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Big name video game franchises, such as the Final Fantasy series, possess numerous elements that make them the memorable gaming experiences that they are, while also allowing for longevity over the years as additional games are added and competing series spring up. Yet these high standards we set for such games make it all the more disappointing when they, inevitably, fail to meet them.

I found myself struggling with this sense of disappointment as I attempted to work my way through Final Fantasy XII. Guiltily I put the controller down after nearly 64 hours of game play. I tossed and turned at night, tortured by the fact that I was unable to finish a Final Fantasy game due to lack of interest. Alright, so maybe I wasn’t exactly tortured, but I was still curious as to what exactly made me stop playing so close to the end of the game.


Final Fantasy XII has a lot of little quirks that make it somewhat controversial. The transition to a free-range ATB system and the bizarre license board that seemed to eliminate the unique capabilities of each character put some fans up in arms. However, I found myself enjoying the lack of random battle transitions and juggling the gambit commands. Sure, the license board wasn’t perfect, but I managed to get over that aspect as well. The storyline, while more concerned with political scheming and “strategy” than its predecessors showed promise as well. So what, exactly, was the problem here?

The answer to this conundrum revealed itself to me in a moment of terror in which I found myself longing for the whiny temper tantrums so characteristic of Tidus, or Squall’s silent, unexplained brooding as Rinoa and Selphie poked at the sleeves of his hip leather jacket. I discovered that I was longing for even the most annoying character traits that pervaded the Final Fantasy – verse. I needed personality. What Final Fantasy XII so desperately lacked was character development.

While not essential to every video game out there, personality is usually present to a certain extent regardless of genre, be it platformer, RPG or FPS. Character development manifests itself in multiple forms, from the teasing, more light-hearted feel of games like Ratchet and Clank to those more along the lines of Metal Gear Solid or Half Life. Depth and personality within the characters gamers spend hours with gives us an emotional connection to them, as well as the story. It bridges the divide between you, the TV (or monitor!), and the world you manipulate with your controller.

The Final Fantasy games are responsible for some of the industry’s most beloved and infamous characters. While character depth is important for any video game, perhaps the figures of this particular series are put on a higher pedestal than the rest. Throughout the course of the franchise gamers have been introduced to characters with extremely detailed lives and personalities, inspiring disputes and discussion among nerds everywhere regarding the motives, actions and traits of their most beloved video game heroes.

Character developers for Final Fantasy IX can certainly be credited for innovating an enemy that managed to impress us with his bad-assery and general anti-social creepiness while also sporting a thong (Yes, I am talking about Kuja. If you missed the thong, maybe you’re due for another replay – or, well, on second thought, maybe not).

The Final Fantasy series created and immortalized the enmity between Sephiroth and Cloud. Of course, we cannot forget to mention the insane clown man without a cause that is Kefka of Final Fantasy VI fame. Yet with intense evil there also comes the struggles of the heroes. I don’t care if you are the manliest of all of the manly men – I know you were at least a little depressed when Aerith, our innocent flower seller, was killed by Sephiroth.

Final Fantasy tugged at our heart strings yet again as Tidus walked through Yuna and jumped off the airship as the rest of the party looked on. And perhaps one of the most striking moments in a video game involves the dramatic complexity of the famous “Opera Scene” in Final Fantasy VI. The list of canonical moments could go on and on.
The reason why all of these moments are so memorable is due in part to the fantastic story lines, but also, equally as important, to the interesting interesting and well thought out characters and their interwoven relationships with one another. Created with equally distinct flaws and strengths, the characters are lovable or hate – able, or perhaps somewhere in between. Either way, they are definitely easy to relate to on a human level. We, as the players, develop bonds with these fictional people. Their unique qualities are what draw us in so deeply to what happens in the game and keeps us invested as the game progresses.

It is in this area, then, where Final Fantasy XII ultimately fails. I realized that I didn’t care about the characters; they all fell flat to me. While they each had their own personal histories that connected to the over-arching political turmoil they had been cast into, that was as far as any personality depth reached. I can honestly say there are no real moments that stand out to me, whereas just a few paragraphs ago it was difficult for me to stop typing and move on with this article.

The lack of any sort of developed personality kept me separated from the game. Ultimately, due to the fact that I couldn’t bring myself to care what happened to the people I should be rooting for or even the villains, I was led to stop playing and pursue other games which had plenty of interesting characters while giving me the RPG goodness I craved.

Without realistic, entertaining, yet imperfect characters, a story is incomplete. The characters are the agents that pull you into a video game, after all. If the true weakness of Final Fantasy XII lies in its less than colorful personalities, we can see just how integral a solid cast is to the overall impact a game has on those who play it, particularly a game of the caliber of Final Fantasy.

Although Final Fantasy XII was a sturdy game in its own right, I don’t feel as though it has the stand out qualities of those that came before it. Ashe, Vaan, and the others seem like pale comparisons to those that preceded them – the Aeriths, Cecils, and Daggers. Those games that we remember and keep returning to, the ones that have the longest lasting effect on the gaming community, are more often than not supported by a strong, unique set of characters.

  1. Final Fantasy XII was a great game, but it wasn’t the greatest. A valid and polished time sink though.

  2. I’d say it’s the worst Final Fantasy. The villain didn’t have character, and I didn’t feel a connection to anyone except David Bowie. It was a decent JRPG, but an FF game?

  3. I would even go farther and say it wasn’t an incredibly good game. The plot moved at such a slow pace that you could emulate it by turning on a movie, watching two minutes of it, then pausing it for five hours before coming back to watch two more minutes. After doing this enough times, you forget what’s happening, and why you even should care. Granted, there’s always a lot of balancing to be done with pacing between gameplay and story segments, but if you analogized it to a see-saw, there would be a 600-pound man on the gameplay side.

    And, for as much gameplay as there is, the game is awfully boring. The gambit system essentially makes it so you don’t have to do anything in combat (and, even if you just use a gambit that attacks enemies in proximity, you don’t have to do much).

    To top it off, the sidequests are optional, but not really; if you decide not to do the hunts and other stuff, you’ll have to slowly grind your way to the next destination. After doing that for about 60 hours, I got tired of it.

    I appreciate the goal of the combat, which was to make it so there were less transition screens, waiting times, and overall sluggishness that’s present in JRPG combat. However, the way they did it treated combat almost like a necessary evil instead of something that should have been fun.

    So, while I commend them for trying, I really didn’t like the gameplay, and when the original Producer/Director (Yasumi Matsuno) had to leave in the middle of development, I pretty much guessed the story wasn’t going to be that great either. Still, Final Fantasy 13 is looking like it will accomplish FF12′s intended goal in a much more fun way, so I’m hyped for that.

  4. avatar cesca

    While I’ve only played FFVI-XII (minus XI) I think this is the worst of the lot by far – after I FORCED myself to finish it, I stayed away from videogames for a couple of months because I disliked this so much. I couldn’t play an RPG for a long time because of the horrible aftertaste this game left (In fact, it wasn’t until Persona 3 that I enjoyed and RPG again).

    While many RPGs from the PS2 era (like Xenosaga) get critized for having to much story, I’d rather have that than FXII’s horribly unbalanced gameplay – story ratios.

    While I did like some characters (Penelo was cute, Balthier was very charismatic, and the Judges were badass, at least design-wise) in general it lacked flavor and story was too sparse to be relevant.

    And it wasn’t fun – at all- I loved micromangament, but this game was far to passive to be enjoyable. If it had been more “.dot hack-ish”, it probably would’ve been better.

    Anyways, I hope XIII is good, God know they are taking their sweet time developing it.

  5. avatar Sup Dawg

    I guess it was hard for FFXII characters’ motivations to live up to those of characters in previous FF games, such as:

    “Khimari Small Ronso!”

    “They killed my MOM! (I never knew).

    “I love a girl I’ve hated for the past 3 discs.”

    Going to a game for story is kind of nonsense. That’s what books are for. That’s what movies are for. Games are for playing. I didn’t know very much about the Master Chief except that his games were kick ass to play.

    FFXII was a fun game to play, much moreso than I can say about previous iterations.

  6. avatar Xbot

    Spot on Sup Dawg, while i also think that FF12 story was poor for a FF game, the gameplay was fantastic, KH kinda gameplay is what the FF needed since FFX-2, it’s more intense and fun actually i just loved the way i could see my enemies moving before i try to attack them and whenever i saw a enemy that i thought was too hard for me to kill i just went around it or kept running away from it.

    i easily locked 200+ hours in this game, all the sidequest are awesome, story is not the best i didn’t like it beacuase the main characther just doesn’t have that wow factor, but the other characthers like Fran and Balthier make it up for it they are badass.

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  7. Great write-up, Jess. Having never played a FF game myself, I found your insight extremely intriguing.


    Even the games that are most fun to play more often than not need strong characters with which you can form a bond.

  8. Thanks for the great comments, guys. While I’m all for blowing up things mindlessly, I also like substance to my video games on occasion, particularly in the Final Fantasy games. I just think that JRPGs are mainly story driven, and if that aspect of the game is lacking, there’s only so much you can get out of it. Grinding and grinding from boss to boss without any significant motive just gets pretty boring after a while!

  9. avatar Sup Dawg

    @ Jess

    I can understand not wanting a “Garbage” story in a videogame, but devaluing a videogame solely because of its story is like complaining about the quality of McDonald’s food.

    It’d be reach to claim that a game that’s as dense as FFXII is also lacking in the story department. In my experience, people who have a problem with FFXII’s characters really just miss the anime-esque, prototypical avatars that made Square famous.

    If you dissect each character in terms of likeness to characters in previous games:

    Fran isn’t unlike Khimari at all and to some extent Vivi and Red XIII.

    Ashe is EVERY FF female protagonist ever made.

    Balthier is Han Solo, plain and simple.

    For the sake of length, I won’t list every character, but just as in previous titles, these characters all draw on Stereotypes that Square has been using for years, they just don’t share the same art style, but their motivations are almost exactly the same from FF game to FF game.

    Maybe you’re just growing weary of the formula, and it’s all just blending together now.

  10. I think it’s one thing to borrow (or even copy) from a formula, but to compare these archetypes to each other as a justification of how FF12′s story is somehow okay is looking at the “what” and not the “how”.

    What I mean is that, sure, you might be right. FF12 characters are based on other stereotypes, which were probably based on other stereotypes, etc. etc. This is nothing new. People know this, and people who dislike a story with these elements are not disliking them just because they’re old.

    It’s ALL about HOW you pull it off. And, like Jess said, it was done with no character. Because I’m an opinionated jerk, I’d take it the extra mile and say that the characters beyond Balthier were hardly more than blank slates; they weren’t characters, or even merely caricatures. There’s plenty of cliche stories out there that are brilliant, but Final Fantasy 12 is definitely NOT one of them.

  11. avatar Sup Dawg

    @ Jamie

    Yeah, but the question is WHY. “They fall flat” isn’t a reason, because from my point of view, FFXIIs narrative is probably the least wonky and contrived of all the previous FF games, in turn making it the least dumb to say the least. It’s a tale about political strife, which is a hell of a lot more relevant than one about ghosts fighting pollution.

    And like I said, how exactly is a character like Khimari, more well-realized than Fran was?

    Why is Auron more popular than Basch? I’m pretty sure it has to do with his character design, which is similar to the stuff most modern RPG players love.

    In all honesty, I’m pretty sure stupidity and outlandishness are being mistaken for a “Brilliant” narrative, a tale has to involve ghosts and memories and long/spiky hair for it to be classfied as “Brilliant”.

    But at the end of the day, none of these narratives are “brilliant” they’re all just okay renditions of stuff we’ve read in better books and seen in better movies.

    Yes, it’s important for a game to give you some decent context for what you’re doing… but it isn’t THAT important.

  12. avatar Bioshock

    for everyone that is saying story in not important in video games i have one thing to say, Rapture

  13. I agree! Bioshock showed the video game world how successfully a FPS game could incorporate a strong story without sacrificing game play as well.

  14. avatar @ Bioshock

    Bioshock’s story isn’t the draw. Its STORY was about an anmesiac trying to find out where he is.

    Bioshock’s main draw was Rapture itself. Setting and Atmosphere. Notsomuch the tale that took place within it.

    Dont’ confuse the two.

  15. Umm, I know this is old but I was just browsing through old stories and I thought I would make a quick rebuttal. Haha.

    Why was Rapture as a setting and environment the main draw of Bioshock? Sure, it looked cool but that alone was not enough to make Bioshock the huge success that it was. Rapture was fascinating because we were given the opportunity to discover the reason why this city was here in the first place, who built it, and why it eventually went bad – or to put it simply – the story of Rapture.

  16. avatar anon

    you mean Aeris

    • avatar Kazuyuki

      Hi,I think you are missing a seicotn to describe the code changes made to the Droid class, in making use of the new Speed class.Otherwise, a very good step by step progressive tutorial.CheersKevin

  17. …or she actually means Aerith. It’s both ways (th=JP, s=NA).

    Wait, why do I even know that? I’ve never played VII.

  18. avatar Evan Spencer

    I loved this game so much, I had over 100 hours invested and I still havent obtained every rare item or Esper!
    The combat system was a great change,
    cuz EVERYONE hated random battles.
    Also the gambit system was even better cuz there was over a thousand possible combinations, probably more!!!
    The game had amazing graphics.
    If this could be hooked up to an HD-TV and a Blu-Ray disc player,
    you could probably see a pimple on Ashe’s spotless face !!
    But yes,
    the story lacked in detail and was short.
    They should’ve made the story a couple places longer.
    Also, the character art wasnt THAT good,
    but it was alright since the graphics popped out the colours !!
    And yes,
    the game becomes boring at times especially when getting the Zodiac Spear from the Henne Mines or any other rare item :(

    Overall I’d give this game an A- or 8.5/10 :)

  19. avatar KALAbrian

    I love FF12 but I hated how the main character switched to Ashe. I was so PO’d about that, and I just played with the first three people [Balthier, Fran, Vaan]
    I also disliked the fact that it was a political thing and it didn’t let you travial the world… It’s called a WORLD MAP not a EMPIRE MAP. I wanted to traval to Rozzarria (sp?) :[
    Anyways Tales of the abyss reminded me of FF12. almost the same plot, the characters almost had the same characteristics and the political thing… and the weak “princess” (EWW)

  20. avatar cj

    Fran is pretty hot

    • avatar Mimos

      1. If you already have other M rated games then it isn’t so bad. The game is pterty damn twisted, with some gore and strong language, though.2. You wake up in the ocean surrounded by parts of a crashed plane and fire. You swim to shore to take refuge in the only structure in sight. Shortly after entering this building and going down in what appeared to be an elevator you learn it is an under water city called Rapture, where all of the inhabitants have gone mentally insane.3. Let them know that you’re maturing, and know the difference between reality and fantasy.Hope this helped you. Bioshock really is one of the best games you will ever play.

  21. avatar cj

    Shes the real Playboy Bunny

  22. avatar 123

    @KALAbrian are u serious? TOA characters are like FFXII? hello TOA had character development the story was very good the villain wasn’t(tada da) somebody’s twin and he had a purpose, the game had so many funny event’s and balance between gameplay and story cut scenes, and the combat system was very fun and rewarding and each character has his/her own class, and what week princess are you talking about? sheesh XII is the worst thing that came out from SE and very close behind it the FFVII spin offs DOC & CC all of them don’t deserve the FF name plain and simple, they lacked every thing the story, the music, the characters and the fun and rewarding gameplay that had verity.

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  23. avatar Ify

    Honestly I hated the game. I mean the game play was pretty good if you ignore the fact that you can practically play through it and watch the battles. But I play FF’s for the story line. If I’m looking for amazing game play I’ll pick up something like MGS4 or some such. In FF’s I want to play a game where I’m feeling for the characters – I want to feel it when Fran is kicked out of her village rather then just watching and wondering how old she really is. I had a real problem with the ending boss I mean who was Vayne? (that was his name right?) Look in VI there was Kefka – guy who wanted to control our main character, VII – Sephiroth, too much history to go into… but you get the idea, VIII – Ultimecia who had been behind all that they had been going through from the beginning, X – Yu Yevon, You practically destroyed a worlds religion.. Now XII who the hell was Vayne to anybody? (My spelling suck)

    All in all, I found the story to be greatly lacking. maybe it had something to do the fact that this FF was no longer about fate of the world but rather the fate of a country. I can’t really put my finger on it it may just have been the lack luster characters, but when the game ended I just couldn’t believe that that was it. I mean the credits rolled and I was still thinking that the game couldn’t be over yet.

    I’m really hoping that XIII has more – much more – to offer.

    • avatar Bidyot

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  24. avatar Nick

    FF12 had a really bad storyline with boring characters all around. Sure it had a very different villain, but you don’t really see him for most of the game, and when you do, it’s without any action. The cutscenes were nice but there aren’t as many as I hoped. Because of this (and the games rather repetitive gameplay) it’s almost hard to complete the game. The gambit system is definitely a welcome feature, and it works well without random battles, and hunting can also be fun.
    Basically, I think that the game has a bad storyline and great gameplay.

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