So with the entire setup of the game thoroughly fistfucked by our party’s newest addition, our heroes steamroll another non-story-pertinent boss and are spat out into the desert just east of Rabanastre.
Here, we smack down some cockatrices. What is a cockatrice? I’ll let the game tell you.
“Lo, the mighty cockatrice, proud-feathered sphere, known as much for its ill humor as its dire rotundity. The great naturalist MerloseAn obvious name reference to Vagrant Story, but not the same character; the events of Final Fantasy XII are ancient by the time of Vagrant Story. once remarked: ”…live they in the sands and other arid climes, whereabouts they moveth in a rolling fashion most peculiar. Subsist they principally on small creatures and vermin &c., for the incapacitation of which they disgorge a sticky saliva, thence devouring captured morsels only when appetite moves them. Swollen sacs containing airs are found under the surface of the skin, these lifting the creature upon drafts unseen, whence to espy suitable prey.”
The writing in this game is in this faux-Elizabethan style that’s fancy enough to sound period-appropriate but not actually too archaic in vocabulary. Everything in this game, the dialogue, the item descriptions, flavor text, bestiary entries, is in this style, and I goddamn love it. It’s very nearly as endearing as the accents in Chrono Cross or Fallout 4. Actually, the only characters that don’t speak this way are Penelo and Vaan, because being disappointingly incongruous is their entire character concept.
I admit a personal weakness for it, but even beyond that it really does rattle me how much attention to maintaining this air the game goes through, and how it packs flavorful writing into every nook and cranny it can spare. See, FFXII was born feet first, and that experience (and the oxygen deprivation) informed the rest of its life. Even when games have good writing, they tend to focus on the structure and large strokes, and it’s rare that they have so much time to spend on the little touches. FFXII took a big ropy shit on its story, narrative, themes, and characters, and then blew all its spare effort on tiny setting details and flavor. Every NPC has a line or two about the setting or their motivations, every location has a history behind it, every throwaway loot item has an origin and purpose, all related in that pitch-perfect antique style.
This game may have put most of its themes in the food processor and left the thing on fucking purée, but maybe the only one that they really nailed is that humans, for all their power and ambition, are small and short-lived. They share a gigantic world with things far, far older and grander. The writing, and the way in which it props up the setting, has a two-fold purpose, then: it makes the world feel larger than its playable borders. It creates the illusion of purpose and motion where there isn’t. (The open world helps a lot too, but I’ll dive into that later.) When you walk into some dusty crypt, the walls give off the sense that they’ve stood long before you were born and will endure long after you die, completely indifferent to your passing. When you hunt down some powerful creature, there’s a palpable sense of having found out something rare and truly mighty, and killing it carries a weighty feel of finality. The sum of these thousand small touches is a sense of an ancient but living history, whose surface we can only tap at, the contents and actors of which would raise our hair and baffle the limits of our conceptions. In short, it feels Ivalician.
But Hiroyuki Ito just can’t raise wood if he isn’t fucking up something that could have been decent, so of course a mighty portion of interesting tidbits are walled off in the most tedious and bass-ackwards way they could justify: the bestiary. Sure, of course the bestiary makes sense as a spot to cram flavor text… for monsters, sure. You get that above description for cockatrices after you bring one down, same as for any other creature in the game. But if I wanna know more about the hot patch of dirt west of Rabanastre, I arbitrarily have to kill eight more of them. Getting these secondary bestiary entries is time-consuming, and of course there’s no indication which ones are actually worth finding out. Maybe it’s the flavor text for the area you’re in. Maybe it’s a hint at what kind of rare loot that enemy carries, or maybe it’s a completely unhelpful allusion to how to unlock certain bazaar goods. (Bee tee dubs, bring a raincoat once I go off on the bazaar, it’s gonna be a fucking Gallagher show.) So in practice, one either spends a billion goddamn hours killing the sixth palette swap of the wolf-model to find a blurb about how platinum armor fucking sucks, or disregard the entries and miss out on all the decent flavor text that would otherwise round out the fourth featureless desert you’ve slogged through.
Why would they do this shit? Well, allow me to roll out the old standard: it made sense at one point in development, and stuck around after it stopped making sense. According to the game’s executive producer, the game started as an MMO, at least in its earliest stages. Now, for an MMO, this makes a lot more sense. MMO’s, rightly or wrongly, tend to offload a lot of their setting details into out-of-the-way places to allow people to look for them if they want, while letting everyone else get on with the game to make things more accessible. Since grinding monsters is the oil of the MMO’s rotary engine, doling out this info after some mild grinding would actually be pretty refreshing: kill ten wolves, get some flavor text, or some pointers about rare item locations, or a crafting recipe involving goods dropped from that particular creature. Actually, there are a TON of things in this game that make more sense if you picture them in the context of an MMO, and FFXII has been described by many, many people— including yours truly— as feeling like a “single-player MMO.” I’ll try and point out these quirks as I come to them.
After getting back to Rabanastre, Basch runs off on his own to link up with the Resistance. Yes, this is like John Wilkes Booth traveling to Washington, D.C. and linking up with the Secret Service. Fran and Balthier run off to do… I can’t even fucking imagine. They aren’t romantic, and getting conversation out of Fran is like juicing a walnut. I can only imagine they just sit at the bar while Balthier cracks wise to himself and Fran gets drunk off her ass.
It suddenly occurs to Vaan that the crystal he stole is probably cursed as shit and he should probably chuck it off an embankment and never stop running the other direction. On the other hand, being faced with life in prison has finally made him realize that he might not want to lose his virginity to a pack of starving bangaa, so he runs off to find Penelo and show her a crystal the size of her head. Fortunately for those bangaa, it would seem she’s not been seen around lately, which shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise considering she was last seen openly consorting with thieves and revolutionaries.
One of Vaan’s gutter rat friends suggests that he go see Dalan, an idea Vaan immediately warms up to. I can’t blame him; the old man gave him a map and key to one of the richest treasures of the Galtean Empire in exchange for some tourist junk. At that exchange rate, he might could trade up the Goddess Magicite for the Lunar Whale from FFIV, or a decent voice actor.
Dalan is impressed enough by the stone to promote Vaan to his lead errand-runner for the moment, narrowly edging out Kytes (Vaan’s peasant friend from earlier) for the privilege of Fed-Exing weapons to some terrorists. Holy shit, Dalan, if robbing a palace of eons-old magic superweapons in the middle of a combined land/air battle and escaping the most notorious prison in the nation is what it takes to secure your trust, what the fuck kind of legendary bullshit is Kytes getting up to off-screen while I’m getting my ass kicked by chickens in the desert? He becomes a mage in the sequel; maybe he’s running Dalan’s magicite racket through the Ozmone Plain for him.
A short trip through the sewers and Vaan arrives at the Resistance hideout, where Dennis the peasant and his buddies are busy arguing the shocking revelation that Basch might be innocent. It would appear that Basch, as soon as he was out of our sight, sprinted through the streets of Rabanastre screaming his identity and blowing the lid off the Empire’s betrayal in every alley and doorway. Given the events that will take place in Bhujerba, this isn’t actually that farfetched, and is depressingly likely to have worked smashingly.
Flush with success, Basch chooses this moment to stroll right into Revolución HQ, where their interim leader, an old friend named Vossler Azelas, welcomes him as warmly as circumstances allow. Peasant #3 points out that if Basch is telling the truth, then Reks must have been lying, corroborating that the conspiracy really did hinge on the word of a single soldier in the midst of a hallucinating, wasting death of sepsis. Vaan chooses this moment to begin speaking very loudly and angrily, while carrying a sword, in the middle of a pack of paranoid revolutionaries who don’t know him.
Now, Dalan wanted that weapon, a sword of the defunct Order of Dalmascan Knights, delivered to Vossler to “remind him of what it once meant.” This is something to keep in mind, but for now Vossler merely yanks the sword from Vaan’s hands without comment and tells Basch that as far as he’s concerned, Basch is still a traitor and everything he claims is a lie. Nevermind the fact that Basch and Azelas were both knight captains,I couldn’t confirm if Azelas was also a general in the Japanese translation; if Vossler is a captain in both versions, this would naturally have made him Basch’s subordinate in the original translation. led the assault on Nalbina shoulder to shoulder, and would have been privy to the same information beforehand. Vossler should never have believed the ridiculous conspiracy in the first place, but especially not now that it’s been explained in plain terms to him.
Basch suggests that rescuing their leader, Amalia, might be of some importance to Vossler whether or not he’s ready to trust Basch again. This stings Vossler pretty sorely, but he retorts by pointing out that the Resistance is still hurt very badly from walking into a trap once, and any attempt to rescue Amalia would be even more likely to backfire on them, implicitly accusing Basch of being the one who would sell them out if they attempted such a thing. Regardless, he decides to let Basch merely walk away with little more than the threat that they’d be keeping an eye on him. While this also doesn’t make logical sense, for once it’s a decision I can easily chalk up to Vossler’s conflicted emotions. That, or the Resistance simply doesn’t have a cage mighty enough to entrap fon Ronsenburg’s fantastical cojones. Vossler chucks the Knight’s sword back to Basch in contempt,Symbolism! Foreshadowing! and with it he and Vaan leave before things get even uglier.
Once outside, Basch is surprised to learn Vaan has met Amalia, which raises an important point: motherfucker, how do YOU know Amalia? The Resistance sure as shit didn’t tell you about her, you had no possible way of hearing about her while rotting in Nalbina, and you wouldn’t know her by her alias anyway; you’d have simply known her as Ashe, what with having known the Royal family personally.At Nalbina, Gabranth teases Basch with news of Amalia’s capture, implying that they both know Amalia’s identity. I suppose it’s possible Ashe was already using Amalia as some sort of Secret Service codename before Dalmasca’s fall, but clearly I’m not following the logic here. This brain teaser aside, Leia asks Artoo to take him to Han and Chewie, claiming he needs to fly somewhere.
On the way, Basch stops to gawp at the crowd of homeless orphans, which gets Vaan talking about his shitty life. It’s actually a good little scene; Vaan beats around the bush a little before admitting he doesn’t think Basch could have killed Reks, forgiving him and apologizing for treating him like an asshole. Once inside the cantina, Migelo (the bangaa that uses Vaan, Penelo, and the other street rats as cheap labor) is dressing down Balthier, who unfortunately has no shits to give. It turns out Penelo really was taken captive on account of her momentary acquaintance with Balthier and co., but not by the Empire; it’s Ba’Gamnan, the bounty hunter, who has set an obvious trap at the floating sky-city Bhujerba with Penelo as hostage. Nevermind the fact that Balthier doesn’t actually know or care about Penelo.
It’s likely the reptiles would have just gotten bored and eaten her while Balthier got super wasted in various Ordalian bars if Vaan hadn’t wandered in during that very conversation and demanded Balthier take him there to sort it out himself. In addition, it seems Bhujerba was Basch’s intended port of call as well! Balthier is doing his best to tell them all to kiss the palest cheek of his bony ass when what should Vaan offer in payment but— that’s right!— the Goddess Magicite! Fran facepalms as hard as she fucking can, but Balthier relents and the plot hook is grasped by one and all.
Which is to say I immediately ignored it to fight the world’s angriest chicken. The less said about my girlish screaming and the many retreats which ensued, the better for all of us.
Balthier puts on his most punchable smugface as he shows off his airship, the Strahl, to the wannabe sky pirate Vaan. Once aboard, Fran points out that the quickest route to Bhujerba is over Dorstonis. Dorstonis is the “sky continent” comprising Bhujerba, so this is like saying the fastest way to Manila is through the Phillipines. Basch is concerned that, since Bhujerba gained much of their favor with the Empire when their Marquis Ondore urged everyone to stop fighting after the King was assassinated, they might then lose that favor if knowledge of Basch’s survival or the conspiracy became common knowledge. Now, that doesn’t really make sense— there’s no reason you would turn on an ally/vassal and provider of valuable natural resources if someone figures out that the bullshit they backed you up on was, in fact, bullshit— but keep it in mind anyway.
Meanwhile in a Bhujerban warehouse, Penelo is indeed held by Boba’Gamnan and his cronies. Penelo’s (true) claims that she doesn’t even know Balthier ring hollow when they get word that he flew right off once the ransom reached his ears. He points out that they need Balthier alive, but Ba’Gamnan’s weapon of choice is a freakin’ chainsaw and he states his intent to kill Balthier in his very first on-screen appearance, so I’m not sure how serious he is about that. I’ll level with you, he may not actually be a very good bounty hunter given that he never catches the only bounty we ever see him hunting.
Fun Facts with Rocko™! This little scene of Ba’Gamnan and a tied-up Penelo was cut from the Japanese version of the game. Yes, you read that right! The Japanese version cut a scene featuring a bound underaged girl while the Western releases kept it. Is there anything this game can’t do backwards?
Apparently, the scene seemed too evocative of the graphic serial murders of Tsutomu Miyazaki; although his horrific crimes had taken place between 1988 and 1989, Miyazaki was back in the news in January 2006, two months before the release of Final Fantasy XII, as the Japanese supreme court upheld his death sentence. As game developers, Square-Enix may have been especially sensitive to these allusions as Miyazaki’s killings had been attributed to his otaku lifestyle, branding him “The Otaku Murderer” and spawning a moral panic against hobbies like anime. Tsutomu Miyazaki was hanged in June 2008.
Oh, I’ve just gotten an update! Fun Facts with Rocko™ has been canceled forever.
The Travelog continues next week.
 An obvious name reference to Vagrant Story, but not the same character; the events of Final Fantasy XII are ancient by the time of Vagrant Story.
 I couldn’t confirm if Azelas was also a general in the Japanese translation; if Vossler is a captain in both versions, this would naturally have made him Basch’s subordinate in the original translation.
 Symbolism! Foreshadowing!
 At Nalbina, Gabranth teases Basch with news of Amalia’s capture, implying that they both know Amalia’s identity. I suppose it’s possible Ashe was already using Amalia as some sort of Secret Service codename before Dalmasca’s fall, but clearly I’m not following the logic here.
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