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.