Analysis, Culture, Reviews

FFXII: The Reins of History…

Table of Contents:

Tradition and Modernity:

Ages of The World:

Age of Gods: Occuria; Espers
* People of The Gods (Fran)
Age of Stones: Dynast King;
* Stone of gods
* Stone of Man (Venat, Cid, Vayne);
* State vs State
*—Empire (Senate; Judges)
*—Resistance (Ondore, Baasch, Vaan)

Age of Man: Free states (Ashe, Larsa);
* Rule of freedom (Reddas, Drace, Gabranth)
* Hunters & Sky Pirates (Balthier)

The Concept As Game:
—World Stage
—Game Systems

Final Judgment

The Concept of FFXII:
The Struggle for Freedom

What concept can unite the struggle of a sky pirate who runs away from his high life as a judge, a Viera that left her home and way of life in the woods, a rebel group from a kingdom struggling to get out from under occupation of an empire, and said empire putting forth an unprecedented assault on two neighboring kingdoms for what at first seems to be merely aggression against a rival kingdom, but which also has far loftier aims of ending the reign of nefarious hidden gods once and for all? The concept is the struggle to free oneself from the dictates of others and of circumstance, the aspiration to the realization of genuine autonomy. In that the concept is the struggle for freedom, the story and world of FFXII necessarily will embody the antithesis of freedom, that is, unjustified oppression in various guises as the originating base against which our protagonists must struggle.

FFXII works through a range of conceptual developments which, though not always solidly linked in a logical manner, nonetheless follow a curiously fit conceptual necessity in the developments of social forms of freedom flowing from a world history beginning in theocracy, developing into dynastic monarchy and empire, then developing into autonomous states, and finally descends into the acutely modern problem of individual autonomy. Here we see a direct development of a motto in the game, “The reins of history back in the hands of man,” cascading first from the freedom of the world from the gods, to the freedom of a state, and finally the freedom of individuals.

The consideration of the problem of freedom begins in its immediacy as the abstract universal form in the narrative, the form which fittingly sets the structure of the world story. The central struggle in all the game is against unjustified order and limits, it is the struggle of modernity against tradition. In each section we shall deal with the concretization of the concept within each section itself so that the unity may be seen directly instead of breaking the presentation into abstract categories such as is typical to deal with a type (characters or plot structures) outside of its actual context.

Tradition vs Modernity

The struggle of tradition and modernity concerns the shift away from the given order of things as they simply are and because they always have been, to a rationally justified order of things, and this shift is present in all aspects of the narrative and conceptual struggle. Tradition places the basis of authority and legitimacy in something other than reason for the sake of the whole while modernity places all of this within the realm of reason for the sake of the individual. There are those who despite the gods’ absence continue in the ways of the gods or the equivalent of gods, but there are those who in this absence question and in doing so begin to erode the given order more and more by showing it as unjustified or as arbitrarily limiting on worldly capacities, however this leads to questions of how far freedom legitimately extends.

Tradition stands as strictly communitarian, hierarchical, and determined by unquestioned formally given principles of order from above which cannot be changed. The issue of modernity at first appears as the direct counter to tradition: it is increasingly formally individualistic, formally anarchistic, and formally determined by a radically unhinged principle of atomic generation from below. The emphasis on the formality of modernity is to make clear that while modernity seems free, there is something about its reality, its actual content, that doesn’t fit with what freedom actually requires or entails. The traditional is determined in part by a social life of inaction and resignation to the given (substance metaphysics), while the modern is determined in part by a social life of action and the imposition of the will on reality (subject metaphysics). The problem of tradition is that it has no freedom by making choice impossible with its rigidity, and the problem of modernity is that it takes reality as more malleable and fluid than it is or can be, and it places the individual above the whole without noticing the context the individual requires in order to actualize its individuality.

One of the defining differences between the inactive players in Ivalice and the active ones is that of the desire of power for freedom. Those who are indifferent have the most mystical and traditional outlooks, unquestioning of the ‘Natural’ order and unwilling to change their ways even for the very continuance of their being, for that which is ordained by the gods is unchangeable. There is a one-sided external struggle with modernity, but the modern world is steadily crushing traditional peoples and denies them the freedom to continue in their ways directly and indirectly. A second point of difference is here not just between the desire for freedom against tradition, but also of what genuine freedom looks like for each of these camps. For the Garif, Viera, and Nu Mou modern ways of life are simply incomprehensible and undesirable, and the inverse is the case from the view of humes and others shifting into the modern life.

The problem of tradition vs modernity is itself the broader universal basis for the struggle of the Occuria and humes as well as dynasty or empire vs states as well as certain individual struggles. The Occuria stand for tradition for others but some modernity for themselves. Humes, through Cid and Vayne, in realizing this order can be overcome if they can match the Occuria’s raw destructive might—or as Ashe tries in destroying the possibility of such might at all—seek modernity for themselves. The Occuria are traditional for themselves to a certain extent, subjecting themselves to a hierarchy and set of unquestioned rules which if broken marks an Occuria as a heretic, and in this manner they seem to stave off the excesses of modern atomism and dangerous subjectivism. Humes are not yet not only not truly modern, but misguided about what modernity is and entails such that they run full speed towards its most dangerous extremes.  In the attempts to found dynasty and empire, however, humes reproduce the Occurian role, setting the legitimacy of rule as one based on an unquestioned given. The first global problem presented in the narrative concerns the source legitimating a tradition: the will of the gods through their stones, or the will of a hume through their will-to-power and actual might over others through the stone of man.

Ages of the World:
The March of Free States


The Age of Gods: Theocracy

In the world of Ivalice the most prominent ‘metaphysical’ reality, that of mist, is at face simply a world reality which is not directly embodying the concept of the narrative. Mist is for all intents and purposes what we call ‘energy’, the fundamental material essence which all other things are merely determinate forms, however, it can be shaped by will as well as used mechanically independent of will, such as its integration in machine processes. While there are naturally attuned races and individuals capable of manipulating its energies and transforming it into existents, most in Ivalice relate to it as a natural resource to be used in technologies. It is here that mist in its form of magicite and nethicite coheres around the concept of the game. While magicite is a natural crystallization of mist, nethicite is an artificial form of magicite which absorbs and hyper-concentrates mist. The mysterious gods, the Occuria—fitting name for those who hide and occult themselves as well as their technology—use their advanced knowledge of mist and the technology of nethicite to meddle with the history of Ivalice.

“The Humes ever skew hist’ry’s weave. With haste they move through too-short lives. Driven to err by base desires, t’ward waste and wasting, on they run.”

The Occuria claim that their control of history is to make sure that historical developments do not come to destroy Ivalice, that they are merely being its stewards, and by what is given in the story of the game this is true. In being ancient, powerful, and wise they consider themselves the only beings worthy and capable of proper self-determination such that all others on Ivalice are to be treated as young children to whom explanation and justification is not due. Ivalice must run as the Occuria say because they say so. Occurian control, however, is not as benevolent or wise as it seems. The Occuria are known to have meddled in the history of Ivalice through Raithwall in order to end the chaos of constant war, something good rather than evil, however, this peace was brought through the use of nethicite and the total destruction of the opposition. Destruction of the opposition in-itself is not unwise or evil, it has in our own history been a necessity, but the Occurian hand is compared to the context and issue heavihanded for the sake of expediency and hegemony. What the Occuria oppose in the game’s narrative is defiance to them rather than how or what their enemy (the Archadian Empire) is doing. Despite the fact that we are to think that the Occuria are nefarious, they are not so in a usual sense since they carry out their plans with seemingly good intent even if coldly, and their evil is mostly in the implication of their plans and aims. Through manipulation the Occuria lead their chosen ‘saints’ to do their bidding by offering power to the power hungry under guise of aiding their ongoing struggles as well as masquerading as dead loved or respected ones (Ashe and Basch sees Lord Rasler, Vaan sees his brother Reks). Those who find out the level of manipulation carried out by the Occuria of course find this unacceptable despite the view of a ‘greater good’ they claim to have, and the Occuria know this. Venat, an Occuria, rebels against its comrades out of belief that this manipulation is wrong, and thus it seeks to end the cycle of Occurian intrigues.

Ivalice as a whole is enslaved to the whim of the Occuria due to the mystery of nethicite, a power only they know how to create, a power only they can bring into Ivalice, a power only they can choose to give. We know how powerful a single shard of nethicite is by a very recent event prior to the game’s narrative: the annihilation of Nabudis in Nebradia by Judge Zecht; the level of power is also clear with the destruction of the Alexander battleship in Judge Ghis’s attempt to gauge the power of another shard of nethicite. With the mere threat of such power anyone who opposed those that carry out the will of the Occuria are helpless. Nethicite is the nuclear bomb of Ivalice, and in a single hand it enables tyranny, but as the states of Ivalice show, in many hands it could only spell impending disaster in the escalation of weaponry if just one state is desperate and foolish enough to use it. The struggle for freedom in the story eventually escalates to a struggle against nethicite itself when its terrible power is recognized. The rejection of nethicite is akin to the rejection of nuclear technology on account of its weaponized potential, however, like nuclear power nethicite too has great non-weaponized use.

The Occuria, though they fashion themselves as gods, are in fact not so. In the first age, once in the ancient past, they had lived openly in Ivalice along with other races and wielded their power to influence openly and directly, however, they mysteriously retreated from the world and disappeared into their sealed city of Giruvegan. Though they are temporally immortal, they are not immune to destruction, and it may be inferred that their retreat was out of a sudden fear of something which threatened the existence of their few numbers. Unwilling to let go of their rule of Ivalice, however, they created the Espers as their envoys and executors in Ivalice. Though they created the Espers, it is not stated that the Occuria created all the races on Ivalice.



The Espers are great and powerful ancient divine beings, and their time of action marks the second half of Ivalice in the Age of Gods. Totaling twenty-five, twelve Espers of light and twelve of dark, and one of immense raw power (Zodiark), they were the angels of the Occuria who ruled indirectly through them. The Espers of darkness eventually rebelled against their creators out of hubris, thinking themselves above the Occuria, but they were struck down and imprisoned such that they could only escape under chain of a summoner who attained their glyphs. Here we see first historical attempt of freedom to break through, however, it is on illegitimate ground for it is based on the mere impulse of the feeling of freedom rather than a recognition of a comprehended freedom.

It is a shame that the Espers are by and large pointless and meaningless not just to the story, but also in the game and gameplay itself (gameplay shall be dealt with later). Story-wise, the Espers’ reasons for rebellion should have been out of a desire for freedom from the Occuria’s unjustified command over them. Why? Because the Espers were not simply divinely powerful, but are also described as being divinely intelligent. The nature of intelligence itself is to question absolutely and demand justification or explanation, and the Espers needed nothing to justify their rebellion other than the Occuria’s unjustified tyranny over all others. To reduce their rebellion to mere subjective feelings such as hubris is simply unfitting since it goes against the concept of the Espers as highly intelligent. In terms of world-narrative, the Espers are virtually inconsequential and play no role other than as keys (Belias) or as pushover story bosses. Their might and intelligence is completely absent, their power being unused by the main cast who defeats and gains command of them in the story itself.

—People of The Gods—

Though not being dealt with in the time of the first age, the traditional peoples of Ivalice live according to customs established in or derivative of that age. Caught within the sphere of influence of the gods, and with a worldview to match, the traditional peoples of Ivalice continue to live in the shadow of the gods even in their absence.

The Garif are an ancient race somewhat designed around notions of aboriginal peoples such as American Indians. They were the first race chosen by the Occuria as their worldly messengers and enforcers, however, the Garif were unable to use nethicite despite their intuitive affinity to ‘hear’ mist and magicite. Abandoned by the gods and stubborn in their ancient ways, despite their good nature they cannot keep up with the advancing lifestyles of modernity in its economic or political life, and even less with its raw power with mist technology. They have accepted that they are a dying race which will soon disappear as their traditional lands are taken over, changed, and their way of life simply becomes impossible.

The Viera are ancient, traditional, and mist sensitive like the Garif, but it seems that they are more affected by mist. They have a simple way of life where only two major ‘jobs’ exist: wood-warder and salve-maker. The sexes live isolated from each other in separate villages except for procreation and other rare occasions. They are distinctly attuned to nature, specifically that of their homelands such as Golmore jungle where there exists a general spirit that pervades the forest in its entirety and which the Viera can hear and call by the name of the Green Word. Strongly connected to their home and Nature beyond it, they rarely venture out of their woods and even less into the modern cities of Ivalice. As modernity encroaches on them by pushing out through war and other influences, they have decided to recluse themselves in their hidden villages and aim to disconnect themselves from the outside world altogether rather than join it. Those who leave life in the wood for the modern world are not simply looked down upon, but are permanently exiled by the Viera for having broken with the law of their people. The wood itself rejects those who leave after enough time passes such that they cannot hear it.

I have discarded Wood and village. I won my freedom. Yet my past has been cut away forever. No longer can my ears hear the Green Word. This solitude, you want, Mjrn?

Of the Viera, Fran is the oldest of the protagonists and is uniquely the concrete embodiment of the struggle of modernity against tradition as the individual against culture. An exile from her people and her homeland by choice, she is also saddened by the separation imposed by her choice to live freely. Though internally it seems Fran has no question about her choice of life, externally the imposed objective costs do weigh on her as she is existentially alone both as having no members of her family to share with as well as having no one else who could understand her experience. That she is a sky pirate with Balthier is somewhat strange, for it does not seem her character to care for riches or steal, however, upon reflection one can see that no other life would suit someone who defies rules and is steadfast in their independence. Fran chooses freedom not just from the viera way of life, but from all external authority, even that of the gods.

Despite her stoic and seemingly cold nature she feels strongly and one can see this in her relation to Balthier and her sisters Jote and Mjrn. When Fran makes a visit to Eruyt Village to ask for passage through Golmore jungle we find that Balthier knows about her past there and Fran says something of utmost significance: “This is as much for me as it is for you.” Despite her uneasiness in returning to the village, Fran chooses to risk an appearance for the sake of Balthier since she can tell the journey is important to him due to the connection to his hated nethicite and its connection to Cid. She chooses to make an appearance for herself for what seems an attempt to see if her fears of how far she has been removed are as bad as they seem. Her closeness to Balthier reaches climax in the Pharos at Ridoranna. With the Sun-Cryst overflowing and the mist making her immobile, Fran keeps in mind both her and Balthier’s love of freedom over all else: “Hadn’t you best be off? That’s what a sky pirate does. You fly, don’t you?”

Mjrn is actually of theme importance as well, for she is the character that for the viera brings to light the objective problem as a mirror to Fran’s embodiment of the subjective problem. Mjrn, unlike Jote and the rest of the viera, does not believe her people can stand by and simply let history pass them by.—“I saw it when I left the village. Ivalice is changing! How can the viera stand and do nothing at all? How can we just hide here in the trees when all the world outside is on the move?”—In seeking out the reason for why the humes had come to the Henne mines near the viera’s wood, Mjrn shows interest and gives importance to the context of existence. A way of life is no way of life if it is ignorant of its environment and conditions of existence. The viera care not for anything beyond their wood, however, the modern world cares not but the power of action and its conditions of possibility—possibility which, though far from one’s home, inevitably shall touch one’s front steps.

The Urutan-Yensa is a very minor race which is encountered in the Sand Sea, but they embody an extreme logic of tradition in their utterly unquestioning service to customs that simply are without rational basis. None-too-bright, extremely hostile to outsiders and proud, they make it a rule to not seek external help. There is a small quest in the game where a regular Urutan-Yensa asks the party for help in killing a giant tortoise that eats the Urutan, and when its people find out that it asked for help they punish it with death in front of the party.

The Nu Mou are a reserved race that are long lived and spend their lives mostly delving quietly on scholarship, preserving legends (particularly about the Espers), and mastering magicks. In FFXII they are not very active and only take action in relation to themselves (setting bounties on monsters arisen from their kind) or to the Espers (the medallion quest to open the seal in Nabudis). Though politically neutral in the story, they do not keep themselves as far from modern life as the Garif and Viera, seemingly comfortable traveling across the world.

With the sealing of the Espers begins the second age, the Age of Stones, where the Occuria execute their power indirectly through choosing mortal individuals (‘saints’) and empowering them with nethicite shards cut from the Sun-Cryst made by the Occuria. In the first age the relation to the gods and their providence was immediate, then it is mediately-immediate by the less divine Espers, and in the third age the relation is mediated by the undivine chosen from the mortal races. Freedom breaks through theocratic tyranny on Ivalice and opens up the social order and running of the world to more influence from below within a broader yet still constricted space of freedom. Ivalicians rule Ivalice as they see fit, but only within the limits allowed by the gods and their secret guidance.

The Age of Stones: Dynasty and Empire


The Age of Stones begins with the aftermath of an Ivalice absent the rule of the Occuria since the fall of the Espers. The world is in chaos and constantly warring kingdoms. Unwilling to enter the world directly again, and unwilling to create new Espers, a new mode of interaction is devised by the Occuria: empowering a chosen one with nethicite, the ruling of the world shifting away from direct theocracy to monarchy. The Occuria seek out amongst the races one which will serve them in exchange for such power, and after failures finally settle on humes since they are both willing and able to use nethicite as a weapon. Raithwall is chosen as their champion and is tasked with unifying Ivalice under his rule as proxy for the Occuria’s rule. Crushing his opposition, but also seen by many as a savior for ending the constant wars, Raithwall becomes the first Dynast King and ushers in an age of peace and prosperity. His dynasty is formed as the Galtean ‘Alliance’, but this begins falling apart in a few generations after his line of direct descendants dies off. This degeneration of the first dynasty leads to the present state of things at the beginning of the story. The story for most of the narrative is one of the renewal of the unity of a world dynasty once more. The question is, initially, merely of who shall be this new Dynast King and how. Shall the new world tyrant, benevolent or not, be chosen by the Occuria and empowered by their stones, or shall it be chosen by the most ambitious of humes by power of their own stones? In the attempt to shift the locus of power from Occuria to humes, Vayne simply shifts the form of tyranny from theocracy to absolute monarchy.

Stone of Gods

The reality of the legacy of the Dynast King and its possible renewal on the side of the Occuria lies in two factors: nethicite, and the religion known as the Light of Kiltias. The Kiltias religion precedes the legacy of the Dynast King, having been founded thousands of years prior as one of the modes of influence of the Occuria. In due time the religion spread far and wide enough and was apolitical enough that various groups and states allowed the church a mediating influence. With Raithwall’s ascension as Dynast King, he leaves the Sword of Kings entrusted to the Gran Kiltias instead of to his progeny. The reason why is simple: the item, capable of cutting nethicite, was the Occuria’s to give and take, and the Kiltias religion is one of the Occuria’s voices in the world. In having such a connection to Raithwall, however, the Kiltias gained an unassailable position as king maker by becoming an authority of recognition with regards to Raithwall’s lineage by mark of the nethicite shards left to his progeny as well as by the legitimating power it has in the face of all its religious adherents.

Our main protagonist in the political realm, Ashe, is like Vayne on a mission for power to bring peace and order once more. She is chosen by the Occuria to be the next Dynast Queen, however, things do not pan out as planned.

Stone of Man

“What claim does Gerun have on history’s reins…seated on throne immortal, rent from time?”

It is in the Age of Stones that Venat is nothing less than a class traitor, aiming to level the relation of humes to the Occuria by giving humes the forbidden knowledge of nethicite craft. It is Venat who engages the wheel of history and the plot of the game by meeting with Cid in the Jagd Difohr and beginning his path to manufacture nethicite. In part this seems to come from an ethical desire, and yet Venat seems to have no qualms whatsoever that those to whom it reveals the secret of nethicite manufacture are themselves tyrants just like the Occuria who have the ambition to use this knowledge to conquer Ivalice and shape it as they see fit. Venat is an anti-hero who seems to have one aim: to free humes (not Ivalice) at all cost regardless of the results of that freedom. What happens in Ivalice after the Occurian reign is over seems of no interest to Venat so long as its favored race can only blame itself. Venat does not wish to end tyranny, only to change the tyrant; it seeks to maintain the Age of Stones simply by changing its superficial appearance, to trade the stone of the gods for the stone of man.

There is in the game strong hint of something nefarious about Venat, particularly with its connection to manufacted nethicite. In rare but key moments in the game we see Venat appear for a quick moment behind those who hold manufacted nethicite or are infected with its mist. We see this first with Mjrn where it is clear that a near full possession has occurred, and second with Judge Bergan where possession is not apparent. Fran notes multiple times (and other sources confirm) that there is something unique about the mist of nethicite (it is foul) and perhaps of manufacted nethicite specifically. That the viera, being mist sensitive, are overwhelmed by nethicite mist presence is coherent, however, that they would be possessed through this is rather interesting. Both deifacted and manufacted nethicite can drive viera out of their minds, but only Venat seems to take advantage for possession in at least one occasion. Due to this Fran and Balthier believe all others in contact with the stone of man may also be under possession, however, this seems highly unlikely. For one, Bergan and Cid, though fanatical, are clearly not out of their minds, at worst they have been tricked just as the Occuria tricked Ashe. Venat’s death also contradicts the notion that it had nefarious ends for the manufacted nethicite in a sense of personal gain and power. It freely chooses death after its plans to sever the Occuria’s power in Ivalice are complete, something fitting for its character, yet the way it is carried out in the narrative is disappointing and nonsensical. We attain no explanation for Venat’s turn on the Occuria, and its death is for all purposes irrational suicide.

“And lo! How brightly burned their lanthorn! Casts it back the shadow of Occurian design! Testament that Man’s history shall be his alone!

From Dr. Cid’s side, we have the obsessed scientist and engineer which by his very craft revels in practical power. The vocation of the engineer is to unify theoretical and practical power as one through scientific practice. Dr. Cid is perfectly at one with the narrative concept in his own concept, his aim is to unleash the productive power of humes for the mere fact that he can, and there is no absolute reason for why he should not. Against the dying races which step away from the stage of world history, thus giving up their claim of right to lead the world in the current age, Cid steps up as one who is confident that humes should set the course because they can and will once they hold the power of the gods as their own by their own will-to-power. Cid does not care for the empire of Archadia as such, he is instead a man tightly held in the grip of a more universal spirit which demands not just the freedom of Archadia to rule itself, or of humes, but rather the ideal that all of Ivalice should be freed from the tyranny of the gods. However, Cid is not one to shy from power as capacity for action, for he as well as Vayne and Gabranth are very aware that if one tries to be a saint and refuse power someone else eventually won’t. The denial of power for fear of its potential harm is merely the fear of freedom itself.

Cid is seen by virtually all but Vayne as a madman obsessed with nethicite and bringing “The reins of history back in the hands of man.” In a sense Cid does seem mad, his entire personality become slave to one single aim to exclusion of all other consideration; all that matters is the goal and all means there are acceptable. However, Cid’s obsession is rational and completely expected of the kind of person he is, for he is a genius who stumbled upon a world-historic significant insight which require his full attention to ensure the logical conclusion of such insight may come to fruition. As a scientist, Cid could not despise anything more than arbitrary limits on question and action, and nothing can be worse than such limits imposed from outside of our own social world. Nethicite was not a simple scientific curiosity for Cid; its discovery was at once also a duty to realize and use that power to found a new age without Occurian rule.

A man on a clock due to age as well as expecting Occurian resistance, the quick revolution of technologies which Cid had to rush through was obsession in part caused by a sense of emergency and the burden of a true divine duty to achieve his goal for the sake of freeing the world from the “would be gods.” In his last encounter with the heroic party Cid comments both his wish to see the Sun-Cryst destroyed, but also used as a step for the rise of man over the gods by serving as a power source for the Bahamut; thus Venat forces the overflowing of the Sun-Cryst. Here Balthier accuses him of having only wanted to usurp the gods by becoming a god himself, and Cid does not deny it. Of course the aim of manufacted nethicite is apotheosis, what else is the ultimate aim of all beings possessed of a rational soul but that of the Absolute power and will, of achieving the limits of freedom?

Though Balthier thinks Cid mad and a slave to Venat, when he asks if there was no other way to free Cid from his madness Cid’s answer at first seems dismissive, yet when one reflects on it it cannot be but a disappointed response. Unable to accept that Cid had chosen his ‘madness’ and was beholden to an ideal much higher than himself and his family, Balthier’s pity is indeed misplaced and wasted. Cid had been free all along. In fact, caught up in the necessity of his literal inspiration and genius Cid was the freest individual in the entire story. He was in content what Balthier had up to then only achieved in form. In fully determining himself for a concrete individual aim of world historic significance Cid gave himself concrete individuality and purpose according to his own reason and will towards the only aim worthy of spiritual beings: freedom.

Upon his defeat Cid shows not the attitude of a tyrant or egotist of such short sight and desire of mere personal apotheosis. In fact, Cid dies with dignity and nobility, proclaiming that his mission had been accomplished and that he had enjoyed the last six years of research under Venat. Cid’s dying remarks prove his goal had always been higher, that his madness had been only passion and fervor in doing all he could to achieve his goal, and that despite how almost no one else—especially his son—could understand that he was free in the chains of obsession he had no regrets and died a victor and hero. In one way Cid is cold as stone, uncaring for Balthier even in his final moments, failing to attempt any reconciliation, telling him to spend his pity elsewhere and run as he always has, but in another he is a man whose soul burns with passion unrivaled, for whom his chains of necessity are his freedom. Destroyed by the party or not, the Sun-Cryst was doomed—just as Cid and Vayne hope. Cid cares for nothing other than the end of Occurian rule, Vayne’s success being mere icing on the cake; thus, Ashe’s party’s destruction of it may even be part of his own plan to ensure that it is destroyed entirely and thus his death is no sad accident but a self-sacrifice for the future of Ivalice.

The destruction of the Sun-Cryst, the raw material power of the Occuria, is not enough to free Ivalice from the grips of the gods, something more is needed: the destruction of their thought base as well. There is a short, but highly meaningful moment in the narrative that concerns the generally ignored arm of Occurian influence through the religion of the Kiltias. When Judge Zargabaath is ordered to retrieve Larsa from Mt. Bur-Omisace Judge Bergan goes along and afterward carries out a rampaging murder of the entire religious population including the Gran Kiltias. While appearing as inordinately cruel and a power grab by the Empire and yet another attempt to spark war, Bergan has a strange legitimacy to his action in a world historic sense. The Gran Kiltias and its authority of recognition of rule by divine right could not be allowed to stand if Ivalice was to be freed from Occurian rule, and regardless of the kindness of the Gran Kiltias they were ultimately a puppet of the gods which had no place in the vision of a new world.

“Observe well, Larsa. Watch and mark you the suffering of one who must rule, yet lacks the power.”

On Vayne’s side we have the ambition not of freedom for the world, but seemingly for himself and that of his kingdom only insofar as it is necessary for enabling his power and rule.—When Venat offers prayer for Vayne’s successful conquest of Ivalice he responds that he will accomplish it because his efforts had been unrecognized and unrewarded for too long.— It is the aim of Vayne to become a self-appointed Dynast King, not by will of the gods but by his own as man. In having taken the secret of nethicite from the Occuria, Vayne is like Napoleon who took the crown from the pope and set it upon his head as symbolic gesture to the fact that he takes providence into his own hands. Like Napoleon, Vayne sees himself as a modernizer on a mission ordained by divine providence which is directly unheard and unseen, but which has set the winds at the back of his sails on his ships of conquest. As such, Vayne is not selfish at all. Like Cid, he is caught up in a grander trajectory and by necessity of a higher historical power than mere individuality.

Though we are only told some of what Vayne is and does as a person (a lot of it implied in the background of his scheming), we see the lengths to which he is willing to go to gain power when he orchestrates the assassination of the emperor, his father, in order to frame the senate and give himself dictatorial power. It is curious that before the assassination Vayne’s discussion with the emperor about silencing the Senate elicits a strange response from the emperor, “Is this your idea of vengeance?” This comes seemingly out of nowhere. Vengeance towards whom and vengeance for what? If the implication is vengeance towards the Senate for blocking Vayne’s plans it makes sense, however, there is a hint at something personal in the atmosphere and delivery. Perhaps the emperor means that he is foreseeing what Vayne has in store for him and wonders if it isn’t simply a ploy to save House Solidor from the Senate, but also a move of vengeance towards him. Unfortunately we do not know what the history of father and son is in detail other than that Vayne framed his brothers of treason and his father himself judged them to be put to death. Perhaps the vengeance is more abstract: that those who live by the sword die by the sword, and thus the emperor’s ruthlessness returns to him in the guise of his son. Here we see something of one of the subthemes of freedom in the game narrative: the cycle of vengeance which the states and peoples of Ivalice are trapped in with their constant wars.

As a charismatic leader Vayne aligns himself closely with the order of the Judges and the military, who later do not oppose his coup. Realpolitik is Vayne’s order of the day; he strives to be the Machiavellian prince who is feared rather than loved. Weakness through lack, fear, or refusal of power is unacceptable to Vayne, and he sees it as his duty to rule since he has the responsibility, the capacity, the will, and the power to do so. To those who the duty of rule falls on, the duty to attain and maintain power is one and the same with their rule. Though he repeats Cid’s chant, “The reins of history back in the hands of man,” it is clear that Vayne understands man to mean him and his empire. Vayne seeks to write history as he sees fit in representing humes, and only he is fit to rule such a unified world, a world which he believes Ivalice needs. He can, therefore he must. But that he can is so by what Vayne sees as divine providence itself, for it is Venat who has revealed that the gods can be opposed; thus, Vayne is self-centered yet selfless, thirsting for power by necessity of the parch that is duty. He is atheistic and pious to the gods in the very breath he condemns them, for he is at war with the gods on behalf of a god that has chosen him. It is by intervention of Venat and its revelation of the secret of nethicite that Vayne sees himself as having been chosen by his own merit to be a new kind of Dynast King where man is god to itself. Vayne must conquer the world in the name of the greater good of lasting peace, he must throw away his warmth and humanity for the sake of ruling effectively, he must use the ultimate weapon to ensure peace. To this end he is steadfast and ready to head to his death if need be. Were it not for his desire and aim to usurp the gods Vayne would have without question been the chosen saint of the Occuria and his efforts to become Dynast King would have been sanctioned. Vayne’s willingness to use raw power to subdue his enemies as well as his political mastery is exactly what the Occuria need in their puppet.

While Cid is given proper closure, giving himself fully unto death for his cause by playing the devil in order to force the protagonists to destroy the last and most powerful connection and lure for Ivalicians to do the bidding of the Occurians, the Sun-Cryst, Vayne’s tale is mangled and his character made a mockery for the sake of providing arbitrary closure. In what is merely there for the sake of video game logic we have a ridiculous scenario where the Vayne directly physically fights with the protagonists, loses, uses nethicite to turn into a monster, loses again, escapes and has one final encounter with Venat to give them the news that he has failed to realize their plan. All for what? For Venat to give a twist yet again: the plan had never been for Vayne to succeed, only to destroy the Sun-Cryst and end the Occuria’s reign whatever may come. Venat then merges with Vayne into an even more ridiculous monster, knowing that they are both going to their doom, and rather than die with the dignity that Cid did both basically commit suicide in a nonsensical blaze of glory.

Ultimately, the vision of Cid and Vayne is ironically contradictory. Through deifacted nethicite the Occuria ruled the world through the tyranny of a benevolent dynast king, and through manufacted nethicite Ivalice would rule itself through the tyranny of a benevolent Machiavellian dynast king.

Archadia & Rozzaria: Hume Empire

The main story arc revolves around the political struggle of Dalmasca against Archadia, with the subplot of humes against the Occuria as an initially parallel sub arch, but both arcs explicitly merge later in the story. Logically the struggle against the gods comes first, but this struggle emerges out of the political struggles between hume kingdoms. While the empires of Archadia and Rozzaria are both political villains that have made immense strides in magiteck and have created industrialized and militarized societies with clear ambitions—ones which they would hate for the gods to stop—the ambitions of empire as such know no limits but that of power to realize desire. This unbridled ambition of a desire and need for freedom to control concretizes as the struggle of empire vs empire, and specifically as the main antagonists which are warped heroes themselves: the royal imperial Vayne Solidor and the mad scientist Dr. Cid. The struggle of Archadia with Rozzaria appears as a looming threat towards which all major players on the continent are aware as nearly inevitable due to the aggressive nature of both empires, yet all see that such a confrontation would devastate those caught between them. Dalmasca and its resistance become key tinder for both Archadia and Rozzaria: Archadia invades it on pretense of fears of Rozzarian meddling in the region, and Rozzaria uses the rebels as an excuse and sharp meat shield to start full war with Archadia.

Archadian Power Struggles

Within Archadia a subset of plot important villains exist, the senate and the powerful Judges. The Senate is, unfortunately, left undeveloped in the narrative. It is safe to assume that the members are drawn from nobility, and that much of the animosity towards the emperor and Judges comes from struggles of power linked to economic concerns. However, there is little hint at such economic strife (in Old Archadia Balthier notes that most there are fallen from high society or hoping to join it), rather the whole struggle is portrayed as simply one of subservience and power. The Senate wishes to usurp the emperor and Judges and become the sovereign of the empire. Towards what aims we do not know.


The Judge Magisters play a minor role in gameplay but a significant role storywise. An institution created by the emperors, its members are typically drawn from the military and share in imperial ambitions of conquest and are also opposed to the Senate in concert with the emperor. They form the highest court as judge, jury, executioner, military commander, and warrior all in one. Being that they are Archadians, they do their duties for the Empire and cannot question it as such though they do question the administration. The Judges are by and large in league with Vayne and some are fully aware of his aspirations to defy the gods and become dynast king by his own power (Bergan and Ghis) . At least one of the Judges (Ghis) conspires against Vayne in a bid for power and fails due to a nethicite accident, and only two Judges oppose Vayne for ethical reasons through most of the narrative. When Judge Drace attempts to hold Vayne under arrest for suspicion of assassinating the emperor Judge Bergan responds that she commits a contradiction in claiming that such an action upholds the law (because the present Judges had already judged the crime and given Vayne his power) and she is sentenced to death. The other Judge to oppose Vayne is the former Judge Zecht, who gave up his post and fled the empire due to shame and guilt over the disaster he caused in Nabudis by following Cid and Vayne’s orders to test deifacted nethicite. The Judges in general hold conceptual importance regarding the concept of the narrative, but only Judge Drace, Zecht, and Gabranth have such importance.

Struggles Against Empire

Within the struggle of Dalmasca is the struggle of the kingdom of Bhujerba as a significant resistance to Archadia, and along with their struggle is the history of other small kingdoms which fell to the Empire before Dalmasca. The struggle against empire is a struggle against tyranny, however, it is only the tyranny of a state against a state and not generalized to tyranny as such. Therefore we see kingdoms wage wars for their freedom, yet within them plenty of mysery and inequity abounds unquestioned.

Captain Ronsenburg, surely the exigencies of position are not lost on you.

Marquis Ondore, ruler of Bhujerba, a rich state of traders and merchants of magicite, is truly the face and body of the resistance against the Empire. The account of the game includes his narration of events that took place. Because of the richness of its magicite mines and his control of access to them, he is able to neutrally negotiate with the Empire(s) to certain extents, and this neutrality also gives Bhujerba favor as a mediator for many conflicts. Because of its size and population, however, Bhujerba is unable to muster a modern army to stave off the Empire and has effectively become servant by economic and implied force. While openly ceding to some of the Empire’s demands, he secretly funds rebels against it. Unlike Ashe and Larsa, Ondore is no idealist and is a staunch pragmatist of realpolitik. Unlike Vayne he does not believe in dealing with things with brute force and fear, opting instead for trickery and manipulation to his favor even when those he wishes to aid may see it as betrayal. The Marquis strikes one as an effective ruler who lacks neither compassion nor wit for how to maneuver tense situations; thus, he is the embodiment of proper statecraft. In the middle of the story he abdicates his position under pretension of ill health in order to amass a resistance army, and in concert with Reddas he hatches a plot to steal manufacted nethicite to use against the Empire, but fails. When it is believed that Vayne no longer has deifacted nethicite to use as a weapon, Ondore decides it is the best chance to attack the Empire in a mass front with the backing of Rozzaria if needed. Here Ondore is well aware that Rozzaria is using his resistance in hopes of engaging a direct war with Archadia with Dalmasca as the theater of war. Immersed in the reality of everyday politics, Ondore has no clue nor desire to know of the intricacies of the Occuria’s manipulation of humes and the world at large. In the final battle against the Bahamut above Rabanastre he leads the resistance air fleet which would have been obliterated had Ashe’s party not destroyed the Bahamut from within.

What is shame to me?

Basch is a native of the Republic of Landis who left it to become a soldier of Dalmasca in hopes of freeing his homeland. When Landis fell he gave himself fully to Dalmasca without remorse, and even when he was framed and his reputation ruined he maintained his loyalty and desire to serve regardless of shame. Basch is, for all purposes, a balanced character who knows himself and his role and is at home in any situation. He is a knight through and through, establishing himself quickly in his role and embodying the concept of his vocation. His loyalty is to Dalmasca first and to its royalty a close second, although for the most part Basch makes no distinction in practice. As a knight he is protector first and foremost, and thus it is natural that when Ashe speaks to him of her thoughts that allying with the Empire might be necessary to save Dalmasca, but that it would be too shameful for her to bear, Basch answers that shame is nothing in the face of duty to save even one person from the horror of war. Regarding the question of the gods and nethicite, Basch has little to say, but it is important. When the Occuria reveal themselves to Ashe and give her her treaty blade Basch comments that he agrees that the Empire should pay for its crimes, but the Occuria’s demand to destroy them is too much and unconscionable. His birth twin is Judge Magister Gabranth, but he shares none of the animosity or personal problems of the latter regarding shame and honor, for to Basch honor is in maintaining duty even in light of failure.

A related minor character to Basch is Vossler, another soldier and knight of Dalmasca who was Ashe’s lead guard. Like Basch, Vossler is a balanced character who simply wishes to end the war and restore Dalmasca, however, Vossler makes two mistakes: he treats with the Empire behind Ashe’s back to give them the Dawn Shard in exchange for restoring Dalmasca’s throne, and when faced with the rejection of his plan he dares to turn on Ashe herself, believing that his plan was the only way to avoid the occupation and the possibility of further war.

One of these days I’ll fly an airship of my own. I’ll be a sky pirate, free to go where I will.

If there is a proverbial chink in the narrative armor’s unity, Vaan is unquestionably it. It is clear that Vaan is an afterthought addition, albeit the writers tried to make his inclusion fit the concept. An orphan whose older brother was killed by the Empire long before the game story begins, we begin the game as Vaan doing his day to day errands, escalating to his overambitious dreams of getting back at the Empire by stealing a great treasure in the Rabanastre palace. Vaan’s great struggle is freeing himself from his past, from the hatred of the Empire and the desire for vengeance which consumes him. Vaan at the beginning is simply there as a tack-on to the main party, unsure about what it is that he is seeking to accomplish. As the issue of nethicite is unfolded and Vaan reflects on his adventure and his companions he grows as a character. We get to see Vaan get a greater understanding of the complexity of a world where things are not as clear cut as they seem: Basch is not a traitor to Dalmasca or Reks, Imperials are not all monsters (Larsa and the regular crowd of Archadia), and the realization that vengeance between kingdoms is more costly and dangerous than it seemed—that innocents get caught in the crossfire.

Being charitable to Vaan, he provides a different view of one of the themes already embodied by Gabranth and Ashe concerning the concept of vengeance, however, Vaan does virtually nothing significant in the story except for one moment: his self-reflection and opening up with Ashe in Jahara when both see an apparition. This is an important scene, for here Vaan reflects on two very important points: first the point of sacrifice when one knows the battle is hopeless and death likely, and second the point of living life with goals to avoid the pain of the absence of loved ones. This clearly gives Ashe something to think about, for it places her thoughts on vengeance in the context of considering her kingdom and the consequences her defiance of the Empire will provoke. This is part of the reason Ashe, with the acquaintance of Larsa and his desire for peace, considers for a moment the possibility of putting aside her hatred for the pragmatic well-being of Dalmasca in an alliance with Archadia in order to make peace and avert needless war. In a way one can see here a logical shadow of Vaan’s later and final moment of development in the Pharos where he realizes vengeance cannot undo the past and give us back the loved ones we lost. Just as Reks gave his life in order to protect, but in dying in a losing battle only left Vaan without a protector, Vaan reflects on vengeance for the fallen as a similar contradictory condition: we claim vengeance for the restitution of justice, yet the injustice we wish to undo is not undone.

Unfortunately Vaan’s development is simply weak and he never gets a proper integration into the story to properly explain why he is part of such a notable circle. Though Vaan is an addition for corporate reasons, he is mostly unintrusive in the story and mainly a passive character who serves as the player’s constant anchor point to the story. Penelo, more unfortunately, is even less of a character than Vaan, having no real plot significance and having no conceptual significance.

With the determination and resolution of both the struggle against the gods as well as the struggle against empire, freedom breaks through on a new level of reality: with no singular state unifying the world, states must now treat with each other on a level field of recognition and non-destructive mediation. In the Age of Gods the idea is that one is free; in the Age of Stones at best what peaks through is the idea that some (aristocrats) are free; in the Age of Man the idea that all are free just barely begins to shine through in the relation of states to each other, but with the march of modernity this will inevitably spread into the inner structure of states themselves.


The humes are the ascendant race in Ivalice, and for an obvious reason: they are the chosen of the Occuria, but it is also the case that it seems they are the most abundant and ambitious. In game plenty of other races live alongside humans and are generally equally intelligent and ambitious (if not more). One sees these races regularly across the world as the party travels, showing that these are the enduring races with a will to live through change and accommodate themselves to the new ways of life opened up by technology and commerce. One sees in most of these races a desire to break free, if not from tradition, then from the chains that bind one’s will and action.

Though the politics of empire is at first presented as the politics of modernity, this is misleading. Modernity is not simply opposed to tradition, it is not simply individualism against collectivism, it is also reason against dogma. It is in its rational determination that modernity swings towards the individual against the collective, but it is an incomplete reason which leaves it so fragmented in this division such that one and the same modernity seems to put forth contradictory positions. Freedom is the purpose of modernity and its form is self-determination. What this looks like concerns more than mere results, but the basis and process generating those results. Freedom cannot be without the conditions for the possibility of freedom, and this concerns a social form of life which produces free individuals in consciousness as well as providing a material reality in which freedom is produced and reproduced in the very life of this society. Modernity shows a non-destructive character in the cast which holds the reins to the future of Ivalice as well as some definite awareness of the essence of freedom.

The Coming Age of Man

The narrative unfortunately, but expectedly, ends at the cusp of the very moment where the new age begins. With the stones of the gods and of man gone, the world recoils in horror at the power it was once under and an era of enlightenment comes through a general reflection and decision to keep from seeking such power to settle international matters. What we are given implication to believe by all the narrative force is that a new age of peace reigned, the two major empires stopped ambitions of expansion, and all states were left free to determine themselves. Democracy does not reign, but it is present in some manner. Monarchies, republics, and limited democracies abound in Ivalice, and it is certain that most of these states had constitutions drawn at some point even if meager and relatively weak in specifications and rights. The fundamental shift from the second age to the third age is that the role of freedom is no longer one of a world tyranny, but of each state itself such that now it is recognized that all states have the right of autonomous self-determination in their internal and external affairs insofar as it does not clash with other states.

“I am simply myself. No more and no less. And I want only to be free.”

Princess Ashelia (Ashe)of Dalmasca is for the most part the unifying locus for half of the objective struggle in the story, and she also begins ironically as a near exact mirror in ideal and character to Vayne with a mix of Gabranth’s notion of justice. She is proud, she loathes weakness of will and power to exact the duties of rule and honor. The surviving rightful heir to the throne of Dalmasca, she is a rallying point for the resistance to imperial occupation. While she begins the narrative intent on vengeance towards the Empire and freeing Dalmasca, and thus power hungry in order to realize that aim, she ends with only with the desire for freedom of her state and from the heavy chains of the past. Ashe’s fixation on vengeance and honor halts two opportunities to bring Dalmascan restoration: first with rejecting an alliance with the Empire due to shame, and second in rejecting Vossler’s deal with the Empire. After the nethicite incident with Mjrn, despite seeing the terrible effect it may have on wielders, Ashe comments that, “There is a place for all things, even danger such as this.”  Not even the full cognisance of the horror of nethicite changes her plans, yet this is not without reason. Like Vayne, Ashe is aware of the necessity of power in order to take action in the world for what we desire, and unfortunately raw power with physically violent implications is necessary to face those who will not answer to more subtle powers of the mind such as emotion or reason.

Ashe traverses a journey of unwittingly relying on Occurian power and validation for much of the game.—It is interesting that her nethicite piece was the Dawn Shard since Ashe represents many forms of the dawn of a new era.—In seeking a piece of nethicite to show the Gran Kiltias on Mt. Bur-Omisace, Ashe ties her legitimacy as ruler to the will of the Occuria through their religion. After giving up her claim to royalty out of necessity, she shifts her focus to acquiring nethicite as a power check in order to gain and protect Dalmasca’s sovereignty, yet again ceding to Occurian influence. Finally, in going to Giruvegan and receiving a new treaty blade to cut new shards of nethicite with, she gives her final ceding to the Occuria in consciously being their enforcer on Ivalice. However, Ashe ultimately rejects this influence on principle rather than consequence, noting that choosing to use such power on its enemies would be against what Dalmasca and its rulers’ ideological legacy stood for.

Though this line of thought is not followed through in the story narrative, it is important that had Ashe followed through on the Occuria’s plan she would have become the empire she despised, and this is a reason for her rejection of taking and using nethicite. There is a clear identity made here: freedom from the past is freedom from the gods and freedom from tradition. The Occuria had attempted to tempt her to their side in two-fold manner: by appealing to her hatred by projecting a ‘ghost’ of her slain husband as one who wanted her to gain vengeance (appealing to her sense of honor), and also by calling on her lineage to be a new Dynast Queen to bring an age of peace under her unified rule.

Her story comes to logical closure when she faces Vayne one last time and answers to his question of who she is and what she wants with: “I am simply myself, no more and no less. And I want only to be free.” With this Ashe proclaims only the positivity of freedom and has discarded the negativity of vengeance, that is, she understands that freedom is not simply defined against external conditions. The world she envisions is not one of imperial ruthless tyranny or dynastic benevolent dictatorship, but of free states in mutual understanding and the capacity to forgive and let go of the past so that it may let go of us. Her individual subjective freedom from the past transforms directly into objective social freedom from the past in that she is her state personified, and her will is her state’s will. Her vision is of states that put down their arms and grudges for the sake of beginning anew in peace and in recognition of the right of self-determination.

It will not come to that. I am sure. I have faith in her—faith in you both.

Larsa faces a struggle for freedom from his family’s bloody past, and thus Archadia’s own imperial aggression. He, like Basch, is of a balanced character. An idealist, he is still a realist but with immense optimism and faith in his fellow people. There is something curious in his relation to his father, brother, and part of the Judges: all of these are set on making sure that he does not follow in their bloody ways. The emperor, Gramis, tells Gabranth that what Vayne became is not what is meant for Larsa (it is implied that Vayne’s struggle with his brothers was the turning point for Gramis’s attitude). Judge Drace aids and tutors him in his underground attempts at making peace with Rebels and Rozzaria. Vayne himself says to Cid that Larsa’s sweetness is not something he should lose in response to Cid’s remark that he is amazed that they are brothers with such different temperaments. In the last cutscene with the emperor Vayne comments that he is ruthless so that Larsa need not be, however, other scenes make it clear that Vayne does this for the moment due to what he sees as Larsa’s innocence. Vayne does care for his brother, but more so as an heir to his family’s legacy in the dynasty he wishes to create. It is clear that overall that neither Gramis nor Larsa are fully aware of what Vayne and Cid are up to, and both are investigating the issues around nethicite (Larsa visiting the mines where Draklor’s magicite is acquired). When Larsa learns of the dangers of nethicite when Fran’s sister Mjrn is possessed he takes back the piece of manufacted nethicite he had given Penelo and becomes wary of what else Vayne and Cid are experimenting with. In their penultimate debate on the Bahamut Larsa openly faces Vayne and tells him his ideas and ways in dealing with other persons and states is wrong, and there Vayne rebukes him that if he is indeed wrong then Larsa needs to acquire the power to ‘correct’ him. In the last battles Larsa joins Ashe’s party against Vayne despite his lack of brute power. In defeating Vayne, Larsa takes on his political power and it is implied that his efforts at peace and a more humane empire are realized.

It is unfortunate that we cannot see how Larsa truly accomplishes what he seeks in a world of realpolitik where his idealism cannot be the basis of national nor international reality. Within his own empire a great struggle would be required to upend its class divides and establish the reality of freedom and rights, and internationally he would have to project power of action along with the value of his word. Such a reality is beyond mere trust and hopes. With the establishment of this new order of states freedom yet again breaks through in the necessity for external and internal justice.

Judges of True Law

The judges of Archadia are by and large enemies and portrayed as villains, however, of the five one is portrayed as truly fit for the role of judge as embodiment of the concept of justice from the beginning, this being Judge Drace. As the story develops we find out that Judge Zecht also is worthy of his (former) office, and finally at the very end of the story we have a third, Grabranth, who dies worthy of this title’s concept though he was worthy of its attitude the entire time. These judges are all fit because of one reason, and one reason only: they know and understand the aim of judgment to be justice, and justice is a reality of the absolute law: the law of freedom. As judge, jury, and executioner all in one, the judges are near an ultimate form of modernity itself: they exemplify self-determination in their office with nothing but the other branches of government and the state constitution as the only power above them. As True judges,however, all that defies the law of freedom is to be judged unfit regardless of formal validity in the written law. This office therefore is not taken by them as merely institutionally valid as set forth by technical documents, but it is also existentially valid as a personal vocation which may necessitate the breaking of technical limits in order to execute justice.


I, jude magister, condemn you to oblivion!

Reddas is a sky pirate who formerly was the imperial Judge Magister Zecht. Having left the Empire due to shame and guilt over his annihilation of Nabudis, he tries to begin life anew as a pirate in Balfonheim, where with his skill and charisma he quickly became leader and in many ways continues his office by another name. Like Balthier and Gabranth he runs from his past, however he quickly realizes no such thing is possible. He becomes an anti-imperial agent in order to try to stop the repetition of Nabudis by the Empire; thus, Zecht’s struggle is against nethicite itself and not directly against tyranny. He never truly ceases to consider himself a Judge despite his lack of official status and power, this is proven in his final moment as he destroys the Sun-Cryst: “I, jude magister, condemn you to oblivion!” This is because Zecht, like Drace, takes seriously the concept of his status and office; he embodies the concept faithfully and gives it actuality as an existent truth. As Judge he is upholder of the law of freedom, judging and serving justice. In destroying the Sun-Cryst he actualizes and finishes the sentence meted by the judgment of Nabudis: power so great is too dangerous to be allowed existence in one hand, let alone many. What truly brings Reddas into the fold of the law of freedom is not just his judgment of what happened in Nabudis, but also his judgment of what Ashe must do in moving forward with her grasp for freedom. He exhorts her to grasp for something beyond revenge and greater than despair, a freedom not premised on abstract negation of unfreedom but a constructive and positive undoing of it.

Vayne Solidor! As Judge Magister and upholder of the law, I hereby place you under arrest!

Judge Magister Drace is Larsa’s tutor and the closest thing to a friend which Gabranth has. She is the only judge openly critical of Vayne and where he is aiming the Empire. While Bergan praises Vayne’s ruthlessness and dictatorial style as pragmatic for the occasion of future peace and prosperity, Drace sees in Vayne only the downfall of the law her office is meant to uphold. She attempts and succeeds in instilling in Larsa the value of freedom and the necessity of avoiding violence and brute power as an answer to problems large and small, and aids him in his attempts to undermine Vayne’s desire to jump to open conflict with his enemies. When emperor Gramis is assassinated, however, she cannot stand back any longer and despite knowing she practically cannot do so though she is theoretically justified, she attempts an arrest of Vayne in the full presence of the remaining three judges. Bergan is the one who informs her that she is in formal contradiction to the law of the state even if clearly she is within its spirit. Zargabaath, being a careerist who doesn’t rock the boat, merely tells her she speaks too freely, and Gabranth says nothing for his troubled comrade (and perhaps friend). Drace knew this would be the case, nonetheless she does her duty out of duty and not because she expects it to succeed or lead to anything good. She is killed for her attempt to realize justice by her own friend, Gabranth, and thus is a martyr for the concept of the game as awhole.

“Yes. Good! Find your wrath! Take up your sword! Fight, and serve those that died before you!”

Most important of the active Judges is Gabranth, who has significant plot development due to his connection to Basch, Dalmasca, and Larsa. Head of the intelligence bureau of the Empire, he is tasked by the emperor to protect Larsa and keep watch on Vayne’s scheming. Formerly of the Republic of Landis, when his country was invaded by Archadia he was ashamed of his failure to protect it and unable to let go of his hatred both for himself and the Empire. Tortured by his guilt, he joins Archadia for unclear reasons as far as the in-game information goes. One can speculate two possible reasons which may or may not be concurrent: giving himself up to the serve the empire as a giving himself over to his shame and honorlessness as self-punishment, and a hope that he may sabotage the Empire from within. Concerning the first reason, Gabranth’s ruthless service to the empire may also be understood as a very curious attempt at formal redemption: in putting aside his hatred of the empire, and yet still carrying out his duty to serve it unto his death he may yet partially redeem himself in not having failed to defend a homeland again. In his service to the Empire, however, Grabranth is unclear about where his loyalties lie. He works against Vayne by informing the Emperor of his secret plots, particularly of nethicite and the incident of Nabudis, and he aids Larsa when needed, yet he also aids Vayne in his scheming by going so far as impersonating Basch and killing the king of Dalmasca in order to give Vayne the reason to conquer it fully under pretenses of a power vacuum’s danger.

Gabranth is unquestionably a Judge through and through in his entire life of service. The difference with the others is that he is mistaken as to what the law he is meant to uphold truly is. For most of the game Gabranth is a judge of vengeance and believes himself to be executing justice for the law of honor alone. It is this that explains his hatred of those who fail to live up to the requirements of this law. His greatest hatred he reserves for his twin brother Basch, whom he considers a worse failure than himself for having abandoned Landis in the invasion in order to join Dalmasca and its war efforts rather than remain and fight in his homeland. Gabranth’s acute hatred for Basch can explained as a projection and reflection, seeing his own failures in him, but his anger boils due to what he perceives as Basch’s failure to even recognize that these are failures for which he should atone. Basch seems untroubled by what to Gabranth is most troubling; thus, for Gabranth his brother is a living mockery not just of his anguish, but of the ultimate law of honor itself.

Gabranth is so consumed by his inner struggle, one that he takes to be objectively demanded of him, that ultimately he cares for nothing else and cannot stand to see anyone he deems to be committing his own sins—an attitude fit for a true Judge. With learning of Vayne’s plans and Ashe’s desire to acquire new nethicite shards to gain vengeance for Dalmasca he hopes to fan her hatred and desire for retributive justice for the fallen of her Kingdom in order to push her to carry through her duty for vengeance. In seeing that Ashe will not use the Sun-Cryst, he chastises her for her failure to avenge the honor of the fallen, both for her father whom he admits to have murdered and for her kingdom. Gabranth here is a Judge, not for Archadia, but for all the dead unavenged: the judgment is that the living must serve the call for vengeance that the dead demand regardless of other considerations. Had Ashe taken the nethicite Gabranth would still attack her group, but would have died gladly in vindication of his guilt and choice. Vindication both because he knows he is guilty and should be killed by Ashe to avenge her father, and because in Dalmasca’s revenge will be realized the revenge of Landis as well.

Gabranth’s aim is originally not to free anyone, but to gain vengeance for Nabradia. To that end Gabranth, like Vayne, andlike Cid, enslaves himself to what he perceives as his duty, for the dead of Nabradia haunt him, however unlike with Cid and Vayne he does not see his chains as his freedom because he knows he cannot realize the duty he believes he has nor can his success bring back those lost. Gabranth’s struggle for freedom is first and foremost personal despite his unconsciousness of it: he must free himself from the chains of his past and the dead that haunt him. Only through his service to Larsa and his vision of peace does Gabranth change his struggle away from his past and towards a future and an external world in which others could be free. Gabranth achieves his first freedom by failing and seeing the heroes overcome their own chains of hatred, but dies opposing Vayne in the struggle for the second. It is here that he begins to embody the ideal of the true Judge, upholder of the law of freedom.

In that the judgment of justice is the establishment or restoration of freedom in society, the activity of the just is the realization of freedom in society. Freedom, however, goes beyond legality and the relation of justice. Freedom is concretized further in individuals within the limits of justice, such that even within a just world an individual may not find its feeling of freedom. Here one may turn to spiritual forms of freedom, the contemplation of the world and its reason as a coming to terms with the world, however, there are those who reject such, for to them freedom is embodied and enacted in material living. If justice is freedom, and freedom is found in correspondence to an intuitive feeling of freedom, then true justice is not found in the state and law when it contradicts such feeling and desires, thus freedom seems to break through once again. We shall consider just what freedom at the edge of and without society can really be.

Hunters and Sky Pirates

Hunters and sky pirates are the in-game logical culmination of the concept of modernity. In the world of Ivalice we see that these are the ways of  life of those misfits who either cannot or refuse to meld into the everyday life of traditional societies or modern states. Hunting is the less radical choice for those seeking freedom, for most of what hunters do is within the legality of the states they inhabit and is an extension of bounty systems to dangerous entities in Ivalice. With Montblanc’s hunter clan we see those who seek a life of adventure and risk with potentially great rewards on the way, we also see that this is indeed a life for misfits of all walks of life and race with the founders being a modern moogle and two from traditional races: a nu mou and a viera. The hunter’s clan has a hierarchy based on merit of skill through accomplishing marks, but it also fosters a sense of close community by encouraging hunters to aid each other as well as running an exclusive clan store for rare items and knowledge. The hunters are the cowboys of the Old West, idealized cowboys of Ivalice living a dangerous life on the edge of society by might of hand and sharp wit—the ultimate fantasy of the self-made rugged individual.

With sky pirates we see an even broader loosening of restraints. Under the category of sky pirates fall just about anyone living outside the norms of everyday life in a state whether it involve piracy or not. Many are bounty hunters, treasure hunters, and thieves, however, with the expansion of states like the Empire less and less manage to make a living in literal  illegality. As is fit for such a life, it is very rare to succeed and with the expansion of states and modern capitalism such a way of life becomes increasingly impossible as lawless land diminishes. While piracy seems to continue the struggle of modernity towards tradition, in truth piracy is the dissatisfied turn of modernity upon itself, misrecognizing it as itself a form of tradition not in specifics but in the very process of modern life. The pirate rejects law and right and opts for the law of ‘might is right’ and a worldview of will-to-power. In opposing modern life piracy turns upon itself and establishes a new traditional world based on an unreflective given. In freeing themselves from society pirates only fall into the abyss of an ultimately aimless life of constant survival. Those who take to piracy thus give themselves to a life of abandon and insecurity, a life reflective of those who choose it in hopes of running away from the past. What better way to live under such avoidance than a way of life in which one is forced to constantly move, let go, repair, and reshape?

As is common with all illegal craft, however, the necessity of some measure of peace and security leads to the manifestation of law anew even if on shakier ground. Here the pirate city of Balfonheim exists as such a place where pirates may conduct business and rest assured of no retribution by those they harm or are enemies with. While in Archadian territory, Balfonheim is practically autonomous, however, being a pirate den it is full of corruption and is unsafe until Reddas, being a former Judge, cleans the place up and imposes a modicum of order through force and charisma. In its illegal form piracy is itself the ultimate reality and contradiction of modernity, positing the absoluteness of the atomic individual’s will over all else while at the same time contradicting the very basis of individual autonomy and life: security and respect of rights. Piracy as such is a way of life parasitic upon real society while undermining society and in turn eventually being stamped out by its own logic.

“There’s a proper way to do everything.”

Balthier is a sky pirate and runaway son of Dr. Cid. The primary struggle of Balthier is presented as if it is against his past, particularly Cid, whose nethicite obsession became a wedge between them. Cid’s ‘insanity’ was too much for Balthier, and despite being made a Judge (not a Judge Magister) he could not stand his insane father nor life in the empire. It is made more than clear that Balthier ran away because of Cid’s madness more than anything else about life in the empire. It is with Cid’s obsession with nethicite, Balthier tells Ashe, that he lost his father, and he admits he could not stand to see Cid a “slave to the stone.” One can infer from context that the main reason why Balthier ran away from Cid and Archadia as a whole is the negative reflection of what he wishes to project of himself: he is the leading man. Cid’s madness as madness is the concrete reality of the loss of control both of oneself if one is mad, and of the other if they are mad. Balthier cannot stand lacking control of a situation, and one can tell this through the entire game. In asserting himself as the leading man he recenters the locus of agency on himself, and by running away from Cid, the one person who flies in the face of all control including self-control, he attempts to forget that such an element of life exists. It is through the intrigues of nethicite that Balthier truly enters and remains in the story, for it is the element which ties to his own interest: coming to understand his father and free, if not him, then others from the same fate of slavery to the stone. In heading to see the Gran Kiltias Balthier mentions to Larsa that he is strangely confident in his belief that the emperor will choose peace, commenting that “You can never know another, even your father.’”Here we see that Cid’s madness seems to have shaken Balthier’s capacity to believe and trust in anyone, as if madness’s irrationality and unpredictability was an unseen reality within all others but oneself.

It is most strange, contradictory even, that Balthier chooses a lifestyle premised on the lack of certainty and control as the one life where he believes he can regain control. Balthier seeks freedom to control his life within a life that is fundamentally uncontrollable, for there alone are strings from outside cut, and he seeks free companions in which he can appreciate the freedom of will and action in like-minded spirits, for it is those individuals whom Balthier can trust most. This existential irony (the contradiction of freedom and uncontrollability) plays out from beginning to end so that Balthier finds his aims of stealing and looting thwarted again and again, finds himself tied to people he does not want to again and again, and in the end is brought back full circle to face Cid by the intrigues of nethicite, i.e. he is constantly lacking control of situations and his running gets him nowhere. This contradiction, however, is exactly what Balthier wants—the free life is the unbound and undetermined life—and it is the fact that Cid fails to be part of this runaway life of surprise that Balthier cannot stand him. It is not control over Cid that Balthier wants, clearly, it is for Cid to have control over himself and face him as a free other outside of domination by his obsession with nethicite. Despite seeming to hate Cid because he cannot know his mind and his being unpredictable, Balthier all at once also hates him because he is so predictable.

The major interactions we see between Balthier and Cid are interesting with how dense they are with meaning despite how short they are. Prior to when Balthier confronts Cid in the Draklor Laboratories with the party, we have a short moment of Balthier rummaging through Cid’s notes in order to get some answers as to why he went mad. In the confrontation afterward there is a most peculiar inversion that happens very quickly between what they do and say to each other. When Cid asks Balthier (as sky pirate) what he has come for, Balthier answers that he has come for the Dusk Shard, nethicite. Cid’s response is at first puzzling, “You’ve come all this way for that trinket? I thought you above this.” This is not meaningless when we consider how Cid sees deifacted nethicite (baubles fit only for study, means of Occurian control of humes) and how he sees Balthier as a person (he ran away to be free). Insofar as Balthier claims to desire freedom it is a complete contradiction to be seeking out deifacted nethicite and thus fall under Occurian influence. In the inverse, Balthier sees Cid as falling even further into unfreedom through his use of nethicite on himself. Not only does Balthier see Cid as mad, he sees him as a tool for an unseen force (Venat). As Cid’s power advances he sees himself as freer, but Balthier sees him as even more of a slave.

The second major and last interaction is in the Pharos, where Balthier accuses Cid of having no desire to free the world, only to become a god himself. Cid does not deny this, but what Balthier does not see is that Cid’s reason is correct: Freedom requires power. To truly face against the Occuria humes need to rise to their level. Humes must become gods themselves. This reality is something completely ignored by the rest of the game where the Occuria simply disappear.  Even here Balthier still believes Cid is being controlled by Venat and he says as much, to which Cid replies that Venat is his ally. Balthier hates Cid for what he sees as slavery in form, but Cid feels pity for Balthier for what he sees as slavery in content. In fighting to prevent humes from gaining the power of nethicite for themselves Balthier is inadvertently fighting freedom itself, for the power of nethicite will enable a new sphere of material dominion for humes as well as free them from the Occurian meddling. Balthier and the heroes of the story are merely holding history back a moment, such power eventually shall find its need. What is fundamentally wrong about Cid’s vision is that he still held the view of a need for a Dynast King over Ivalice.

That Balthier’s closest relation is with Fran, who is as fiercely independent as he and her own person through and through, is telling of what Balthier truly wants: genuine recognition. The freedom from the past is not what Balthier is after despite his claim and belief that this is so. No, what Balthier wants is neither in the past nor the future, but is present as individuals he can recognize and who can recognize him, and for this they must be free—Cid must be freed. In their last moments together, Balthier asks Cid: “Was there no other way?” after having defeated him in battle. What exactly was Balthier asking? No other way to what? Two interpretations arise, and I believe both are meant. In one sense it seems Balthier caught on to Cid’s unspoken plan to force the protagonists to destroy the Sun-Cryst and end the Occuria’s power; thus, he asks if there was no other way he could have ensured they wouldn’t use it and fall under Occurian influence. In another sense, he is asking if there was no other way to free him from his madness, and it is to this that Cid responds, “Spend your pity elsewhere.”

It seems clear that Balthier must have tried to understand his father, but Balthier could not understand the passion of genius which led a man like Cid to commit himself to one cause so fully. Balthier comes to personally understand what such a higher calling is like in his risking of life to ensure the Bahamut does not collapse on Rabanastre. In realizing that there is indeed something more to life than living for oneself, and that one can willingly and fully give oneself to such cause, Balthier glimpses part of Cid’s insight into the freedom of necessity.

With the self-negation of piracy by its existent contradiction as a social form, the state and justice are the real final concretization of freedom on the objective level, but justice also bridges the freedom to the subjective level as motivator and action. In properly comprehending freedom, the protagonists see that they need not carry out things demanded by tradition (vengeance) and mere momentary emotion (anger). With the reality of freedom in the objective world being a just society (state) free from unjustified givens to rule and order our world and lives, modernity achieves victory over tradition at last. Insofar as traditional elements remain, that is, some manner of given social order which is unjustified, justice as freedom demands the continuing struggle realized through individuals. Thus we return to the fundamental problem we began with: the struggle for freedom against traditional unjustified rule. The conceptual circle of the narrative concept is now complete.

As a critique of the narrative: there is something odd, with the depiction of Ivalice, and that is that capitalism appears ubiquitous in the modern states, yet we do not see the realities of what capitalism of this kind would look like—especially industrial capital the likes which Archadia has. While there are clear class divides in the entire game we do not once see what should be a clear antagonism boiling underneath and ready to explode come peace in many of these states even if they are not industrial: mercantilism against aristocracy. Insofar as capital accumulation is open (as it seems it is) to anyone, the aristocratic old money should see backlash from the rising new money capitalists.

With capitalism and its push for innovation we can expected to see the conflict of tradition and modernity pushed to its logical limit: the end of tradition as a whole as livelihood becomes something one can get outside of the communities one is raised in and which by the power of markets shall find avenues insofar as someone desires goods even if they are illegal. The view of those who are freer draws those in tradition to reflect on why they are so limited and thus tradition is undermined in simply existing within a world where higher freedom is available.

The Concept As Gameplay

Despite the strength of the concept in the narrative, it hardly fails to be noticeable that much of the richness of it fails to enter the gameplay in a satisfying manner. While the gameplay systems are designed as a unity complimenting each other and loosely reconnecting to the narrative element in allowing for proper progression in power and escalation of danger, much of Ivalice does not enter into the gameplay at all. As is common and so far inevitable in games, what we find in the unity of gameplay and narrative is merely formal.

The World Stage of Gameplay

The concept informs the stage of action in the manner that it transfers to players the imperative of exploration in a large open world if they wish to maximize their capacity to face the challenges of the game. Spells, gambits, rare items, rare monsters, and Espers are strewn through out the world of Ivalice. If one does not struggle to seek, one shall not find the most powerful and interesting things in the game. While most areas are simple to navigate, there are a few which are complex mazes of caverns which are a bit confusing even with maps. Perhaps the easiest example of seek and find is the Esper Adrammelech, whom one can find amazingly early in the game if one is just exploring the Dalmascan Westersand, stumbles into the Zertinan Caverns, and continues exploring despite lack of a map. The world stage is actually one of the few things in which the concept properly is translated well due to its necessary unity with world narrative.

Part of the world stage are also ways of relating to the world stage. Here we find the Hunter’s Guild which gives the player extra quests and bosses to engage by choice rather than necessity, giving incentives go and return to areas and explore once more to find hunt marks.

The bazaar gives players something to do with a myriad of miscellaneous items which have no purpose other than to be sold in this system. Much, in fact most of what should have been the infusion of Ivalice into the gameplay world is simply tossed here as a name, icon, number, and price with no further use other than gaining gil and an occasional reward for having sold a certain amount of items. Magicite, despite its great value and ubiquity in uses within the world, is completely absent in the actual game other than bazaar loot even though it would have made perfect sense for a myriad of in-game equipables, equipment enhancements, and consumables. One would think it would have been a core part of many quests, but only one quest is present in the very early game with sun stones. Most of the best weapons in the game are acquired by selling an unknown and arbitrary number and type of loot rather than by engaging a very hard quest or doing some other difficult feat.

The Gameplay Systems

Stat Systems

On a purely numbers based system, each playable character has a preset stat growth which nudges the min-maxing of gameplay towards gearing these characters with certain equipment and classes. Originally the game had no classes in order to allow players to craft their characters in whatever way they pleased, but it only led to all characters being the same—such freedom was indeterminate and lacked character individuation because there was no limit to license points and thus one could acquire all licenses on all characters. In the International Zodiac Job System rework classes were added in number to mirror the twelve main Espers who themselves were numbered to match the Zodiac signs. The number itself has little meaning other than the Zodiac and related vague notions which infuse the world of Ivalice on an abstract scale. Each class is tailored for a certain role and cannot be changed, but any character can choose any role before they are locked in.

Next in system importance is the determination within classes, which is the License Board. Being that the narrative is so politics heavy, it seems the developers thought it a good idea to ape the bureaucracy of states by making all equipment, skills, and spells require a license. While clever in notion, it’s rather stupid and meaningless in action. The very notion of a license is simply reduced to points for killing monsters… because the state won’t let you wear a new feathered hat since you haven’t killed enough worthless animals. This system ultimately makes little sense in being a license system. Certainly, killing things does make sense for licensing, but it only does so for specific things in specific areas. What kind of things? Thematic weapons that one would expect show a player has murdered a ton of a specific monster, or a very difficult monster, etc. Given that licenses only matter if you get caught many of the licenses simply should have locked one out of use within city hubs and incurred heft fees if one was around a guard. Oh, you got lucky and just happened upon this rare weapon that normally takes a few hundred of x monsters killed to drop? Too bad you have to go get a license to equip it in 80% of the game world and part of getting that license is killing a good number of them. Most generic licenses should have cost the player gil…. a significant amount of gil to show the exploitation of bureaucracy. Some items should not have required licenses at all since it makes no sense. If you got a legendary weapon there is no way there was a license existent for it, and it sure as hell isn’t stopping you after they make it. All in all, it’s just a really silly way to gate players from using equipment and spells too quickly, but more often than not one got licenses long before even encountering the items or spells that needed them.

Active Gameplay

Gambits are present in the game for one reason, and one reason only: the structures of the game were originally intended for multiplayer as an mmorpg and not as a single player game. In order to not redesign the whole gameplay system to simplify it, gambits were added as a way to maintain complexity and player control. Unfortunately the system feels clunky in the end and for much of the game feels either too automated or cumbersome.

In almost all Final Fantasy games melee is king despite the fact that it makes no sense. Magic is initially stronger, yet limited, reaches its peak in mid-game and main story bosses, but is virtually worthless in the true end-game content. The main reasons are many: melee is always designed such that it is not as easy to shut down, it is not easy to stop, it has no cast time, it has no depleting resource, and it is designed with passive counterattacks as well as multi-hit rushes.

Mist basically acts as mana in the game and explains the possibility of magic. What else is connected to mist? Nethicite. Through the game the heroes acquire pieces of deifacted nethicite which are capable of nullifying all magic as is shown in some cutscenes…. and yet when one equips them all it does is disable magic and reduces damage taken to half, a complete inconsistency with the narrative power the stones have. That one cannot use the nethicite because no one knows how to control it is clear, but that its clear defensive power is not used is ridiculous and simply bad game design.

Overdrives, or quickenings, are alone not as powerful as in other games, but they can be chained, and if one is good and lucky they can go far, leading to concurrences which are extra area of effect high level spells normally unavailable.

Espers, the summons in this game, are above all the greatest disappointment. Summons in the Final Fantasy series had always been very powerful additions when one got them, and they were quite useful in a pinch besides looking very cool. In FFX the most powerful incarnation of summons are brought forth, and in this game, the next major single player installment of the series after X, we get the weakest incarnation. In the original release of XII the Espers were nigh useless because they were stats-wise weak, removed the rest of the party minus the summoner, were uncontrollable, and their ultimate attacks were activated by strict conditions so that damage output was simply not there when needed. In the redesign of the Zodiac Job System we saw an improvement, yet Espers are still by and large useless. Even when they are decently powerful and useful they simply do not feel that way and what in other games is awesome in this one is dull.

Bosses are one thing this game does right. While story bosses are expectably easier than extra side bosses from the hunts, they are suitable and there is quite a lot of interplay possible with usable items, magics, and status effects which provide for clever ways to defeat some otherwise very difficult and annoying bosses if one faces then at the proper levels.

So, how well does the concept really transfer into the gameplay? It hardly informs it at all nor is it really integral to the unity of the game. This is because this is simply a hard criteria to meet, and also because the gameplay of an open world mmorpg had been chosen early in development when the game had been intended as an online rpg. One can see very clearly how unfinished and mashed up this game was in terms of how very little sense there is to much of the game systems and their unity as a whole. The gameplay system is there to fill what is needed in a video game, but it is not there to fill anything that is needed for a unified art piece.

Final Judgment

As with FFX we find that ultimately the gameplay system and the artistic thematic system do not come together under the unity of the concept which informs all of the artistic elements. Unfortunately the narrative of FFXII is itself unfinished and its themes intruded into in the course of development such that we see a clear lack of unity in direction in many crucial aspects which are present for the sake of gameplay or for marketing purposes, and worse, elements that are missing because of gameplay and marketing purposes. Vaan and Penelo are key narrative culprits in this regard. However, in the very writing and thinking of this piece I realized that the hate both get is generally unjustified considering how little role both play in the concrete story.

The narrative is unfortunately weak in the last quarter, with a clear lack of vision and writing quality winding down the plot. The Occuria disappear after the Sun-Cryst’s destruction without a word of resistance as if they could not create more and use it. The Espers exist and are conquered and yet none used except by the enemies. Vayne executes a boldly foolish plan in the wake of knowing that the protagonist party is still at large and want to stop him. Venat dies pointlessly. The secret of nethicite is destroyed as if no one else could possibly have known except for Cid and Vayne when the massive Draklor Laboratory had plenty of others working on these technologies under Cid. A host of inconsistencies abound in the plot because things had to be wrapped up quickly for the sake of putting out a game. Still, the story is a level of art almost unheard of in games even in failure, 8/10. The story is that good.

Graphically the game is amazing, 10/10. One of the most stunning games on the PS2, it still looks fantastic today due to a few reasons: a painterly aesthetic was opted for instead of hard realism in the textures; pre-rendered graphics were mixed with real time 3d models in a perfect mix such that one could hardly tell many effects were pre-rendered. The model designs themselves were fantastic and atmospheric both for landscapes and creatures.

Sound wise the music of the game is unified unlike ever before or after in the Final Fantasy series with a fully orchestrated score which is unfortunately not as memorable, so 7/10. The English voice work does sound muffled, but it never bothered me because the voice acting is perfect. In fact it is the most perfect voice acting and dialogue writing in any game, 12/10.

As far as gameplay goes, it fails to be invested by the concept. It is, however, a strange beast. The game goes from exceedingly difficult to exceedingly easy depending on gambits. Much of the best weapons are a simple grind for loot for the bazaar. Licenses don’t make much sense. When the game hits its sweet spot, however, it is highly satisfying despite the mayhem of status effects and global cooldowns in the action queue. Gameplay gets a 6/10.


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