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Final Fantasy Challenge: Final Fantasy IX Part Two: Piece of Cake. I’m an Escape Artist

Vivi_Ornitier_character

Copyright Square Enix

War and death.  It’s actually kind of shocking how much violence this game has.  I remember when it came out, it was pitched as kind of a softer game compared to the more gritty and grounded VII and VIII.  There’s a war in VIII, and I guess Sephiroth burns down a town, but neither of them have anything on the destruction of Cleyra.  Like, it was some pretty impressive 2000s PlayStation 1 CGI, too, but watching Odin ride out of the heavens and just blow up the whole damn city was unlike anything I’ve really experienced in a Final Fantasy game.  Outside of, you know, Kefka destroying the world.  Look, I’m not saying it’s the worst thing I’ve seen a villain do in Final Fantasy, I’m saying it’s one of the most visually spectacular examples of destruction depicted in the series that I have seen.

I’ve said before that Final Fantasy IX doesn’t fuck around, and the sheer amount of death and destruction that is depicted on screen by the war is not what I was expecting.  I expected characters to die, I did not expect a man to be burned to death for trying to protect his children by a bunch of black mages.  It’s still a bit late era PlayStation 1 looking, sure, but it doesn’t stop it from being kind of shocking.  I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started this.  I knew that IX dealt with some heavy themes, but I didn’t think I was going to get into this.

The point I’m at now, I have almost all of the characters.  What’s interesting is how much time they’ve spent away from each other.  Even now, roughly halfway through what would be the second disc, I only have four the characters with me, and several have left or gone on their own adventures since.  Steiner and Freya are gone and I’ve been reunited with Quina after thinking they were pretty much dead.  I really like this, because while it does mean the party feels less cohesive now, the fact that each character has their own arcs that they have to do on their own, or away from the rest of the party, means that their bonds grow deeper when they come back to the group proper.  It’s a thing I really liked about Final Fantasy VI, and I like seeing it here.  I really hope I get to see what Freya, Beatrix and Steiner are up to, having, hopefully, gotten away from Queen Brahne.  I guess I still have Amarant and Eiko left to get on my team, now.

Freya is probably my favorite of the two new characters, so I’ll talk about Quina first.  I love the idea of blue magic, but in practice, I’ve always found it to be a gigantic pain in the ass.  I mean, I did kind of spam Big Guard throughout 90% of Final Fantasy VII, but that was pretty much all I used the Enemy Skill Materia for, because getting most of the good stuff required more work than was worth it.  Weakening enemies just enough and hoping Quina will be able to eat them is not very fun.  Worse, I don’t really like Quina.  There is always a mascot sort of character in Final Fantasy games (actually, I think this is the last time the mascot character is playable), and they’re always various kinds of annoying.  Quina is all right.  Her stilted manner of speech does a lot to convey her character (simple, alien and childish, but not stupid) and that’s nice, on paper.  In practice, they’re just sort of annoying, and I don’t know if they are going to add much to the story.  On the flipside, they hit like a truck right now and have a lot more hit points that Garnet and Vivi do, so I’ll take them.

On the other spectrum, Freya is great.  I have a weakness for characters who are driven to protect others (Basch, for example), but she also gets points for not being broody.  Her quest for her boyfriend, her sense of duty, all of these things really push her forward as a character and give her nice motivations.  I do like that she sort of serves as a mirror to Steiner, as they’re both kind of stuffy, Lawful Good types who are more connected to their duty than the people behind that duty.  What’s interesting is that their growth is going in opposite directions.  While Steiner is slowly learning to become his own person, Freya is learning to be less of a loner.  I really hope I get to see them play off of each other.  Originally, I was like “oh great, I finally have a martial character who doesn’t suck,” and while I’m not the biggest fan of Dragoons, I like how her mechanics work and she’s a cool character.  However, now that Steiner is getting some real development, and is becoming much less of a stupid one note joke, I’m kind of glad they’re both here.

Right now, my only complaint about the story is that while it is dark, it does seem like there was a mandate to make sure it didn’t get too “broody.”  There’s very little angst here, even when there should be.  Tons of people die, and the characters do feel bad, they’re not totally cut off, but it’s always in a “we’re going to swallow our sadness and move on, be heroes, grieve later” sort of way.  That’s not strictly accurate, but the game can make that impression at times.  The emotional weight on the players is fine, but it does seem like sometimes the emotional weight on the characters isn’t heavy enough.  I don’t want an overwrought scene where a character struggles with his own guilt over not being able protect a party member and they wind up giving the bad guy the evil macguffin, I just want them to linger perhaps a bit more.

Also, the skill system just means I don’t upgrade enough.  It’s weird, I’m not sure I like it.  I get that it’s trying to get away from over complexity after Junctioning (oh man, there’s a reason why I’m doing VIII second to last), but most of the time I’m equipping items less for their stats, and more for their skills, even if I don’t use the skills very much.  I’m also worried I’m going to have a bunch of skills by the end, and not enough points to use them effectively.  There’s a lot I have to say about that, but I want to make sure I know what I’m talking about.

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Final Fantasy Challenge: Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age Part 4: I am Simply Myself. No More, No Less. And I Only Want to Be Free.

Vayne_Solidor1

Copyright Square Enix

I wonder if King Raithwall was like Vayne when the Occuria came to him.  Young, dangerous and so certain of his own actions and power that he would be willing to use the nethecite to beat the world into submission.  I know the Raithwall at the end of his days was more like how Ashe would develop into by the end of the game, just with a heaping helping of regret added on top.  His warnings engraved into the Pharos at Ridorana, mixed with the Occurian degrees of power and domination, set up this idea of a man who was not happy with his choices in life.  He said to cut through illusions, and we as players take it to mean that Ashe should use the Treaty Blade upon the “ghost” of Rassler, but I would imagine the Occuria showed Raithwall the same thing.  Who did they show him?  Who did he lose?

We know Venat showed Vayne exactly what he wanted, and Vayne refused to cut through the illusions.  He accepted them readily, and was willing to become, in his own words, a new Dynast-King.  Raithwall did the same thing, otherwise there wouldn’t have been the Galtean Alliance and Archades and Rosaria wouldn’t have risen to prominence.  I wonder if, at the end of his life, Vayne would have the same regrets.  It would be interesting to find that Final Fantasy Tactics is an Ivalice that rose from the ashes of Vayne’s rule.  More likely, it might be vengeance from the Occuria, but I like to think that success in Final Fantasy XII means Tactics never happens.  Not because Tactics is bad, but it canonically takes place in an Ivalice that was wracked by a cataclysm that destroyed the Age of Technology.

When I defeated Vayne at the end, I got a bit emotional for him, and for Noah as well.  They were very similar to a lot of Shakespearean tragic heroes that it made their own falls so much more sad.  Sure, Vayne is a huge asshole.  He’s vain, of course, self-righteous, cruel and heartless, but he’s so convinced of the rightness of his cause, and right it is, that he’s pushed himself to madness.  I am convinced that scene at the beginning of the game where he tells Migelo he’s just an elected official and that he wasn’t any better than anyone else is completely genuine.  Then there’s poor Noah.  As Gabranth, he murdered a king and killed a kingdom, he tormented his brother out of jealousy and still, he clung to some sort of honor.  They were evil, yeah, but there was so much more to them than just evil.  Their passing is sad, especially Noah’s.  Vayne is stopped, and it’s triumphant in the sense that he had gone off the deep end, but it doesn’t mean I don’t feel bad for what happened to Vayne.  Noah, on the other hand, was only able to find redemption in his death, and that’s just too much.  At the same time, I’m playing Tales of Berseria with a friend, and a pair of villains get killed and while the game tries to play this as a big tragedy, both characters are such unrepentant jackasses that I don’t feel bad for them at all.

It’s a testament to how well each character is handled in Final Fantasy XII.  I feel for Noah and Basch, Cid and Balthier, Ashe and her kingdom, Vaan and his lack of direction in life, all of them feel real.  This is a crazy fantasy world where Star Wars ships fight over a city in a Star Wars battle (one that looks a lot better than the battles from the Star Wars movies that had just come out around the time XII was initially released) and a bunch of immortal jackasses who decided they were gods hand out magical nukes to make sure history goes as they want, but it comes across as a real, grounded story.  A real grounded story where I routinely beat up T-Rexes with swords and guns.

I’m talking a lot about the end, but there’s a lot more.  I was really impressed with the Pharos as a dungeon.  This is the Final Fantasy I’ve played the most, but the past two times I played it, I didn’t have the time to really enjoy it, so getting to really play around with it (and being high enough level that it wasn’t much of a challenge…) was a lot of fun.  It’s interesting in how big it is and how well developed.  It’s more of a final dungeon, with the eight bosses, two of them Espers, and three of the bosses in a row, than the actual final dungeon.  Bahamut, by contrast, was just a couple of hallways with an infinite number of low powered enemies.  The bosses were pretty spectacular, but the dungeon itself was a bit of a letdown.  Pharos was great.  It’s a long, long fight to the top, and once there, so much happens all at once.  Cid and Balthier get to finish their storylines, Gabranth finally confronts the party and his story gets kicked into high gear, and Ashe gets to the end of her rising action in her story.  Plus, Reddas is just a straight up badass.  “What if I take up the stone?”  “Then your woe is your own.”  We later find out that he’d kill her if she did, so that is stone cold.  Plus, him sacrificing himself to stop the Sun Cryst.  It’s such a great ending, with Bahamut being the final denouement.

There’s still a little bit left for me to get through as far as side quests.  I killed all of the regular hunts, but I still have some Elite Marks left (Gilgamesh, Ixion, Behemoth King, Seer and Yizamat) and the top three Espers, plus Hellwyrm.  I’ll do them later, I’m going to start Final Fantasy IX first.  This is the last Final Fantasy Challenge I do on XII.  I probably won’t stop talking about it, though, it’s my favorite JRPG.

Final Fantasy Challenge: Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age Part 3: Venat is a Heretic

This one is a long time coming, mostly because I’ve spent a lot of time taking down marks and elite marks (and maybe playing a bit of Dragon Ball FighterZ), and I haven’t really pushed too far into the story.  However, because I’ve been taking down marks, I’ve seen huge sections of the game I’ve never seen before.  Final Fantasy XII is one of my favorite games of all time, and there are whole sections of the game I’ve more or less glossed over because it was too much work.

However, that work is worth it.  There are so many cool things to do and see in Ivalice that I’m glad I’m finally getting to see it in full 1080p glory.  Most of the sidequests here fall into the Clan Centurio stuff, and what’s interesting is how much cool world building they do.  While some of the Marks and Elite Marks are references to other Final Fantasy games, and a few are just straight up bosses from other Final Fantasy games, it’s interesting to see how well integrated they are into the lore of Ivalice.  The writers really thought through what each monster really means and how they connect, and how very cool a fantasy world Ivalice is.  One of my favorite bits of trivia is that the Bagolys, which are the Final Fantasy XII and XIV equivalent to owlbears, were created by wizards to be aerial troops, and had a level of sentience and sapience that was sapped from them when they weren’t needed, thanks to the invention of airships.  It’s cool, because it ties in with one of the themes of the powerful abusing the powerless, since one of the reason these monsters are out roaming the world is because the kings of eld forgot about them when new, shiny technology showed up.  It’s totally in line with Raithwall bringing peace through nuking the shit out of everyone.

XII_marilith_render

Image Copyright Square Enix

What does impress me is how well they’re able to use the character models to portray different games.  This was one of the first high end Final Fantasy games, and because the PlayStation 2 could only handle so much, and the DVDs could hold only so much space, Final Fantasy XII has a lot of reused character models and palette swaps, and they manage to make them look really good.  Sure, Marlith up there is a bit boring, but she’s really the exception.  Expecting to get something completely unique like XV’s Nagarani on what was really a PS2 game isn’t fair, so I have to commend the art team for doing such a splendid job on giving each mark, enemy and boss a unique look, even if it’s just a palette swap.

Another reason for a lack of updates is that I reached the biggest lull in the story.  Between Judge Bergan and getting to Archades, there’s a huge trek across all of rural Arcadia.  It was pretty fun from a gameplay perspective, since I was constantly switching around PCs and getting into all sorts of trouble via the Clan Centurio side quest, but it also meant the story sort of fell off.  This is one of the places I, personally, have gotten bored at and took a couple of months before soldiering through, and I know it’s where a lot of other people stop at.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of really gorgeous scenery, and it shows the bio-dynamism of the games environments.  The Mosphoran Highwaste is one of the more interesting places in the game, and Phon Coast might be the best beach in Final Fantasy.  There’s so much to see and do, that I didn’t really have a problem skipping out on story, although it wasn’t absent.  We do get a lot of character beats, and while Fran and Penelo remain mostly underdeveloped, Ashe and Balthier do get a lot added to their personal arcs here, which is good since so much was dedicated to Vaan and Basch previously.  Once we get to Archades, things kick back into full gear, even if I did faff around and kill a bunch more Marks for the Hell of it before going into the Great Crystal.

Venat-possessing-Mjrn

Image Copyright Square Enix

It’s here we learn about the Occuria and Venat and what all of the arc words have been about.  The Occuria might be some of the biggest assholes in Final Fantasy.  Self-styled gods who judge the world of man because the humes, viera, bangaa, nu mou and others don’t do exactly as they ask?  Like, god being evil is sort of a Final Fantasy thing, but generally we get a Kefka situation, where the evil god is a former mortal, or their evil is due to mortals.  Nope, the Occuria are just abusive assholes who feel completely justified in handing magical nukes to whatever bloody handed tyrant they want.

Ashe’s horrified look when they tell her to see revenge in Giruvegan says all that needs to be said about them.  However, the Occuria make for a really interesting take on one of the points this game was trying to make.  One of the things the producer and the writers have said about XII is that they wanted to make the game where the good guys are sort of selfish and the bad guys have noble goals.  It’s contrasted by Rabanastre being an absolute monarchy while Arcadia is democratically elected (uh, sorta), but the Occuria are also an example of this.  Venat is right in his motivation, and his aims are noble, but he, like his allies Vayne and Cid, have fallen into corruption.  Meanwhile, the heroes are somewhat self-motivated, but they’ll get a chance to become selfish by rejecting all of this.  Interestingly, Venat, Vayne and Cid aren’t too different from the Occuria, either.

They talk a lot about history returning to the hands of man.  They’re referring to the Occuria and their interference in mortal history, and the way they say it, they mean all man, from king to commoner.  However, in practice, they don’t mean that at all.  Bergan pretty much straight up says he wants to tear down the Occurian tyranny specifically to raise of Vayne’s, and while Vayne portrays himself, and probably believes himself, to be a man of the people and a just ruler, he is actually just as much a tyrant as the Occuria.

Final Fantasy Challenge: Final Fantasy XII the Zodiac Age Part 2: He shall defy the will of the gods, and see the reigns of history in the hands of man

I was originally going to go with a Basch quote about bearing any shame if it meant he could save even one person from the horrors of war, but I really feel like this quote from Judge Bergan, one of the few actual bit players in the game, fits this point in the game better.  I’m about at the halfway point, on my way to Archades, and I’ve reached about the most heart-rending part of the game, where Bergan tears through the refugee camp at Mt. Bur-Omisace all for the purpose of striking against the gods.

That quote up there is sort of the major theme of the game.  I’m not going to get too much into spoilers, but this is the Final Fantasy I’ve played more than most, so I know what he’s talking about and while I don’t want to give anything away, his quest is sort of noble.  It’s interesting, though, to see the lengths to which Vayne, through people like Bergan and Cid, are willing to go through to succeed at a goal that may be noble, but their methods are just brutal.  If the gods are as bad as they’re saying they are, is murdering the clergy that serves them and burning the refugees they’re trying to help actually doing anything about it?

Judge_Bergan-large

Copyright Square Enix

One of the major themes of this game is power and its use.  Remember, the back story of this game is pretty much “what if King Arthur actually had nukes?” so the bad guys having a potentially noble goal, but are willing to murder innocent people who are just tangentially, if unwittingly, opposed to that goal is something that this game is going to explore.  The first time I played this game, it seemed like a pretty cruel thing for the empire to do, and it was carried out by this actual crazy person.  It’s a great scene, because it’s a scene that shows what Empire, or at least Vayne, is capable of, but it’s also so full of foreshadowing and really lays out the themes of the game.

Everything about this game explores power, and it ties in with the game.  The Espers I have to get are the same Lucavi demons from Final Fantasy Tactics (literally the same, Tactics takes place in the, or possibly an alternate, future), and their story, too, is similar to that of mine.  At the same time, the MacGuffin in this game are also literal magical nukes, that may or may not be made out of the souls of the dead.   To have one of the bad guy show up and exposit about it makes for a great scene, and it underscores what makes this game so damn good.

So, I’m about halfway or so though the game.  I’m on my way to Archades, and I’m going to take a break from the story to take out a few of the Elite Marks and do some sidequests.  I said before that I’m worried about playing VII and VIII because of how all of the sidequests introduce some sort of minigame (or a terrible trading card game), but I’m really glad that this game just has me use the mechanics of the game.  Mostly all I need to do is talk to a guy and get a quest, which has me fight some kick ass monster.  I guess it’s a little limited, and I know that’s why the Playstation era games decided to add those minigames, but it’s refreshing to not have to learn a completely different set of mechanics just because of one damn fight.

There are a few gimmick fights in this.  I fought some magnet monster (who I forgot to steal from again!)  that was a little weird, but it was just a cool mechanic.  It helped I wasn’t wearing a shit ton of heavy armor, so the magnet abilities, which would put a Slow-like mechanic on a guy wearing Heavy Armor, didn’t have a huge impact on me, but the fight was still challenging enough that it kind of pushed me.  It’s not as punishing as the original, and I like that, but it still requires me to work hard at the game and try to do my best.

I’ve also managed to reach a point in the game where I have two license boards, and I’m starting to get Epsers and level three Quickenings, which actually have an impact on what abilities I can get.  So, for example, because I gave Basch the Esper Mateus, he was able to get some high end White Magic, that he wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise.  The way the dual license board system works, along with the unique Espers and Quickenings, is actually pretty cool because it means my build still has a bit of differences, even with the pre-defined classes.

I’m enjoying the game more than I’ve ever enjoyed it.  The Zodiac Age is much, much improved over the original.  I had some serious gameplay issues with the original, but overlooked them because I love the stories and characters, as well as the themes it explores and the gorgeous art direction.  Now, it’s actually even more fun to play, because it smoothes over a lot of the rough edges.  Elder Wyrm was still a huge pain in the ass, with its goddamn Treant adds and Sporefall ability.  I maintain it’s the hardest boss of the main campaign because of where it is, but I’m glad I made it through on my first try, rather than having to smash my head against the wall and grind and grind and grind to make sure I have enough experience to beat him through attrition.  Thanks to the revised mechanics, I felt I was able to win more through strategy, and then shifting tactics during the battle, than just having more hitpoints and spells than he had times to hit me in the face with his fucking Sporefall.

Final Fantasy Challenge: Final Fantasy XII The Zodiac Age part 1 Don’t Believe Ondore’s Lies

Seriously, don’t.  Because that man is a master of manipulation.  I had never really considered how good he was at manipulating the events of the game to his, and to Dalmasca’s, benefit.  There are characters who attempt to play both sides, to do the whole “magnificent bastard” archetype, and too often we get characters like Senator Palaptine in the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy who can just do stuff because they know the future or they’re just so, so smart, they can predict anything.  Bean from the Ender books and Light from Death Note are similar.  I actually really dislike characters like that because their manipulations come across more as plot contrivances than the character actually being manipulative.  Marquis Halim Ondore feels legitimate in his ability to play all sides.

As a player, it’s hard to actually read where his loyalties lie.  This is my third time through, and even though I haven’t played the game in almost 10 years (Jesus, I thought i loved this game), I know which side he’s on.  I also know that at the point I’m at, having finally gotten my full party, I also know that he’s going to come across as shady for most of the game.  Having Basch pull out his sword while in his office, so they get arrested by Ghis, who has both Ashe and Penelo, was a masterstroke.  What’s cool is that this easily could have been a plot contrivance, but the game makes a point of establishing Ondore as already knowing what is going on.  He knew where Ashe was, and he picked up on the girl Larsa brought with him is important to the kid Basch and the sky pirate brought with them, so he manages to kill two birds with one stone.

Ondore1

Copyright Square Enix

So, why am I talking so much about Ondore?  Because Ondore is an example of how this game does good by all of its characters.  Vaan is probably the least liked character, and he does fall into a trap that a lot of anime and video game characters of that era were falling into, but in a lot of ways, his characterization is more of a commentary on that sort of anime/shonen hero rather than an embrace of it.  I notice he’s not too dissimilar from Edward Elric in that regard, in that they’re both brash, naive and a bit selfish.  Both of them, too, are kind and heroic and are interested in using their skills to help people, yes, but the first three traits are what we see for both of them right at the beginning, and they are personality traits that the work they appear in portray as downsides.  Compare to someone like Naruto (or any of the heroes in that story), their brashness, naivete and general selfishness is not rewarded and gets them, and their friends in trouble just as much.

Vaan causes tons of issues for Balthier and Basch early on, but neither of them are going to take any of his shit.  Vaan’s characterization makes him a pretty typical teenage protagonist, but the way the characters treat him and his antics show that they aren’t going to let him be a dipshit the whole game, and that’s what makes this game great.  It also helps that the characters have tons of foils both in and out of the party.  Consider Larsa, who is also naive, but his primary character trait is that he’s kind.  He expects Vayne will treat the people of Dalmasca as Vayne treated him, with kindness and respect.  There’s also some evidence to suggest that Vayne’s murder of their two older brothers was to protect Larsa from some sort of mortal danger, although the game doesn’t elaborate on it.  Anyway, because Vayne was kind to him, Larsa expects Vayne will be kind to the people of Dalmasca.  He’s 12, and it’s easy to see why a 12-year-old would think this.  He manages to be a great foil to Vaan, since Vaan’s naivete is based on something else, but more importantly, both use the story as a means to grow up and become better people, and better leaders.

I’m marching through the game at a decent pace.  This version of the game is much easier than the PS2 version, and that’s a compliment.  Too much of the difficulty in the original version of the game is because it was built with XI in mind, a game that is so insanely difficult, it’s hard to believe it was considered an easy MMORPG when it came out.  The Zodiac Age does a better job of balancing out the HP and damage of both the enemies and the PCs, making the game feel much smoother.  That doesn’t mean the game is without challenge, Judge Ghis nearly killed Balthier a bunch of times, and was only saved by a quick use of a Reflectaga mote right at the end of the fight.

The new licence board is also so much better.  Not only do the classes give each character an identity, the licences are actually better spread out, and it’s much, much easier to plan out a character.  Once I got Ashe on my team and made her a Foebreaker, I was able to get her up to tank status right away, and build her out in such a way that that I knew what I could grab over the next few levels.  I really like that most of their equipment or spells are nearby, meaning the player can focus on getting the stuff that is relevant to their class pretty easily, while the more complex or esoteric stuff comes later.  For instance, all of the White, Black and Green magick available to a Red Battlemage is all very close, but the Greatswords are further down the equipment list, closer to when the characters will be able to actually purchase that level of greatsword.

I still dislike the weird “k” they’ve added to everything.  Magick, Technicks, etc.  It’s dumb looking.  On the other hand, it’s a lot easier to get Techniques now, too, because they were in some weird places on the original licence board, and now they’re properly distributed into the different classes in such a way that they’re easy to grab, as a means to better flesh out the class.

Currently, my team is as follows: Vaan: Monk, Balthier: White Mage, Fran: Red Battlemage, Basch: Knight, Ashe: Foebreaker and Penelo: Time Battlemage.  Once I get Licence Board +, I’ll add Shikari To Vaan, Machinst to Balthier, Archer to Fran, Ulhan to Basch, Bushi to Ashe and Black Mage to Penelo.  I’m thinking I should have given her Black Mage first, then moved into Time Battlemage, but too late.

Final Fantasy Challenge Changing All of The Rules

So, I decided the worst thing to do was to follow my original plan and play through all of the Final Fantasy games all at once.  Actually, looking over my original plans and rules for this playthrough, I found that I wasn’t going to actually enjoy this.  I was looking at this like work, instead of a fun thing I can use to write about one of my favorite video game series.  So, I decided to drop all of my rules and play all of the games in whatever order I wanted to.  That order was to play all of the ones I haven’t played, but I wanted to start with XII.

Final_Fantasy_XII

Copyright Square Enix

Longtime readers know that XII is my favorite Final Fantasy game.  It’s a close fight between it and VI, mostly because both have a lot of things I like in my RPGs.  A large cast of PCs that each feel like the main character of their own story, a villain, or collection of villains, that feel real and have real motivations, tons of magitech (that’s apparently a thing for me) and a focus on a spanning political epic that effects the lives of king and commoner alike.  XII gets the nod mostly because of the sweet airships, and a kickass art book I got when I bought the strategy guide 12 years ago.  I got it for free.  I dressed up like a Black Mage for a costume contest and won by default.

Already, the Zodiac Age manages to make things better right at the very beginning.  Obviously the graphics have been touched up, but not by a whole lot.  Final Fantasy XII pushed the Playstation 2 to its limit back in the day, and it had really great art direction.  The opening mission with Reks and Basch looks great, and I forgot how good of an intro it really is.  It comes after nearly five minutes of gorgeous cutscenes that set the stage for the game, so I always remembered it being a bit slow, but the game does a good job of teaching how things work.  Plus, it does themeing really well by teaching the player about what they will be able to become by having Basch use his Fulminating Darkness on the boss.  It’s not quite on the level of Zero blasting off the arm of Vile’s mech in one charge shot, but you know, it’s going to be hard to match up to the first level of Mega Man X, the best first level of any game in the world.

The first thing I noticed is that the voice acting no longer sounds like it was recorded in a can.  The weird, mono-esque echo that plagues the original Playstation 2 version is gone.  All of the voices sound crisp and clear, and it’s surprising how good the voice acting is.  The game uses a sort of antiquated, semi-Shakespearean vocabulary and it would be easy to stumble over the words, especially since so much of this was recorded in late 2005, and wasn’t redone for the remake.  However, they all do a really good job of acting.  This shouldn’t be a thing I have to say, but 12 years ago, “video game voice acting” was kind of a joke, and if it was a Japanese game, that went double.  Hell, even Final Fantasy had difficulty with this, as even professional voice actors had difficulty with X (although not as much as expected) and XIII is such a shit show in so many ways, it shouldn’t be surprising that the voice acting is also bad.  Here, though, it’s great.  They have serious cartoon actors (John DiMaggio, Keith James Ferguson, Phil LaMarr, among many others) and the less well known actors all seem to have stage acting experience, which helps with the awkward phrasing and old-timey sort of talking.

So far, I’ve only completed the first parts with Vaan.  I’m going to try power leveling at the beginning to avoid some of the more unpleasant aspects of the midgame, but the reviews say the difficulty curve is much less shitty, and it’s easier to get both money and license points.  The job system apparently helps with that.  I’m using a guide for my job choices, since I’m tired and have a lot going on at work, and it’s apparently suboptimal (like keeping a gun in Balthier’s hands), but I’d rather have a bit of fun with this playthrough than make it work.  After all, this is about experiencing games I didn’t get to grow up with, but always did.  This is about as close to nostalgia as I can get, and I’m ready for it.  Time to beat myself up so an undead monster shows up and I can chain kill it for power leveling!  This is actually less lame than it sounds.

Edit: After a week of playing Final Fantasy XII, I’ve decided to take this out of the Final Fantasy XII playthrough section and make its own thing to stand alone.  My thoughts on XII have evolved and I have different things to say on the subject, so I’m keeping this here as a statement that I’m not going to follow the original rules that I laid out, and have decided to approach specific write ups from a different perspective.

Basically, I put a lot of stupid pressure on myself for no reason, and I’m going to ignore all of it because I hate it and want to do things my way.

The Final Fantasy Challenge

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Copyright Square Enix

So, about three and a half years ago, in the lead up to the release of Metal Gear Solid V, I decided to play through every single Metal Gear Solid game.  I had never really been a fan, kind of on the periphery of the fandom, but I was familiar enough with the characters and the story.  When I played Metal Gear Rising: Revengence, though, I decided I really wanted to play all of the games, and the release of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes felt like as good a time as any.  I managed to make it thorough, although it took over a year and I didn’t play Peacewalker.  I didn’t have any plans to play Peacewalker, although I might give it a shot when I’ve got some time.

I won’t have time to do it soon, though, because I’ve decided I’m going to do the same thing, only with every single Final Fantasy game (except XI).  Unlike Metal Gear Solid, I’ve been a huge Final Fantasy fan since I was 11, and I’ve actually played pretty much every game in the series, except for V and XI.  However, I haven’t finished every game in the series, and that’s something I want to rectify, so over the past month, I made a point of getting a hold of every single Final Fantasy game in the main series so I can play through them over the course of the next year.  Or two.  This might take me a while.

Now, while I’m calling the game a “challenge,” the rules are fairly simple.  I just have to play and beat all of the games in the series.  I don’t have a time limit or anything, nor am I imposing any particular difficulties on me.  I just couldn’t think of a better name.  The idea is to get my thoughts on this long running series, so I’ll be blogging about what I think after I finish each game in the series.  I won’t be doing updates multiple times through each game like I did with Metal Gear Solid, since I actually have played most of these before.  This is half reexamining nostalgia, half trying to get through a giant backlog of a series I’ve always wanted to be a better fan of.

The idea came because I’ve had IX for years, but I haven’t ever finished it, or gotten very far into the game.  I loved what I played, but it was sort of a game I never had a reason to get into.  Part of it was time, part of it was incentive, but the point was, I wanted to play the game and I needed to give myself a reason.  Then, I realized there were a bunch of games in the series I never got through, and I thought “can I really call myself a fan?” and figured what the Hell, I’ll go through them again.  Plus, there were a few games I never gave a fair shake to, and people tell me I need to give a second chance.  Also, that copy of the Zodiac Age is sitting on my shelf, taunting me.

There are a few rules.  First, I have to play through the whole game, at least the main story, before I move on to the next, and I have to play them in release order.  That means I can’t play XII until I’ve completed everything through X first.  I don’t, however, need to burn through every side quest or extra scene in order to get the experience, but it is highly encouraged considering how much easier some of the end game sidequests are.  Second, I I’m only sticking to mainline games, except for XI.  There’s no reasonable way for me to play XI, so trying to write about it in a timely fashion before I can move on to XII, XIII and the later games is pointless.  Also, it’s an MMORPG from an era that is before me, so I don’t think I can appreciate it.  I also won’t be writing about XIV.  I am playing XIV, but I’m discounting it from the collection.  I may talk about it in supplemental material, where I talk about Tactics, Tactics Advance and a few other games in the series, but it won’t be part of the series either.  Third, I will definitely use a guide and I might even cheat.  Some of these games, I have beaten before and I’m more curious to see if they hold up.  I’m also not willing to deal with grinding.  If I can dump a shit ton of levels onto me, I might do that.  On the other hand, if I enjoy the game enough, I might just do it anyway.  I do know I’m not going to sit there using Draw over and over again for VIII, because that’s bullshit.  I’m also totally using New Game Plus for XV, because holy shit I would like to Platinum that game.  Finally, in the end, I’m going to give my ranking for all of the games in the series.

Personally, I think it’ll look like this: XII, VI, IX, XV, VII, IV, V, I, VIII, III, X, II, XIII.  I do know that XIII will end up in the bottom.  That game sucks so much.