I began this series of rankings a few weeks back with arguably the best cast of characters in the entire Final Fantasy series. So naturally it makes sense to move on from there to the worst cast of characters in the series.
The tedious, poorly defined cast of Final Fantasy XII is rivaled only by the cast of XIII when it comes to characters that make you want to punch yourself in the face. However, at least in the case of XIII, there are some folks with a bit of personality.
The 6 main characters of Final Fantasy XII are some of the most boring, insipid, interchangeable characters in this entire franchise. Still, having began the process of playing through The Zodiac Age HD re-release over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve decided that this should be the next game I tackle in this series, and so, here we are.
Would you look at this fucking guy? It’s like Square-Enix was on a steady diet of NSYNC videos and episodes of Queer Eye while they were designing this character. What on earth is that pose? This guy is gonna save the world? Whatever you say, Square…
As if his awful character design weren’t bad enough, Vaan is also the weakest, most poorly defined character in a game that he stars in! His entire character motivation is basically “something-something sky pirate”, and even if that’s supposed to be some cover-up for his real feelings of sorrow over his dead brother or whatever, you couldn’t possibly be bothered to care because the voice actor who portrays him sounds like he’s just hit the snooze bar for the 3rd time.
Seriously, even lines that are meant to be key character-building moments or inspiring snippets of insight hit the ground with a cold thud, as if they were being delivered by a mumbling junkie.
No hyperbole required here: not only is Vaan the worst character in this game (which is really saying something), he’s also, hands-down, the worst protagonist in the entire series.
While Fran might not be quite as awful as Vaan, she’s almost as irritating. When nearly every line out of a character’s mouth has to do with a poorly-explained world-building mechanic, you know you’ve got a serious problem.
If you removed every line in the game where Fran mentions “THE MIST!” you’d think she were mute. Whether the mist is seething, swelling, roiling, gathering, speaking, or rising, you can bet Fran’s going to tell you all about it.
Aside from the fact that she travels with Balthier as a sky pirate, and the revelation that she left her village of Viera to… do something, we never get any insight or depth to what drives her or what is supposed to make her even remotely compelling, outside of her exposed ass.
If you’re already tired of hearing about poorly-drawn characters with very little motivation to participate in this grand adventure, then you may as well close this article now, because that’s almost everyone in this game.
The worst offender in this regard is undoubtedly Penelo. While Vaan is only there because he wants to be a sky pirate or whatever, Penelo is literally only there because Vaan is. I guess we’re supposed to infer that she likes him or something but, you know, bad writing and all that.
Unlike Vaan and Fran, Penelo is not actually offensive in how bad she is, she’s just completely unremarkable in every conceivable way. Most of her lines are throw-aways and she experiences no significant development as a character throughout the entire 60 hours you spend with her.
Being a stoic warrior with a tortured past, Basch may not say a lot but, unlike the above characters, it’s not because he’s got nothing to say. Along with Ashe, Basch is the one of the only characters in this cast who’s got a real stake in the game when it comes to challenging the evil empire of Archades.
Having been betrayed and framed for the murder of the king by his twin brother Gabranth, Basch has a clear and relatable character motivation to seek vengeance and justice against those who have wronged him. He also sees himself as having failed to protect those he was sworn to serve, and hopes to redeem himself in the eyes of the rightful queen.
It’s almost as if there’s an actual reason for him to be in this game. While Basch may not have as many lines as some of the other cast members, the fact that you always want to know more about him speaks to his development as a character more than words ever could.
When asked to name their favorite character in Final Fantasy XII, you’d be hard-pressed to find many folks who’d offer an answer other than Balthier.
So what makes this roguish sky pirate so enthralling? Well, to state the obvious, he’s got something the rest of the main cast severely lacks: a personality. Balthier speaks with flourish, makes sarcastic remarks, offers inspiring bits of advice to other party members, and even does something heroic every now and again.
While he shares a similar problem with other characters in FFXII, with regard to the player occasionally wondering “Wait, what’s Balthier doing here again?” (turns out his dad is a jerk or whatever), Balthier is such a breath of fresh air in this cast of monotone, one-note drones that you’ll find yourself hard-pressed to care that his motivation seems somewhat lacking.
As I’ve pointed out time and time again with this list, character motivation is an important thing to have in a long format genre like RPGs. While Ashe may not be the most exciting character in this cast, she has a very clear and easily defined reason for being at the forefront of the quest to reclaim the throne of Dalmasca: it’s her bloody throne.
Betrayed by one of her own knights, Ashe seeks to regain what is rightfully hers. And while that may not be a terribly interesting plot in and of itself, the fact that she finds herself genuinely split on whether she simply wants to get justice and satisfaction for what was taken from her, or whether she wants to wield her new found power as a terrifying weapon to smite her enemies, makes for a satisfying character arc.
Truthfully, Ashe’s internal struggle is the central component of the entire plot of Final Fantasy XII, and if it doesn’t matter, than the whole game falls flat. Luckily the player can absolutely empathize with Ashe’s struggle, which makes her role as carrying this entire meandering plot on her back all the more welcome.