large seams in the story where ever there’s a writer handoff. FFX had some staggeringly huge ones, most notably the place where the party goes from buried under a ton of ice to suddenly in the middle of the desert, like, literally in the space of 15 realtime seconds, because of a brief nonsensical cutscene and “Sin’s poison”, which never did that before and never does it again.

      Characters that are never quite inconsistent, but still experience some bizarre tonal shifts between the seams. Also, no writer can ever develop the characters except in the exact way specified in the treatment because the other writers won’t carry it through. If they try, you get disappearing (and possibly reappearing) character traits and quirks. So for all the Stuff (TM) going on in the story, the characters never quite seem affected by any of it consistently.

      In FFXIII in particular, each writer tries to fill you in on the bits of the bible they need in their chunk. The result is extreme repetition because each writer doesn’t realize that you’ve already been told that 5 times already, and meanwhile, the thing you really needed to know, the middle-of-the-story writer doesn’t mention because they assume the previous writers already told you. No coherence in what you are told, when. FFXIII seems to have taken the approach of simply sticking the writer’s bible glossary in the game. (Which is kinda neat in its own way, but not when its covering over problems.)

      And there’s just a whole bunch of other little things that I think point to excessive compartmentalization.

      Contrast the Persona series, where every story is coherent from start to end. Not necessarily perfect, but coherent. I expect the writers instead get a treatment (can’t coordinate without one of those at this scale), but then work together more-or-less from start to finish, where each writer gets certain characters or subplots as they go, and they can all work together because they’re all in the same part of the story to coordinate, etc. Even a minor NPC on the street can get a bit of a story beat, because it’ll be the same writer from start to finish.

      That’s my theory about why FF stories are so messed up and have been consistently messed up in the same distinctive way for several games in the series now. As the games get larger and larger this problem gets worse and worse.

      And you can also see this problem in a lot of other video games. Part of what reminded me of this was some of Shamus’ discussion about the later Batman games. And I think this approach to story is a non-trivial part of the problem that video games have with story across the entire industry. It is very “scalable” and can pump out words words words very quickly and cost-effectively, but its crippling flaws are impossible to overcome.

      1. Rho says:

        I was going to post this anyway, and makes sense to do do here.

        IIRC Joseph Anderson brought up a simple matrix of telling stories, with a simple or complex plot and a simple or complex storytelling method. Ideally, telling complex story in a simple way is “best”. But most often, we tell simple stories in simple ways and complex stories in complex ways. (He is hardly the first to think of this though.)

        What you want to avoid, however, is telling simple stories in complex ways. *Sometimes* you can bamboozle the audience and *some* people will mistake your shallow pablum as deep and multilayered. But most people will see through and be disappointed.

        This is the trap that FF games tended to get into and where they kinda still are. The stories themselves are not bad; they’re Tropey and even iconic. But the writers have gone way overboard with trying to impress the player with their cleverness. FF12 was just a particularly bad example.

        1. Syal says:

          Do you have a link to that? I’m immediately wondering where Memento ends up.

      2. Shufflecat says:

        This is a classic problem in TV series writing too, where it predates games writing by decades.

        The biggest example that comes immediately to my mind is Star Trek: Voyager. All the Star Trek shows had it to some degree, but VOY had it the worst by a very wide margin. Characters could be conspicuously consistent in their inconsistency, with individual episodes’ writers sometimes being identifiable solely by which version of a given character was being presented.

        The writing process was so compartmentalized and fragile that the actors were actively disallowed from defining their characters through their performance in even minor ways. Not talking about them changing major character profile stuff, but even tiny little things like the placement of pauses, word emphasis, or the shifting of where a word like “is” fell in a sentence would get them chewed out.

        1. Thomas says:

          It’s worth bearing in mind the overall process is also true of a shocking amount of good TV shows / games. The main actor on Life on Mars, who was used to working on films, complained that it seemed like his character kept repeating the same growth and then resetting between episodes. The writer told him that’s how TV works, the trick is doing it well enough that the audience doesn’t notice / care.

          Square’s problem isn’t necessarily that they write their stories like that (a lot of the Uncharted games worked the same way), but that they don’t do it well.

          I agree they have a management crisis, but I think it’s across the board now. Ever since FFXIII they’ve struggled to give their games cohesive visual style, they look like they’re store bought basset reflipping (which they are). The gameplay mechanics don’t mesh and the level design is none existent. Plus they all take much longer to produce than other games in the industry and pretty much every entry in the franchise ends up in development hell at some point. Remember when FFXIII and FFXV were meant to be sister gsmed released at similar times?

          They’ve lost the ability to make videogames efficiently and cohesively. They’re gliding on by money, individual talent and reputation alone.

          (FFXIV has to be it’s own production pipe by now)

          1. BlueHorus says:

            basset reflipping

            You leave that poor dog alone!

            …hehe, now I’m picturing Square Enix having a department devoted to flipping a small dog over and over.

            1. Philadelphus says:

              “Enough basset hounds, flipped over and over again on enough computer keyboards, will eventually produce the full plot of the next Final Fantasy game.”

    2. Canthros says:

      I always assumed the issues had a lot to do with Matsuno Yasumi departing the project late in development.

      1. Management shakeups never help, and may have made it particularly bad for FFXII.

        But Final Fantasy’s story problems, in my opinion, go back much farther than that. I know this describes 10, because I played it. My impression is this goes all the way back to FFVII, though I don’t think it was full-blown yet. (Plus as I’ve started to identify this, plenty of other JRPGs exhibit the same structural problems. I’d go so far as to call it endemic to the genre. The exceptions, like the Persona series, are notable for standing out.)

        This style of writing can still produce a lot of good stuff in isolation, the problem is the overarching structure tends to suffer. And if the individual components are themselves bad for whatever reason, including creative direction whiplash, well, you aren’t going to get good results when both the micro and macro are busted!

        It’s a pity, because I really liked FFXII’s gameplay. I haven’t played all the games that tried to do a take off on its system, but of the ones I’ve tried, FFXII got the whole gambit thing working the best I’ve seen. It’s the only real-time combat QRPG where I feel like I’m still controlling a team, and not just popping in to take control of a particular character while the character I was previous controlling suddenly undergoes a total lobotomy, or the other extreme of just vaguely directing strategy.

        1. Max says:

          I believe that your overall impression about the writing process is correct. Most JRPGs have multiple people credited as scenario writers, with a scenario being a chunk of the game. Usually the game’s director is supposed to oversee things and maintain consistency across the entire game, and in some cases the director even writes some of the scenarios. This system worked well enough in old JRPGs which had very loose vague overarching plots, and a lot of miniplots. Pretty much every town you visited had its own little self contained story, which might be only loosely connected to some larger threat, or in some cases completely unrelated to any larger plot.

          Its interesting you mention FF7 as the early stages of a problem that would get worse later, cause that game is kind of transitional in its storytelling. There is a larger focus on an overarching plot compared to previous games, but the game is to a very large extent still episodic. Most of the game is spent chasing down Sephiroth, and you visit a series of towns on the way to get to him. As in the games that preceded it, you are forced by geography, not the plot, to stop at each of these towns. The characters have no particular reason to visit Barret’s home town or the Golden Saucer, except that there is literally no way to go around them. And while at those places, you can get a little mini story and learn about Barret’s backstory. The chunk of plot is relatively self contained so passing it off to one Scenario writer and giving another part of the game to someone else, seems pretty reasonable.

          The big issue seems to be that FF8 onward continued to focus more and more on complex ongoing plotlines and character arcs and less on small chunks of episodic storytelling, and this is harder to divide up amongst different writers.

        2. Christopher says:

          Plus as I’ve started to identify this, plenty of other JRPGs exhibit the same structural problems. I’d go so far as to call it endemic to the genre. The exceptions, like the Persona series, are notable for standing out.

          I seriously wanna know what’s happening behind the scenes. Some of this nonsense I get the impression is just because of the people involved. 12 is a strange example since the main guy straight up left, but for a lot of the square enix story clunkers you have the same handful of writers putting in work. On the other hand you’ve also had plenty of public issues with the development of the game itself, huge trouble with tech increasing the workload when they went HD, having to split up FF7 Remake into separate parts ’cause it’d be too expensive to do that style of remake otherwise, FF15 being in dev hell for years upon years.

          I’m left wondering, are their writers like Nojima and Watanabe and directors like Nomura just complete hacks, or are the problems stemming from many games they’ve made in the last 20 years having serious development issues?

          The trailers for FF16 didn’t exactly light me on fire, but I think it’s a relief just to see the FF14 guy on there since it seems like those people have their shit most together out of anyone at the company. Meanwhile Stranger of Paradise : Final Fantasy Origin rolls out with Nojima & Nomura in the first trailer and just looks like an embarrassment from moment of reveal, in terms of design and writing at least. Maybe it won’t solve everything, but personally I’m hoping other writers and designers get to take over leading roles in the company sooner rather than later. I think plenty of JRPGs are putting out decent to good narratives, but very little of that is in the square enix games I’ve played at least.

          1. RamblePak64 says:

            It’s honestly a weird series to look at in terms of tonal and thematic consistency. Hironobu Sakaguchi is creator of the franchise, was inspired very much by classic Western and Japanese fantasy novels like Michael Moorcock’s Eldric books or the Leguin Saga, and that helped set the tone of the first six or seven games. He was always working with others, though, and getting input from the whole team. Seven was, I believe, the first time Sakaguchi wasn’t directing, but Yoshinori Kitase was instead. Even so, it was still a group of ideas from team members, and though Nojima was writing the scenario, he wasn’t necessarily steering the story.

            Then Sakaguchi went off to make a movie and Final Fantasy 9 while Final Fantasy 8 was being made, and I’m less knowledgeable about the development of those games, but basically, 8 and every game post 9 sees a major shift. Nomura was never responsible for directing a Final Fantasy until 15, but he’s on the record as not being as much of a turn-based or fantasy fan compared to other genres. My understanding is the approach completely changed, and with FF12, you took more of an auteur visionary sort like Matsuno and put him in charge of a high profile project where the studio was consistently screwing with his vision, such as who should and shouldn’t be the protagonist.

            With FF16, I think there’s hope simply because it’s members of the FFXIV team with the combat designer from Devil May Cry 5. Yoshi-P is producing, not directing, but we know he can at least do a good job overseeing a job to completion, and the team certainly nails that fantasy tone and atmosphere like the series hasn’t seen in a long time. It’s pretty much the first Final Fantasy that feels capable of living up to the hype in a long, long time. That said, fingers still crossed, and even if the game itself is good, it’s going to be console exclusive to PS5 a while, and given the FF7 Remake’s rough port to PC and exclusivity to Epic Games Store, I’m not sure how much faith I have in playing FFXVI any time soon anyway (will not even download Epic Games Store, let alone use it, and I’ve no interest in a PS5).

            1. RFS-81 says:

              I would never have guessed Moorcock. I guess Chaos was a villain in Final Fantasy 1, but the series has a distinct lack of Chaos-worshipping heroes and magic swords that are metaphors for drugs.

              1. Gautsu says:

                Elric not Eldric. But Oswald Bastable’s stories are entirely about airship pilots. And if you look at the artwork for a lot of his (Moorcock’s) non-Elric stuff, it very easily looks like a western version of Yoshitake Amano’s artwork. Granbreton from Hawkmoon could very easily live side by side with the Empire in FF6

  5. Drathnoxis says:

    Yesss! I’m excited! I was starting to think this wasn’t actually happening. For anybody interested, the original thread on the Twenty Sided forums is still archived on the Wayback Machine so you can see the original comments, though there aren’t many.

    https://web.archive.org/web/20170810053355/http://shamusyoung.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=704

    and Escapist thread:
    http://web.archive.org/web/20210711162514/https://forums.escapistmagazine.com/threads/final-fantasy-xii-a-travelog-of-ivalice-by-a-raving-madman.129323/

    Looking forward to this thing finally getting the spotlight it deserved.

  6. John says:

    So in my series this game will be called “Final Fantasy 12” rather than “Final Fantasy XII”. I realize that looks a little weird, but this gives me a handy way to differentiate between Rocketeer’s stuff and my own when searching archives.

    I was a little confused until I got to “when searching archives”, because even if I missed the byline I’d never confuse your writing for Rocketeer’s. I’ve read his retrospective before, so I know that it contains approximately 500% more swearing, pulling of hair, and gnashing of teeth than anything you are likely to write that isn’t about Kai Leng.

    1. Geebs says:

      isn’t about Kai Leng

      Although, pretty much the first thing that happens in FFXII is the protagonist getting shanked from offscreen by a smug dude in silly armour….

      1. Nimrandir says:

        ‘Player character’ is a better descriptor of Reks. In story terms, he’s not much more than a plot device.

        Smug dudes in silly armor/outfits, though, are a pretty indelible part of the Final Fantasy experience, and they were doing that well before Kai Leng.

        1. Syal says:

          All the way back to the first boss in the first game.

        2. bobbert says:

          I do kind of love the whole:

          “Here is Rex, your main character”
          “Oops! he died in act I.”
          “ummm… Here, why don’t you play as his little brother instead.”

  7. Mye says:

    Should mention that the steam version is the zodiac/international version which fix and improves a lot (I don’t believe the Rocketeer original run was using this version). One of the biggest downside of the original is that every character is essentially identical because they all use the same leveling grid whereas the international version forced them to use 2 of 12 (iirc) jobs, which helps a lot.

    Comparing the game to FF10 makes a lot of sense since you have the analysis for it, but they’re pretty different game despite being one after the other (FF11 being an mmo), so its probably going to be more of a contrasting than comparing. It’s a shame that FF:tactics isn’t easily available because I think it’s a lot better comparison, story wise, since it executed what FF12 is trying to do with its story almost flawlessly while FF12 stumble hard right away and never really recover.

    I greatly enjoyed the Rocketeer analysis of FF12 because I found the game immensely disappointing, he touched on a lot of point that I dislike but he also managed to dredge up some good point which at least made me somewhat respect the game (still in my bottom third of the franchise though). If he ever feel like doing that treatment to FF13 I’d love to read it, but I fear that casting that game in even a somewhat positive light is beyond human.

    1. I played the original version when it came out, but I was playing the IZJS version of the game with a translation patch on PCSX2 while writing. I haven’t played the new Zodiac Age version, which is changed further still.

    2. bobbert says:

      One of the biggest downside of the original is that every character is essentially identical because they all use the same leveling grid[…]

      They are not quite interchangeable. Everyone has a favorite weapon, which he is worse at using. (Yes, you read that right.)

      1. Mye says:

        The difference in weapon are ultimately very small, it did always annoy me that the Viera (ie elf like race) that start with a bow is by far the worse bow user in the group.

        1. bobbert says:

          Yeah, it is not a huge difference by the numbers, but it is noticeable enough to really feel like a kick in the teeth.

      2. Syal says:

        …that’s… that’s got to be a coding error, right? That can’t be on purpose.

        1. bobbert says:

          The issue is, basically, whenever one your guys uses his favorite weapon type, he adds a cool looking flourish to his attack animation. As a result, instead of slapping a dude 12 times in a minute you do it 10 times.

          1. RFS-81 says:

            I guess that’s a thing that can go wrong when you transition from turn-based to real-time.

    3. Chad+Miller says:

      the international version forced them to use 2 of 12 (iirc) jobs, which helps a lot.

      Also, the rereleases made it so that you can actually see what the licenses on the board are before buying them so you can make an informed commitment to a build without consulting third-party strategy guides. One reason the original game encouraged a mishmash of samey tank mages is because it didn’t give you enough information to know what else you might want to build.

      1. Syal says:

        It does have a mechanic to get you to make several different builds early on. And then it doesn’t tell you how the mechanic works. My first run I had two characters follow the same path to the same Quickening, to find out the hard way that only one of them can use it.

        It’s hard to overstate how obtuse the original License Board is on a first run.

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          It’s hard to overstate how obtuse the original License Board is on a first run.

          FFXII may be the most obtuse game in the series. The license board, the Zodiac Spear, all the mechanics of the Bazaar, Rare Game…it’s like the thing was designed to sell strategy guides.

          (if anyone’s considering picking it up now, the Zodiac Age fixes about half of these problems. In particular the “forbidden chests” troll mechanic was removed and a respec mechanic now exists)

          1. bobbert says:

            The percentage chests were the worst. Some chests have 75% chance to not show up, and if they do a 254 in 256 chance to have something lame. Only a 2 in 256 chance to have the super-cool shiny thing.

            1. Chad+Miller says:

              Oh, yes, I forgot about chest math in general. The “best” part being the Diamond Amulet. It’s an item that changes the drop rates of chests. Note that I didn’t say “for the better”; the item description sure implies that, and there are some chests that won’t drop their best loot unless you’re wearing it, but it actually makes some chest drop rates worse. This despite that you’re sacrificing a slot for combat equipment by using it in the first place.

  8. Sleeping Dragon says:

    Ha, I just finished going through those old forum posts at the end of December after someone mentioned them here. Laughed a lot even though I haven’t played XII in my life. I think I’ll still like revisiting them and if Rocketeer does more content like this I would not be opposed to seeing it.

  9. RamblePak64 says:

    Just a note: Final Fantasy XII is also on Game Pass for the Xbox and PC, so if you have Game Pass you can just play it there.

  10. Nimrandir says:

    Cool — I’m looking forward to this! On the other hand, I’m actually kind of a fanboy for FFXII, so maybe I should brace myself. On the gripping hand, I really hate Vaan, and maybe all the shade is going to get thrown at him.

  11. bobbert says:

    Shamus, if at all possible, please edit the posts to keep this joke alive.

    1. Xeorm says:

      But now we have bunny boys in FF14. That women seem to very much like.

  12. Teltnuag says:

    I am quite looking forward to this, since I played the game just a year ago and had some fun with it. Except that I mostly checked out of the story about the time Ashe showed up because it was already too silly for me and I didn’t care about any of the characters, aside from maybe Balthier who was just kind of fun.

  13. bobbert says:

    Also, I love how, on my resolution, the bottom 40% of the image is cut off until I scroll down. It crops Vaan (and his wife) out of his own game. The justice of it makes me smile.

  14. Syal says:

    Sometimes a Diecast question gets answered during the show, sometimes it gets its own post, and then sometimes it gets multiple series of posts from multiple authors.

    That is to say, I’m looking forward to this. Been playing through the original game recently with the intent of finishing it (currently on Forest #3), and also re-reading both Shamus’ and The Rocketeer’s takes on it. This will be a much nicer layout for that.

    1. Joshua says:

      Bah, still waiting for Shamus to answer my question when he said he’d have to make a full post out of it. :)

    2. Philadelphus says:

      “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em!”

      1. John says:

        “And still others are born in Ohio.” A little dated American political humor there for you. Very dated, actually. 19th century dated, even. So dated, hopefully, that it doesn’t violate the spirit of the no politics rule.

  15. Warclam says:

    Final Fantasy 12, eh? I know it only as “the one with the stripper rabbits,” so it’ll be interesting to learn more.

    1. Henson says:

      What can I say? I really like the bunny girls. For aesthetic reasons!

      1. Syal says:

        I use Fran for the dialogue.

  16. The image of Ashe in the splash image is actually sort of infamous. Ashe’s cutesy pose is… somewhat out of character for Ashe, let’s say, but more importantly, it looks for all the world like she’s picking her nose. Thus, Ashe picking her nose was a minor meme decades ago when the game was new.

    1. bobbert says:

      Well, now I can’t unsee it.

    2. Mye says:

      I wanna know what they originally though the pose was supposed to be like? Did they think booping your own nose was cute or something?

      1. Syal says:

        …proud school-age girl? The fist on hip is like “I know I’m cool”, and then the lowered head and fingers touching but not covering the face are like, flirty embarrassment. The unconfident confidence of youth.

        Although, picking her nose is more in character. “Don’t have time for you, first I’m gonna deal with this snot.”

        Could also be a gangsign.

  17. Storm says:

    Oh boy, FFXII is one of my favorite games in the series, it’ll be nice to see your thoughts on it, even if it will be largely negative.

    Despite my enjoyment of it, it is an incredibly messy game where you can at times feel its troubled development. Actually liking it sort of requires meeting the game halfway with what it’s trying to go for. Still, I think there is quite a lot of good to be found in the game.

    1. raifield says:

      I love it too, even if the main plot is basically ‘What if Star Wars, but Final Fantasy?’

      Really looking forward to this series of articles!

      1. bobbert says:

        I feel like there are 3 main plots Frankenstiened together.

        1. StarWars
        2. The Kingdom of Armenia leads a precarious life between the (much larger) Roman and Persian Empires
        3. Prometheus has stolen fire from the gods. He must be stopped.

      2. tmtvl says:

        So the plot is basically Rogue Galaxy?

        …hang on, which came out first?

  18. Christopher Wolf says:

    Dear Lord.

    I read the entire article, was reading the comments, looked at the cover image again after reading the comment about nose picking, and then realized I had played the game. Probably not the best sign….

    I got it on a Square Enix PC game sale for charity or something as part of a combo pack.

  19. General Karthos says:

    I’m looking forward to this, even though I’ll never buy the game I have nowhere near enough time to play the games I already own, let alone add to them. (I got Tropico 6 on Christmas Day, and I have less than 15 minutes on it so far.) So I’m going to sit back and enjoy this one from the standpoint of a spectator. I have no investment in the Final Fantasy Series, aside from the one game I played (FF8) decades ago. And even that was only a casual dabbling and I never finished it. Mostly I remember being awed by the graphics, and finding the cutscenes (the Witch Queen’s Parade in particular) rather fascinating.

    I also remember gun swords.

  20. Khazidhea says:

    Then earlier this year I played through FFXII again

    How much have you been up to this year already that you have to differentiate between earlier and later on in 2022! (Not intending as snark, just tongue in cheek). I’m gonna guess you played through it instead in 2021, and had started writing up your entries then as well.

  21. Mr. Wolf says:

    Shamus’ are categorised Retrospectives, but The Rocketeer’s are categorised FFXII? If in the future somebody wanted to read about FF12 wouldn’t they want to read the parallel series’ in parallel?

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