Ten Things I Hate About Final Fantasy XII
Almost catching me by surprise, this blog had just recently exceeded 50,000 hits. I wish I could have prepared some sort of “thank you” package, but I lack the necessary photoshop skills, and most of the stuff I could share can be found with a quick Google search anyway.
So all I can do for now is give a sincere thanks for your continued interest and support, despite the amateurish presentation of this blog as well as a few goof-ups I’m responsible for (something I plan to discuss in a future article).
So Final Fantasy XIII is nearly upon us, a day away for some and a few hours for others braving a midnight release. As you’re no doubt aware of, I am highly fond of the FF series, and I imagine I will continue to be for years to come. It is also a series that many people, particularly online, are very, very vocal about, but for me, even the most disappointing titles aren’t lacking in entertainment and enjoyment.
Like with most of the numbered entries, Final Fantasy XIII is striving to do something different, in this case to deliver a more streamlined experience, resulting in several complaints about a linear, “straight path” game featuring little in extra content, but also reduces genre-specific frustrations such as back-tracking, level-grinding, or getting lost in overly huge towns and dungeons. Earlier this year, Mass Effect 2 proved that it is possible for less to equal more, but it remains to be seen if this game can replicate ME2’s successful fat trimming without feeling like cutting corners.
I can’t say for certain yet how I’ll feel about FFXIII, much less where it will rank in my personal list, but as with every new entry, I anxiously await the chance to play it. In the meantime, I thought I’d take some time to talk about its predecessor, still fresh on many fans’ minds.
Ten Things I Hate About Final Fantasy XII
When considering which Final Fantasy title qualifies as the “worst” game in the series, my brain is often unable to ponder such a thought. For me, it’s like asking which Mario or Zelda was the worst, an almost heretical notion. When it comes to “most disappointing” FF, however, I can answer with less hesitation, and for that I have to choose the most recent entry in the series.
Let me make it clear, Final Fantasy XII was not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. The world was huge and filled with all manner of creatures (both friendly and….not so friendly), it had a great soundtrack and script, and it felt like a new FF experience without completely changing the overall formula or feel.
But for a game that was routinely delayed for several years, it didn’t live up to its promises.
10. Voice Compression
Most Final Fantasy titles carry the standard of having good voice acting, and FFXII was no exception. However, in an effort to keep the game from spanning two discs, the audio bitrate had to be sacrificed for space. This results in lower quality dialog, often sounding like all the characters are speaking through a filter, regardless of whether they’re wearing a suit of armor or speaking in an enclosed area. For all the care that went into replicating a medieval dialect, audiophiles like myself can’t help but be disappointed.
9. No First Person Camera
And no, I wouldn't have used it to stare at Fran's butt. Honest.
The world of Ivalice is filled with tons of little details, such as the trinkets found in a shopkeeper’s tent, or the intricate patterns in a local castle. Unfortunately, many of these hand-crafted details are left obscured due to the lack of a first person camera. Why am I complaining about such a feature when previous FFs didn’t even have a basic rotating camera? Because Vagrant Story, an older PSX release, managed to pull it off, and since FFXII features the same engine and director, its removal is quite baffling.
8. Go Anywhere, Get Lost Everywhere
Keeping the peace in Ivalice
The world of Ivalice is expansive and filled with many paths. Within a few hours you are given the freedom to travel anywhere you so choose, deviating from the set path laid out by the main story. Or so it would have you believe.
The truth is that the game often lays out Truman-esque stopping blocks to keep you from venturing everywhere. This is usually implemented by delays in Airship travel (despite the fact that the group possesses their own) or flooding caused by sudden rainstorms. This becomes especially irksome when you decide to take a break from the story and engage in a few hunts, as you could end up wasting a good hour or two running to the monster’s location before realizing that you’re not allowed to proceed. And it’s equally irksome when you are able to hunt a beast, and try to make your way to the next story-specific location.
7. The License Board
Never thought I'd stoop so low as to reference VG Cats.
Every FF has its own system to teach party members skills and abilities. FFXII’s License Board is a massive grid where you can spend points to learn new magic spells, secondary abilities, and equipment.
That’s right, you have to learn to equip stuff. Suspension of disbelief is usually required to make these sort of mechanics fun, but having to grind in order to wear a fancy hat you found in a dungeon reeks of micro management. But what’s truly annoying is spread out the license boards are. In Final Fantasy X, each character starts at a certain section of the Sphere Grid, requiring you to learn their specific abilities (white magic for Yuna, black magic for Lulu, thievery skill for Rikku, etc) before you can start customizing them to your liking. Because of FFXII’s freedom, you run the risk of a bunch of useless skills to one character, thus taking up more time in order to properly train them to not die with every encounter.
6. Unbalanced Leveling, Difficulty
"We are the overseers of history, the mightiest of bei-wow, did you just one-shot me? Nevermind, we suck."
Most FF games in the past have been known to have an imbalanced difficulty curve. There’s always a point or two where you run across a tough boss that requires you to take a few steps backward and grind until your party is at a sufficient level. FFXII is no different in this regard, featuring many adversaries (both story-specific and optional) that will completely pulverize your party even if previous enemies were a cakewalk.
This is where the quasi open-ended structure really hampers the game; between the free-roaming and optional hunts, your party runs the risk of becoming too powerful in too short a time. A weaker hunt target that you put off while taking out a more powerful foe can be beaten in a single hit, while the final boss in the story can be similarly schooled without any effort at all. There are still plenty of ridiculously strong enemies in the game, but those bosses are of such an extreme variety, you would need at least a hundred hours worth of leveling just to stand a chance. Between challenges that are either too simple or too difficult, “imbalanced” is the perfect word to describe FFXII’s difficulty.
5. Gambit system
I'm all too happy to reference Penny Arcade.
The Gambit system has often been criticized as “letting the game play itself”, but that was never my issue with it. The concept of being able to auto-assign commands such as healing after a battle or using a spell that works against a specific enemy is a neat one. The problem I had with the Gambit system is how it takes too long to unlock the most basic commands. It takes at least two hours just to unlock the ability to automatically attack enemies that attack you. Supporting Gambits used to keep your party members from dying take even longer to appear, and there are some commands that you can miss entirely should you fail to find a hidden treasure chest or slay the right monster.
It’s understandable that the game wants you to learn the ropes before you get to put it on auto pilot, but by the time you’re eligible for such shortcuts, you’ll have already grown accustomed to doing things yourself, thus greatly cheapening its purpose in the first place.
4. The Story Just Stops
"At least until I change my mind for no explainable reason."
Final Fantasy XII was supposed to be the directorial debut of Yasumi Matsuno for a numbered FF title. His previous contribution was Final Fantasy Tactics, which featured what was without question the darkest and most mature storyline ever associated with the series. Not even the mess of typos and translations errors could hide the expertly written Shakespearean tragedy, featuring a mix of political backstabbing and ill-conceived wars. The very thought of Matsuno being in charge of a bigger budget game with a wider scope was enough to send anyone into a tizzy of excitement.
It’s unfortunate, then, that you can literally pinpoint the moment when Final Fantasy XII’s story comes to a crashing halt; taking a leave of absence due to health problems (allegedly), Matsuno’s early abandonment of the project meant that his intricately planned epic had to be reduced to a Cliff Notes edition, which results in both fewer cutscenes, smaller roles for secondary (and sometimes even primary) characters, and sudden shifts in both plots and motivations in the blink of an eye. It was like having all three Lord of the Rings movies cut down into a single, hastily abridged edition.
3. The Villains
Welcome to Development Hell, where Square is Master and Profit is Law.
Almost immediately after the news that Matsuno would be directing the game, one of the first promotional images of Final Fantasy XII featured its main antagonists, the Judges. Originally seen in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance to punish anyone who failed to uphold the specific laws during each battle, FFXII’s Judges were much more sinister in nature, focused on punishing anyone who rose against their empire. Fans were delighted at the prospect of new (and quite cool looking) villains who could join the hallmarks of beloved adversaries such as Sephiroth and Kekfa.
Instead, their presence shows just how neutered the story became once Matsuno headed for the hills. None of the Judges are given sufficient screen-time to fully develop their motivations or character traits, turning them into generic power-hungry enemies. In fact, most of them don’t even last beyond two cutscenes; Judge Drace, the only female in the group, is the very definition of wasted potential, as she is immediately killed off in the cutscene following her introduction. Gabranth, who is featured on the freaking logo (the largest ever made for a mainline FF game), is also given little explanation for his actions and is reduced to two simple, brief boss battles. And Judge Zargabaath, the only surviving Judge by the game’s end, serves no purpose other than to witness the game’s climax before falling into RPG obscurity forever.
But its the primary villain Vayne that proves the most disappointing. Upon his first introduction, Vayne wins over the people of Dalmasca, a kingdom he ransacked by force, through his charismatic nature and conniving words. By the game’s end, he decides to obliterate the very city he worked to win over politically, for no discernible reason whatsoever other than the game was wrapping up, and Square needed a final boss battle.
2. Characters Lacking Development, Interaction
"I'm sorry, what was your name again? Pineapple? Pippi Longstocking?"
Ask several people what the most important aspect is that makes a good RPG, and you’re bound to get different responses. Some people might say it’s the battle system, others might claim it’s an intriguing story. For me, the most important RPG feature is its characters. Most RPG plots taken at face value are standard “save the world” fare, while the majority of battle systems share several similarities with one another. Therefore, it’s the cast of heroes and villains that I value the most, as they are detrimental to my motivation to finish the lengthy adventure to the very end.
Final Fantasy XII’s cast, like the rest of the game, looked promising on the outset; aside from Vaan and Penelo, the FFXII cast consisted of older characters that don’t make up the traditional series stereotypes, including suave pirates, vengeful princesses, and loyally questionable knights.
For the most part, the characters make good on these traits….the problem is that they don’t evolve past them. Yet another unfortunate victim of the abridged story, FFXII’s cast spend little time revealing their inner quirks, and purely focus on the long journey to overthrow the big bad empire. When a character does decide to open up about his or her past, it’s brief and often ex-positional. You think there would be some importance at Balthier’s revelation of being a former Judge, but there isn’t. You expect the game to constantly tease you about Basch’s loyalties and whether or not he murdered his own king, but that plot point is immediately resolved once he joins your group.
But what’s especially irritating is the little-to-no interaction between party members. In most RPGs, the group forms a tight, almost familial bond with each other. In FFXII, something is seriously wrong when even the two female leads don’t say two words to each other. Rather than band together and save the world as a unified group, it felt more like your party members were just sharing a cab to get to the same destination.
"I'm Captain Basch!" Yeah, you wish.
Ah, Vaan…yet another entry in a list of hated blonde RPG protagonists.
Now keep in mind I’ve got nothing against the character, no matter how homosexual the above image is. He’s your typical enthusiastic youth, and he doesn’t reach nearly the obnoxious levels of say, Tidus (who I happen to love, by the way).
My issue with Vaan is simple: He has no bearing whatsoever on the main story.
In a game where almost everyone has a motive and role in the complex (but skimmed over) plot, Vaan simply seems to be around for the ride. He has no love interest, save possibly for Penelo (who might as well be his sister with the non-flirty way they talk to each other), he isn’t trying to avenge his brother’s death (in fact, he seems rather content once closure is given), and he doesn’t prove useful beyond his abilities in battle (which can easily be taught to anyone else).
Here’s where things get really nauseating. Originally, Basch was supposed to be the main character.
"I'm Vaan Fon Pointlessness of Dalmasca."
Yes, Basch. A grizzled war veteran accused of murdering his own king, and whose brother is the main adversary (according to the logo). How cool would it be to have him as the leading man (despite what Balthier claims, it isn’t him)? But thanks to one of the most blatant cases of executive meddling, pretty-boy Vaan was shoehorned to appeal to….well I’m not really sure who he’s supposed to appeal too.
At least we’re getting a chick with a sword as the lead in the next game. That never gets old.