12.5 Final Fantasy XII, FF13

At long last, after having been stuck on Final Fantasy XII for a whopping 52 days (I started it on October 11!), IT IS COMPLETE. Following several weeks of repetitious, boring updates that don’t say anything different from the weeks before, I finally have some new comments and remarks on the game before kicking off my beginning impressions of Final Fantasy XIII.

I finished the story of Final Fantasy XII on Day 339: December 5, 2015.

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First thing’s first, let’s talk about Vayne Solidor. This guy is a joke of a final boss. I’m not talking about the fight against him (though I did beat him on the first try without knowing what kind of battle to expect, which was surprising and not super stressful), but more Vayne as a presence. He’s there throughout the entire game, and credit to Final Fantasy XII, he’s the one you think is the big bad guy pretty much straight out the door. There’s no sudden Final Fantasy VIII Ultimecia, Final Fantasy III Cloud of Darkness, or Final Fantasy IX Necron. Vayne seems sketchy from the beginning, and he is in fact the final boss.

Being the final boss and everything, one would expect his “true intentions” to at last be revealed during the closing chapter, right? Surely there is more to this story than just waging war on Ivalice and claiming absolute power over the kingdom. No, that’s really all he wants. Even partnered up with the rogue Occuria Venat, his ambition doesn’t even reach as far as the typical “world domination” that most bad guys strive for. Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely nice that his motives and goals weren’t the standard fare. It’s just that, between time travel, other planets, moon kingdoms, resurrections, and all the other plot twists I have encountered in my year of Final Fantasy, Vayne’s end-game goals were supremely underwhelming.

FF12_Vayne

It would have made more sense if Venat was truly in control the entire time, pulling the strings of Doctor Cid, Vayne, Gabranth, and the rest of them. Then when you take down Vayne, Venat tries to take control of someone in the player’s party like Ashe, who had been having moral struggles throughout the entire game. Then you must defeat Venat without killing the princess, and learn why he’s been doing all this, perhaps learning about the resentment he harbors for his fellow Occuria who shunned him or something. Heck, I don’t know. I’m not a fiction writer. I just feel like with the bits and pieces of supernatural elements peppered in Final Fantasy XII they could have done so much more with the ending.

Having said that, the endgame cutscene and epilogue were both satisfying in their own rights, with Leading Man Balthier bequeathing the Strahl to Vaan in his absence, Fran ever at his side. Ashe becomes Queen, Basch assumes the identity of his fallen brother Gabranth to serve as Larsa’s aide and protector, Vaan and Penelo return to their daily life in Rabanastre, and Balthier and Fran prove they live with a few cheeky notes to their friends.

The action after Vayne goes down is intense, and Penelo’s letter to Larsa one year later detailing what everyone is up to is charming, and I really enjoyed it all. As with the rest of the game, Final Fantasy XII excels when it is telling its story. It’s just a crying shame that so much of the game is wandering across the world in several-hour-long chunks.

FF12_IZJS

Finally, I have heard that the International Zodiac Job System version of the game (thus far only released in Japan) improves a great deal of the overall gameplay, and makes it feel much less monotonous and dull (PanGamers actually have a really excellent write-up that outlines the differences in the IZJS release). I’m still pulling for that HD Remaster to be announced any time now, with the IZJS included. The Final Mix versions of Kingdom Hearts made their way stateside in the 1.5 and 2.5 HD Remixes, and Final Fantasy X and X-2’s International Versions, as well as their Last Mission add-ons, also finally left Japan in their HD Remasters. I am positive a Final Fantasy XII HD Remaster announcement is just around the corner; Square Enix just needs to take the plunge and confirm it already.

Here are my end-game stats for Final Fantasy XII. After having a long think and much internal debate, it ended up much lower on the ranking than I would have guessed, but I stand by my decision. It is by no means a bad game. It’s just not quite as good as I remember it being when I last played it nine years ago.

Time to complete: 62 hours, 56 minutes before final battles; ~63.5 hours total
Modes of transportation: Walking/running, Chocobo, Teleport Crystals, Strahl (airship), Airship Charters
Chocobos: Present! You can rent them from many towns, or find them in fields and lure them with Gyshal Greens
Mogs/Moogles: Present! Sporting a different appearance than normal, they are all over the world as a normal everyday race like Viera, Humes, and Seeqs
Overworld: Not present
Summons: Present! Called Espers, each must be defeated to be obtained; 12 in total, each can be linked exclusively to one character
Cid: Doctor Cidolfus Demen Bunansa is Balthier’s father, and a genius mad scientist under the employ of the Archadian Empire
Biggs & Wedge: Not present
Notable series firsts: First game with Cid as an antagonist, first game to change the design of Moogles

Current ranking:
1) Final Fantasy IX
2) Final Fantasy VII
3) Final Fantasy V
4) Final Fantasy X
5) Final Fantasy VI
6) Final Fantasy IV
7) Final Fantasy VIII
8) Final Fantasy XII
9) Final Fantasy III
10) Final Fantasy
11) Final Fantasy II
12) Final Fantasy XI


FINAL FANTASY XIII

So far I’m a fair five hours or so into Final Fantasy XIII, currently in the middle of chapter 4: The Vile Peaks. Five hours may not seem like much, but I have got plenty to say about the game thus far, both good and bad.

Possibly the worst part of Final Fantasy XIII is a stupid, awful mechanic that is one of the worst ideas ever implemented in the series. As you only directly control the actions of your party leader, it is essential you keep them alive. You see, if your party leader dies in battle, it’s Game Over. It doesn’t matter if both of your supporting teammates are alive and well; they are not given a chance to throw a Phoenix Down your way. When your hit points reach zero, that’s it. But somehow, miraculously, if your teammates go down you are allowed to revive them. This all seems backwards, and makes for some seriously frustrating moments.

Case in point, I went up against a group of seven or eight minor enemies, and they all focused their attacks on Lightning. This was not a boss battle, and they were not difficult to fell individually. But because there were so many of them, I was unable to keep her healed before they brought her down. Unexpectedly, and ridiculously, I had just gotten a Game Over against typical weakling monsters. This just flat-out shouldn’t happen.

If there is any saving grace to be had from that peculiar choice of game design, it’s that upon seeing that dreaded Game Over screen you are given the option to “Retry” and immediately pick the game back up from just before that fight, whether it was a boss of normal battle. It’s almost as if the team behind the game knew that players would be frustrated with asinine gameplay and created a fail-safe, just in case. Were it not for that fail-safe, I don’t know that I would have been able to complete the game back when it came out.

FF13_Paradigm Shift

Anyway, another controversial bit of game design that I actually don’t mind is the Paradigm Shift battle system. It is more deep and complex than FFVII’s materia or FFXII’s License Boards, which means a much steeper learning curve. While you only control your team leader in battle, your party supports you with one of six job types such as Commando (heavy-hitter), Ravager (spell-caster), and Sentinel (defensive). You can pick and choose the set-ups you want to work with, and switch between them at your leisure in battle to match the situation.

You also must work to break the enemies’ defenses with combo attacks in order to deal maximum damage, lest you spend a lot of time chipping away at even small-fry foes. It’s a bit complicated to try summarizing here, but suffice it to say the battle system is vastly different from any previous Final Fantasy. The change of pace and lack of control over anyone but your team leader really threw a lot of fans through a loop, and you really do need to be comfortable frequently swapping from one Paradigm set-up to another to really get the most out of your fights. It certainly isn’t kind to casual players, and not everyone loves it, but I’m honestly quite fond of the way it’s set up. It is new, challenging, and unique; all qualities that Final Fantasy is known to strive toward.

Speaking of parts of the game that many fans dislike that isn’t actually so bad is our heroine, Lightning. Like a pop single that gets over-played on the radio, Square Enix shoved Lightning down everyone’s throats so hard after FFXIII came out in 2009. She even got an entirely unnecessary trilogy of games dedicated to her story, when Final Fantasy XIII stands quite well enough on its own. I personally know so many fans of the franchise who just don’t like Lightning due to how hard she was pushed on us for a couple years.

FF13_Lightning

If you actually play the game and just take in her character, however, Lightning is actually pretty great. She’s a strong-willed soldier who will take necessary risks to do what must be done. She is a loving sister who has trouble opening up, but cares for few things more than Serah. She may come off as cold and calculating, but she’s just like an ogre; lots of layers to her. I haven’t played this game through since 2009 when it launched, and I am looking forward to seeing all her layers exposed as the game progresses.

Another awesome character who is often overlooked due to her all-too-brief appearance is Hope’s mother, Nora. Her willingness to stand up and fight the good fight in order to protect her son, with the tagline, “Moms are tough,” makes such an impact on the player. If I’m being completely honesty, Nora made more of a lasting impact on me in 10 minutes than Penelo did in the entirety of Final Fantasy XII.

One character I’ve never been fond of, which rings true still with this fresh playthrough, is Vanille. I know her voice actress is an Australian native, but her twang is all over the place. Sometimes she sounds like an Aussie, other times American, and more times still she sounds positively British. Not just that, but she’s just so incredibly annoying. The way she runs, not just the dialect, but the tone of her voice, her mannerisms; it’s all just so obnoxious. Physically speaking she’s cute as a button, but holy hell do I wish she would just go away.

FF13_Vanille

I’ll wrap this up with a quick complaint of just how rapidly you meet everyone. In past games you must travel all around to recruit new teammates to join your cause and help you along the way. I understand that the big foil in Final Fantasy XIII is how they all become tainted as l’cie and must work together to figure out what exactly that means, so it’s a bit different than Zidane meeting Garnet at the castle, Quina in the Marsh, and Eiko in the land of summoners. Five of the six main characters are all together from an hour into FFXIII, and even though you all split up and re-join at several varying intervals, it just feels strange to have most of your party gathered from the get-go.

At any rate, I have only just scratched the surface of Final Fantasy XIII so far. I’ll definitely have more to discuss next week, so until then just keep watching the #RoadtoXVin15 hashtag on Twitter, and why not give me a follow while you’re at it.

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