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The Zodiac Rage: My Abusive Relationship with ‘Final Fantasy XII’

It was a very jolly Christmas eve when I opened my copy of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age. As Cristina – my fiancèe – well knew, pretty much anything with the words “Dark Souls”, “The Legend of Zelda”, or “Final Fantasy” was a sure bet when it came to scooping up a game for me. True to form, my response to receiving FFXII did not disappoint.

What I didn’t realize on that fateful evening was the long, dark road ahead of me as I attempted to replay the Final Fantasy game which had left the most profoundly negative effect on me of any game in the series back when I played it for the first time.

My rekindled romance with Final Fantasy XII began, as these things so often do, with something of a honeymoon phase. I was wowed by the uptick in resolution and the overall smoothness of the visuals. I was impressed that Square-Enix had the foresight to include a speed-up mechanic to improve the dreadfully slow pacing of the game. And finally, I was excited to play the game with an entirely unique job system which I had never had the chance to enjoy when I played the original version of the game more than a decade ago.

For the most part, these positive feelings continued throughout my replay of FFXII‘s main quest. Despite the obvious flaws of the overall plot (most of the characters don’t seem to have a reason to be there, and the journey itself boils down to 5 or 6 really long fetch quests), I was having fun steamrolling enemies by remaining consistently over-leveled, and the slower sections gave me ample time to catch up on podcasts and audio books.

The new additions go a long way to improving the game, unfortunately not all of the changes are positive.

Then came the dark time. I had checked ahead from the beginning to see if there were any missable trophies in The Zodiac Age and I was pleased to find there were not. Content with this, and happy with my general experience thus far, I set out to platinum FFXII, thinking very little of the decision at the time. 4 weeks later, just after midnight on a Friday evening, I would open my storage file on my PS4 and delete all six of my files. What came in between was the hell of it all.

Let me just say from the top (or, the middle, as it were) that if you’re considering aiming for the coveted platinum in this game then you’re in for a long, tedious go of it. It’s at this point I should mention that when I told my esteemed colleague John Cal McCormick about my quest for the platinum trophy – a gong he had previously acquired – he told me what a slog it would be, but I went for it anyway. Like a dope.

So why is getting all of the trophies in FFXII such a chore? The why of it all actually comes with a lot of the so-called improvements to the game. First, there’s a lot of pointless busy work. Magic and techniques (stupidly called magick and technicks for no good reason) have been sporadically placed in different spots in the game, making them harder to find, seemingly for the thrill of wasting the player’s time. A spell (Hastega) which could be purchased from a vendor in the original game must be located in a hellish labyrinth called The Great Crystal in The Zodiac Age.

Do you fancy wandering through a hundred or so rooms that literally all look the same while parsing and unlocking timed gates, only to have to run back to where you just were and hope like hell that you remember the path? That’s a rhetorical question, since I’m going to assume for the record that you’re not a complete asshole. I think you get the point though: this area wasn’t fun in the original version of Final Fantasy XII, and it’s aged horribly with over a decade in the interim. Which begs the question: why on earth is there no map for this area?

Do not come here. You will find only madness in this place.

There are so many god damned maps in this game that they tied a bloody trophy to finding them all, and yet they couldn’t include a map for the one area that desperately needed it? And if, for some reason, you’re optimistic enough to open your map screen in The Great Crystal, you’ll be greeted with… a giant crystal. Yes, a giant crystal, one wherein the tiny signifier which shows your position just moves around sporadically without any rhyme or reason to it.

Now if you’re wondering (with good reason) why I’m spending so much time telling you about this one insignificant but utterly reprehensible area, then you’d be well within your rights. For the benefit of clarity I’ll simply point out that this was the moment where, after securing more than three quarters of the games trophies, I decided to finally quit with this ridiculous endeavour for good.

I say finally because this was far from the first time I sputtered out an exasperated stream of expletives before popping the disc out of my console with as much carefully controlled rage as one can possibly manage with such an intricate task (finding that little touch gauge that pops the disc out can be surprisingly tricky when you’re burning with rage.)

I had tried to leave the game several times, if I’m being honest. There was the time when I was fighting Zodiark, a little shit-headed parasite with wings who is somehow the most powerful Esper in the game. I walked away, put down the controller, and told myself: never again!

Meet FFXII’s strongest esper: a parasite with wings made of stone.

Two days later I returned hesitantly. Maybe if I just tried a different strategy, or found some really catchy music to listen to, I’d find the patience and understanding I needed to make it work. Oh, what a fool I was.

Though Zodiark would eventually fall, the greatest time sink of all was still ahead of me: Yiazmat. This absurdly strong super-boss was the tipping point for me giving up on Final Fantasy XII when I first played it, and guess what: he’s still an epic pain in the ass. Imagine, if you would, fighting a 3-10 hour boss fight in which you spend almost all of your time in the final stretch of the battle. I may have legitimately spent 4 hours of my life or more fighting the final 20% of this battle, and a quick search of the internet shows that I’m not alone.

Why do we, as gamers, hate ourselves so much that so many of us have put ourselves through this tedious test of our collective patience? Is it for the simple reward of seeing a dragon with a ring around its head fall over? In case it wasn’t really, really clear, this was yet another time where I popped the disc out, carefully placed it back in it’s case and prepared to move on to bigger and brighter things.

A few days later though, after a quick rebound and an easy platinum with Seasons After Fall, I thought maybe I’d been too hard on Final Fantasy XII. Maybe I just needed to accept the game the way it was. Maybe I was the one being unfair. This could be a good game, even at this point, where I was just obsessively checking one box after another while wasting copious hours of my life chasing imaginary trophies. Right?

Get ready to fight a lot of dragons with weird accessories.

As you may have guessed, the answer is no. I kept trying to get better, to be better, but the abuse did not stop. There were those ungodly trials, a set of tasks which were designed specifically to be unbeatable for even maxed out characters with the best equipment in the game. There was the bestiary, which contained over 80 enemies that could only be found by looking at a guide. There was just bloody all of it.

And at a certain point, while running around in a giant fucking crystal, I had to ask myself what the hell I was doing with my life. I had 10 games in my backlog, and here I was forcing myself to sit down and play a game for nearly 30 additional hours that I couldn’t even enjoy without the benefit of a distraction.

So that was it, that was the moment. It was 12:02 am on a Friday night, and I asked myself: is this what I want to fill my leisure time up with for the rest of the weekend? The answer was a resounding no. This time though, I wasn’t going back. No matter how much it seemed like the time I put in should count for something, or that maybe I’d been too hard on the game, or that I wanted another platinum trophy to satisfy my OCD. I needed to make sure I wasn’t going to be hurt again. Enough was enough.

Do you know how to delete save data on your PS4? I’ve had mine for nearly 3 years and I didn’t until last week. Shows what a little determination and a whole lot of wasted time can do for a fellow, huh? It only took me a few minutes to find that save data, and less than 18 seconds to delete all six of my files.

And though I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach, and almost wanted to take it back as I watched that progress bar move across the screen, I knew, deep down, that I had made the right decision.

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