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Hmph!
January 17, 2007

Matt Demers - 14:55 EST

I CAN'T BELIEVE HOW little mail I have today. Like, I simply cannot remember a day over the past year and a half or so that my mailbox has been this empty.

I can only blame this on one thing: That blasted Warcraft expansion. It wrecked some of my past friendships, and now it's going to wreck my column! WAHHH!

Funny story, though: I walked into EB Games today to pick up my copy of Warioware, and there was a lineup of eleven people. I asked the guy at the counter if they were there still for the Warcraft expansion, because there were long lines yesterday. But that wasn't the case; they were lined up for the Wii. The blasted Wii! Here we are, two months after the darn thing's release, and you still can't get one. I couldn't buy any remotes either, which is a pity, since we have guests coming over on Friday, and I'd love to be able to play with them. Grr.

Well, I'll do what I can with what I have, but it's going to be short and sweet. And guess what? IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT!




LETTERS
I've been telling you, Final Fantasy XII is very hit and miss!


I just saw a letter mentioning how if you target an enemy, and the enemy dies, the next character swings and misses. This is the case in FF1 and Golden Sun and maybe some others. I have, however, noticed that FFXII is somewhat similar to this. When you kill an enemy, the other character's action bar resets. Admittedly, it's not quite a swing and a miss, but it's not the same as if the bar continued to fill and you attack the next enemy (as you would in say FFIV). After playing FFXII I realized it wasn't a determent to the game, and maybe a more realistic way the battle would go. Example: I'm gearing up to take a swing at an enemy. Just before I can another fells him. I step back, find the next closest, assess where I want to hit, and proceed. Just an observation... any thoughts?

Isaac

Matt

You read my mind, Isaac! Yesterday, when I was thinking about what to write as a response when the subject came up, it dawned on me that, in a way, Final Fantasy XII is kind of like those days of old in that respect. Of course, it isn't exactly, because the character just has his/her turn cancelled, but it's pretty obvious why that approach was taken in the end. Imagine that you had Fran casting Thundaga on one creature. That creature falls, but the only other one on the map is a Mirrorknight with Reflect status on. Ouchies for Fran, right? Clearly, if her attack was "redirected" rather than just being cancelled, it could potentially get very frustrating for the player. Thus, the developers made the right choice, I think.

Thanks for pointing it out, Isaac! Write again sometime soon. (Please! I'm begging you!)



A Final Fantasy XII review, Part I. Beware; SPOILERS ARE HEAVY THROUGHOUT.


OK, I've just at long last put FFXII to bed, after 65 hours. Which, apparently, is a pretty short time to spend taking the game to its conclusion.

I know nobody asked, and I admit I haven't heard anything other people have been saying about the game apart from general opinions and several very positive reviews, but my own verdict on the game is this: It may be the most fun FF title I've ever played, but it is also without question one of the least satisfying.

Matt

Yeah, I can see that. Now, explain yourself! The floor's all yours.

The entire time I played through FFXII, I kept waiting for it to start. I assumed that the plot that was developing was going to twist and turn, and in typical FF fashion we would learn all about the principal characters and come to care about them and appreciate and understand their struggles.

I kept waiting for the "climb to the top of the Shinra building and find the president impaled on Sephiroth's sword" moment. The "World of Ruin" moment. The "time compression" moment. ...ok, not that last one. But you get the idea. The moment that turns the plot on its head, and then the REAL story gets going.

Obviously I don't mean I wanted a carbon copy; an FF archetype. It's obvious from when you first set foot outside of Rabanastre that's not what you're getting. But I would very much have liked it if all the remarkable, innovative, genre-redefining and all-around outstanding gameplay renovations had been wrapped around a story worth playing through, and characters worth playing AS. But the storyline never really exploded the way your average FF does, never for a moment became anything other than more or less what it was at the beginning of the game.

That in itself would be OK; Dragon Quest VIII handled that just fine, but DQ8 managed to develop a cast of characters that was both endearing and knowable. FFXII never did that, which I'll get to in a minute.

It wasn't until I was about 30 or 40 hours in that I realized the game HAD started, and not only that, it was actually damn near over. I hunted about 35 or 36 of the marks, dumping hour after hour into it for what I saw as precious little reward (a couple teleport stones and hi-ethers for a high-level clan rank promotion? What the HELL?)

Even by the time I was killing rank 6 and 7 marks, I'd walk away with just a few thousand gil and, at best, a weapon I hadn't even bothered to train any of my characters in. But if I hadn't spent all that time hunting marks, the game probably would last about 30 hours or so.

So the heart of it is in the extras, the stuff off the beaten track. And there's a great many of those. At first, I thought I might be interested enough to hunt down all the extra espers (I got one and quit), to find the pieces of the broken medallion (I got one and quit), to unlock those doors in the Necrohol of Nabudis (I didn't).

Matt

I know what you mean. I've been trying to explore some of the bonus material as a way of leveling-up, since I've found that no matter how powerful I think I might be, the next area's monsters nearly always show me exactly who is boss.

I've enjoyed exploring for the sake of exploring, but I never expect to find anything. There are NO treasures anywhere, because they stupidly have the randomized treasure system. It's really, really annoying to work your tail off to get to a far-off chest only to find your 99th Knot of Rust, or better yet, 11 Gil. I don't understand why they chose to do this; not in the least.

About Espers: It's fun to find new Espers and fight them, but I really don't find them to be useful at all in practice, mostly because it feels like you're made SO vulnerable while you have them summoned. The only times that you really NEED help in the game are the times that your screen is flooded with enemies, but if you summon an Esper, you've effectively cut the number of targets that the enemies have to attack in half, making it MORE likely that the summoner will be wiped out. Not good. Not good at all. Very cool, yes. But useful, no.

Oh, and I totally agree with you on the "waiting for the story to start" thing. FFXII really makes it feel like your party's adventures are just a small detail in a much bigger plot. Your characters hardly feel central to the big picture, and the bonds that bring the group together are nebulously defined at best. Anyway, back to you.

At about hour 65, at about level 50 for all my characters, when I realized I'd have to actually level-grind in order to beat some of the tougher marks, I realized I didn't feel like I should bother. This was the first time in any FF game that I felt that way. I took store-bought weapons and armor to the final battle (and did just fine, I might add), for the first time since FF7. Maybe even before that.

There's nothing wrong with having tons of extra stuff to do off the beaten track. Just look at Oblivion, for crying out loud. But my problem with the game, and the reason why I can't even decide whether or not I actually liked it even after dropping 65+ hours into it, is that I feel like I may have missed actual PLOT points for not taking on some of these sidequests. I feel like, maybe if I had gone to the trouble of doing all that bonus stuff, maybe I'd have actually cared about the ending. Maybe one of the characters besides Balthier would have made some kind of impression on me. Maybe I'd have reconciled Fran's odd past with her own kind, and find out what the hell she was doing hanging out with Balthier in the first place.

For that matter, maybe I'd have understood why Ashe and the rest of them hadn't just dropped Vaan and Penelo off in Rabanastre as soon as they got the airship, and said, in effect, "Off you go, random street urchins that we've inexplicably allowed to tag along all this time. We have important things to do that in no way involve either of you."

Part of the reason I was waiting for the game to "start" the whole time was because I was waiting for Vaan to become (gradually) seen as less of a dumb, young nusiance and grow more mature and eventually accepted into this fold of important and powerful people as one of their own. (Like Tidus did, only without the crazy "dream of the fayth" nonsense to muddy it up later on.) Just as I was waiting for some ACTUAL motivation for Balthier and Fran to continue to help. I was waiting for the game to explain to me why all these people were doing what they were doing (apart from Ashe and Basch, that is).

No characters are properly developed, with Ashe coming the closest but everyone else left vague, two-dimensional and generally unsympathetic. Characters enter into the story and disappear just as quickly having little to no impact when they seem like they're supposed to (Migelo, Al-Cid, a handful of Judges). Other characters seem to be extremely important, then vanish for 80% of the game only to reappear at the very last minute (the "mar-kwiss," and how is it possible an ENTIRE staff of people didn't know how to pronounce that word?)

So I'm left with this frustrating feeling that I've missed something. That maybe there were some very informative cutscenes lurking just around the corner from the main storyline, and I missed them because I wasn't looking carefully enough. But I really, really hope that's not true.

Matt

I don't know, Adam. Having dealt with a good 30 marks myself, I failed to see any real addition to the storyline at all. Granted, there are many more that I never took care of, but I can't imagine that they'd stuff important plot elements into a cutscene dealing with some Rank VII mark that the average joe couldn't hope to defeat. Would they?

By the way, I always thought that the pronunciation for marquess should be "mar-kess", but a quick visit to http://www.dictionary.com reveals that yeah, "mar-kwiss" is correct. Oh well... can't win 'em all.

FFXII on its surface has a story that is in DESPERATE need of fleshing out. Characters need development. Actions need justification. Questions need answering. (And no, damn it, the unlockable info in the bestiary doesn't count.)

Sidequests are places for EXTRA information, like in FF6 where you can find out Gau's father, or relocate Sabin's teacher, or take a stab at who Shadow is and his relation to Thamasa. Sticking vital, NECESSARY information - and not just a little, but an extraordinary amount - into sidequests...that's just not fair to a casual gamer. I shouldn't have to work so hard to be rewarded with information about my characters that I should have simply discovered over the course of the regular game. No, I feel much better about it simply assuming they never explain these things at all.

And sadly, the reason the story needs fleshing out so badly is because it has such potential. Square really did succeed in crafting a vibrant world, and built up a decent tale of political intrigue, but never really bothered to make it human. To have it work on multiple levels. It simply is what it is, and that's just as bizarre for an FF game as the Gambit system or anything else FFXII introduced.

Matt

It's so incredibly funny that you say that, because yesterday, I was bantering a bit with some RPGamer staff members about this very subject. Some people didn't appreciate my sly intro yesterday where I poked fun at FFXII's lack of a truly interesting storyline. I cited a lack of real twists and general "Final Fantasy weirdness" though Mikel, the head of the site, scoffed, saying that it's a beautiful war story, nice and simple. That, I said, was exactly what my problem was; Final Fantasy is about the complexity; it's about details and interesting twists... and interesting characters with interesting backgrounds. I also said that I really enjoyed many other aspects of the game, that it was one of the best RPGs available for the PS2, and that I wasn't trying to attack it, necessarily- it's just that the storyline is what it is. It's a packaged deal; what you see is what you get, and I guess, given the past of the Final Fantasy series, I expected something a little bit different. So, you almost echoed my words when you say "it simply is what it is," and that's pretty much my point here. I share your sentiments in just about every way.

Which brings me, sort of, to a contradiction I've been experiencing for months now: I loved playing this game. ...

Matt

Ah! And that's where we'll cut things off. There's still half a review left, but thanks to the fact that I have no letters, I need to save something for tomorrow. Besides, your letter violated the 1000-word limit anyway. Everybody, stay tuned for the second half (a more positive half) of the review, tomorrow in Q&A!



QUICKIES

Still none...

MOGNET MAIL

If you'd like to send me some Mogmail, too, and you have Final Fantasy III DS, my code is 515 480 192 117. Send me your number, and I'll add you to my list! Then you can send all the letters you like!

Obviously, you love slimes. We all do. But what is your favourite type of slime? Plain old blue? Or perhaps the regal kings or elusive metals? Do tell us!

Tomi

Matt
Hey, I like all kinds of slimes, but I'm especially fond of Healslimes, or "Healers" as we used to call 'em back in the day. Plain old blue slimes are perfectly perfect as they are, though I'm a bit partial to Red Slimes, since they sadly haven't made the cut in every Dragon Quest game over the years. There's no denying, though, that slimes are just some of the cutest RPG creatures we've ever killed hundreds of. One experience point at a time.



IN CLOSING

Well, Chris/BigWook was scheduled to have a co-hosting position tomorrow, but I'll have to put it off if I don't get any letters to pass his way. There are a multitude of subjects to talk about, so please, if you're thinking about it, don't hesitate. I can't wait to hear from you, and you're virtually guaranteed to appear sometime soon if you do.

Topics to write about:

  • What do you think about next-gen consoles?
  • What did you get for Christmas?
  • What recent games do you think are under/overrated?
  • What do you think about the recent Final Fantasy XIII details?
  • Is Final Fantasy Tactics for the PSP pushing you to buy the system? And Balthier? WTF?
  • Are you looking forward to the upcoming 2007 PS2 RPGs? (Kingdom Hearts II: FM, Wild Arms V, Rogue Galaxy)
  • Which series would you like to a see a new sequel for?
  • ...ANYTHING that's on your mind!

I'm easy! I take on any question, or any answer, for that matter. If you've never written in before, now's your chance to become a new "regular", if that is your wish. In any case, I'm going to stop pestering. You guys get the point. I think I'm going to permanently adopt a list of "suggested topics" or something on the sidebar. What do you think? And for that matter, if you have any questions or comments about the column, or suggestions for what you'd like to see, I'm completely open to your ideas!

Thanks everybody, and I'll see you tomorrow.



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What I Want to Play:

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2. Pokémon Diamond/Pearl

3. Final Fantasy VI Advance

4. Metroid Prime 3

5. Super Smash Bros. Brawl



What I'm Playing:

1. Final Fantasy XII

2. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance

3. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess



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