Final Fantasy XII's Unfair Astrology

Adam LaMosca | 9 Jan 2007 16:00
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imageI've got a bone to pick with Square Enix. It's not because I don't like their latest RPG. In fact, I've enjoyed Final Fantasy XII so much, I've spent nearly 80 hours with the game. The problem is, through means both cruel and completely arbitrary, its creators have rendered the game's most powerful weapon forever beyond my reach.

The weapon is the Zodiac Spear, and it's FFXII's damage-dealer of choice. It isn't the only incredible item in the game, and it certainly isn't required to finish the story. In terms of total brute force power, though, it has no statistical equal. It is, simply put, the Ultimate Weapon.
Unbridled item lust is a defining feature of any good RPG experience, and FFXII certainly delivers in this regard. Although it provides a steady stream of new weapons, armor and trinkets, the game's most coveted items become more difficult to acquire as the game progresses. Hidden and terrible creatures must be destroyed, and labyrinthine passages must be explored. Finds like the Zodiac Spear become increasingly rare and desirable.

I've learned to watch FFXII's combat log and crack open its countless treasure chests with the same anticipation that a compulsive gambler might eye a roulette wheel. Though most chests and enemies yield ordinary loot, you never know when that singular item will drop. You can't afford not to fight the enemies you encounter or ignore the treasures you find scattered about.

No amount of ordinary persistence will guarantee players the Zodiac Spear, though, even though it actually has a 100 percent chance of being located in one particular treasure chest. A 100 percent chance, that is, provided that you didn't open one of four other chests encountered much earlier in the game. If you happened to loot a single one these four cursed chests, the spear will never appear.

Here's the real rub, though: The four chests that forever doom you to lesser weaponry are generally placed no differently than any of the game's hundreds of other treasure chests. There's no warning that they shouldn't be opened. There's no hint that they're special, even after they've been cracked. Even worse, most are found in conspicuous locations near the beginning of the game.

The thought that players might actually avoid opening treasures in an RPG is, of course, utterly ridiculous. Anyone with RPG experience knows careful, methodical kleptomania is the path to greatness in such games. In the end, it's almost impossible to imagine any player not tipped off from the outset would have any hope of preserving their sure chance to get the spear.

imageFor those condemned by the very greed FFXII encourages, though, there is a second treasure chest in which the Zodiac Spear can be found. At least in theory. The chest only appears 10 percent of the time. And if it does appear, it only has a 10 percent chance of containing something besides money. And if it does contain something other than money, there's only a 10 percent chance that something will actually be the Zodiac Spear.

So there's a 1-in-1,000 chance of nabbing the spear if you blew it the first time around. As long as your character has a special accessory equipped when the second chest is opened, that is. Otherwise the chances are reduced to 1-in-never. Did I mention that the second chest is in a particularly hard-to-find area of the game? Or that the alcove in which it appears isn't depicted on any in-game map?

The question comes to mind: What were the developers thinking? To create such an item and then ensure it remains out of players' hands for no good reason seems like an act of manipulative arrogance. A cruel joke, perhaps.
Then again, maybe there's more to it than that. FFXII's creators were undoubtedly aware of the dialogue between gamers that evolves following any title's release. And admittedly, as a result of forum posts and articles like this one, players are increasingly likely to begin the game knowing the location of the spear and the chests that would normally prevent its acquisition.

So, in placing the Zodiac Spear within the reach of those with such precious information, Square Enix has bestowed upon the weapon a mythical status that actually extends beyond the game world itself. It's like a perverse sort of Easter egg. Even now, gamers are online trading rumors, information and misinformation about the spear. In a sense, the weapon has become truly legendary - and not just within the fantasy realm where it dwells.

FFXII players that don't turn to strategy guides or seek online guidance after they've begun the game will never know they've missed the Zodiac Spear. Such ignorance is bliss. Trust me, learning that you've lost your only sure chance of obtaining the best weapon in a game into which you've sunk dozens of hours is not a good feeling. And knowing that you've still got a 1-in-1,000 chance of obtaining the spear elsewhere is even worse. It gnaws at you. I've read forum posts by other players who couldn't resist seeking out the second chest, knowing full well it was a fool's errand. Even those few who reported finding the spear tended to lament the hours they spent, desperately reloading the game and retracing their steps until it finally appeared.

I, for one, won't be seeking out the second chest. I've all but resigned myself to the fact fate decided early on that I'd complete the game without it. It wasn't in the stars for me. And that, I suppose, is entirely fitting for a weapon called the Zodiac Spear.

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