FF12 Sightseeing Tour Part 2: The Live-Action Cartoon

By Shamus Posted Friday Jan 21, 2022

Filed under: Retrospectives 87 comments

This game continually throws me off-balance because it keeps shifting between styles of storytelling. Sometimes we’re doing the Serious Worldbuilding For Grownups, and sometimes we’re in lighthearted cartoon action-adventure mode.

I am fine with either of these, but I really needed the storyteller to pick one and stick with it. Which brings me to the “prison break” that The Rocketeer talked about this week

If you wanted to make a fun, un-challenging version of this game, then you could simplify everything. Rather than asking the player to remember that Rabanastre is the capital city of Dalmasca, you could just say that Dalmasca is a city-state. Most of the other countries / capital cities could be similarly merged. This would greatly reduce the number of proper nouns the player has to keep track of. You could take all of that front-loaded political setup and cut most of it, and move the rest to the second act. This way, the world would be simplified into “Bad Guys vs. Good Guys” rather than “Arcadia versus Landis, Nabradia, Rozaria, and Rabanastre of Dalmasca on the Galtean Peninsula”.

But this writer doesn’t want to make a cartoon world. They want to make a world brimming with verisimilitude. It needs to be large, complex, and nuanced. Just like the real world.

Fine. Commendable even.

But then our heroes get captured and thrown into a free-range “prison” that wouldn’t feel out of place in an episode of Phineas and Ferb.

A Prison for Your Mind, but Not The Rest of You

Oh hey. Here's an unsecured, unguarded room full of weapons. OUR weapons. What luck!
Oh hey. Here's an unsecured, unguarded room full of weapons. OUR weapons. What luck!

Despite being in “prison”, our “heroes” are allowed to hang out together, they can wander around freely, and their gear is stored in an unguarded side-room along with their priceless MacGuffin. The bad guys show up and loudly reveal their intentions and plans within earshot of our heroes, who can then leave the prison by just… walking out.

Oh, and on the way out they just happen to bump into the most sensitive political prisoner of the Archadian Empire. By accident. His keepers just happen to show up and deliver a villainous monologue to explain his current predicament for the benefit of the audience. And then they depart, leaving him – a political prisoner who they have no reason to keep alive – completely unguarded. The party is able to walk right up to his cage and have a chat with him, and nobody seems even a little nervous that maybe there might be some guards or soldiers around. Even better, this prisoner is suspended over a trap door to hammerspace that allows the party to effortlessly vanish from the guards.

The prisoner is Basch, who betrayed the good guys in the opening cutscenes. Except no! That was his evil twin! Now let’s walk out of here through this passage that nobody bothers to guard because it’s haunted by skeletons.

Oh, but this is a super-serious world for grownups and you should totally be willing to absorb all of these Silmarillion-level setting details and all of these dates and geography, and shame on you for wanting the author to keep things simple for your dumb ass.

You Can’t Dumb it Down, Because It’s Already Stupid

Yeah, the classic twins gag. Only instead of Good / Evil we're Unlucky / Inept.
Yeah, the classic twins gag. Only instead of Good / Evil we're Unlucky / Inept.

This is my main gripe with this story. It is complex, challenging, brimming with detail… and (occasionally) too stupid to think about. It doesn’t just invite your curiosity, it demands it. It demands that you put in the effort, that you pay attention, and that you should memorize lots of proper nouns even if the author isn’t coaxing you along with cheap tricks like “stakes” and “emotional investment”. But then once you finally get this giant mass of data into your brain and hammer it into some sort of shape so that you can follow the arguments everyone is having about who was betrayed by what evil twin in the name of which convoluted scheme to enact a plan to accomplish something that was going to happen anyway…

Once you put in the work and sort it all out, you realize none of it makes any damn sense.

Final Fantasy X also had a cartoon dungeon, but that game was much more whimsical in its construction and the story ran on hyperactive teenage emotions.  This story wants to be taken more seriously. It asks more of the audience, but the plot still turns on these absurd cartoon elements that now feel completely out of place.

Now, normally I just shrug and talk about the sins of letting some rank amateur write a AAA videogame. But that’s not really fair in this case. Yes, this story has some alarming shortcomings in terms of logic, tone, pacing, presentation, and themes. But I have to say I agree with Rocketeer’s appraisal. This feels less like the work of a hack, and more like the product of a tumultuous development cycle.

We’ll come back to this topic later in the series, once we have a few more chapters under our belt.

Popup Boss Fights

Ah, the classic 'fire elemental in the shape of a tentacle horse that lives in a sewer' trope.
Ah, the classic 'fire elemental in the shape of a tentacle horse that lives in a sewer' trope.

Another curiosity with the structure of this game is how many of the bosses seem to come out of nowhere, particularly in these first few hours of the game.

After meeting up with Balthier and Fran in the palace, our heroes fall off of Fran’s crystalpunk hoverbike and into an extended sewer level. While dicking around in these sewer tunnels, we suddenly run into a giant slime monster. What is this thing? Is this a creature of legend? An escaped pet? A normal waterway hazard?

I have no idea, because nobody comments on it. You fight it, the music plays, the team poses up a storm for the invisible camera, and everyone gets on with their day. All without a single word to acknowledge the encounter.

Then three minutes later, we fight a giant flaming horse. Again, there’s no sense of buildup. Balthier doesn’t warn us that oversized flaming horses are an ongoing problem in these waterways. Fran doesn’t sense a disturbance in the Force ahead of time to set the mood. You just walk into a large chamber, the boss pops out, you kill it, and then Vayne shows up and captures you in a cutscene.

This waterway section is about half an hour long, so it’s really weird that we have two different boss fights here at the end, just a few minutes apart.

Firemane readies bushfire. Oh no! Bushfires are obviously a huge danger in caverns of water-soaked stone.
Firemane readies bushfire. Oh no! Bushfires are obviously a huge danger in caverns of water-soaked stone.

Then later we’re escaping from prison with Basch and we once again find ourselves in another labyrinth of tan bricks. And at the end of the passage, you suddenly have to fight a giant mechanical spider.

Isn’t this curious? The rest of the game has us exploring the map, hiking across continents and seeing the world. But here in the first few hours of the game nearly all of the actual gameplay takes place in this weird pocket dimension of endless sewer levels. These sections end in boss fights that happen without any buildup and without a single line of dialog acknowledging that they happened.

(Looking ahead, the next gameplay section is another indoor dungeon in the Lhusu mines, although that sequence ends with a story-relevant boss. So we’re not quite into the “open” part of the open world just yet.)

My suspicion is that these endless tunnels and abrupt boss fights exist to patch over a hole where some other content was changed or cut.

After this point, most boss fights will make a lot more sense. They’ll either be named high-ranking agents of the Empire, or they’ll be “demons” guarding specific plot-relevant treasure.  The bosses will occupy tombs and fallen temples, rather than inexplicably haunting the city infrastructure like the aforementioned fire horse.

I don’t know. It’s weird.

 


From The Archives:
 

87 thoughts on “FF12 Sightseeing Tour Part 2: The Live-Action Cartoon

  1. Syal says:

    Of note; we were captured in Rabanastre, then locked up in Nalbina. Meaning the Empire carted us to a different city, then carted all of our equipment to that city and left it right next to us.

    We don’t actually kill the fire horse; it turns back into the ball it showed up as, and escapes. I don’t know if it comes back as a Hunt later, but people talk like you killed it and the plot is done with it.

    1. Retsam says:

      When you beat the giant slime, the other boss near the end of the same dungeon, it also doesn’t die, but slinks off back into the water supply. I was hoping we’d get some line from Balthier like “remind me not to drink the water here”.

      1. Syal says:

        …I’m having a laughing fit at someone seeing this slime escape into the trough and saying “that’s it, I’m never drinking sewer water again”.

    2. ContribuTor says:

      What’s amazing is the magic maguffin is there. You know, the one that was supposedly palmed off to an “official” at the time of the arrest. The maguffin whose possession is the only actual evidence against us. They have that? They know it’s ours? And they brought it down to the prison with our other possessions, rather than lock it in the super secure magical artifact vault instead?

      1. bobbert says:

        I keep reading that as ‘magic mcmuffin’.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          I’m lovin’ it.
          It’s the tastiest macguffin yet!

  2. Daimbert says:

    Is it just me, or does the guy on the right in the top image (Balthir?) look an awful lot like Luke Perry (who I think based a lot of his look on James Dean)?

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Excellent, we have another name for the Simplified Version With More Memorable Names of this game’s plot.

      I’m excited for the adventures of James Dean, Bunny Girl, Street Rat and Lady Friendzone.

  3. Michael G says:

    You know what would have been an interesting twist? If it turns out Basch actually did kill the king because he thought he betrayed his country. None of the ridiculous twin stuff and none of the dumb conspiracy.

    1. bobbert says:

      Yeah, I think the consensus from the other thread was for it.

  4. ContribuTor says:

    I’m sorta surprised that, for the first sewer level, they didn’t have you drop the Maguffin, and have fire horse pick it up and run away.

  5. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    I hate people who adopt flaming foals just to dump them in the sewer when they get too big…

    1. BlueHorus says:

      A Fire Horse is for life, not just for Christmas!
      Why won’t people do their research before adopting a pet that need fire-proof bedding?

      1. ContribuTor says:

        Also, they’re considered an invasive species. They’re just not native to grimy sewers, and the local ecosystem isn’t equipped to handle them. I know some people like the idea of setting a wild creature free, but it needs to be in an environment that it’s adapted for.

    2. Henson says:

      The city tries to keep such monsters out of the sewers, but foals rush in.

  6. Trevor says:

    This has to set a record for earliest prison level in a video game (not counting games where you start in prison and the game is breaking you out).

    Prison levels are a trope and tropes are tools. Putting characters in a prison situation lets the writer explore how the characters respond to defeat, injustice, hopelessness, powerlessness, and boredom. The happy-go-lucky character that seemed irrepressible suddenly becomes catatonic as they are forced to deal with the sound of their own thoughts. That’s an interesting development that shows us something new about the characters. But in this game we’ve just met these characters and so have no baseline to compare them to. We can’t appreciate any deviation from the norm because we don’t know the norm. If this scene were placed a little later in the game we could have those character moments.

    Of course the game isn’t interested in this. I suspect it throws you in prison because the writer wants to drop the Basch/Evil Twin plot point and he’s in prison so the only place the party could encounter him is in if they were in the prison as well, so in you go.

    1. ContribuTor says:

      I think the easiest fix here is that you’re not in prison – you’re wanted for questioning. They don’t know for sure that you’re the thieves (I mean, how could they? Nobody saw you). But you being observed exiting the sewers that we know the thieves came through is suspicious. You’re not locked up because you’re not yet charged with a crime, but they expect the magical door and the fear of the guards will keep you from wandering around. Maybe even have the officer assigned to question the party get called away for some other emergency.

      There. Now you have a reason to be here, and a reason why you’re not literally behind bars.

      Because magical medieval societies are big on ensuring proper police procedures are followed and the rights of the accused are respected.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNqLoFHJxM0

      1. tmtvl says:

        Could’ve done something like Breath of Fire IV with Scias*, just have someone keep an eye on you who will inform random boss guy #17 what you’re doing.

        * Scias is a guy who is tasked with keeping an eye on you in BoF IV. When you escape the place where you’re being held he shows up to help you out. He does inform a boss guy what you’re doing, but when the showdown happens he decides to stick with you and kick the boss’ ass.

      2. Sartharina says:

        I keep wondering… what if we got a Final Fantasy game where the Evil Empire is actually absolutely fair and reasonable to the citizens of the nations it conquers? Like… it’s out for its Evil Emperor’s big scheme involving crystals or opening new realities or becoming a God or whatever, and it’s really not interested in complicating that mission by dealing with rebels opposing oppression on top of nationalist partisans and heroes aware of their metaphysical goal.

        1. Syal says:

          12 is very close. Apparently we got a scene at the beginning where faceless guards steal some fruit or something… but that’s immediately followed by Vaan stealing it back. We get complaints that Dalmascan citizens are forced to live underground, but the underground section of the game has the most upbeat music in the world*. And that’s it. Nothing that happens after the intro shows Archadian rule actually being that bad.

          I think that’s on purpose; a running question (that gets more heavy-handed over time) is whether Ashe is right to risk restarting a war to reestablish independence.

          *(The Chocobo theme might give it a run, but that’s because it’s the Chocobo theme.)

    2. Syal says:

      This is about on par with Chrono Trigger’s prison; we’ve had a stint in the Estersand to kill a tomato, a stint in the Giza Plains to rub a bunch of rocks, and two trips through the sewer level (with both bossfights showing up in the second trip; this game has weird clumps of boss fights).

      1. Chad+Miller says:

        At least Crono had to make a choice between “provoke a guard into stupidly opening his cell” or “get rescued by the only person in the entire kingdom who has a gun (because she invented it)”

        1. bobbert says:

          Would FFXII been better if Penello busted us out with a gun?

            1. BlueHorus says:

              Also, I think it might actually give Penelo a point in the game’s story…

              1. Gautsu says:

                Better yet, a gunblade

                1. Syal says:

                  “I won’t let them talk about you in the past tense, Vaan!”

                2. FluffySquirrel says:

                  FF8 definitely had one of the better prisons I can think of in games

                  They had special cells which negated magic, which would have stopped most prisoners except for meathead Zell. They were actively torturing one of the party for important information, not just for lols, separating them.

                  It was *buried* underneath the sand so even if you did escape, you wouldn’t be able to exit easily without raising the whole thing, or lowering it, depending where you were going, I forget. This would naturally alert every guard that something is going on

                  It was in a desert, way away from civilisation. If you didn’t manage to steal one of the cars, and just did a regular escape, you’re probably dying in the desert instead

                  Like, it was a pretty damn nice prison. Alcatraz levels of attempting to imprison people

                  1. Syal says:

                    …oh yeah! And the breakout involved brute force punching, knowledge from a past life, and a party member breaking you out with a gun!

                    8 has a really involved prison sequence when you think about it.

                    1. BlueHorus says:

                      and a party member breaking you out with a gun!

                      As I recall, the guy with the gun is the most useful party member that breaks you out. He’s sniping the enemy guards, watching for threats, controlling the area…
                      …and the rest of your party are just Also There, doing nothing but spitefully kicking Irvine in the back for having the intelligence to bring the only long-range weapon.

                    2. Syal says:

                      The rest of the rescue team is Just Rinoa, and… I think that’s pretty par for the course for Rinoa.

                  2. The Nick says:

                    A magically blocked cell that… immediately follows the revelation that the cell blocks magic by having MAGIC ENEMIES COME IN and start blasting you with magic within two sentence of revealing magic doesn’t work here, followed again by casting healing magic to heal injuries.

                    It’s a cool concept, but it doesn’t DO the concept.

          1. Chad+Miller says:

            Come to think about it, the part I want is for Vaan to face a jury trial that he can lose if he annoyed enough people in the tutorial zones.

            1. bobbert says:

              That would be great.

  7. Rho says:

    ALl my random thoughts:

    *Is Dalmasca anything more than a city-state? This was bothering me since the release, since it seems like a big city surrounded by desert, with northing more than tiny tribes or whatever around it. What the heck else is actually part of it worth describing? For reference, real city-states had much more going for them historically, which could have been seen as part of a background even if it didn’t appear “on-screen” as it were.

    *The game plays-up Rozaria as significant, since they are supposed to be the big counterweight to Archadia. However, they basically never appear and their influence is nil. I can’t tell whether or not this was an accident of development, a deliberate decision, or just bad storytelling.

    *I wonder if the random bosses were a kind of cultural hold-over from the older FF games. The odity there is that the boss was always themed to the area is was in, rather than being a totally random design. It was naturally the most dangerous thing around and of course the party is going to end up fighting it.

    1. ContribuTor says:

      *I wonder if the random bosses were a kind of cultural hold-over from the older FF games. The odity there is that the boss was always themed to the area is was in, rather than being a totally random design. It was naturally the most dangerous thing around and of course the party is going to end up fighting it.

      Except when it doesn’t. FFVI (I think? Or was it FFV?) has a creature called the Warmech, which is a robotic enemy that’s basically in the hallway before the final boss. It’s a robotic enemy in a dungeon otherwise devoid (I think?) or robots. And, most surprisingly, it’s not a guaranteed encounter – it’s roughly 50/50 whether you’ll encounter it in the hallway or not (I seem to recall you’re more likely to hit it if you loot some nearby chests, but it’s not guaranteed).

      And it was possibly the most powerful enemy in the game. It usually surprised the party, and could easily take out even well equipped parties. Underleveled parties could get a TPK before even getting a turn in.

      Truly a perplexing design decision…

      1. Joshua says:

        I don’t think it’s VI. There are a number of enemies that are robots or mech suits (Magitech soldiers), but they’re all pretty consistently in the same place and I don’t remember anything like this in an area that didn’t have similar enemies. Wasn’t there something like this in the very first FF game though?

        1. Rho says:

          I believe this is getting FF6 coinfused with FF1.

          In FF1, there was an enemy indeed called Warmech in one spot of one dungeon That said, it wasn’t so much a boss as an Easter Egg. most players would never encounter it, and those who did would get surprised by a very tough fight. The FF series liked to have the oddball rare, powerful boss fought almost at random. There was a separate enemy in FF6 who existed basically to keep the player out of one zone at a certain point, but it was explicitly another Empire machine and fit with the location.

          https://finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/Warmech_(Final_Fantasy)

          1. Chad+Miller says:

            I think what happened was that ContribuTor got Warmech tangled up with Omega, which was indeed a nonsequitir superboss robot in FFV.

            1. Syal says:

              Omega’s not a random encounter though, they’re on the world map (in a two-tile-wide hallway. Way harder to get past than it should have been.)

              1. BlueHorus says:

                Also it’s during the endgame…when you’re wading through several minibosses on the way to the final encounter. It’s a natural impulse to try and engage it, becaus you’re probably going to have to anyway…

                …and then you get stomped by it.
                It’s a somewhat mean trick.

                1. bobbert says:

                  Yes, if you talk to Omega, you WILL die.

                  1. Paul Spooner says:

                    I remember beating Omega during my playthrough by using the “give everyone the Jump ability” strat, which means that they are off-screen for most of the fight, and can therefore take no damage.

                    1. bobbert says:

                      First try not knowing his gimmicks? That is VERY impressive.

                    2. Paul Spooner says:

                      Full disclosure, I never owned a console, so my first playthrough was on PC with save states in an emulator, and resorting freely to an online walk-thru. Using quad-jump wasn’t so much a savant galaxy brain maneuver as it was painting by numbers.

                  2. The Rocketeer says:

                    I’m kind of fascinated by Omega and Shinryu, the two original Final Fantasy superbosses (not counting Warmech from the original, I guess, even if Omega is basically an homage to it). Fun fact about Omega: it’s level 119 in Final Fantasy V, which has a lv. 99 cap like most of the games in the series. I’ve been on the lookout for any other instance in the series where they do this, but unless they’ve done it more recently (and excepting the online games), this seems to be a property unique to the original superboss. Even the Omega Mk. II in the re-release bonus dungeon is Lv. 97, like Shinryu and Neo Shinryu (the prime-number level evades level-based attack tricks that would normally override certain immunities).

                    I like how Omega is subtly foreshadowed throughout the game, less than you’d want for a story-related boss but more than you’d expect for an optional super-encounter. The Prototypes and Mecha-Heads you find throughout the game prove that the Ronka were developing super-robots, and a book in the Library of the Ancients says “the skies opened up and released a monster without a soul named Omega.” The Ronka are also one of those stereotypical “ancient technologically advanced races that mysteriously disappeared,” and their flying city is storyline-relevant (and a callback to the floating fortress dungeon in Final Fantasy I where Warmech was encountered). It’s also an important plot point that various monsters and demons too powerful to defeat normally were banished to the dimensional rift, which backfired when Exdeath opened the door the other way ’round. So, when one encounters Omega, you can piece together what happened: Ronka make Omega, the thing goes out of control and devastates their entire civilization (possibly the other pre-Omega bots, too). Omega is banished to the cleft of dimension, but it’s too late for the Ronka, and it just kinda wanders around for a few centuries minding its own business until you interrupt it having tea at its favorite waterfall.

                    On the other hand: why is Shinryu trapped in a box? *shrug*

      2. The Rocketeer says:

        I’m usually not the person leaping in to defend FFVI, but that one makes sense. That enemy is called the “Guardian;” Warmech was an infamous terrifyingly-overpowered random encounter from a dungeon in the first Final Fantasy to which the Guardian (and probably recurring superboss Omega; Guardian essentially *is* FFVI’s Omega and can later use Omega’s signature Wave Cannon) are paying homage.

        The Guardian inhabits the fortress city of Vector, and if I remember right you are warned very strongly that the Guardian is completely unbeatable and will shred you to pieces in a heartbeat, which is why you have to sneak around rather than storm the gates. It isn’t a bluff, and it really is in a specific area that you’re supposed to avoid, and you can blunder right into fighting it and getting mauled. The game actually cheats and makes it invincible, so you can’t break the story if you were somehow able to take it on.

        At the end of the game, the final dungeon is a sort of mish-mashed together nightmare of random junk around the ruins of the former city of Vector, Kefka’s Tower. As it turns out, the Guardian is still there, in roughly the same area that it would have been in before the disaster. It’s a mandatory boss this time, and its power is on par with the rest of the many endgame bosses in the area.

        1. Joshua says:

          Right, but I don’t think this is what the OP was talking about. The Guardian is heavily warned about in Vector, and in no way is it out of place, nor is it in a dungeon.

      3. dudeguy says:

        Early Final Fantasy is basically Japanese Dungeons & Dragons with how many different sources it pulls from.

        1. Chad Miller says:

          Many of which were D&D itself, or things D&D had already pulled from. The original Japanese FF had Mind Flayers and Beholders in it (the latter of which were altered for the US release because Nintendo of America’s Lawyers were worried)

    2. The Rocketeer says:

      All nations in FFXII are functionally city-states, at least going on what we see with our own eyes; I’m unclear on the extent to which we are meant to infer the existence of other large cities or settlements we don’t visit for plot reasons. Rabanastre is the only real city in Dalmasca; its other inhabitants include the nomadic plains folk to the south and a tiny river settlement to the east. Archadia has only the city of Archades; Balfonheim port is nearby, but it’s a pirate haven that isn’t politically affiliated. Landis is never really explored and I have no idea what’s supposed to be there; same with Rozarria, which is supposed to be as large and powerful as Archades. A character names “Ambervale” as a location in Rozarria, but from the context it’s not clear if this is a large city, a palace, a ski resort, who knows. Nabradia is (or was) twice as inhabited as the other nations of the game, with TWO cities: Nabudis, (now destroyed and infested by monsters and undead), and Nalbina, where the plot is currently taking place. Later, we go to Bhujerba, a floating city in a “sky continent” of many floating isles called Dorstonis. Bhujerba is the largest of the settlements there, but there are supposedly other skycities that we don’t see.

      1. Syal says:

        The Region part of the world map actually has Nalbina as part of the Dalmasca region. Because having all the N-named cities be in the N-named nation is too easy to follow.

        1. The Rocketeer says:

          It’s a splitting of hairs. Geographically, Nalbina sits right on the border, safeguarding the main trade artery from one region to the other. Politically, Nalbina had belonged to Nabradia until Nabudis was annihilated and Nabradian government effectively ceased to exist; thereafter, the restrictive terrain made it a natural holdout for Dalmasca against Archadia, where they effectively lost the war following the rout of the Knights of Dalmasca and the death of Prince Rasler.

          1. ContribuTor says:

            Politically, Nalbina had belonged to Nabradia until Nabudis was annihilated and Nabradian government effectively ceased to exist

            Ok, now you’re just trolling us.

            1. The Rocketeer says:

              Nabudis nihilated! Now necrohol; Nabradia nulled. Neighbor, needy Knights nab Nalbina. Knicks knacker Nets nine-nil.

              Film at 11.

              1. Retsam says:

                Are you like a crazy person?

              2. Zeta Kai says:

                Why can’t I Like this? I should be able to Like this.

      2. Thomas says:

        I assume there is more to Archadia in places the party doesn’t travel, but I really don’t think there is more to Dalmasca

  8. Retsam says:

    Typo: not sure it’s true of the other entries, but the correct spelling is Balthier, (not “Balthir”). (I always have to look this one up, and double check my spelling of Basch, which I get wrong almost every time)

  9. John says:

    You fight it, the music plays, the team poses up a storm for the invisible camera, and everyone gets on with their day.

    So, er, just what kind of posing are they doing? All smiles and giggles, with the girls and maybe Vaan throwing peace signs? Or is it more like that one shot in The Avengers–you know the one–the one where everybody, uh, spontaneously decides to stand in a semi-circle and look real serious for a moment for no apparent reason. I guess the latter is a better fit than the former for a self-serious political melodrama.

    This game is a self-serious political melodrama, right? It’s hard to tell.

    1. Retsam says:

      Apparently it depends on the weapon you have equipped. When I beat a boss last night I got the “Fran holding an arrow in her mouth” pose which looked pretty goofy.

      1. Sjonnar says:

        Try giving Vaan a great sword. Fifteen years later, and I can still remember his victory animation: planting the sword into the ground and then hopping up to squat on the crossguard. Not a joke.

      2. John says:

        More fool me, I clicked the link. That is not a hackey-sack, Vaan! You’re going to hurt somebody if you keep that up!

      3. tmtvl says:

        Hang on, does Vaan dry-shoot that bow? *Seething archery rage*

    2. Chad+Miller says:

      So, this is kind of a good jumping off point for the thing I was going to pose.

      It’s a mini-celebration, almost like a victory dance, because it was their way of forcing in something that’s been around since the beginning of the series. This is the first mainline FF game that wasn’t primarily scored by Nobuo Uematsu, but he is credited for something like four tracks anyway. One of them is because it’s a distinctive boss fight theme from a previous game, and the rest because they’re things that the series had been working in every single game since the NES days and they didn’t want to stop now.

      At this point, even a seasoned player isn’t likely to expect the fanfare to show up. After all, this game did away with the whole encounter/battle system and while XI (the first MMO) found a way to include it anyway by making it the level-up notification, someone playing XII already also knows that won’t happen. So what’s extra weird is to end up fighting a pack of Flan, a minor enemy which is also a recurring element that dates back to the very first game, and then suddenly be met with this victory fanfare celebration for fighting such a relatively easy mundane (by the standards of the series) enemy. This is made even stranger given you fight the much more difficult and showy fire-horse not long after.

  10. Vamphri says:

    Given the critique here I wonder how you would assess Tales of Vesperia. I have found that game to be a better executed version of what the Final Fantasy series tried to do with its world building. It starts with emotional stakes in its characters and drip feeds you a mostly coherent world. I say mostly because it still dips into anime trope nonsense occasionally.

    1. Retsam says:

      I’ve dabbled with a few of the Tales games – Abyss and Symphonia – and I kind of found the “animeness” off-putting… and I say that as someone who regularly watches anime. I think it really just boils down to the incredibly quirky character design.

      As for the plots themselves, I played a chunk of Abyss and it really failed to grab me – I can only remember one plot point vaguely. Symphonia was more interesting, but as far as I got, it kind of felt like off-brand FFX to me.

      1. Syal says:

        Symphonia is FFX, with the entire second half being post-Zanarkand. (I’m still not very far into that second half).

        First half is the plot of Final Fantasy 10, second half seems to be Final Fantasy 5. Good picks if nothing else.

      2. vamphri says:

        Yeah, the anime tropes in the Tales series are pretty prevalent. If you had heartburn with Abyss then Vesperia likely would not be much better for you. Both take themselves pretty seriously, though I did find Abyss much dumber and more annoying due to its main character just being a huge douche nozzle for the first 15 or so hours.

        Symphonia came across to me as a very cartoony world, with outline holes of people going through walls in the first town. This stood in stark contrast to the themes it was trying to tackle. I do agree the first third or so is pretty much FFX. Then it goes off the rails and tries to address what the world would be like if the chosen one just… didn’t. I am not gonna say it was very successful, but it tries.

    2. ShenCS says:

      I think Tales of the Abyss would be more interesting to see Shamus critique. Slightly more robust worldbuilding and story, whilst retaining a focus on its central characters. As much as I prefer Vesperia’s cast and gameplay, everyone knows the big weakness of the story is how the main theme sort of fades away at the end of the second act in favour of an entirely different one that doesn’t have much to say either.
      Plus Abyss has neat, silly details he might appreciate, like the prices in the shops taking into account where the shop is and increasing during periods of unrest.

      1. vamphri says:

        I think I would be on board with any of the Tales games outside of the modern ones. As much as I like the gameplay, I have found the modern Tales games to be very one note and direct in a way that the PS2-XBOX 360 era Tales games just weren’t. Even Xillia, who’s twist was so dumb I had to put it down for months was more interesting than anything Beseria had to offer.

    3. Christopher says:

      I think Vesperia is a great game and all, it’s got a good action rpg system going on and the characters are a fun bunch, but that game just like runs on generic traditional tropes. In a pretty incoherent way too, by the end. In something like Symphonia I felt most of those tropes were set up by the themes and setting and everything, but in Vesperia that endgame felt pretty token.

      1. vamphri says:

        I feel like Vesperia’s slide into nonsense is indistinct. It has been a few years since I’ve played the game, but I can’t really remember a single point in the game where it raised its hand and said, “we are going in a completely different direction now”. It sets itself up in an episodic fashion with Yuri going back to the capital to start the second section, then the third section was set up to deal with the actions that occurred in the first two sections.

        I contrast this with its contemporary Tales games Symphonia, Abyss and Xillia. In each of these games there are three distinct beats, ignorance to what is going on, realization and dealing with that information, and finally the big climax.

        That said given how Shamus already has a deep dive into FFX, I agree that Symponia would be a good choice to contrast.

      2. Mye says:

        While I really like Vesperia cast I tried replaying it recently and found the system utterly boring because it pale in comparison to Grace X. Grace X actually more or less ruined the franchise for me because the gameplay is so much better than any other before or after that I find them all incredibly boring. Sadly its story is the worst blend of boring and cliche so I don’t think there would be anything interesting to talk about from a review/critique point of view.

  11. Nixorbo says:

    But then our heroes get captured and thrown into a free-range “prison” that wouldn’t feel out of place in an episode of Phineas and Ferb.

    Excuse me, the prisons that have showed up in Phineas and Ferb were way more secure than this.

    An actual question for Shamus and/or Rocketeer: Have you/will you talk about the weird sound mixing in this game? Back in the PS2 version, I thought it was kind of weird that everybody sort of sounded like they were talking through tin cans, even the people not wearing giant face-covering helmets, but I figured it was some sort of technical limitation. Everybody in the remastered version sounds the same and now I’m just mystified. What’s going on here?

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      I strongly suspect that it actually is an audio compression issue and they didn’t keep the source audio (and therefore couldn’t fix the problem without re-recording lines)

      It is well-known that it took some heroics to make FFXII work on the PS2 at all. One of my favorite bits of trivia about this game is that spells have a secret stat that amounts to an estimate of how resource-intensive the spell is. If the sum of this stat gets high enough then the engine simply won’t let spells resolve until existing effects are done animating and it can make sure there’s enough memory to continue. (the HD remaster cranks this cap way up so the effect is mostly irrelevant, but people doing things like low-level runs on the original version know all about it)

      As far as why they don’t have higher quality audio stored somewhere; people don’t always think ahead and mistakes happen. There are similar weird problems in the VIII remaster whose explanation is reportedly that Square straight up lost the source.

      1. Fred Starks says:

        Square straight up lost the source to a large amount of their older games. In the early days, storage was limited and it was kinda understandable, but they just have a long history of not having the files for a lot of things.

  12. Chad+Miller says:

    While I completely agree with the comments about the flans and fire-horse, I do feel the need to defend the giant spider a little bit.

    The point of the Barheim passage is that it’s a collection of derelict abandoned machinery and the only way out is to power a bunch of electricity-powered gates. But when you reactivate the lines, it attracts mimics that absorb electricity. The entire dungeon is spent killing your way through the dungeon, having to take out mimics that are draining electricity from the system and impeding your progress. Then the final boss is a giant one of those, which also provides the explanation of why there were so many dormant in that particular tunnel to begin with.

    1. Syal says:

      The slime and especially the firehorse knock the pacing about the first time through, but in hindsight I do like them; from these and other bossfights there’s a sense that this is what exists in the places people don’t go, and everyone knows it. These types of fights pop up out of nowhere, and are pretty universally more dangerous than the humans we fight, so it lends a feeling that the world of Ivalice is fairly indifferent to humans and doesn’t care about their politics (which leans into the party’s central quandary of “is this really a fight worth fighting?”).

      …But that’s in hindsight. That firehorse is extremely “wait what” right now.

  13. bobbert says:

    A lot of the game wants you to be scared of the Empire, but the whole prison sequence spends a lot of time and effort teaching you that they are cripplingly incompetent (autocorrect really wanted that to be ‘incontinent’).

  14. Mattias42 says:

    Man, I’d forgotten totally about the sewer fire tentacle horse.

    And if that isn’t a critique against a game strong enough to peal paint of the walls, I don’t know what is. That’s not something you should freakin’ just gloss over in your mind’s eye.

    I actually remember now just how WEIRD it felt how your team didn’t comment in the slightest at the time. Even a ‘what the frick is THAT?!’ would have at least been something, but there’s just… silence.

  15. Philadelphus says:

    Firemane readies bushfire. Oh no! Bushfires are obviously a huge danger in caverns of water-soaked stone.

    See, that’s exactly why it’s so dangerous. Anything made of fire that can not merely survive but come out on top in a sewer is clearly something to be very afraid of!

    (Jokes aside, to me Firemane actually looks pretty cool in those shots.)

  16. Karma The Alligator says:

    The best part about the lack of anything for the 2 sewer bosses is that later hunts do have a backstory (and yes, a Flan you have to hunt -not the same one, mind you- did indeed get thrown into the sewers, or escaped its owner, can’t remember exactly, but there’s a reason for it being down there).

  17. Dev Null says:

    This game continually throws me off-balance because it keeps shifting between styles of storytelling. Sometimes we’re doing the Serious Worldbuilding For Grownups, and sometimes we’re in lighthearted cartoon action-adventure mode.

    To be fair, that dichotomy appears to be a common anime style, in my limited experience. And this game very much appears to be an anime with user inputs.

    1. Mattias42 says:

      …Now that you mention it yeah, they’re really into that juxtaposition and jarring contract between dramatic and goofy as heck in Anime & Manga.

      Like, Soul Eater or Gurren Lagann or instance just for some big name examples. You’ll have goofy puns and kid drama one moment… and~ scene or two later, and somebody just got stabbed in the heart with a skyscraper or something. (Not spoiler for either series.)

      I must admit I like it myself since I think it adds verisimilitude and keeps you on your toes, but I can imagine actually that’s a big reason why Anime is so love or hate it here in the west. Moments of lightening and darkening the mood tend to be much more even in tone here. Like… Doctor Strange might have his mantle be a bit adorable fuzzy over him while he’s trying to psyche himself off… but that mantle isn’t turning into a pants-less rules-stickler without pants that call everybody ‘Fool!’ while pointing dramatically with a cane.

      Still, I can definitively see why some people find that tone shifting like nails on chalkboard. Heck, I heard a few people that even found that Doctor Strange scene above too much bathos, and nearly ruined the movie for them.

  18. Crimson Dragoon says:

    You mention the possibility that this was written by some amatuer, but it’s not. The head writer was Yasumi Matsuno, the same man who wrote and directed Final Fantasy Tactics, considered one of the best written games (or at least JRPGs) of all time. The fact that both these plots come from the same person is crazy.

    1. onodera says:

      I’d say the plot of FFT wasn’t particularly well-written either. You have this neat idea: Delita is the hero of humble origins that ended the civil war, but it was Ramza the MC who saved the world behind the scenes by preventing the Second Coming of Crystal Dragon Jesus. Except he whole succession war plot is terribly written: there’s this one duke who controls the dowager queen, there’s the other duke who controls the infant heir, and I have no idea which one of them employs Nanten knights and which one Hokuten knights. I don’t even remember what happened to the baby. It doesn’t really matter, though, Delita just betrays everyone, aided by you stumbling across the map like a demon-hunting Forrest Gump. The game just doesn’t want you ta care about the succession crisis.

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