I’ve spent a lot of time pointing out when game writers break the rules of storytelling. Sometimes I feel like the storytelling police: A dull prescriptivist that endlessly harangues writers with a list of simple Do’s and Don’ts lifted from Creative Writing 101.
But look. Storytelling rules are more guidelines than laws, and I’m willing to admit that the resulting cake is more important than the ingredients that go into it. If you think a rule is getting in the way of telling your story, then you should break the rule rather than the story.
Having said that, Final Fantasy 12 breaks an amazing number of rules in its introduction.
The Rocketeer touched on this in his entry this week when he said:
The game starts out with a ton of backstory and exposition that goes on way, way too long and drops too many proper nouns.
So let’s talk about this opening…
After “Square Enix Presents”, the first words the game shows us are location titles that say:
That’s three proper nouns and a date. The date doesn’t mean anything to the player and isn’t strictly needed right now. The audience doesn’t need to memorize this number, and they certainly can’t be expected to care about the fictional calendar system you’re using. In fact, I don’t think the date comes up again. From now on, people will simply talk about time in terms of “a thousand years ago” or “six months later”.
It’s not that giving the date is strictly wrong here, it’s just emblematic of how this intro is designed. The storyteller is about to dump a lot of information on the audience, in a short amount of time, and without proper context. Some of this information is critical, some of it is fluff, and some of it won’t be important until hours later.
We’re shown a royal wedding. Then we cut to a war room and we see the good guys – or at least, the people we just met – talking about the war. Then our newly-married prince goes off to fight.
Next we get two and a half minutes of battle footage that looks rad as hell but which is actually pretty insubstantial in terms of information density. We just don’t care about these people enough to watch them fight for two and a half minutes without anything happening. Nobody has an arc yet, or goals, or a worldview we can relate to.
The Star Wars influences are incredibly strong in this game. Specifically, this storyteller has decided to embrace all of the faults of George Lucas. The original cut of Star Wars suffered from this exact problem. The opening crawl went on for ages, and then Lucas expected us to care about characters we knew nothing about. His friends had to take him aside and explain that he was doing everything wrong. Eventually they got him to chop out the extraneous details and just show the audience what was important and immediately interesting. The start of Final Fantasy XII feels like it was written by a George Lucas who never got that memo.
The intro to this game keeps slamming between these two extremes. Either it’s presenting us with dry geopolitical facts, or it’s overwhelming us with spectacle. What it needs to do is settle down and give us someone with a name, a goal, and a reason to care about them. Then the audience will be in the mood for exposition and fireworks.
It sort of does that with the prince. We see him get married, talk about the war, and then march off to battle. I don’t think that needed to take six minutes, but it does almost feel like we have a story going.
But then he drops dead, and the storyteller is back to square one. We need a new protagonist and a new arc. Maybe the princess? Are we supposed to be caring about her? What’s her deal?
So now that the audience is lost at sea and wondering where the story is and who we’re supposed to care about, the storyteller decides to drop into full-on exposition dump mode. We cut to a static shot and a narratorIt turns out this narrator is actually a character we’ll meet later. begins reading us the text on screen. This goes on for two and a half minutes.
Perhaps worried that this might still somehow be comprehensible, the narrator makes sure to deliver all of this in a dry, flat tone while embracing the rough faux-Elizabethan style used by everyone in this world that isn’t the main character, who we haven’t even met yet. Now, The Rocketeer is fond of this arty language and I can’t claim it’s bad. It’s actually pretty slick and gives the world a really nice texture. A lot of Final Fantasy games – and a lot of games in general – wind up feeling like everyone involved is from southern California. This game avoids that by embracing an anachronistic style that really makes this world feel special.
But depending on how much exposure you’ve had to Shakepeare, this might also make the language a little difficult to parse. That wouldn’t be a problem if this was just a short narration to fill in some key facts and set the mood. In fact, that would be 100% on-brand for Final Fantasy. But no, like I said: This narration drags on and on. It buries us in proper nouns. The narrator tells us about nations, leaders, geography, battles, dates, and key events.
This isn’t a simple war of Red vs. Blue where we can just file all the nouns into boxes labeled “Us” and “Them”. There are seven different locations mentioned in this opening: Arcadia (the bad guys) Landis (a little country of lesser note) Nabradia (the Prince’s home) Dalmasca (the home of our main character, when he finally shows up) Rabanastre (capital city of Dalmasca) Rozarria (a superpower in roughly the same weight class as the bad guys) and the Galtean Peninsula. (The region where the game takes place.) It’s way too much to expect the player to memorize all of it, and the game hasn’t given the player any way to figure out how important any of these individual factoids are. So while the Elizabethan phrasing is theoretically a good move, it has the added drawback of making it even harder to parse this long, boring, information-dense brute-force info-dump.
Too Much Information
If you ask me to hold two objects, then I’ll put one in each hand and everything will be fine. If you ask me to juggle twelve objects, then I’ll probably drop all of them and end up with nothing. This is the FF12 narration in a nutshell. It asks me to memorize a ton of information without giving me any context to hang it on or attempting to get me to care, and as a result the whole thing washes over me without teaching me anything.
This is something that Final Fantasy games are usually really good at! Squeenix has spent decades running circles around western developers by building their stories atop memorable, vibrant characters. Final Fantasy 7 opens with our protagonist jumping off a train to assault the evil corporation. Final Fantasy 8 begins with our protagonist and his foil duking it out in this school’s version of a lunchroom brawl. Final Fantasy 10 introduces our lead and his world by showing us he’s some sort of sports celebrity, and then the player gets involved by signing autographs. In all of these cases, we begin with a clear protagonist and we give the player control of them as soon as possible.
In FF12, we spend twelve agonizing minutes being force-fed backstory and setting details before we’re allowed to take control. And once gameplay finally begins, we’re controlling someone who wasn’t mentioned in the previous twelve minutes, isn’t part of the main cast, and who will be dead at the end of the scene.
Like I said at the start, there aren’t any hard rules in writing and you’re free to do something unconventional if it makes for a good story.
Aldous Huxley begins Brave New World thus:
A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.
That is the entire first paragraph of the book, and it doesn’t contain a single verb. One of the most famous books of the 20th century begins with two sentence fragments.
You’re not supposed to do this. Huxley is very clearly flouting the rules of grammar. I’ll leave it to the lit majors to speculate over why the author did this, but I think it’s pretty clear this was done on purpose. The important thing for this discussion is that he did it and got away with it. It’s fine. The book has its critics,I’m not really a fan either. but nobody singles out this unconventional opening as a major failing of the book.
But you can imagine how different the reception would be if Huxley broke a dozen rules instead of just the one. Bad, punctuation. incorrect Capitalization, mispelled words and incorect grammers that have maked it confusing to be readed.
The audience isn’t going to think that Aldous is breaking rules as a stylistic choice, they’re going to think that maybe the old boy should have spent some of that mescaline money on a proper editor.
This is how the intro of FF12 feels to me. This is the kind of bumbling tomfoolery I’d expect out of a modern-day Bethesda or Ubisoft title. It’s not something I’d expect from the Square Enix of 2006.
For comparison, Final Fantasy X spends its first chapter teaching us that…
- TIDUS travels to SPIRA.
- In SPIRA, he meets RIKU.
- RIKKU is an AL BHED.
- AL BHED are hated for
Each bit of information is connected to a previous bit of information, so we always have context for the things we’re learning, and these things are always relevant to what we’re doing right now. It doesn’t try to explain a religious schism between the RONSO and YEVON in BEVELLE before introducing us to our main character, because that would be batshit crazy.
But this is exactly how FF12 handles its introduction. We’re buried in proper nouns without ever being given a reason to care. It actually feels like the designer is going out of their way to make this difficult.
On my first time through this introduction, I actually got Prince Rassler and Reks confused and thought they were a single character. They’re both baby-faced boys with short white(?) hair and names that start with R that fight beside Basch. So when we got to Reks I thought we were doing a flashback. No, these two guys don’t look alike, but I thought “Oh, the pre-rendered version of this guy looks WAY better than the in-game version” and not, “This must be yet another character.”
Laugh at me if you like, but when gameplay began I just sort of assumed that the storyteller wouldn’t make me sit through twelve minutes of cutscenes and exposition and then have me play as someone that hadn’t been introduced yet.
This is not the last time I’ll demonstrate that I’m bad at parsing this genre.
Anyway, the point I’m getting at is that the game needs to…
Use Characters to Make Us Care
The thing is, we don’t need this brute-force info dump here at the start. Our alleged POV character is Vaan, and he’s a clueless street rat. It wouldn’t really strain credulity if he wasn’t totally up to date on geography and geopolitics. As we follow him around this first chapter, other characters could feed him this information organically. When he glares at some Archadian soldiers and asks why we don’t get rid of them, an adult can explain that these guys are steamrolling their way across the continent.
Vaan could learn about Rasler after we meet up with the princess later, which would improve the game immensely by giving her a reason to speak, an opportunity to express some visible emotions besides confusion and rage, and a way to bond with the rest of the team rather than her just standing around and waiting for someone to find a throne for her to sit on. Vaan could learn about Rozarria about fifteen hours from now, when they actually become relevant to the plot.Eh. Reasonable people could argue about when to introduce Rozarria. They’re in roughly the same weight class as the Empire, and you probably don’t want to wait 15 hours to introduce a force that large and powerful. Either way, we certainly don’t need to learn about them BEFORE we meet the protagonist!
The storyteller could take these twelve minutes of dry narration and space them out into little doses of exposition that appear when the audience is ready for it and has a frame of reference to hang it on, rather than having the Narrator tell us about it like he’s reading box scores. As a bonus, our cast would get a chance to talk about these things on a personal level rather than having it all recited while we stare at the world map.
But Shamus, what about the scene where Reks dies? That’s important because it sets up why Vaan hates the Empire! In the past you’ve said that the author should “do”, not “show”?
Okay, yes. Showing is better than telling, and doing is better than showing. But like, execution matters, you know? And the entire sequence with Reks is terrible nonsense.
If we’re in a hurry to “do”, then let’s skip the narrator’s history class and cut right to Vaan on the streets and have Vaan do something. We can have the Empire march into town and take control. Vaan can run through the streets and do a few combat tutorials while we scramble to reach the sewers before we get mowed down. As he reaches safety, the camera pulls back and we see the shocking and overwhelming scale of the imperial invasion.
There’s your history lesson! That’s everything you need to know at the start of the game. The Empire just showed up and nobody can stop them. We could have Reks die defending the city, right in front of his little brother. Kaboom! You’ve got a protagonist (Vaan) with motivation (save the city / avenge his brother) and a natural hunger on the part of the audience to know who these invaders are and what we can do about them. The audience will now gladly sit still for an enormous exposition dump because they have an emotional connection to the world. They want to know why this attack happened, and what we can do about it, and they’ll be glad for details that help them understand the problem.
But Shamus! Your way skips over the scene where “Basch” kills Reks and that’s super-important!
Super-important for confusing the player, you mean. Look, if you’re really in love with the Reks death scene as written, then come back next week and The Rocketeer will help you out. In any case, the point I’m getting at is that this story would be vastly improved in several different ways if we simply used our alleged protagonist for his intended purpose.
Instead this game starts off with a wedding, and some people arguing over a war table, and some battle footage, and then the game tells us that everyone we just saw is dead. Then we play through the “Reks Gets Punked by Evil Basch Comedy Hour”, and the game once again tells us that everyone we just saw is now dead. And then we cut to a street rat who doesn’t seem to have anything to do and no obvious connection to anything we just saw, and the game expects us to care.
A Boring Description of an Exciting World
Yes, the Elizabethan language is cool, and it’s nice to have a world with some layers of complexity to it. But this introduction is a disaster that bores the player up front so that it can make the story less interesting in the long run.
There’s a lot to like about this world. The city of Rabanastre feels huge and richly detailed. We see the crowds, the architecture, and the clothing, and it creates this vivid and believable world around us. The city is divided into distinct districts, from the crowded market, to the wide-open streets, to the twisting underground tunnels, to the huge gates, to the opulent Aerodome.”The Airport”.
In Final Fantasy X, the storyteller shows us five tents and expects us to believe we’re seeing a viable island culture. Luca is supposed to be this major city, but we only ever see the docks and the blitzball arena, and we’re never shown where this “city” keeps its city. But FF12 aspires to build a real world, one that’s more than a backdrop for a cast of teenage goofs and their charmingly overblown melodrama. The fact that it succeeds despite doing basically everything wrong in the introduction is, I suppose, commendable.
Final Fantasy 12 is vastly improved on a second play-through. The introduction is less bewildering and irritating once we have a frame of reference for who these goofs are and what the storyteller is showing us. But this intro breaks a lot of rules, and that makes it really hard for the first-time player to connect with.
 It turns out this narrator is actually a character we’ll meet later.
 I’m not really a fan either.
 Eh. Reasonable people could argue about when to introduce Rozarria. They’re in roughly the same weight class as the Empire, and you probably don’t want to wait 15 hours to introduce a force that large and powerful. Either way, we certainly don’t need to learn about them BEFORE we meet the protagonist!
 ”The Airport”.
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126 thoughts on “FF12 Sightseeing Tour Part 1: Revenge of the Narrator”
When you finish reading the article and go to the comment section and you see that it’s empty, the temptation to write “FIRST!!1111oneone11!!11” is almost irresistible. Usually when I read Shamus’ article, it already has dozens or hundreds of comments. No idea why not this time. Maybe it’s a timezone thing.
So let me use this occasion to give my heartfelt thanks to Shamus for all his work on this blog from a long time reader from Poland, and to wish him good health.
P.S. I hope noone made a first comment before I finished mine ;)
My God, is it 2008 again? Phew. I was worried I was getting old… ;)
In other news, I’ll agree on linking this. Specifically, reading this alongside Rocketeer’s rant; it works well.
This sort of storytelling is bad, but then Squeenix goes to the other extreme in FFXIII, foregoing exposition and leaving all the relevant information in the codex, which means you’ll be confused out of your mind if you don’t read it. And, to be clear, the codex doesn’t just work as an info dump for complimentary worldbuilding, it literally tells you major story beats and character emotions that the game will otherwise not show. Yes, you literally need to open the damn thing just to know how certain characters are feeling because the dialogue between them only serves to narrate their actions.
Well, I don’t want this comment to turn into a rant against FFXIII, so I’ll leave it here, but I foresee me coming back to compare these games yet again in future entries.
They both suffer from Noun overload though. One chooses to explain the proper nouns by introducing more proper nouns. The other expects you to read a dictionary
EDIT: And FFXV expects you to watch a YouTube series, plus a film
There’s really been a steady progression of increasingly obvious development hell in FF plots since XII, but XV is where it finally crosses the line into comedy just because the seams are so obvious. Even just looking at things like “excuses the game uses to temporarily pull people from the party”, you can see things like:
Ashe in XII: “I’m being carted off to princess jail”
Lightning in XIII: “I’m storming off because storming off and throwing tantrums is my entire character. Somehow, I am in the military.”
Gladiolus in XV: “I’m going to go…place.”
Never played this game, but this made me LOL.
I imagine it’s because 12 got a lot of criticism that they went the other way for 13. Except they went too far (and not just for the story, look at the massive open areas of 12 vs the corridors of 13, or the slow MMO combat of 12 vs the very quick paced combat of 13). Funnily enough 13 also benefits from a second playthrough so you can put things into context, so both extremes end up the same way.
I don’t think it’s that odd. Looking at just the faces in the banner picture, there is a weird…homogeny to a lot of the characters: Vaan, Penelo, Balthier and Ashe all have the same features. The same colour hair. The same dark brown eyes.
The costumes set them apart, sure, but if there’s a late-game reveal that some of these chumps are actually related, I would completely believe it.
It’s only Fran and [broody ginger-haired sword man] who look like they don’t have at least one parent in common.
Wait wait wait. The intro is 12 minutes long, then you have the section with Reks and Basch, then more cutscene…
…how long does it take from starting the game to taking control of Vaan?
Results may vary depending on how long you spend fighting guards in the Palace before leading Reks to his death, but according to my footage it’s about 25 minutes between hitting “New Game” and taking control of Vaan as he fights his first rat in the sewer.
My impression is, a lot of JRPGs tend to overindulge on exposition, droning on and on about the great crystals the keep the world together and the precious magic minerals that are the local equivalent of oil and the kingdoms and empires with names that sound confusingly similar (looking at you, Ace Combat with your Osea and Usea and Erusea that are totally different countries).
That’s why I love the Persona series. The games have their share of confusing cosmology but it’s growing on the substrate of the familiar modern-day world so the writer doesn’t have to explain the global politics before introducing us to the protagonists and their story. And all the magical stuff is revealed gradually as the player slowly (arguably too slowly) discovers the supernatural mysteries brewing under the surface while meeting the lovable characters and getting invested into the story. The introduction is usually ridiculously long — in Persona 5, you spend around five hours before settling into the main gameplay loop — but it does a good job making you care about the story.
JRPGs are hardly alone in that. Pillars of Eternity is a notorious culprit, in that you can either go in almost entirely blind if you don’t read any of the hyper-linked lore and get instantly confused (and remain so for most of the game) or you can spend hours upon hours reading hyperlinks that are all noun overloads just to get an idea what kind of character you are making. That game insists on just throwing more lore at you, often seemingly expecting that you will stop every third word to read the hyper-linked encyclopedia entry, until you either get a headache or decide that Murder Hobo is a valid playstyle if it gets you out of more conversations about this worlds particular metaphysics and their implication in how undead appear and how it relates to some machine you activated six hours ago.
Baldur’s Gate is remembered as the grandfather of modern RPGs largely because it was light on early exposition and gradually revealed more and more as it became plot pertinent. By the end game the player will likely be pretty informed on the Time of Troubles, the political situation on the Sword Coast and the schemes in Baldur’s Gate, but they are so because it came about organically through play. This allowed even casual players to get in on the fantasy (and gave them time to try and understand THAC0) instead of bouncing them off a lot of terminology they didn’t understand and couldn’t contextualize.
There were no hyperlinks in Pillars of Eternity though, Obsidian included them for the first time in Tyranny and later in PoE’s sequel, Deadfire.
I’m not sure I would describe Baldish Gate like that, I remember knowing about the Iron Throne and other organizations by reading the manual…
Reading the manual? Nobody reads the manual!
I remember when I first got Arcanum. I read the entire manual from front to end. Including the banana bread recipe. Creating a good manual is an art form in itself.
It’s only AC7 that has this problem. Usually it’s just two countries at a time – one invading, one defending, maybe a third country as an ally or wildcard. AC4 was Erusea vs ISAF, AC5 was Osea vs Yuktobania (guest starring Belka), AC0 was Belka vs The Allies. And generally you immediately care about both countries because one of them is trying to blow you up and the other is giving you orders to not let that happen. (I think literally every Ace Combat game starts with a “bomber defense” mission you learn to fly by blowing up a group of bombers attacking your airbase.)
Then AC7 decided to do the equivalent of a giant crossover event full of callbacks to past games, and suddenly Erusea, Osea, and their respective continents of Usea and Osea all ended up in the same game. Presumably who had to write that opening sequence just stared at the map and bitterly cursed the writers from 16 years ago.
I keep trying to compare this game to Final Fantasy Tactics, and try to figure out why Tactics’s opening worked and this one didn’t. There’s several similarities; an overlong Chocobo-mounted action sequence, a narrator jumping in to talk about things, lots of factions being mentioned without fully establishing the characters we’re looking at.
The big difference seems to be personality and focus. Tactics’ narrator is very clear that he’s focusing on Delita and Ramza, while 12’s seems to just be telling us about events. Gafgarion and Agrias are introducing the various factions through a clash of personalities, which 12 mostly shies away from for the length of the game. Delita shows up and does focused villain stuff, while 12 has Basch act nonsensically, and Vayne appears to do nothing at all. (Plus Tactics has that great “blame yourself or God” line, that the re-translation got rid of like a bunch of fools.)
And Ramza is still alive at the end. That probably helps.
To be fair, the opening cinematic was partially a tech-flex to feel cinematic, and to that end it actually does accomplish what the opening of a film might do: establish tone and mood. The opening theme sounds like there is ill intent on the wind as the Chocobo cavalry advances, and when they arrive at the monastery (that looks nothing like it is rendered in-game), you know something’s about to go down. The twist is that you’ve been watching the enemy the whole time and not the good guys, and your protagonist is introduced as a random mercenary rather than a major player. You’re introduced to the princess, then to the princess’ guard, then to the mercenary captain hired to guard the princess and her guard, and then, finally, to the character you control.
My problem is that it has been long enough that I can’t recall when the text-position comes into play. I think it’s before the cinematic, where a name is given to an old scholar framing the game’s story as his research into historical record and finding this Ramza fellow (that you choose to name as well as birthday, the latter of which playing into the not-really-explained-but-significant Zodiac system) whom the Church buried in their story to raise Delita as the hero. Basically, the first round of exposition is that you’re an historian some years down the line, well after the events of the game happened, discussing the real history that followed a different war than the one we’re about to talk about. The difference is, as you note, the clear focus on our two central characters, Ramza and Delita, and spending less time on exposition to get to the actual characters.
In hindsight, it’s kind of weird because you start the story, which is being told by an old man that vanishes as a narrator for the rest of the game, but then flashback to much earlier. This works in the game because it allows us an excellent tutorial that sets enough basic stakes and shows us that this Delita character is important and currently acting as an antagonist, and then goes back to when Ramza and Delita were best friends, cadets, and dealing with the aftermath of the (fifty years?) war, where soldiers came home destitute and with nothing while the nobles grew increasingly comfy and rich. Even then, the next few hours of gameplay and story are more establishing Delita’s motivations than it is the wheels that would get the political and religious institution moving towards the Lion war. True, we’re seeing how that war kicked off as well, but Delita’s motivation is the most important thing. Then, three or four hours later (depending on your play style) we return back to that tutorial mission and continue on with the “present”, which is actually the past being uncovered.
And now I desperately want this game to be remastered for PC by Squenix. Again. Because even though I’m making it sound confusing this is, without a doubt, my favorite story in a video game and I want to experience it again.
Wait, Final Fantasy Tactics was available for PC at some point? When? I know there was some kind of remake but I thought it was for PSP or Vita. Man, Tactics is the one and only Final Fantasy game that I’ve ever regretted not playing.
FFT isn’t on PC, it’s PSX, PSP, iOS, or Android only, as far as I’m aware.
Ah, everywhere but the one place I want to play it. Very well. I suppose you win again, Square Enix!
I got it on android and play it thru bluestacks
Sorry, bad phrasing on my part. It’s the wanting that is happening again. And again. And again. The desire is very strong. Sadly, they’ve not made the decision to port yet, and there’s no way I’m playing it on my phone.
I think you mean with l i t t l e m o n e y
(I will never understand why that text progresses so much slower than anything else in the entire game, lol.)
Urban legend says it was the translators complaining about their paychecks, apparently reinforced by the original not mentioning money at all.
But, according to the comment section there, it might have just been a missed tag; letters after commas get a longer delay and someone missed the reset.
Complete tangent, but when looking that up I found this series going through the translations of Final Fantasy 4. Because everybody needs another series painstakingly covering a Final Fantasy game right now.
Square has used this intro format before, back on the PSX in Xenogears. And it works far better because they were forced to be concise by the tech.
You get a brief, flashy, but seemingly irrelevant FMV (It’s not, but you won’t know that for many hours). Then you get a text scroll that drops two country names, sets up the basic conflict between them, and tells you you’ll be starting the story in a small mountain village on the border called Lahan.
Almost the same structure with 1/10th the lore dump.
Well Xenogears doesn’t have a 15 minute segment where you’d play as (let say) an earlier version of Fei in a conflict with Solaris before snapshooting back to Lahan.
Xenogears is also overal far better paced, FF12 dumb tons of lore in the first hour, then ping pong between massive info dumb follow by long segment with almost no new info given to the player. Xenogears on the regularly give new info at a pretty consistent pace (until CD 2, but that’s another story altogether).
Xenogears had a very good intro. Then again, the whole game was like 30 different intros Frankenstiened together.
Final Fantasy VI starts with the unnamed amnesiac protagonist helping two soldiers bulldoze their way through a mining town (you don’t know all the details, but the intro gets across that this a steampunk world, these soldiers are from the Empire, and it’s evil). Ironically enough, there is also a second “story” in the game that is told through an Opera about an evil country from the East taking over a country from the West and how the villains killed the female protagonist’s fiancee, who was Prince of the West. It sounds like they took this easy to understand and basic story set-up and expanded it into this entire game by making it extraordinarily complicated.
VI’s opening is really dependent on the version you’re playing. If it’s the SNES version, you just get opening credits set to some great music and the minimalist scene of some mechs marching through the snow, followed by the brief text info dump about magic and then bit of dialogue between aforementioned amnesiac and the soldiers. The PSX version however has a whole rendered cinematic with credits with flashes of characters and future moments that really mean nothing to a new player, but certainly looks cool and then drops us into the same info dump and dialogue as the SNES version. I personally prefer the SNES version’s minimalism, but can see how adding the cinematic serves as a sort of value-add to get people to buy a game they might already own.
I love Terra’s Theme! Also, although the info dump isn’t immediately relevant to the situation you are dealing with when the game opens (YMMV), it’s relevant enough for new players to see what the larger game is going to be about and how what they’re doing is going play into that.
Weren’t all the PSX remakes of SNES games bad?
“We made 3 minutes of anime cutscenes. Please, buy the game again for full price”
It’s arguable in the case of FFIV. Every single version of Final Fantasy IV released has some sort of glaring flaw, and after a lot of thought I’ve uneasily settled on the PS1 release of the game (released in a 2-pack with Chrono Trigger as “Final Fantasy Chronicles”) as probably the least worst. It’s main drawback is putting up with CD load times for a game released as an insta-loading cartridge. But it undoes the myriad dumbass changes made to the original English version of the game (aka Final Fantasy II, aka Final Fantasy IV Easy-Type), and I believe they updated the localization and added some quality of life features; the original game had no run button, I believe! Other releases screw with the sound or graphics (the ongoing campaign by S-E to remake their 2D games with iOS shovelware graphics is grounds for the Hague), and then you’ve got the DS remake which is a whole different kettle of fish.
Then you have Final Fantasy V, which wasn’t released in America until its inclusion in another 2-pack with Final Fantasy VI called “Final Fantasy Anthology.”
I agree with you about the sadness of the easy-type changes, but I think the SNES release probably has the best script. There is some censorship, but my understanding is that the new versions add a lot of the Ye-Olde-Lame-Englishe that is so inexplicably popular in games now-a-days.
The PSX remake of FFV wasn’t the worst, because it was the first English release (and Faris’ insistence on “yarr me hearties, leave no timbers unshivered” speak is quite something). FFVI had a bestiary and a quicksave function, which I liked. And the anime cutscenes of Chrono Trigger were actually pretty good (thanks to Akira Toyama).
However… the loading times were bad. And the battle transitions were so slow. Really a mixed bag, for a good SNES-style jRPG on the PSX I’d go for Breath of Fire 3 any day of the week.
I have FFVI on my Classic SNES and on my Kindle Fire tablet. The latter nicely fixes Cyan’s broken Sword Tech/Bushido skills from the original and also fills in a few Espers that were useful, but otherwise I think it’s an inferior remake. The graphics look poor, and the touch-screen controls (an unfortunate necessity, ’cause tablet) make certain segments of the game pretty difficult.
That sort of cutscene shows up in a lot of JRPGs, but usually like an hour in as you’re leaving the tutorial area. They’re very similar to anime opening credit sequences.
As someone who loved the SNES version of FFIV and views it fondly as one of the last great games of the pre”story=cutscene” era, I am horrified by “let’s add some cutscenes!” being a value add.
Would it help to know that the cutscenes are completely skippable and add nothing to the story?
No, I thought not…
Also, all this talk of remakes, and no-one’s mentioned the gimmicky gameplay additions and pointless extra content?
I remember getting the GBA version of Final Fantasy V – it came with 5 new classes(jobs) and a new dungeon!
Oh. The new jobs are only available at the endgame, and learning their abilities is time-consuming and not worth it.
Plus the final dungeon is also only available at the endgame, and it’s a pointless slog through extra-tough enemies and bosses that are harder than the final boss, completely unconnected from the story.
To me the most egregious example of this is the DS remake of Chrono Trigger.
They took what may be the last JRPG not to feature some tedious pointless grind that eclipses the playtime of the main plot, said “well, that won’t do at all” and added that and almost only that. The Lost Sanctum stands as possibly the worst dungeon I have ever experienced in an otherwise good game. https://lparchive.org/Chrono-Trigger/Update%2022/ has a decent rundown.
I played along with the “how many times through the dungeon” the first time, and guessed 20, while thinking it was ludicrous overkill. Then it turned out to be an underestimate.
At least it’s optional.
Lol, exactly. I actually played through part of it, but the part where the Nu demands you bring him food, eats it, then immediately demands different food was the point where I just ragequit the whole thing.
You could improve the opening crawl with tipp-ex alone.
At this Time, two Great Empries struggled for Dominion
Archadia in the East, Rozarria, the West.
The Invasion of the Kingdom of
Nalbradia*Dalmasca* was Archadia’s first Step in its westward March. With Lord Rasler’s beloved Homeland consumed by the Hell-Fires of War, it seemed clear that Archadia would soon mete out a like Fate to Dalmasca.
Valkyria Chronicles starts by telling you that you’re Belgium. It doesn’t start by telling you about Belgium and then explaining that you were Luxembourg, and Luxembourg’s prince was on the way to marry the King of Belgium when Belgium was invaded, also Luxembourg has now been invaded.
Scoundrel! Take that!
Now I’m wondering how awkward it would be if Vaan were to meet Aladdin in Kingdom Hearts.
Vaan is Aladdin’s Conrad Verner
Aladdin summons Genie, and Vaan responds by summoning Cuchulainn the Impure.
People talk about SqEnix all the time now-a-days, but I feel it is worth pointing out that that this was one of the first big games made after Enix bought Square.
Not entirely accurate as it was a merger. I can’t seem to find who first instigated it, but the merger didn’t occur during the time Square was in trouble. In fact, that’s precisely when Enix was reluctant to move forward with it.
Technically the original Square was dissolved, but given the Squaresoft President took the high position of Square Enix while Enix’s President took the Vice President role, it doesn’t look like it was Enix swallowing up Square. Honestly, from what I remember at the time, this was more done for Enix’s benefit since they hadn’t established as strong of a foothold in the West as Square had at this point.
Pedantry on my part, but I felt like making sure it was clear that this wasn’t a case of one outright buying the other.
Reminds me of when I worked for the Scotts corporation and their acquisition of Miracle Gro decades ago resulted in the head of Miracle-Gro running Scotts. I always thought that was odd.
So one of the interesting things about Final Fantasy XII is that it’s sometimes difficult to parse the writer from the localizer. In regards to the flowery language and different accents for each race/country, that’s due to the localization team. In their own words, though, the bestiary reads “more like a dry, high-school biology textbook in Japanese”, indicating the dialogue in Japanese is more straight-forward. Which, in many regards, has me wondering if you’d be able to do the equivalent in Japanese. Usually they’ll use certain dialects in order to get a certain feel across, and then a similar feeling accent is used in English. I think it’s Kansai dialect that’s used for those from a more rural region? Google’s not helping me much at the moment, but typically if a character uses those markers, localizers will use a southern accent when translating. For characters like Steiner in FF9 or Frog in Chrono Trigger, their original Japanese dialect was, I think, in the style of an old samurai (though I think for Frog it wasn’t consistent in Japanese? Or maybe I’m misremembering and that was a flourish added for English? I can’t even remember now).
Basically, it makes me wonder if there are notable French, English, and German accents for Japanese speech that would give a similar vibe as we have for the different accents in FFXII.
Anywho, I’m still curious how much of this is Matsuno and how much of this followed his departure from the project. I think the real issue is basically you’re starting A Song of Ice and Fire after Ned lost his head, so you first explain the situation that led to Ned losing his head, then you show Ned losing his head, and then you play as a character barely related to Ned losing his head, only to later get sucked up into the shenanigans of the war without even having a reason to jump in. Part of this is because Matsuno wanted to focus the story on a Stark, but management said “No, we need a teenage character that girls are gonna thirst over”, and so his plans got screwed up. But, as noted earlier this week and last, one has to wonder why Reks wasn’t that hottie?
This is one of those games whose development I really want to know more about, but it seems like folks are very tight-lipped for fear of making any one particular party look bad in the process.
This is something I too have wondered for quite some time. Does every language have its own sense of foreign accents, or is a language like English special because of how widely it is spoken? My first hunch is that most languages have more of a ‘regional’ sense of accents: I know that Germany, for example, has several accents based on where in the country you’re from. But then you could say the same for Great Britain, which has several regional accents of English that I would probably have trouble distinguishing as an American.
Lots of other languages have outright dialects on top of accents. Regions of Germany and other Germanic countries have lots of words that are dissimilar from High German.
(Which made the question of ‘what is Germany?’ difficult to answer in the 19th century. German nationalists argued that Dutch is just another type of German).
It’s not just German nationalists there. Dutch is one dialect of Low German, which is not called that because its grubby and peasantish but because its literally the language of coastal Germans in low-lying areas. Hochdeutsch, or High Getman, is more or less the “standard” as taught in schools today and in theory comes from the higher elevations.
Japanese does in-fact have both regional accents within the country, but also accents derived from speakers who moved outside of Japan and brought the language with them. Brazil for instance has a significant population of Japanese and Japanese descendant people due to a large emigration as fallout from conditions caused by the Meiji Restoration. The Japanese these individuals speak is often a mix of different Japanese dialects, but also influenced by Brazilian Portuguese.
The other thing to note is: Japanese can be spoken both formally and informally and has seen a lot of change in dialect over the years. So it’s not uncommon for certain game or anime characters to speak in a certain dialect or form to emphasize personality traits perceived to be related to certain regions. The other common use is in works that are set in Edo-era Japan or contain characters who act like people from that era. The language used in these works is very much a very formal version with a bunch of old-fashioned words or expressions. The equivalent of an English speaker going for a Shakespearean or faux medieval style of language full the thees and thous and whatfors, etc.
Durning WWII the US Navy taught its officers Japanese from the (ageing) emmigrant population in Hawaii. Some of those officers were sent to supervise the handover of many of the IJN ships after the peace.
The Japanese seamen found it strange that instead of barking orders at them, they spoke like unfailingly polite little old ladies.
Of course those language have regional dialects. And dialects grow with time and distance.
Since the spread of English over most of North America is quite recent linguistically speaking, most European languages are far more fragmented dialect-wise than American English is.
The different German dialects split more than a thousand years ago, which makes the extremes from the north and south mutually unintelligible. Modern mass media have levelled the differences to a large degree though, since everybody is able to understand standard German. Still, the modern dialect variety of the German language is much higher than American English and arguably higher than British English too. The same holds true for Spanish or Italian.
As an example I put the same sentence into a Low German dialect and an Upper German dialect.
In contrast to Germany, France was unified and centralized many centuries ago and the regional dialects had far less esteem compared to the prestigue dialects from Paris. Regressive language policies further destroyed much of the old dialect variety of France.
I guess my main question was, does the proliferation of regional accents inhibit a sense of foreign accents for the language? That is, when the language is already quite varied within the native populations, does further variation by foreign speakers make a significant dent in the public consciousness?
Not at all, quite the opposite actually. Foreign accents are still very distinctive. Your native accent or dialect also naturally influences your accent in a second language. If you hear a native English speaker speak German, you can usually tell if their native English is an American or British variety for example. On the other hand if you hear a German native speaker speak English you can often tell in which German region they grew up if their native dialect colours their accent in English.
I can think of no clearer example than this video of a Japanese Youtuber reacting to a Japanese immigrant Youtuber reacting to two Japanese immigrant Youtubers.
I don’t know if I would agree. The big one – yes, but there are a lot of languages that are fairly small and have had extremely strict centralization. Especially since language standardization is a big prestige project after independence.
German – Yes
Russian – Yes
Italian – Yes
Serbo-croation – Yes
I can’t think of many others. (I think it is fair to count the Iberian languages as New-World rather than European.)
I just feel like there are too many like Czech, Finish, and Greek with low variability.
I would have figured some of the small non-main languages fracture even more. There are two major dialects of Welsh, and apparently you find cases where one particularly family in a village has a different word for cows than everyone else, because their grandfather got it mixed up once and there’s not enough Welsh media for people to self correct.
I could believe Estonian has proper dialects for example (and googling it, it seems like it does)
Only dev interview I can find is this, which was made before Zodiac Age came out so could still have some face-saving going on. But, they basically say there wasn’t any behind-the-scenes drama and all the trouble came from just trying to code the game.
Finding out the SaGa guy took over made the final dungeons’ map hostility make more sense. But then I remembered FFT had Deep Dungeon where you couldn’t see the floor, so he might not be to blame there either.
But most of the Starks are teenagers, some of them not even that!
Considering that Sansa is the oldest living child of Ned in ADWD and is 13 years old, I think you do barely hit the threshold for “teenagers”, whereas the rest of the three are just flat out children. :)
Frog spoke more or less normally, Woolsey really increased the (if I may) foppishness of the character, which actually fits really well with his backstory.
Maybe a sessha here and a gozaru there, but not all the way to jidaigeki levels.
That’s kind of weird, actually. Star Wars, especially the original trilogy, is an incredibly thinly sketched setting. The first three movies tell you almost nothing about the history of the galaxy, the Empire, or the rebels. How big is the Empire? Who knows? How does it work? Who cares? How did the Emperor seize power? Doesn’t matter. We know that the Empire is bad because Darth Vader is scary, because the Emperor dissolved the Senate, and because they’re the kind of people who resort to war crimes almost by default. That’s all we need to know. The history of the galaxy isn’t hugely relevant to the plot or to any of the characters we care about and so the films, wisely, don’t really get into it. The result is that almost everything we think we know about the Star Wars universe, the history of the Republic, what various planets are like, etc., comes from sources other than the original trilogy.
So, if the original crawl was full of irrelevant exposition, then I have to wonder if the rest of the script was also full irrelevant exposition. When Luke and Obi-Wan meet Han Solo, does he provide them with his complete autobiography? When R2-D2 is playing space-chess with Chewbacca, does Han provide on overview of wookie biology? Is there an extended sequence on the Death Star where Obi-Wan reads engineering manuals aloud so that the audience knows exactly how he’s going to shut down the tractor beam?
Also, this opening intro discussion reminds of this famous Folding Ideas video on editing and how bad structure tends to irritate the audience.
But also see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olqVGz6mOVE
tl;dr the opening crawl had been cut down to three paragraphs close to the final version by the time of the shooting script, though earlier drafts really did have a long infodump at the start.
Ah, sorry if I was spreading misinformation. I don’t have 2 hours to watch your link, but I’ll take it on faith for now.
“So, if the original crawl was full of irrelevant exposition, then I have to wonder if the rest of the script was also full irrelevant exposition.”
Apparently so, according to Mark Hamill. More than once he’s talked about the dialog in interviews and how there would be these weird, incredibly verbose asides in the middle of otherwise straightforward dialog. I wish I could remember the context of the interview so I could link it. Even 30 years later, Hamill could still recite the original dialog from memory, and it was hilariously bad.
The titular line probably got cut because of stuff like that.
There’s a few interviews with MH collected here, where he talks about the specific line.
You know, Mass Effect threw tons at you and then the codex for more but started simple then expanded the universe as you saw it in action, and most of what you learned while interesting tied to the action or where you were (especially the Citadel)
Also Mass effect had the advantage of taking place in the future of our own universe ie certain things like what earth is and who the humans are didn’t need to be explained to the audience. In ff12 everything is new.
Strangely enough, it also makes it hard to connect to an analysis for the game, as well :D
Or at least it makes it hard for me. It’s why I dropped the Rocketeer’s analysis halfway through the first part (on both occasions I’ve tried to read it) – I had zero idea what he was on about, and why he was getting so worked up about it. But now that you’ve given me some context, perhaps his retrospective won’t seem as dense.*
*Although, maybe the problem isn’t so much the retrospective’s density as it is my own. After all, I’m not as smart as I look, and I don’t look very smart to begin with :D
I dunno, you’re definitely the smartest red square in sunglasses I’ve seen recently…
Ohhh, thanks! And you’re definitely the smartest-looking… misanthropically squinting yellow circle I’ve ever seen! Although I admit, I haven’t seen all that many…
I don’t know about Reks, but the Prince on the left looks like he has the body of a fit 16-year-old and the face of a ten-year-old. Watching the opening cinematic is thus pretty weird.
Shamus, you are not alone in confusing Reks and Rasler. I dimly recall my initial confused guess was that Rasler didn’t die as described and was hiding out as “Reks”. Because *obviously* no competent writer would introduce an important character, kill them offscreen, then introduce a nearly-identical character, right?
Well, I did say “competent”.
The beginning of this game is a great advertisement for why “Tropes Are Tools” is a useful bit of advice.
We’ve all seen stories before and we recognize the broad strokes of their plots. The earlier Finals Fantasy were good about plugging you into a somewhat cliched setup that you understood and then developing the world. FF6 establishes in narration text that there was magic but it faded after a destructive war 1,000 years ago, now there’s machinery and an evil empire wants to grab more power by reviving magic. Then you get introduced to your mind-controlled character (in case you missed that the empire was evil) and told that you’re going after something in a town that the empire wants. You’re not told the name of the empire, what its capital city is, or even what the name of the town you’re assaulting is. But it’s established there’s an evil empire and if you have seen a movie before you know you’re probably going to be fighting it not too far in the future. The world gets fleshed out (including with proper nouns) as the game goes, but for the first couple of hours you’re anchored by the Evil Empire trope with a side helping of lost magic/humanity possibly repeating its mistakes. You know where you are in the story.
That is not the case here.
I’m sorry, but a week later I’m still stuck on the splash image. I know this is probably cropped from a taller image but it looks like Gabranth looked at the collage of floating heads and told them, “I don’t stand out enough, insert an image of me looking like a badass next to the image of my head.”
And it’s still outrageous that Ashe is picking her nose. By all rights she should be Queen, she should have someone else pick her nose for her. Like Basch.
You see “collage of floating heads”, but I see “Guys, I just got Photoshop!”
I have issues with FFXII’s story, but this opening section does not make the list. In fact, given the story they’re trying to tell (and in-particular, it’s genre), I think this opening is highly effective.
I disagree that the story would be better if it were drip-fed to Vaan over the beginning of the game – for one it just doesn’t make sense that Vaan would be ignorant of these events: he’s not some farmer from the Shire (or a soccer player from the past), he’s a thief in the capital city whose entire (paper-thin) characterization boils down to being angry about the fairly recent events of the prologue.
If you’re going to have your story depend on geopolitics, and specific historical events, I actually think the infodump is more effective at communicating information than “organic” drip-feeding: having the player try to put the history together one piece at a time is difficult both on the player and on the writer compared to straight-forward exposition. Of course, pure infodumps would be boring and a huge violation of “show don’t tell”, which is why this game wisely combined them with visual/interactive bits with the opening cutscene and the Reks prologue.
Like, the “is this going to be on the test” screenshot has basically hardly any new information in it – it’s largely recapping and contextualizing what the player already saw in the opening cutscene, except with a map (!). (The new information is basically place names and the existence of Rozzaria) And this is… a really good thing. Yes, it makes the opening of the game longer, but repetition is the mother of learning, and if we’re going to write a plot that depends on these details we want the player to actually know this information. (And maps are phenomenal for actually contextualizing information)
Then it introduces a plot-hook: “the king goes to sign a peace treaty but he’s going to be murdered, and some people go to stop it”, and then the player is dropped into Reks’s section. We already know what’s generally going on here (the narrator just told us) – we’re reintroduced to Basch – an important character who already played a prominent the role in the opening cutscene – and we’re shown the pivotal moment in the backstory of this game.
(And yes I know, that the next section of Rocketeers essay is all about why this setup doesn’t make sense: but virtually all of that depends on later game information: the fact that later revelations make these events nonsensical is irrelevant to how effective this section is on first viewing. That’s a problem with the story, but not the storytelling)
Then back to the the narrator who again recaps and contextualizes, as well as providing a brief “narrative bridge” to the present day: Bache dead, princess dead, Dalmasca taken over, people angry at empire and Bache. All details that – other than the abject falsehoods – will be shortly reinforced in Vaan’s section.
Given the relative complexity of the story – I think this is a really solid introduction. It balances showing and telling (and is actually skewed toward “showing” on the whole), it repeats key details, and it’s relatively complex but not overwhelmingly so: “the Empire invades the Neighbor, we fight, we lose, things are made worse when some patriot murders the King, now the Empire controls our country, people are angry”.
You can argue that this is still too much complexity for a game to begin with, but I think that’s really an objection to the genre, not the story. Yes, not everyone is going to get into dense geopolitical fantasy stories, and that’s pretty clearly the sort of story this sets out to tell – but a niche genre doesn’t necessarily mean a bad story: FFT is the clear example: it’s beloved by its fans, but it’s absolutely a niche appeal kind of story. (See also Dune)
In fact, I’d argue a lot of the flaws of this game came from an awkward compromise between the dense geopolitical genre that Matsuno was trying to write and people trying to make the game more “broad appeal” – I’m pretty sure Vaan/Panelo’s true origin story is essentially someone saying “Hey isn’t this all too complex? Why don’t we add more sympathetic, relatable protagonists who can be more of an audience insert?” This isn’t the “Lucas Unleashed” version of the story – and I think it suffers for it: the same writer’s other (presumably less ‘meddled with’) works are much better regarded: FFT, Vagrant Story.
 I’d argue FFXV tried to “organically” feed the player information about the story to avoid big infodumps, and while it made for a memorable opening, the result was I never figured out the plot – and it wasn’t for lack of interest or investment or faith in the story-teller – I was super invested in these characters, but just couldn’t ever find my bearings in the overall setting/story.
I don’t think FFXV had a plot you never figured out; by the end I was fairly convinced that what I was looking at was a bunch of pieces of drafts desperately stapled together so they could kick something out the door. There’s a reason why most fans consider the game incomplete without DLC even though previous games didn’t even have DLC.
As far as Vaan knowing all this, would he? He’s just a teenager in a world with no real form of mass information outside of (I assume) journal or town crier, would he really know complex geopolitical idea beyond “empire bad”.
I’d argue cutting the entire segment in the fortress would make everything much better. Vaan certainly doesn’t know exactly what happened there and it would make for a semi effective early game twist that you could discover later on.
As far as FF15, you need to watch a movie and a mini serie to get most of the info, so it very much did not organically feed the player.
He’s an orphan thief who lives on streets of the capital city, and everything that happens in the prologue are huge events only two years distant – everyone going to be talking about the circumstances under which the king got murdered and your country got invaded, and a “street urchin” is generally the sort that’s more connected to local rumors, not less.
I have a separate one based on just the opening information; the narrator explicitly tells us that Archades wants to kill the king. That means, when Basch leads a rescue charge, then betrays us and kills the king… he… wanted to kill the king before Archades could? If we trust the narrator (and we’re in trouble if we don’t), then Basch’s betrayal makes no sense here. If not for the narrator, we could say Basch planted the rumor that it was a trap, so he would have an excuse to launch a last-second coup.
But even without that, we just had a cutscene of Basch trying to get a royal to give up in a losing battle, and killing the soldier who killed him when he didn’t. The only characterization we’ve gotten so far is how loyal Basch is, and the betrayal scene contradicts all of it. It requires future information to make sense, at which point it has other problems.
What the narrator says is “when the order made their return, a terrible revelation awaited them, the treaty would be signed in steel and writ in royal blood” – I think that does leave a bit of ambiguity about where this rumor comes from.
Yes, a few eagle-eyed players might spot the apparent contradiction between the narration and the depicted events and predict the twist (or the “untwist”?). … but “some people notice the apparent contradictions in the story and realize something before the game reveals it” isn’t exactly a flaw, either.
And, yes, the fact that seemingly loyal and heroic Basch would kill the king is a big part of what makes it a twist –
even if it turns out to be a false twist– it’s supposed to be somewhat surprising. That said, I don’t think it’s surprising to the point of incredulity: as he’s being dragged away “Basch” yells about the surrender “selling out the people of Dalmascia”. It’s easy for me to imagine Basch as a sort of uber-patriot who’s loyalty to the country even surpasses his personal loyalty to the King.
In fact, there’s a real world parallel in that when the Japanese Emperor decided to surrender to America – there was an attempted coup d’état against the Emperor in order to stop the surrender. (And this is after both atomic bombs had been dropped!) The idea that a patriotic faction might oppose a surrender even after serious defeat against a much larger power is not exactly a far-fetched scenario, especially from a Japanese perspective.
Once the narrator calls it a “revelation” I don’t think it’s ambiguous anymore. The narrator’s presenting it as a truth.
The twist would work better if we cut everything before it. Just open with Basch telling Reks they have to rescue the king from the false treaty. Then, without the Rasler scene* and the narrator’s Revelation it’s believable that Basch is a fanatical patriot who would kill the king instead of let him surrender.
*(Or reverse it; Rasler wants to retreat and Basch declares they’ll fight while the Paling still holds. Then he becomes the fanatic who fights forever, instead of the guy who stops fighting when the writing’s on the wall.)
**If we cut everything before the tutorial level.
That would be a much better story.
I think most first-time players are unlikely to remember the exact wording the narrator used to describe the events five minutes earlier. Plus it’s not like this narrator is infallible. I mean, in the next scene he talks about how Basch and Ashe are both dead. And I don’t remember if I believed that Basch was a traitor fifteen years ago… but I do remember that I didn’t buy the “prominent character has committed suicide off-camera” for a minute.
I’m not saying it’s a super hard to predict twist: I mean, I think a lot of players will be suspicious of plot point on just a base-level genre-savvyness alone. But again, I don’t think it really matters whether the player “believes” the betrayal or not – I think either way works okay for the story.
If the story contains clues that players are able to deduce something before it’s outright revealed, that’s generally a good thing not a bad thing. As long as the twist is not insultingly obvious, and I don’t think that’s the case here.
I guess my biggest problem with the twist is that it is cop-out the cuts the balls off of a morally interesting story.
“Princess Ash has to join forces with her father’s killer for the good of the kingdom” is a great story.
It is like if in Oedipus Rex right before all the shit went down, an angel was lowered down on pulleys and said, “No, wait! He only looks like your son.” Technically that would still be a twist, but you would hate the author.
Yeah, I largely agree – the “twist” is a much more potentially interesting story than the “untwist”, which is basically “the good guy is actually good, and the bad guy is actually bad”. It’s the less-interesting route they could have taken the story: though there’s still some merit to the idea of the wrongly maligned hero plot.
But my point is mostly defending the merit of the whole opening sequence – especially for a first-time player. I think, taken on it’s own, it’s quite strong, including the ‘betrayal’, even if the later plot revelations are going to undermine that point.
You know what? I agree. Move the blame for the untwist to later in the story, and I am fine with the opening.
This is a great plot hook, but can we talk about how it makes ZERO sense for the Empire to want to do this? King as honored guest (hostage) is a better outcome for them from pretty much any angle. Assassination only makes sense form the point of view of the OTHER Empire or a native Dalmaskian faction.
It is like a paint-by-numbers drawing but the guy used the wrong chart.
The game doesn’t establish it, but I can see it making sense. It’s going to be a few more posts before the relevant information comes up though.
I can’t see it helping the capitol-E Emperor in any way (subordinates obviously can have different incentives, but then you run into the problem of you are introducing internal enemy politics on top of everything else in chapter one). If you are worried about the Other-Empire intervening, a quick treaty with the existing king is a smart move. You could insist on princess Ash moving to the capitol and becoming a lady-in-waiting (hostage) to the empress if you are concerned about the King cozying up to them at a later date.
You might see it in a couple more posts; despite the information overload, there’s a good bit of plot the opening doesn’t mention.
I look forward to it. This game never made sence to me, back in the day.
“What do you mean that’s the end? It didn’t answer one third of the questions that it raised!”
“Rex, the war is all ready lost, but the new enemy general wants one or two victories of his own to help his political career back home. So, he is going to frame me for assassinating our king and accuse us of perfidy”, while not completely without historical precedent, is a really complicated setup for a first chapter.
And, “They basically succeed in doing that” is a really lame twist.
So I’ve *only* played the opening of this game– bought it for Nintendo Switch, played through the first chapter or so, only to give up because the input lag was so distractingly bad. But this opening was the only reason I even played as much of it as I did (maybe 3 hours or so)– the opening really sucked me in and got me very invested in this world/ story. In other words I fully agree with you that this opening worked extremely well (at least for me).
FWIW, I did notice the apparent contradiction in terms of Basch being shows as extremely loyal/ brave in the battle scenes, and then somehow murdering the king afterward. Definitely registered that as strange, but trusted the writer enough to explain this contradiction later. Apparently (going by comments) there’s a twist on this (which makes sense based on the opening).
But in any case, I was certainly taken in and very interested by what I saw/ played in this opening (and was very shocked when Reks– who I assumed would be the protagonist– was murdered). If it wasn’t for the ungodly amounts of input lag on the Switch port, I would’ve absolutely kept playing. Just my 2 cents
I think there’s a distinction to be made between drip-feeding information to a character and drip-feeding it to the player. And yes, I realize you’re replying to Shamus’ suggestion about drip-feeding it to the character specifically, so I’m offering an alternative. It’s not a new problem, of course, stories have been trying to figure out how to bring the listener/reader/player/etc. up to speed without having characters give an “As You Know” speech for a long time. As you say, it probably doesn’t make much sense for Vaan to have to be told that the Empire is invading, but you could write dialog with other characters such that the player picks up on it without Vaan looking stupid. I haven’t played the game, so any examples are only going off what I’ve picked up, but there’s a difference between:
Both impart the same information to the player (the Empire is invading!), but one makes the PC look clueless while the other shows them to be informed and relatively up-to-date. (Alternately: I wonder why it took them this long?/That was even faster than predicted!/I knew it was only a matter of time./etc., etc., all of which could imply slightly different things about the state of affairs.)
As for such methods requiring a little more work from the player to put together, well, sure; there’s a balance to be struck between “Baby’s First Hero Journey 101” and “Too Obtuse To Parse”, but on the whole I see requiring the player to spend at least a modicum of brain power as a feature, not a bug. There’s no shortage of mindless entertainment out there, including plenty of games…
Re: the Empire, the game kind of already does something like this between the rat fight and Vaan picking up the game’s first actual quest. His thiefing starts with a scene of some Imperial soldiers harassing a local merchant (bullying him into giving them free food), right after which Vaan pickpockets one of them and disappears into the crowd. Then there’s a followup meeting with Penelo where they have a brief argument about just how dangerous this is and whether Vaan’s bravely resisting occupying forces or just making excuses for the way he lines his pockets: https://youtu.be/wgm3XYWjxGQ?t=138 Of particular note:
Informing a city kid of neighboring wars has an easy solution; war refugees have come to the city. Get some Nabradian refugees to start, then some refugees from the border towns, and then the Empire shows up in force and the city surrenders. Backstory, main story, stakes, done.
A quibble with a throwaway aside:
Tidus wasn’t a “soccer player from the past.” Dude was a soccer player from the Matrix.
Does editing a long comment throw it into moderation? I think multiple times I’ve written long comments, edited to fix a spelling or wording, and then seen “Your comment is awaiting moderation at the top”. (I’m not 100% sure it wasn’t already in the moderation queue when I first posted it – but I don’t think it was)
Now that I think about it, FFXII feels like it has more than a little Ogre Battle blood in its veins. The factions, the politicking, and I think there are pumpkin-heads hidden in the woods somewhere…
Ogre Battle and Tactics Ogre are Yasumi Matsuno joints. I think the same artist and composer worked on both as well, bit I can’t check right now.
I guess that explains why the story feels so schizophrenic. The Ogre Battle DNA and the Final Fantasy DNA are fighting over control of the pen.
Also, I feel this is a good place to talk up how good the writing in the Ogre Battle Saga is.
Most games have really lame moral choices. E.g. “Kick puppy? (y/n)”
Tactic Ogre (OB VII) has a big choice you need to make at the end of Act I that changes all the missions that come after it for the next two acts. You have to choose between the Oathbreaker-route and the Kinslayer-route.
Every so often I wonder “Well, it’s a SP FF game that I haven’t played and isn’t completely chopped to hell(FF15) or a great idea with awful execution that’s WAY too long(FF13), maybe I should play it” and then something like this comes along and reminds me “oh….that’s why I haven’t played it”.
Seriously, I usually enjoy all the political nitty gritty shit like this but that infodump made my fucking eyes glaze over.
Is it possible to make paragraph breaks work?
Tangent, but it appears that practically every claim made in the linked video about the production of Star Wars is completely made up. The guy making the video was not involved in the production in any way, he cites exactly one book as his source, and that book doesn’t back up his claims.
RocketJump doesn’t say how he allegedly knows his facts, so at first glance they’re completely unverifiable…except that quite a lot of ink has been spilled about the making of Star Wars, with the result that they’re pretty verifiably false.
In particular, the overlong opening crawl was from the third draft of the script, two revisions before the shooting script that was given to the actors. These scripts have dates on them. Dates prior to the post-shooting screening that allegedly resulting in shortening the opening text crawl.
That is to say, the shooting script the actors were given…for the shooting…already had the shortening of the opening text crawl…which supposedly happened only after shooting was over.
So…maybe…the screening after shooting was finished happened the way RocketJump said it did…and Brian DePalma was brutal about the length of the opening text crawl, like RocketJump said…and RocketJump somehow learned this story, despite none of the people present mentioning it in any of their books or interviews…and then somebody sent the actors an updated version of the script with the shortened opening text crawl, despite the fact that shooting was, by definition, over, since the entire point of the RocketJump video was that this editing process was happening after shooting was over. And they also erroneously backdated two drafts of the script.
Or, more likely, RocketJump just made it up. He did the exact minimum amount of research to find one (out of four publicly available) previous version of the script, and then invented the entire dramatic story of the post-shooting screening and the hasty post-shooting edit of the opening text crawl.
This is coming from a very…very…long video that goes on…and on about this. Part of the reason it’s so long is that, quite unlike RocketJump, he actually says where his information is coming from.
Youtube start-end links aren’t wanting to work for some reason, but starting at the following timepoints and watching until it starts to drag mostly hits the high points.
Except, including the links gets this rejected as spam (raising the amusing possibility that your spam filter might have rejected your own post as spam if you posted it as a comment, for the youtube link), so let’s just say it’s video v=olqVGz6mOVE.
Not relevant to this post’s subject matter of openings, but relevant to whether the most important points in the RocketJump video were completely made up: The plot point that the Death Star was about to destroy the rebel base was introduced in…the revised fourth draft of the script, the one they used for shooting? Actually, no. The original fourth draft? No. The third draft, the draft with the overlong text crawl? Close, but no. Try the second draft. The notion that it was added in editing is nonsense. The script drafts have all been released (at various points). Not only was that plot point not added in editing, it was introduced considerably before shooting began.
For real fun, stop to ponder the fact that almost everything we “know” about events in, say, ancient Rome, comes from the writings of contemporary smartasses like RocketJump…the kind of writing that, at the time, could have been tracked down and determined to be completely baseless.
Eldomtom’s got that rebuttal video linked up above, it’s all good.
Reminds me of CGP Grey’s video about trying to track down the origin of the name Tiffany. TL:DW, the “oldest” version ended up being traced to a historical editor infamous in his time for inventing history from whole cloth.
Final Fantasy XIII (13 for those who don’t feel like parsing Roman numerals) had a strange way of delivering lore, as well. The game started you off with just a few characters, a clearly-understood scenario, & just enough info to go on. But as the game progressed, there were more & more questions adding up as to what was going on, why it was going on, & who was making anything happen. The game left you very confused, as nobody was explaining anything, & events streamed past the party without comment or context.
…Or at least it seemed that way. Periodically, the game would tell the player that the Codex was updated with new information. It never MADE you look at it, & it was easy to forget that it even existed, but the Codex was still sitting there, quietly getting updated with each new cut-scene, each new area, each new boss fight. It would even overwrite some of the previous text, revising it with the state of the world as your party currently understands it, which may not be the absolute truth.
And the lore of FNC (Fabula Nova Crystalis, the overarching sub-series name for the world in which FF13 is set) is DEEP, explaining everything in meticulous, granular detail, laying out the struggles of the gods, the fal’Cie, the l’Cie, the Cieth, the eidolons, the humans, the schism between Pulse & Cocoon, etc. This is not a world that is a mile wide & an inch deep, like FF12. The world of FF13 was clearly made to support multiple games’ worth of plot, & it shows.
But you’d never know it from just playing FF13 casually, just going through the required story beats & no more. The Codex rewards those players who seek it out, who read it & absorb its richness, but for those who don’t, the story barely holds together enough mandatory story to hold together, let alone be an effective narrative in its own right.
I don’t know if I’d say that FF13 handled its story objectively better than FF12, but it was certainly a different approach. FF12 forces every player to soak up its lore, or at least let it wash over them, while FF13 tucks its lore away into a hidden corner of the menu, letting the player come find it, if they even know its there. They are two radical, diametrically-opposed ways of dealing with exposition, & I can’t say that either one worked, really. Clearly something closer to the middle ground between them would be the ideal sweet spot.
Went back to reread this post. This post obviously came before it, but it reminds me a LOT of the issues of the Flagsmashers in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. The story tries to bend over backwards to pretend these are just good-hearted idealists who went just a little too extreme, but their motivations are murky and the behavior of their leader is atrocious. The last five minutes of the show tries to spin them in a positive light and fails miserably.
In a film, often, the opening shot tells you what the story is about. Here, the first shot of the game is of a large street with many diverse people wandering about doing people things, then the scene goes to some people who are socially important to this society, and then it then focuses on politics. If we take this to establish what the story is about, then the story is about society, and from what I played of the game (I didn’t get far into it, so I could be wrong) that seems to be true. The game seems to work at its best when it focused on those things. People often complain about Vaan being the protagonist and say that either Balthier or Ashelia should be the main character because they have more to do with the story; given the intro, this is probably because they are socially important.
I remember going around Dalmasca after each story event to get all the comments from npcs because that gave a good feeling for the attitudes of the city, what opinions were popular and what opinions were not, and so would feel like a real society reacting to events. The society and its major happenings seem to be what the author wants to focus on and is where their good storytelling is, so if we start by focusing on Vaan, as you suggest, then that wouldn’t give an accurate picture of what the story is about, or was intended to be about.
This could be done more elegantly than a pileup of proper nouns, but I don’t think that focusing on a specific character would actually help set the priorities right. Hell, they try to do that, unsuccessfully, with the character that dies, and I suppose he dies to shift the meaning off the characters again.
The game wants you to think it is about society &c, but it is really about magic rocks.
All the stuff with the people of Dalmaska, the other empire, politics, and a hundred other interesting plot hooks never goes anywhere.
Is this after the point that the story fell apart? I read The Rocketeers analysis when it was up on the forum, so I know the problems reach critical mass at some point and plot collapse happens. I remember the conflict at the end revolved around
a rebellious skybeing that wanted to take over because… the sentient species of the setting, I think, couldn’t govern themselves well and had all these wars, or something along those lines, which does feed into the story being about societies, even if not from the angle the story starts at, but I don’t remember magic rocks.
I think my ideas about this game are predicated on the director leaving at some point, so when the people left had to try to tie it all together to get it finished they let the central ideas become confused to try to finish it. That and compromises with normal Final Fantasy tropes. I think I alluded to, and misused the concept of, authorial intent in my original comment to try and separate what the game was originally going to be about with what the game ended up being.
It’s a good idea for the plot, and exactly the opposite of what’s happening in game.
The ending felt incredibly “we’re out of time” to me, but thinking about it, there’s a lot of voice-acting. I’m sure the very final level was cut for time, considering it’s made out to be a huge place and in-game it’s just a hallway, but I have to assume the plot was meant to end the way it did.
From what I remember, throughout history the gods have tired of the wars of mortals and have periodically chosen a mortal champion, given him a really cool magic rock and the mandate of heaven, and told him to put an end to the strife and make himself universal emperor.
This time, one of the gods has become disillusioned and decided that this is unjust. He has begun teaching a man called Cid the secrets of MAKING magic rocks. This threatens to permanently change the relationship between gods and men by depriving them of their big trump card.
To give the game a little credit, it explores the idea of “Hey, what Prometheus is doing is not so different from the old way!”
But over all, the magic rocks sub-plot swallows the second half of the game, which is all manufactured-netherite-this and manufactured-netherite-that.
Eh, I don’t know about that one. The mark of what a game is about is usually its sidequests, and most of FF12’s sidequests are about looking for things in the wilderness. I mentioned the merchant Migelo up top, and how Migelo stops interacting in the plot nearly immediately; if we were trying to focus on society we’d have more focus on characters like him*. 12 is very top-heavy.
*(Like in Tactics! We’ve got our noble brothers, then Ramza and Alma of the second marriage, our low-ranked nobles like Algus, our commoners who serve the nobles like Delita and Teta, and at the bottom, the Death Corps, commoners who don’t serve the nobles and are collapsing under the weight of their desperation.)
That’s a good one. I’ll have to keep that in mind.
I recall thinking “what is this BS” when Darth Vader told Luke he was his father, so I guess I would have thrown up my hands in disgust/despair sometime during the starting cut scenery of this game.
Then again, extremely complex plots of many factions, secrets, betrayals, face-heel turning and whatnot seem not uncommon in the CJK region, so it might be par for the course to keep these things straight, really. Git gud, Cubic.
I just wanted to point out that pretty much everything from the youtube video “how star wars was saved in the edit” is incorrect. The extraneous scenes in the beginning of the movie were not put there by Lucas. George Lucas wanted to focus on the droids. He was told that he needed additional background scenes for the human characters. Cutting the additional scenes restored the film to how George Lucas originally wrote it.
The early cuts of Star Wars were not edited by George Lucas. Whereas the released version of the film had Lucas as one of the main editors. That youtube videos narrative (that Lucas was responsible for the problems with the early cuts of Star Wars, and then other editors came in and saved the movie) is completely backwards. Nobody really understood what Lucas was doing, because nothing like this had been made before, so he was pulling his teeth out trying to get people to actually do what he wanted them to do. The final cut is much more in line with Lucas’s vision than the early cuts (because Lucas was an editor on the later cuts, but not the early cuts.)
The claim that the final battle wasn’t going to involve an attack on the rebel base is completely nonsense disproved by dialogue within the movie. If anyone cares, there is a massive like 2 hour video called, How “How Star Wars was saved in the edit” was saved in the edit (sort of, but not really) that debunks all this nonsense.
There’s tons that could be said about the problems with that video, I mean just another one off the top of my head is how they had to cut one of Luke’s trench runs do to running out of time and money. It wasn’t a change in the edit, it was never filmed in the first place. And narratively it could also be strong to have Luke fail the first run with the targeting computer, and then attempt a desperate final run without the computer. Regardless, it was not an editing decision, because they didn’t film it.
My guess is that because of the problems with the prequels people have retroactively decided that Lucas must not be responsible for the success of the early star wars films. This also extended to The Empire Strikes Back where Lawrence Kasdan is given far too much credit for a script largely written by Lucas. Lucas is not credited as a writer because he donated his credit to Leigh Brackett in honor of her death.
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You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>
You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?
You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.
You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!
You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>