What’s in a Story? (First Thoughts on Final Fantasy XII – The Zodiac Age)

Greetings, friends! I hope your weekend has been well. I’ve been looking forward to getting back to these blog entries, and though I’m not exactly well-rested today, per se, I did have a nice relaxing weekend, full of playing what could potentially become my favorite game in this series: Final Fantasy XII – The Zodiac Age. I understand that some of you are here for the writing-related blogs and not for my thoughts on video games, but here’s the thing. Even though this is related to a video game, it’s related to a storytelling video game, and I’ll be discussing important story elements in terms of what was done right and what was done wrong perhaps as an example to all of us authors.

To start things off, I never had a PlayStation 2. Hell, even now that I’m an adult, I still have never owned a PS2 in my life, which means that I missed out on a lot of amazing RPGs. The majority of the games that interested me on the console, however, are being remade/re-released for the PS3 and PS4, like Persona 3 & 4, Final Fantasy X/X-2, the Kingdom Hearts games, you get the gist. And up until a few days ago, there were only two main series Final Fantasy games that I have never played—Final Fantasy XI and XII. Granted, I may never get the chance to play XI since it’s an outdated MMO and I don’t know if it’s still supported, but very recently, a remake of Final Fantasy XII was released for the PS4 about 11 years after its initial release. Fortunately, it was out on the same day Amazon had their massive Amazon Prime sale, so you can bet your ass I ordered it. A Final Fantasy that I’ve never gotten to play finally on a console I own? Sign me up!

Along with the Collector’s Edition guide, my copy of Final Fantasy XII – The Zodiac Age arrived in the mail last Thursday. (Well, the guide didn’t come until the next day, but eh, no need to sweat the details.) I cracked the case open, popped the disc into the system and prepared for an awesome adventure into the world of Ivalice… until I got an error message stating that there wasn’t enough memory on my PS4 to support the game. I deleted some of the digital games I never play as well as every video capture I’d taken with the system, and when I tried booting it up, I got the same damn message. It’s like getting blue balled by a PS4. Finally, I used the skills I obtained from doing tech support for about a year and decided that restarting the system would work. ‘Lo and behold, it did, and I was finally able to get started.

As soon as the title screen came up, I got chills and almost didn’t want to start the game yet. Not only was it a very artistic title screen, but it immediately started with a beautiful orchestral rendition of the original Final Fantasy theme by Nobuo Uematsu. Now, I’m not talking about the Prelude theme, but I’m talking about the definitive Final Fantasy theme that appears in pretty much every game except for the bad ones. (I’m looking at you guys, FFII and FFXIII.) Knowing it had that song in it made me realize that it must be among the good ones, so I eagerly began the game.

I’m going to avoid spoiling things as much as possible (even though the game is about 11 years old now), but I was absolutely hooked right from the start. It begins with a beautiful cinematic intro to give an idea of what sort of world the game takes place in… it made me feel like I was watching a short film! I know some people don’t like that, but I love it. As long as it’s not used excessively, anyway. After the amazing intro, you gain temporary control of one of the characters as you learn how the game works. As of now, I am 10 hours into the game and I’m still absolutely in love with it. The music, the story, the world itself, the gameplay, the need for strategic thought and attention to detail, the amount of customization with each character, it’s so damn good.

Now, let’s discuss the story, both the good and the bad. Yes, even thought it is potentially going to become my favorite game in the series, there are definitely some flaws in the story that I’d like to address. The concept itself so far—absolutely fantastic. It’s a complicated and still entertaining fantasy story in a very fleshed-out world that feels alive, and the story’s execution is amazing. Great voice acting, wonderful cinematics, incredibly fun gameplay and story balance, everything about it is just amazing. The writing is great and often has me laughing, or even stunned with silence as I realize how heavy certain scenes are. And here’s where the bad comes in—the characters.

By no means do I dislike the characters. In fact, I think I like the main character even more than the majority of people on the internet, but I understand where the most common complaint comes from—a slight lack of depth and character development with the cast. (Balthier and Fran are the coolest characters, though. Just saying.) I’m sure I’ve said this before, but Final Fantasy VI currently holds the position as my favorite game in the series, and a big reason for that is the amazing cast of characters.

Now, FFXII has an awesome cast of diverse characters, even though Vaan and Penelo can come off as a bit stiff at times in personality. (But then again, I’m only 10 hours into the game and I’ve already seen Vaan display more personality than I expected from him after seeing certain scenes, so perhaps I can expect the same from Penelo.) Despite this, however, they do come off as a bit “trope-y” if that makes sense. Even Final Fantasy VI doesn’t exactly suffer from cliché character personalities. They seem human, which is amazing considering the era of gaming it was made in, but the FFXII cast does sort of have their fair share of cliché tropes in their characters. Vaan is a traditional orphan street rat akin to Aladdin, Penelo is the worried younger sister with an odd attachment to her adopted brother, Balthier is a sly Jack Sparrow-like sky pirate gentleman, and Fran is the oddly hot semi-human girl with a beautiful accent. I can’t speak much for Basch or Ashe yet since I haven’t gotten to play as them much, but I’d say the first four are a good example.

Even though I make fun of these characters, I absolutely love them, to tell you the truth. Their tropes and personalities fit in perfectly with the mood of the game’s story, and after seeing a couple rather heavy scenes regarding Vaan and a tragedy that befell his older brother, I have a feeling there’s certainly more to these characters than what’s on the surface, so I will keep playing and I will definitely seek these deeper meanings. (Well, I had no intentions of stopping, anyway; the game is fantastic.)

For any who are seeking an incredible and immersive storytelling experience, pick up Final Fantasy XII – The Zodiac Age. I’m only 10 hours in and I’m completely in love with it. Just be prepared to micromanage the characters and their abilities. That’s one of the aspects I love about the game because you always have to be on your toes, figuring out how to keep your characters all up to date. And for those of you who have already played the game, either this new version or the original from 2006, what are your thoughts? Feel free to comment on this entry if you’d like so we can discuss it. If you can avoid spoilers, that’d be preferable. Regardless, I hope you all have a wonderful day, and I will be back tomorrow with a new entry!

 

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