Defense of FFXII's Story Against All Inaccurate Attacks 4 *Spoilers*Keep Bumped*
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So long as there are people who unjustly attack this literary masterpiece for flaws it doesn't have, I'll keep this Thread around so people know a defense of this Game can and does exist. I, for one, will never stop defending this Game until the inaccurate attacks upon it end (or at least taper down to a more reasonable size.) Defenders of Ivalice unite! May our shields never be shattered!
I'll state the following at the very beginning of the Thread, since this seemed to be one of the central things that was unclear in the original Thread. Hopefully this'll clarify a few things about my stance and prevent the reappearance of certain complains about the first Thread since I didn't make my position that clear, and I'm sorry for the confusion last time:
This Thread is meant as a rebuttal against all the inaccurate, unsubstantiated attacks upon the Game, such as the clearly false claims that Vaan had no character development (despite the numerous lines of text throughout the Game that made it extremely clear it did), that there was hardly any character development or characterization on anyone's part throughout the Game with the exception of Ashe, that Penelo never contributed to the plot (even though, if you read the text, there are at least three scenes near the end of the Game I can remember off the top of my head where she made an important contribution), so on and so forth.
This Topic is *not* meant to oppose the people who actually understand this Game, who recognize that the characters contributed to the plot and developed and still dislike the story, who understand the story and have read the text and know that there was a good deal of character development and characterization, and who still find fault with the story. If you understand the Game and find fault with it, I won't agree with your opinion (and might want to debate it), but I do not object your opinion and I agree you are entitled to it.
However, the people who attack this Game for inaccurate reasons, who slam it for things that are explicitly shown to be untrue by the text of the Game, who criticize FINAL FANTASY XII for non-existent and thusly unfair reasons, I do object to, and will continue to object to, and this Thread is meant as an answer to them. Here are four prime examples of what I consider inaccurate reasons:
Vaan, Fran, Balthier, Basch, and/or Penelo had no character development, no characterization, contributed nothing to the plot, and were just along for the ride without doing anything to the story.
The Occuria had nothing to do with the plot.
The story mostly vanished from the Game after defeating Vossler. (An accusation which *really* makes me wonder, because the segment from the defeat of Vossler to Mount Bur-Omisace was one of the most story-heavy segments of the Game.)
If you've ever used any of the above four arguments in the past, or a bunch of other inaccurate arguments I'm not going to list (you know who you are and what they are), this Thread is a rebuttal against you.
If you do understand the plot, do recognize that there was characterization and character development, so on and so forth, and still dislike the Game, then that's your call and I have no issue with you. Hopefully this'll clear up a lot of the misunderstandings present in the previous Thread. That said, a bit more about this Thread's purpose:
This Thread is also meant as a catch-all for defenses of the FINAL FANTASY XII story and characterization. I also hope to encourage debate as opposed to participating in that much of the debate myself, so I won't be participating in the debates themselves that much, as opposed to encouraging debates between fellow defenders and naysayers, and keeping the Thread bumped if necessary. Defenders of Ivalice unite!
Now I'll begin the Thread proper, starting with quoting the opening of the first incarnation of the Thread, then a few Posts from the previous Thread I think were important, and then the stuff that was currently being debated but was interrupted by the closure of the previous Thread.
*Sigh.* I've seen it wandering around the Board. Now I directly confronted it. I'm beginning to wonder if I'm going to have to write another 45K defense of a FINAL FANTASY Game (yes, I've done that before, back in the days when FINAL FANTASY VII and FINAL FANTASY VIII came out and I spent endless hours defending their storylines). I don't have the time or the patience to do one of those right now, so instead I'll just start the Topic and let the few people who I see around here who do feel like typing defenses of the story handle it. But seriously, we need a defense of this story bumped, if not locked at the top of the first Page, however you do that. This is getting absurd.
First, in an extremely in-depth article in a magazine a few months before XII came out here, the developers *explicitly said* that FINAL FANTASY XII had been written so *all six characters had a vital role in the story.* This is fact, straight from a developer's mouth.
Secondly, while Ashe may get the most *directly in-your-face characterization,* she does not get the most characterization in the Game. This is because Ashe is a leader and a take-charge kind of person, so naturally, she is going to step forward. This does not, however, mean she gets the most characterization in the Game. She is equalled, if not outclassed, by other party members, most notably Vaan and Balthier. Especially Vaan. If you actually bother to read all the text in the Game, you'll notice Vaan's character development is shown, in detail, from the beginning to the very end of the Game.
Similarly, while characters like Penelo perhaps doen't develop as much as some others, that doesn't mean Penelo's role is unimportant. Her 'regular girl' perspective is what stimulates and alters the direction of a number of conversations in this Game, some of them *extremely* important. (Example: Conversation after entering the inner ring of the Bahamut for the first time.) Its *because* she's a regular girl that allows her to do this, and make all these comments. To say nothing of the fact the 'regular girl' perspective also really makes the player feel like they're not just some legendary hero; they're just a small group in a gargantuan, colossal situation. (Example: Conversation after entering modern Archades from Old Archades.)
Not only that, but Vaan is the catalyst for much of *Ashe's* character development... If not for his connection with her, she would have developed much less and made much different choices. (Example: The all-important scene at the top of the Pharos.) Ashe may make a number of the final decisions, but Vaan is the one who urges her on. Has anyone here seen the fantasy movie WARRIORS OF VIRTUE? I saw it years and years ago shortly after release, when I was much younger, but some of the stuff in it stuck with me. The main character 'calls the winning plays,' but 'doesn't make those plays.' (And to Vaan's credit, he actually is taking charge a little in the very last parts of the Game.)
Fran perhaps more than anyone else gets the short end of the stick character-development wise, but she provides a lot of the more mystical background to things. (Example: After defeating Belias.) (The Mjrn arc also introduces Venat, and if you talk to Mjrn afterwards but before leaving the village, you get some really awesome foreshadowing.) Plus, Fran is more than just Balthier's shadow... She actually helps him with his *own* running-away issues. (Example: One of the scenes in Golmore prior to entering Eruyt.)
Et cetera. Last but not least, has anyone read THE GREAT GATSBY? It can also perhaps be argued Vaan and Penelo serve the role that the narrator of GATSBY does... although Vaan certainly has a heck of a lot of in-story development and whatnot as well. Et cetera.
Then there's the issue of theme and plot complexity. This Game is simple? I think not. Here's a list of some, but not all of the themes and subplots I've seen in the Game (so far, as there's still a bit of side stuff I've yet to do):
The nature of freedom.
Running away from reality versus having a meaningful life.
Salvation through "necessity," no matter how dirty, or through the more difficult, idealistic path.
Power and how to wield it or not do so.
The nature of a leader's responsibility.
Being at the mercy of history's tides versus holding the reins of history in one's hands.
There's countless more I could say in defense of the Game, but this should be enough to stimulate more debate about it. That'll be all. From now on, the only thing I'll be doing is dropping by randomly with quotes pertaining to the story and themes of this Game and, if no one else is doing so, keeping this bumped. I leave the rest in everyone else's hands... And please, try to get this thing locked at the top of the Page, however you do that.
Here's a few important quotes from the Game, although with a couple of my comments on them. The first quote, which I bolded in the old Thread, I'll now bold again because its *extremely* important to one of the Game's central themes:
"People think being a sky pirate is all riches and adventure, but the reality is far different. Your life is always at risk, you never know peace. You are free, I suppose, but it comes at a steep price. Your fate, succeed or fail, is entirely up to you. So what does it mean to be free? That's the real question. Running to escape your troubles won't make you free. It never can."-Samal
"I have failed us both! I am no Dynast-King! You must find another... One who is able to realize your ambitions!"-Vayne "Novus" Solidor
P.S. No 'shades of gray,' huh? How often do you see an antagonist ask to be *replaced* and believe more in his cause than in his own personal aggrandizement? That's only one of many examples.
"The tyranny of the Gods is ended! We are their puppets no more! The freedom for which we have longed is at hand!"-Vayne "Novus" Solidor
I'm including the following one as proof why Basch fled Landis was discussed. Gabranth sees what Basch did as abandoning Landis, but Basch simply realized that he'd fought his hardest and, like Raminas understood in the beginning, there comes a time to give up and call it quits. I'll italicize the important parts.
"Hear me, Basch! Do not think killing the kingslayer will win you back your honor! When you abandoned home and kin, your name was forever stained with blood!"-Judge Magister Gabranth
"Aye, this stain is mine to bear. But I will bear it willingly, knowing that I did all that I could... for hope!"-Basch
"Preen and strut as you like! In the end, we are the same. Blood-thirsting carrion birds, h-ll-bent on revenge!"-Judge Magister Gabranth
"Her Majesty cannot abide weakness, least of all in herself."-Vossler Azelas
"You know what? I'm through running away. I'm ready to find my purpose."-Vaan
Vaan doesn't develop? The above most emphatically says otherwise.
Lastly, I'll quote from the most recent part of the debate, concerning proof that Penelo does have character development and contributes to the plot. I'll be editing some of these quotes for clarity since I'll be quoting from a few separate Posts:
That line of Penelo's about how she can't even imagine ruling an entire kingdom is important because its what provokes the discussion that finally leads to the resolution of Ashe's issues with feeling powerless. I don't need to read the script; I've seen that scene a large number of times due to how many tries it took me to defeat The Undying. I remember the conversation very well, as well as exacfly what Penelo contributes to the conversation and why its so important.
I'll quote this part of the conversation, so you can see how important Penelo's line is:
"Penelo: It's kind of hard to believe. I can't imagine trying to rule a whole kingdom.
"Basch: A queen might always "run away" with the help of a sky pirate looking to raise his bounty a peg.
"Balthier: Hmph. I doubt our queen would need the help of any sky pirates.
"Ashe: Do you really think me as strong as all that?
"Vaan: Who said anything about strong? You'll make it. You've got good friends."
If not for Penelo's "regular girl perspective" about how enormous the concept of ruling a whole kingdom actually is, Ashe's long-standing issues with feeling powerless and being unable to tolerate her lack of strength would never have been resolved. Which is a central part of Ashe's character dilemmas. Thusly, Penelo's line is *extremely* important. Thusly, Penelo's line most definitely contributes to the plot.
Nor am I saying the above equates to Penelo having character development. I said something else equates to character development. I said that Penelo going from a girl who tries to convince Vaan not to defy the Empire, that it'll get nowhere and you have no choice to obey and you should keep your head down and do what the Empire says, to a girl who, if you try to leave the Bahamut with her as party leader, refuses to leave because, "We have to protect our home." equals character development.
Quick response to you. I'm not sure why a comment when trying to leave the Bahamut isn't good evidence. It is a major change from the girl who emphasized keeping your head down, doing what you're told, bowing and scraping before the Empire like what Migelo did to Vayne, so on and so forth, and rebukes Vaan for trying to defy them. Just because its a small, optional comment doesn't mean its not very clear evidence of character development.
If you'd like a better example, though... Larsa Ferrinas Solidor. Who Penelo is at first afraid of. By the end of the Game she's so close to him that we see her pat him on the shoulder when he's kneeling there before heading off to follow the party after the retreating Vayne Novus.
I took a glimpse over at your Thread. Matsuno had to step down from his role as Director because of a chronic illness that had been plaguing him for some time. This was mentioned over at RPGamer a long time ago, and you can look up the article in RPGamer's News Archives. Even after he had to leave the Director's position, however, Matsuno remained as supervisor of the story.
Regardless, according to an Ultimania translation, because Matsuno had to stop being Director, Daisuke Watanabe - the script writer - found it difficult to implement Matsuno's story. Watanabe did the best he could to implement Matsuno's story, although some changes had to be made due to the difficulty of implementing it without Matsuno able to guide Watanabe as much as he'd been able to before. However, the Ultimania said that overall, the story is Matsuno's, and even joked that if you want to either praise or blame someone for FINAL FANTASY XII's story, you should praise or blame Matsuno.
Matsuno was not forced to step down due to deadline issues; Matsuno flat-out ignored deadlines, pushing the Game back and saying he valued quality over meeting deadlines. Matsuno was not forced to step down by Square, these are unfair fan rumors. Don't believe anything you hear about why Matsuno stopped being a Director unless it mentioned he had to step down because he was sick, because it isn't true - and more than that, I find these rumors insulting to Matsuno because they imply Matsuno would lie for the sake of public relations, and given everything the OGRE series, as well as Matsuno's Ivalice canon, seem to convey about Matsuno's own perspective on morality, I think we can all agree that if he was ordered to lie for the sake of public relations or be fired, Matsuno would've told the truth and been fired. If Square ENiX says Matsuno was sick and Matsuno never said, "This isn't true." then Matsuno was sick. (I also think I recall Matsuno himself saying he was sick and that's why he had to step down, although I can't remember.)
A new defense. A while ago, I remember people unfairly criticizing FINAL FANTASY XII for not really explaining how Vaan came to trust Basch, or something like that (I may be remembering the criticism a good deal incorrectly). I just replayed the sequence from Vaan's rescue of Ashe to his return to Rabanastre after the escape from the Barheim Passage, and it is made pretty clear how Vaan comes to trust Basch.
For one thing, Balthier (who Vaan looks up to) criticizes Vaan repeatedly throughout the Barheim Passage sequence for his treatment of Basch, even pointing out at one point that Vaan has only *heard* Basch betrayed Raminas and his fellow soldiers, he doesn't know it as a fact. And when Vaan still won't listen later on Balthier sarcastically says something like, "Fine, whatever makes you happy." For another thing, even though Vaan steadfastly refuses to believe Basch himself, Basch points out to Vaan, 'Don't trust me. Trust your brother.' He asks Vaan to trust *Reks'* own belief in Basch.
Thusly, by the time Vaan returns to Rabanastre, he's asking the Dusk Shard if he can trust Basch. Vaan's change from having a major problem with Basch to being able to believe him is explained, and the character development is done in detail, convincingly, and believably.
On another line, I replayed the meeting between Ashe and the Occuria again, and I may have confirmed something I think I've suspected. A significant deal of the Occurian dialogue *is* in iambic pentameter. This is more of a localization thing, but I'd say this increasess the awesomeness that is the FINAL FANTASY XII English script even more. I doubt I need explain much of why Occurian dialogue being in iambic pentameter is so significant... William Shakespeare, for one thing, anyone?
"The Humes ever skew his'try's weave.
With haste they move through too-short lives.
"Driven to err by base desires,
T'ward waste and wasting on they run."-Gerun King
Time for another brief interjection, this one I counterargument that may be a great deal overdue. Suffice to say, "amount of lines" most *definitely* doesn't equal the amount of characterization or development someone has in a Game, nor does it equal how much that person contributes to the story. By that logic, Vaan *is* the person with the most characterization and development and the person who contributes the most to the story, since he has the most lines. By that logic VAGRANT STORY Spoilers Ashley Riot barely had any characterization or character development and barely contributed at all to the story, because Ashley doesn't speak that often compared to the other characters and he's a silent, closed up person who usually only observers, reacts to things, or develops when someone *else* prompts him to do so. End Spoilers
So I think we can do without the "amount of lines equals characterization, character development, or how much a certain person contributes to the plot." Unless anyone means to tell me that Ashley Riot of VAGRANT STORY barely had any characterization, development, and barely contributed to the plot.
More may be coming tonight, since I just recently finished replaying some scenes; its almost a year since this Game was released, yet while in the process of replaying some scenes checking back for certain things about the plot and characters I ended up discovering *unexpected new* facets to the characters (in this case Basch; I think I finally understand what the Game is doing with certain parts of Basch's character development now). More may not be coming tonight, but I just thought I'd mention this. The characterization *is* there if you just read the text.
Furthermore, does anyone remember the interview where one or more of the developers talked about how their cutscene skills have improved to the point they now don't need to rely on text as much to get characterization across; that they can say a decent deal with body language now too? If I remember correctly, it was in an article at RPGamer. Does anyone else remember/has anyone else seen that article?
Another of the dilemmas is the long view versus acting in haste. The Occuria take the overly large, long view. For example:
"The Humes ever skew his'try's weave. With haste they move through too-short lives. Driven to err by base desires, t'ward waste and wasting on they run. ... Oft did we pass judgment on them so that Ivalice might endure. Eternal, we are his'try's stewards, to set the course and keep it true." Venat criticizes Gerun for this: What claim does he have over history, "seated on throne immortal, rent from time?" Vayne, Cid, and Venat discuss how, if they had lifespans as long as the Occuria they might have been able to use more "prudent" measures to achieve their goals. Vossler despairs over whether he acted in haste after you defeat him. There are other examples. And that's without even getting into how one might argue this ties in with the stuff about "being at the mercy of history's tides."
Nor does any of this even begin to address all the stuff about power, another of the central themes of the Game and which might be much the lesser if the Game had a different story, without the Occuria or the Nethicite. Or the stuff about playing a role. Or anything I can't currently think of off the top of my head that the Occuria played an important part in, and thusly if a different story had used these themes might be lesser.
There's a lot more going on in this Game than politics and war, and if the developers had used a plotline without the more "fantastical" elements, some of this stuff might be suffered. FINAL FANTASY XII isn't a story about war and politics that didn't go all the way; its a story of which war and politics is only one of the core aspects. The Occuria, the Nethicite, et cetera, weren't just tacked on as a nod to fantasy elements. So please, don't be disappointed with a story for not "going all the way" when its intention was never to tell a primarily political/war story in the first place. War and politics is one of the main focal points, but its by far not the only focus.
"Permit me to ask: who are you? An angel of vengeance? Or perchance a saint of salvation?"-Vayne "Novus" Solidor
"I am simply myself. No more and no less. And I want... only to be free."-Ashelia B'nargin Dalmasca
Also something unusual for a FINAL FANTASY Game, I might say. FINAL FANTASY VII and ADVENT CHILDREN Spoilers I was waiting throughout the entire Game for Cloud to let go of his hatred for Sephiroth and his desire for vengeance. Never happened, much to my disappointment. One of the reasons I love ADVENT CHILDREN. Cloud finally tells Sephiroth, "I pity you." And yes, I do believe there are things about ADVENT CHILDREN to defend, although I'll only get into one other thing, because its the only other one relevant to this discussion. I know *exactly* why that movie is the way it is in terms of script. I have the REUNION FILES behind-the-scenes book, which is written in both Japanese and English. Originally, Nojima wrote the script with lengthy exposition the way things were in the original Game. Then he reached one point in the script where he realized, "Wait a minute, this isn't how movies are written." and went back and rewrote the script with the aim of trying to say just as much but in a lot less words. This also, by the way, proves that yes, Square ENiX is fully willing to try to convey characterization through "more subtle means." This isn't "interpretation" or "looking too deeply." Kazushige Nojima flat-out said he *rewrote much of the script* in accordance with this policy that people keep insisting we're imagining. He said it himself. Are you going to argue with one of Square ENiX's developers and say *he's* imagining things that aren't there? End Spoilers
*You* do realize, I assume, you're talking about people dedicated to telling a good story and who wouldn't just propagandize their writings, don't you? The developers clearly have a considerable amount of respect for the creative process and the literary arts, so they're not going to write a lousy story and then lie about it to make it seem good. That's beneath these kind of people; they're not hack writers writing only for profit. They're trying to tell a story.
Do some research. Find out what kinds of people you're actually talking about, please, and how they see the creative process, before you make ludicrous claims of the developers being liars. And if you think developers won't admit when they've made a mistake in an interview, you *really* don't know what you're talking about.
You *do* know this is the company where, on at least two occasions that I know of, a writer has refused to cash in on the success of a previous product unless he can give a proposed sequel enough literary merit to be worthy of being written?
And before anyone tries to associate "critically acclaimed" with "popularity" (which, unfortunately, is true in a lot of cases), let me step in and say that this time it isn't a matter of popularity. FINAL FANTASY XII is only the second Square ENiX Game to win a perfect score of 40/40 in Weekly Famitsu (the first was VAGRANT STORY, when Square ENiX was still SquareSoft. Does anyone know if ENiX alone ever got a 40/40?). FINAL FANTASY XII itself is either the sixth Video Game (or is it sixth Role-Playing Game) to get a perfect score of 40/40 in Weekly Famitsu. Famitsu is notorious for being extremely picky when it comes to rating Video Games.
If a notoriously picky magazine gave FINAL FANTASY XII a perfect score, this clearly isn't a matter of popularity. This is a matter of a valid critical review of an excellent Game.
Okay, time to add further defense of the argument that characterization can be conveyed through more than text in a Video Game.
Spoilers for CRISIS CORE: FINAL FANTASY VII as well as FINAL FANTASY VII and other Games in the Compilation of FINAL FANTASY VII
I ran into this tidbit translated from the CRISIS CORE Complete Guide yesterday, regarding an extremely important scene after the battle against the final form of the Final Boss that had *no dialogue in it whatsoever.* Credit goes to the translators of this segment over at AdventChildren.net.
"In Scene 10-06 Minerva meets with Genesis in a place flooded with the Lifestream. Below are the comments from the development team regarding the meaning of the exchange that took place between the two of them.
"'Minerva is similar to a summon, and her intention was not necessarily to revive Genesis. The image of Minerva in her actions and expressions is a reflection of the will of the Lifestream.'
"'Genesis wanted to regain his pride as a SOLDIER, deciding that it could not be found simply in the duty of the SOLDIER, he came to the idea that "I am not afraid of degradation or death". In short, Genesis' circumstances are that of "surmounting death". Genesis' strong desire to "complete the duty of a SOLDIER", was accepted by the Lifestream, in a way saying to him "Then complete it".'
"'Minerva's facial expressions are meant to be hints to the Lifestream's judgment, such as "Genesis has not yet completed his duty as a SOLDIER" and "Genesis still has much left to learn".'
"'Thus, [because of that decision] Genesis was able to achieve his goal of "surmounting death." And this event is connected to Genesis' future actions'."
All that meaning in a scene with absolutely no dialogue. There's no characterization, plot, themes, so on and so forth, to be found within the body language, facial expressions, et cetera, in FINAL FANTASY XII? I think not.
And this is just an example of *one* scene in CRISIS CORE. Having recently finished that Game, I can say that a *lot* of the characterization in this Game is dependent on facial expressions and body language. The script is only around a third of the size of the average FINAL FANTASY Game, yet I don't seem to be the only person who believes this Game has been one of the most moving and emotionally evocative in the history of the FINAL FANTASY series. Any who I've seen deride any defense of FINAL FANTASY XII if the defense is based on body language need to play CRISIS CORE. *Then* try to say facial expressions and body language can't be used just as effectively to convey characterization (or plot, themes, so on and so forth) in Video Games as they can in films, television shows, et cetera.
Spoilers for All FINAL FANTASY Games!!
Well, stuff such as Tidus mastering the Jecht Shot (*he* may have grown up, but I may have been on the verge of giving into my frustration in very immature ways by the time I finished that stupid Mini-Game... and yes, I got the Jecht Shot during the original cutscene. I also beat the Luca Goers) and Ashe destroying the Sun-Cryst are far more drastic than what I'm talking about. Those are obvious examples of characterization through action... and even then, I'm arguing for more than just the action itself. I'm referring to body language, facial expressions, not just acts.
For example, in CRISIS CORE, when Zack halfheartedly dodges the first attack of the monster that used to be his mentor and close friend, he has a really stricken, miserable look on his face that conveys his characterization well (as a matter of fact, since I can't remember that scene exactly I hesitate to even try to describe the scene I'm talking about with words. Assuming its possible). Whatever his expression was, it really conveyed volumes for the negative emotions he was feeling at that point, whatever they were.
Or the scene where Ashe receives the Sun-Cryst in the Game we're arguing about, told almost entirely without dialogue. No drastic action there, but a good deal of body language and facial expression.
FINAL FANTASY IV Spoilers and FINAL FANTASY VII Spoilers are contained [below]!!
Since this Thread is still active and my other Thread on this Board got trolled, I may have reason to believe the recently moderated Post was "reported" by said troll. The Deleted Post is thus no cause for concern, possibly (it was a bump).
This may be as good a time as any to bring up a new point. This is from RPGamer's review of the new FINAL FANTASY IV re-release for the DS, and the point below it makes is one I might agree with:
"When the menu is opened, the party leader's thoughts on the current circumstances are shown on-screen. The leader can be changed at any time, and these internal revelations are updated frequently. A significant amount of character development is added to the game in this manner."
This might serve as a much better counterexample than Vincent and Yuffie of FINAL FANTASY VII (two entire optional characters, not just lines in the Game that don't have to be seen) to point out how lines in a story that can be missed (such as the full exchange between Basch and Gabranth on top of the Pharos, or Penelo's remark when leaving the Bahamut) might still contribute something significant to said story.
I also read an interview where the developers of FINAL FANTASY XII said that they no longer need to rely on text so much to convey what the characters are feeling and thinking, since their cutscene technology has progressed to the point they can convey a lot with body language. This, unfortunately, I can't quote, since I don't remember exactly what issue of what video Game magazine it was in, but I remember that part of the interview pretty clearly.
You do realize that searching for a purpose in life is one of the most mature and meaningful motivations a character can have, correct?
And what makes Vaan different is the fact that, while a lot of other people lost loved ones and their entire lives to the Archadian invasion, Vaan actually had the spirit to *do* something about it (albeit at first for the wrong reasons). If Vaan's no different than the average person, then why don't we see most every single young man around his age trying to sneak into the palace to steal from the new Archadian Consul? Penelo *is* more like the average person. She at first tells Vaan to keep his head down, then accompanies him because he's all she has left and she doesn't want to be left alone (and afterwards, as further evidence of her character development, grows from someone dependant on Vaan to someone who, while still caring deeply for him, is no longer "keep your head down and be safe" but someone willing to watch out for Vaan and accompany him as a partner and an equal, someone willing to step up and fight, someone who refuses to leave the Bahamut if you try because, "We have to protect our home!").
And actually, yes, her "regular girl" perspective is necessary, and more than that, refreshing. In far too many Role-Playing Games, it often feels like the extraordinary is natural. Extraordinary events become a matter of course and start feeling unexceptional and normal. Face it, in how many Role-Playing Games does a character being a Prince or Princess seem as regular and normal as your next door neighbor? Having someone like Penelo around reminding the player from time to time how incredible all this big things like being Queen or other stuff really is helps to keep the extraordinary from feeling mundane and forces the player to, for instance, confront and genuinely consider how impressive shouldering the burden of an entire country must really be. It yanks the player's perspective back into the ordinary and makes the extraordinary seem what it really is... extraordinary again. It also makes the Game and journey feel much more realistic. We're experiencing what it would *realistically* be like for a commoner to, say, travel alongside royalty. A realism and maturity of writing I've rarely seen Games touch upon.
When Basch tells the gang about the twin brother, Baltheir goes something like, "A twin brother, huh? Fancy that." but then adds, "Still, he did look like you." The "twin brother" plot twist isn't cheesy if its executed in a more believable fashion. The saw met Gabranth, unmasked, first, before finding out about his relationship to Basch. In that sense, the twin brother thing is arguably no different than "Basch has a relative who happens to be a Judge Magister in the Archadian Empire, and someone(s) on the Archadian side - possibly Vayne, who is said to be a military genius and is also implied and demonstrated to be very politically shrewd - was smart enough to use that to their advantage."
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