Flash Gordon: Star Wars :: Star Wars : Final Fantasy 12
Search your feelings, you know this to be true.
As many people know, Star Wars was birthed by a George Lucas who, in an attempt to blow his American Graffiti cash on the dumbest thing he could find, tried to purchase the rights to Flash Gordon, because young George had a vision of updating the sci-fi serial of his youth into a big screen hit for the audiences of today (yesterday). George Lucas, unfortunately (maybe?) was not able to secure the Flash Gordon rights, so he figured he’d make his own damn space franchise, but, like, with samurai, and furry dudes, and maybe a woman in a golden bikini. What could have been a shameless descent into nostalgic wallowing with a graduated fan at the helm became a wholly original universe that has the potential to last until the end of time. And, let’s be real here, the only reason anyone today knows about Flash Gordon is The Best of Queen collections, so maybe things worked out for the best.
Even with the Flash Gordon influence aside, Star Wars is about as “original” as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, just, I don’t know, with some marshmallow substance wedged in there. After George jettisoned the only original idea he ever had (Willow… it eventually became its own movie), Star Wars was reduced to merely a hero’s journey to overcome his samurai dad and avenge his wizened old mentor while his royal sister makes out with a charming rogue. It’s all archetypes, but, more importantly, it all works, and the world doesn’t need another article cynically ranting about there being no original ideas in Star Wars.
So let’s talk about how there are no original ideas in Final Fantasy.
Final Fantasy (and we’re just going to look at the main, numbered series here, and ignore the myriad of spinoffs, because I don’t have all day, geez) has always had a sort of… let’s be generous here and say “homage” issue. Final Fantasy I was, as many people realized the minute they met a real life dungeon master, a Dungeons and Dragons campaign baked into a digital world, and frosted with a dab of sci-fi. Final Fantasy 3 was, at its core, a battle of the gods and primal forces that tugged your nameless party along for the ride (ignoring remakes). Final Fantasy 5 was a comedy, Final Fantasy 6 was an opera, and Final Fantasy 8 was a WB/CN superhero tragidramedy (admit it, Squall and Oliver Queen could hang out, and you’d watch it). Final Fantasy 7 was Final Fantasy 6’s steampunk universe dialed up to eleven with a cast of whacky adventurers, and Final Fantasy 10 was either a hero’s journey or a particularly subtle take on the idea of being sucked into a video game universe. All of these games, and I do mean all, are great games with plots I’ve enjoyed, but I wouldn’t call a single one of them particularly original. If you told me William Gibson created Midgar, or Gary Gygax rolled up Matoya, I’d believe you.
Of course, there are two games I didn’t mention in that rundown. Final Fantasy 4 is the game where protagonist Cecil upgrades himself to a shining knight with a magical sword while exploring the ancient, mystical society that is his heritage, then learns that the scary, heavily armored general is actually a blood relative… but fear not! At the last moment, the man in the frightening helmet turns to the light side, and helps the good knight vanquish hate from the galaxy. Sound familiar? Or how about Final Fantasy 2, literally the second Final Fantasy game, where a group of plucky rebels fight against a malevolent emperor who commands a floating battle fortress and a lieutenant who is revealed to be an assumed-dead family member.
Who needs Kingdom Hearts to crossover with Star Wars? Square has already got that one wrapped up.
Admittedly, I may be just a tad too cynical here. We’ve already established that Star Wars wasn’t original to begin with, and stuff like “main villain is secretly… your roommate!” has been an easy story writing crutch since the days of Homer. And an “orbiting death station” really isn’t that different from any given “gain the power of the gods” power play, death from above is death from above no matter how you play it.
But then there’s Final Fantasy 12.
Final Fantasy 12 starts on a desert planet, but never leaves, because you know that the minute it hit space, Lucas would have sent the lawyers out in force. But don’t worry! There’s still the signature Star Wars hectic space battles with rebel forces combatting imperial fleets and gigantic battle stations… it just all takes place in a slightly lower atmosphere. And all your old friends are here: the rebellious princess without a kingdom, the plucky desert kid that turns out to have a magical attunement with ancient forces, the hero of the last war reluctantly returning to battle to right past wrongs, the smarmy pirate with the superpower of owning a spaceship (I mean… airship), his constant, animalistic companion, and they’re all battling against a mysterious, heavily armored darth judge, who, incidentally, will eventually be revealed to be blood-related to your party and makes a last second turn from the dark side to confront a corrupt and malicious emperor.
But now I know I’m being too cynical, because, when you get right down to it, Final Fantasy 12 does what Star Wars did: takes the same basic elements of the story, and makes something new and interesting.
Consider the Death Star. Yes, it’s an easy parallel to compare the Death Star of Star Wars to Air Fortress of Doom Bahamut in Final Fantasy 12. All the same elements are there: a floating, heavily guarded citadel that is infiltrated by rebels to save the day, because if they don’t, everything on the ground below is going to be a rust mote. But if we really think of Final Fantasy 12 as Star Wars, then Air Fortress Bahamut is merely the second Death Star, the half completed mess from the finale of Return of the Jedi. The true Death Star in Final Fantasy 12 is the nethicite/magicite weaponry from the opening acts of Final Fantasy 12, and, rather than make it a simple threat to be destroyed, Final Fantasy 12 asks a much more interesting question, “What if Princess Leia gained control of the Death Star?”
If you think about it, it’s a valid question in the Star Wars universe, too. Afterall, those bothans died retrieving the plans for the Death Star, so, hey, why can’t the rebels get their act together and build their own Death Star! With blackjack! And hookers! They don’t even seem to consider it, because, hey, good guys (and maybe there aren’t a whole lot of rebel contractors). Princess Ashe of Final Fantasy 12, though, she pretty quickly gains access to ultimate, city-destroying power, and a significant portion of the plot is given over to the moral ramifications and considerations of using a WMD. Hell, considering the influence of the “old gods” on the FF12 world, you could claim part of the game is about considering if “the force” is ever a morally good thing to utilize. On occasion, it’s some heady stuff, and it makes Final Fantasy 12 better for it.
But would Star Wars be better for it? I very much doubt it.
This is why Final Fantasy 12 is so great, and, tangentially, why Star Wars is so great. Star Wars, the original trilogy as we know it, very much could be a serial television show, much like Flash Gordon. Like I’m sure many of you have, I rewatched the complete hexology over the course of the last week, and I was amazed at how easily it would be to separate each Star Wars movie into individual, television-friendly chunks. This week, Luke and Han on Hoth, next week, special guest Frank Oz, and then you introduce Lando and his amazing Sky City for sweeps. But, no, Star Wars is a series of movies, and they are optimized for two hour chunks, not commercial breaks (though I would argue that the TV-friendly plotting of the films may have been a factor in their popularity in the era of the local broadcast channel Saturday Afternoon Matinees). Star Wars may have had its origins in a television serial, but in graduating to another medium, its directors and writers wisely ignored the easy pull of nostalgia and built something new and different (and, incidentally, influenced future films forever).
Star Wars is a whiz bang pew pew pew movie, and it has no place for measured discussions on the nature of responsibility and civilian casualties. But Final Fantasy 12? I believe my timer for this game is somewhere exceeding a hundred hours, so I’m going to go ahead and say that at least a few moments can be spared for quiet contemplation before we get back to sky-piratry. Final Fantasy 12 might practically be Star Wars, but it emulates the best part of Star Wars, that, while it’s generally completely unoriginal, it knows what it’s doing, and using the medium to its maximum, so it creates a massively memorable experience.
Final Fantasy 12 isn’t original. Star Wars isn’t original. Flash Gordon was just a racist western in space. But it doesn’t matter. They did what they did well, and they will inspire generations to come.
What is originality in the face of being timeless?
FGC #77 Final Fantasy 12
- System: Playstation 2. Maybe something portable one day?
- Number of Players: One. I literally cannot imagine how a second player could be incorporated into this system.
- You mean the battle system? Yeah, you know, the whole gambit system, where you manually assign macros to your party members, send them into battle, and hope for the best. I know there was a lot of hoopla around the release about “a game that plays itself”, but, come on guys, it’s not like it took that much brain power to hammer on the “Fight” command over and over again, why not just automate and save us all some time? That’s my roundabout way of saying I liked it… except for the fact that all the best gambits aren’t available until the end of the game. Vaan, could you just know what to do with a poisoned teammate? Please?
- If everything is Star Wars, then how about Penelo? Well it’s not like it’s a 1:1 thing, but considering she’s Vaan’s constant, unwavering companion (which I’ve noted before is a great trait), but is wildly unequipped for the adventure itself, and possess a very specific skillset, she’s basically R2-D2. I know I could see her tasering ewoks.
- So this is how you close Star Wars week, with Final Fantasy? Well, it’s not like ROB can’t randomly pick another Star Wars game ever again, but I maintain that, even more than anything Lucasarts ever produced, Final Fantasy 12 captures the spirit of Star Wars the best… just happened to forget to acquire that license.
- Did you know? I feel like Yiazmat is the most misunderstood super boss in Final Fantasy (or maybe even video game) history. He’s not there to be defeated over the course of hours, he’s there so you can play with all sorts of gambit setups, see how long you last, and then adjust accordingly. This is actually pretty great, as Final Fantasy 12-2 was a completely different genre, so here’s one final sendoff for the gambit system before the franchise switched over to… what do we have here… paradigms? That sounds dumb.
- Would I play again: Pretty inevitable, but it’ll take a local release of the International version or some kind of HD rerelease (or both). I poured far too much of my life into this game, and a rerelease of some manner is pretty inevitable, so I’d hate to start out on the cruddy ol’ PS2 and then upgrade halfway through (and you know you won’t be able to transfer any saves, jerks).
What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Neo Geo Battle Coliseum for the PS2. Finally! A fighting game including Neo Geo characters! Who would have ever foreseen that? Please look forward to it!