Final Fantasy XII (PS2)
First, I would like to introduce you to a new feature here at Gamerswithjobs. We call it Perspectives, and it is, in many ways, our response to the traditional reviews that many of you have grown tired of reading, and most of us have grown tired of writing. We have found over the life of the site that, while we had a great passion for the current games we were playing, we often felt like the expectations in speaking about those games through the traditional structures were creatively stifling. We always fought with the question of whether you guys wanted to read yet another review for a given game, and so we often stopped short of giving our impression partly for fear of being lost in the noise and partly because reviews are, by nature, dispassionate and thus steer away from what drives us to play games. This feature is designed to free our writers to explore new angles on the game review methodology.
While some writers may still structure some of these Perspectives in the familiar norms of traditional reviews, we will also explore other avenues of speaking about the games you and we may be playing. We will be straightforward in addressing how much of the game we've played, what difficulty settings we've used, our levels of enthusiasm going into the game, whether we've focused on single or multi player and other such relevant details. We will try to be brief -- others may be more successful than I -- and focus on the experience of actually playing instead of spouting feature bullet points. Reviews have become too much a part of the retail chain, and our goal is not to either sell you a game or otherwise; we simply want to tell you what we were thinking as we played and let you do with that information as you wish. In all, Perspectives is meant as an alternative view that frees us to speak with more passion about the games we are playing, and give you, we hope, something worth reading.
Now, on to Final Fantasy.
Time Played – 10 Hours :: Completed? – Not by a mile
Franchise Experience – Extensive :: Predisposition to Game - Enthusiastic
As a rule, I have very little interest for Japanese style role playing games. For that matter, much of Japanese popular culture leaves me as cold and perplexed as a Labrador retriever that's just been told a particularly racy joke. For fans of Final Fantasy that might not be the opening angle you would prefer from someone preparing to write at some length on such a hallowed franchise, and I imagine you now unsheathing your gleaming katanas and googling my address. Rest your furry-fury souls and let me say that when it comes to this franchise I am submissive as a mewling kitten lost in a rainstorm. Though I am vocal in my general displeasure for other franchises of similar kind, Final Fantasy is something that I should probably not care for yet simply can not deny, like taco night or Before They Were Stars shows.
I am not of the ilk that shed a tear when Final Fantasy VII's first CD came to a tragic close, nor have I ever worn a Moogle costume for Halloween – or worse outside of Halloween – though I am advanced enough in the lore to understand the relevance of both those items and more. I have never imported the episodes of the series not released in the U.S., and certainly never taken courses in Japanese solely for the purpose of being able to accurately translate those imported versions from their native tongues, which is all to say that my enthusiasm for the series is enthusiastically solid if reasonably tempered.
I am, thus far, a satisfied fan as I story my way through Final Fantasy XII, and wash clean the dirty memory of my hours in Final Fantasy XI, the vast majority of which we spent installing, upgrading, patching and ultimately navigating the labrythine maze of logging in the the actual game. I'm not certain that I entirely recall whether there ever was an actual game produced for Final Fantasy's MMO attempt, or if it was all an elaborate joke played on unsuspecting customers. If I recall correctly one had to level up in patching several times over before being able to buy the special ability to get to a log-in screen, which may have been the game's final boss. I don't know.
Final Fantasy XII elegantly portrays a gorgeous world where men ride chickens across deserts and women may sport animal appendages without a second glance. The game offers a new, and relatively unique battle system, sometimes overwhelming options for character customization and the kind of grand sweeping story where any adolescent miscreant may be elevated to deific status. And, none of that stuff is what I really want to tell you about.
So far, far as I can tell, this game has been Final Fantasy: Star Wars Edition. Empire and rebellion have always been a central theme of the franchise, but this version inches toward that next leap to iconic hijacking. This is not a complaint, exactly, because, after all, Lucas hijacked a Japanese artist to begin with in constructing his occasionally charming and too often bungling space opera, so turn about is fair play. And, the addition of a Biggs and Wedge character in many recent Final Fantasy games certainly suggests a comfortable familiarity.
It didn't really coalesce in my mind until this past weekend when, on our little radio show, I explained that the character Balthier was a roguish but likeable character hailing from some far corner of the same cloth from which Han Solo was cut. The logical progression in my mind led there to Fran, the anthropomorphized rabbit-eared sidekick, a loyal and constant companion to the sky pirate. Well, it's Chewie, you see, that is if Chewie wore a thong and were uncomfortably attractive.
The story's hero, Vaan, an orphaned and disgruntled youth with a mind toward rebellion and eyes to the sky takes the Luke presence all the way down to the petulant tone. I keep waiting for him to protest that he was just on his way to Migelo's shop to pick up some power converters. And let's not forget Basch, the grizzled war veteran of a dying order who, in a time of crisis, mentors the young Vaan to the cause of rebellion. Granted these are all existing archetypes in ten thousand narratives, but the similarities strike beyond the superficial. I hesitate to go into too many comparisons for fear of playing spoiler, but there are at least a few more major Star Wars character with obvious analogues in the world of Ivalice.
I dare anyone who witnesses the cutscene where Vaan and crew board the skyship for the first time to convince me that it doesn't smack of any number of scenes on board the Millennium Falcon. Hell, even the box art for the game evokes the film's original movie poster. Identical? Obviously not, but it seems obvious to me that there are similarities.
I don't intend to sound conspiratorial or affronted at all, and should you choose to reject this notion entirely as the deranged ravings of a Star Wars fanboy, you'll have no shortage of ammunition in pointing out the ways that the two stories are not similar. Go ahead, I won't argue or belabor the point, though I may bristle at the thought of being described as a fanboy of anything except World of Warcraft. From my perspective, Final Fantasy XII offers an interesting take on a story I've seen before. I try not to let the similarities be distracting, and enjoy the fresh view on familiar themes.
Maybe in hour eleven the reminders of a galaxy far far away will quite suddenly evaporate and the tale will find its own voice. If so, then bring on more. I've enjoyed the journey so far, and plan to slowly carve out chunks of time to invest myself in Vaan's tale of growth, discovery and conflict. Now, if you'll excuse me, the pirate, war veteran, human/animal hybrid and I are off to the floating city in the clouds to save the girl.
(Some credit to Bill Harris and Dubious Quality for helping motivate me toward rethinking how we should write reviews.)