FFXII is very well presented. The opening cutscene was a huge hook, and I began playing. The prologue was helpful in adjusting to the fighting style, another feature I enjoyed. It was fresh. Random encounters were really getting old. I was indifferent about gambits. Useful, just didn't want to spend time collecting. Also, there is a lot of replay value regarding side quests and the like. Enough to keep you entertained for a long time. Where is the problem though....
In short, the story and the plot and characters that are integral to it. Let's start with the characters. Take Vaan. He is supposedly our main character and starts out as such, but, along with all the other playable characters added, fizzles out of the story as time progresses. It's the same thing with Penelo. She never develops. Fran and Balthier have decent development and attention, and Basch's background is revealed, but the character development overall is still flawed. It's not due to too many characters, but rather an unbalanced focus on one, Ashe.
We understand she's a princess of the main kingdom in question, but the story really shifts its focus on her. That is not bad, but it seems like it is always so Ashe driven. Some might say that that FFVII and FFVIII are too Cloud and Squall driven respectively, but it's different because those two are established as the center characters of the story. FFXII introduces Ashe a fifth or sixth of the way through, and suddenly she is the linchpin of all the adventures after we have dedicated a significant percentage of storyline to Vaan's development.
There is nothing wrong with having Ashe be the main character; just don't set us up with one character, then supplant him, and put in extras like Fran, Balthier and (especially) Basch to pick up the slack here and there with little pieces of Dialogue.
The biggest problem with this game is the plot. First of all, why are you using a world that has been used in another FF game already? I know the previous game (Crystal Chronicles, right?) wasn't mainstream series, BUT THIS IS! Be original. The actual story starts out well. We see this kingdom, Dalmasca, subjugated by Arcadia and in entertaining fashion. I really have no problem with the plot up to the tomb or Wraithwall. This is where all the rest of the adventure becomes Ashe-driven, the conflict becomes blurred and where map progression is confusing.
We already discussed the overbalanced development of Ashe, now onto the meat: the plot. There are so many things going on in this game that it forgets to develop the main story line, and before you know it, the game is over. Don't get me wrong. Side quests and the like are always a welcome edition, but a FF should never have an anemic storyline, NEVER! We understand that, in hindsight, Vayne and Cid, with Venat, are trying to establish a rule where humans can dictate their own terms of history, not by the hands of the Ocurria. This leads me to ask: if the Ocurria are the ones to whom Vayne directs his true hatred, then why not align with the rest of Ivalice to combat these nasty beings? They obviously are not very friendly and would prefer to keep the people of Ivalice in bondage by deciding who wins and loses by giving the winners some nethicite. In fact, what is so wrong with Vayne? He doesn't want to enslave people. He wants to lead them. At least those are his true feelings albeit he doesn't express them well by dominating other nations into submission; however, he does not want to hurt people. His true intentions are not inherently malicious.
With all that said, let's go to the direct conflict at hand: Arcadia vs. Rozarria. Vayne wants Rozarria. He needs the people united against the Ocurria, and Rozarria is that big continent we don't get to see. That's right. We don't get to see an ENTIRE CONTINENT THAT'S PART OF THE STORY! It's there, but we as gamers will not be able to see it. Do you remember Esthar in FFVIII? I was pretty amazed at the cutscene that introduced it. In FFXII though, we are deprived of perhaps a rich and beautiful civilization, certainly on terms with the less-than-inspirational-looking Arcadia (it was good looking, but I expected better.) We travel far West to the Tomb of Wraithwall, we hear about Rozarria, and we see their people, but we don't get to see their land
.sounds like the project had major plot changes that might have contributed to the wait
leaving us with something less than desired. One of the most insulting plot devices is the Bahamut. We hear nothing about this project until the last twentieth of the game? Talk about laziness.
Along with plot in general, is plot advancement, particularly on the map. We go from center (Dalmsca) to North, to center, to East (Bujherrba), back to center, to West, back to Center to South, to WAY North, to WAY South, WAY East, then back to Dalmasca. Normally, I would not have such a problem with it, but I feel like the gang could have explored Giruvegan while they were trekking about at the Stillshrine. Why couldn't we put Giruvegan up North after Arcadia? It would make the progression a little more linear in the sense that it would complicate travel a little less. Since the way you move on the map is FFX style (no world map area), the main progression should move in a more predictable pattern.
Good game, but it could have been great. There just wasn't enough focus and development on the plot to make it epic and enjoyable. It ended too short, and bad character development hampered the plot more. Better luck next time with FFXIII!
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