Versus Mode – Debating Final Fantasy XII

by Matthew Kato on May 26, 2014 at 12:00 PM

Versus Mode is a special feature that we're doing today, and it focuses on two editors debating the merits of a particular game or series. This entry features senior editor Matthew Kato and PC editor Daniel Tack debating the merits of Final Fantasy XII.

Kato: I liked Final Fantasy XII, and I’m not an FF fan per se, which perhaps could even be part of the reason I was open to the game.

Tack: Well that’s a good place to start – what’s your experience with the franchise? I played up to XII on console as well as both MMORPGs, all the old Game Boy titles (Yeah Final Fantasy Legend II!) and Bravely Default. I’m counting Bravely Default as a FF game.

Kato: I started with VII and sampled the ones after that. I guess what drew me to the game was simply the fact that Yasumi Matsuno from Vagrant Story was working on it. That and no more random encounters. Also, it sounds weird, but I liked the visual depiction of the battle system.

Tack: That’s a solid draw, I admit. To me the game instantly felt like a single-player MMORPG, sort of recipe for disaster from the start. Without other players to interact with, that really didn’t work for me. The switch from going from random battles to visual representations you could avoid on the field wasn’t jarring, but whatever battle system they used absolutely was. It’s been a while, but as I recall you would basically just set up your companions to have auto-commands to trigger under certain circumstances, like using magic attacks above 50 percent mana or healing when someone dropped under 70 percent life. Everything felt like it was on autopilot. Absolutely mind-numbing and boring.

Kato: I actually liked that! It meant that I could free myself of low-level hand-holding and just concentrate on the attacks or whatever I thought were more important for those characters.

Tack: Yeah, I can see that. You can free yourself of the low-level hand-holding and just have your hand held the entire game! Why bother with the frustrations of having to play the game? FF XII – the game that plays itself. No decisions needed. I think I actually fell asleep during some encounters because I would just cruise into them and have the autopilots assemble and win. Except on bosses. Bosses were another issue entirely. Not only did the standard encounters induce a catatonic state in the player, but the bosses were designed to be completely obliterated with zero effort.

Kato: I don’t remember that specifically about the bosses, but I do remember grinding a fair amount, so in that case, a measure of auto-pilot isn’t bad. Of course, I was doing that to get where I wanted to go in the License Board, so that was my end game. I would say one more thing about the battles – in an average RPG, does anyone really get their rocks off by hitting the circle button for the nth time to activate some canned attack or heal sequence they’ve seen a zillion times over?

Tack: I agree with you about just “going through the motions,” but you literally can go through battles in this game with your eyes closed. It’s an absolute non-interactive snorefest that only gets worse when the sparse moments that bring the user out of a gelled eye-glaze are the boss encounters that can be blown away in moments through the use of…Quickenings, I think they were called. It’s been a while. Basically ultimate abilities. You grab them off the License Board and just PLOW through encounters. So you have fights you never have to play, a story that you don’t care about, and areas you can just go through without encounters. Why am I playing this game again?

Kato: The thing about Quickenings is that I did all that grinding to get them on the License Board, they damn well better be a payoff! Returning again to why I played the game – I would say in the interest of context, and it sounds shallow, but that game looked awesome on the PS2. I’m actually not a huge fan of your stereotypical belted Japanese character art at all (and some of the boilerplate character conventions are just as bad), but I like the way the game looks and prefer its classic medieval-esque style as compared to a sci-fi leaning, for instance.

Tack: Sure I’ll give it some visual style points. Too bad I couldn’t keep my eyes open to see them. To me, XII sort of exemplified the massive changes that had been pulling the series away from its roots and into new ground. New ground for the worse in many cases. But without even going into a “pining for the good old days of Final Fantasy 1-6,” I just feel that XII was a massive misstep and that much of the praise is simply franchise related. I think without the FF tag on this title it would have been easily dismissed.

The License Board

Kato: I certainly have heard that from many Final Fantasy fans – that it was a few changes too far, but for a series that I have no emotional attachment to the cry of change was a positive. So, what did you think of the License Board itself? I know that was disliked by some people.

Tack: I had no real issue with the License Board itself, nor did I ever have an issue with the Sphere Grid that seemed to be the precursor. It was fine in concept, but in practice, didn’t you just build out to a Quickening and then go back to sleep?

Kato: Well, it’s about the journey, isn’t it? Full disclosure: I bought the strategy guide for the giant License Board map, so I planned out which characters would head where on the map. That being said, I definitely changed my mind at times and wandered around a bit on it. It was fun to see something you wanted on the map, and adapt my path to get it.

Tack: Okay. The License Board wasn’t terrible. Everything else was. It was a lazy journey through what could have been an amazing game. On the plus side, if you ever find yourself in need of a nap you can turn on your PS2 and pop it in, find a save file around 25 percent through the game and just hold down your controller in any direction. You might get in a fight. You might not. You’ll never know, because you’ll be sound asleep.