Editorial: On Dicking Around

The official Final Fantasy XII playthrough has started and I can feel the excitement in the air. People are already trading weapon preferences and reactions to the six year old title. I have only completed the game once, but this will be my third attempt to play through the whole game.

Is there such thing as epic 'dicking around' music?
The judges might not mess around, but they probably still dick around!

In an effort to actually complete the game in question this time, I got a bit of a head start. Good thing too, because I have been completely caught up in exploration and hunts and chaining enemies and generally taking my time with the title. I want to leave more specific discussion about Final Fantasy XII in the official thread, but the context of playing XII for the first time after playing Final Fantasy XIII has led me back to a more broad thought: Dicking around is an incredibly important element to world building in an RPG.

The common complaint of there being no towns in Final Fantasy XIII was less about the desire to have actual settlements, but rather wanting the opportunity to stop and smell the flowers and have locations to return to at the player’s own pace. The importance of this element was exposed in Final Fantasy XIII-2 but is far more present in XII. While the game has a relatively slow start, the scale is apparent from the beginning. Rabanastre is a lively city begging to be explored. Even if some shops have items that are too expensive or are not available yet, the game still lets the player discover these places at her own pace.

Once the plot is finally set in motion with all characters accessible to the player, there is an incredible sensation of being part of an almost unbelievably large world, especially for a JRPG. Not only is the main quest paved by vast areas and winding paths, but hunts allow for further exploration of the world, access to better items, and a sense of the rich lore and history of Ivalice.

If I want to head to Nalbina before the story calls for it, no problem. If I want to head to other areas far before I am “supposed to”, it is no issue. Of course, I will get instantly slayed by the enemies, but it is a danger that I discovered on my own. While powerful enemies essentially still function as invisible walls, it adds a great deal of depth to have full access to an area at any point in the game.

How can I work in saying 'dicking around' one more time?
I don’t think anything can be done in the Gambit menu except dick around.

What about that dinosaur that I was terrified of in the opening hours of the game? Head back to that area after some leveling, and it can be taken out with ease. The area created a relationship with me, the player, and I was able to react to it at a later point of my choosing.

It seems trivial that simply returning to an area can have such a profound effect, but that is one of the aspects that makes a game so much different than a film. A film tells a very specific story told through the exact shots and words that the director wants. A game builds a world and provides a plot and leaves it up to the player to tell her own story using those elements. That is why Final Fantasy XIII felt like such a failing in so many ways. The world was largely not the player’s to explore. There was no relationship between the player and Cocoon.

When I take a look at my favourite games of all time, there is a significant amount of dicking around potential in all of them. Certainly I spent hours and hours happily distracted from the main quests simply content in enjoying how alive and thorough the worlds were.

Final Fantasy IX is more similar to XII – and practically all other Final Fantasy games – in that there was plenty of opportunity to take in the world at my own pace with so many sidequests that even I have not completed every one. The original Mass Effect provided The Citadel and the Normandy for world-building distraction, Shadow of the Colossus is almost “Dicking Around: The Game”, and although Flower can be completed in a few hours, I have spent nearly that much time in almost every individual level during single sittings.

The point is that I find games to be most effective when they take advantage of their own unique medium, especially in relation to genre. If I am to play a role in a role-playing game, that should mean that I often have the power to choose where to be and when in the massive world that my character inhibits. A good RPG is often exemplified by the ability to jump in and play many hours without ever progressing the story.

Do you agree LusiTwelves? Is there a non-Final Fantasy XIII example of a good RPG with very little dicking around?

17 comments

  1. Every good RPG should have a fair (but not unwieldy) amount of dicking around. The only exception to this are strategy RPGs, which tend to be fairly lean experiences outside of party-building.

  2. SN has a good point. SRPGs, like Fire Emblem, don’t need a lot of sidetracking to be good. Fire Emblem, coincidentally, is modeled largely around being a handheld gaming experience where you can easily jump into a level or a turn without much difficulty and so many RPGs designed for handheld play can be and often are considered good despite being, as SN said, fairly lean. Playing a game like FF12 on the go would be pretty impossible for me, but in a home console setting I greatly appreciate all that dicking around.

  3. Oh, I would murder people to have FFXII on a portable system (though it would need a more flexible save system)! WRONG AGAIN, MEL!!

  4. I dick around too much in almost every type of game, which is why, coupled with my completionist disease, I take way too much in everything.

  5. Well, that is why I have never come close to finishing a Bathesda RPG; that, and the fact that they are a little boring.

  6. XII is too long winded, both in its exposition and in the way it’s played (at least the way I play it). Even with a suspend function in place to bookmark your progress when you get interrupted, I wouldn’t remember what the fuck I was doing when I got back to business. The game has few ways of keeping you on track (sometimes even with the storyline, and yes I know hints are present in the map menu). A game LIKE XII on a portable device would make more sense, but porting XII seems unwieldy for the atmosphere it would be put into.

  7. LISTEN TO MEL BE WRONG! DOESN’T IT SOUND LIKE NORMALCY?

  8. Nah, I’m with Mel on this one. XII is one of those games that is much better as a console experience.

  9. Great, Mel. You have found succour from the most incorrect member of staff. That’s a triumph, for you.

  10. Mel is not satisfied being wrong on his own, now he has to drag others with him? How despicable.

    The idea that FFXII is too “long-winded” (Seriously!? By what measure? The storyline, though admirably presented, is simplistic and direct in its purpose.) for a portable device, and yet somehow a game like FFX or Dragon Quest is not, is not only a perplexing position to adopt, but one that may defy the efforts of reasonable men to penetrate.

    But, I’ll have a go. Let me rephrase Mel’s comment in terms of what it actually means: “Because I have the memory span of a Sheep, and cannot remember what I was doing when I last played it, a game like FFXII cannot be successful on a handheld device, despite the obvious success of many other such games, and despite the obvious capacity of a great many people to manage playing through such games happily.”

    Or, even more pithily: “I wouldn’t like that, so no one else will (even though it is demonstrably the case that other people do).”

    The universal constants remain true. Gravity, motion, and Mel being wrong.

  11. Oh, well if those are Mel’s reasons, they’re not mine. I wouldn’t think that nobody else would enjoy it, I just think a game with that sort of scale works better for me with a big screen and the different way I play console and handheld games. I like FFXII in 2-5 hour doses. I tend to play handheld games in 5-40 minute doses. I also like a bigger screen to appreciate the vast world. Dragon Quest games don’t usually need that. Except DQVIII, but even still. It’s a less involved battle system and so I can play it while eating a panzerotto, which I like to do while playing handheld games. I certainly see why many people would have no problem with FFXII on a handheld, and certainly one like the Vita.

    I don’t mind FFX on the handheld as much (although I plan to play the HD version on a console for pretty much the reasons I just posted), but that’s because I don’t like FFX as much and don’t care about paying as much attention. I play handheld games on the fly, at work, on the subway, so I know distractions are a high probability. The chances that I’m sitting at home playing a handheld game are incredibly low.

  12. I like FFX better than XII, and would love it deerly on my Vita, but I would almost prefer to have a portable version on XII due to how much more appropriate that would be to have on the go. It just has the right battle system and pacing for that.

  13. Lusi, I’m disappointed. You’ve twisted my arguments much more elegantly than that in previous exchanges.

    I WOULD RESPOND SENSIBLY BUT MY MOUTH IS FULL OF PLUMS!!!

    [How’s that, m’boy?]

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