I have yet to figure out why, exactly, FF12 is so incredibly mediocre and uninteresting to me. There's something about it that makes it one of the least interesting RPG experiences I've ever had, beyond the usual suspects of Poor Plot and Boring Characters. The whole thing just feels like a long, tedious roadtrip, with ugly, smelly fellow tourists that you hate through places that bore you. And I just can't quite put my finger on what it is about the game that makes it feel that way. I can make some guesses (that fucking sandsea area often figures heavily into these guesses), but I can't quite explain it just yet.
However, while the main cause for my boredom with FF12 eludes me, one of the minor ones that only worsen the experience is quite blatant: the absurdly dull cast.
Vaan: Vaan is the main character of the game. Or so Square would have you believe. There's actually really nothing about him that would make you think so. His importance to the plot ceases completely about 1/4 of the way into the game, if even that. After that, he just seems to be a generic addition to your party who gets the rare occasion to speak during cutscenes, and during these times has absolutely nothing of significance to say. I guess you could actually say it's a creative new role in an RPG--a main character who is totally irrelevant and unnecessary to the game itself. It's like he's just there for the ride.
Panelo: Panelo is Vaan's friend. And that's...it. Her development and impact on the story are limited to fulfilling that one role. She's an empty and superflous compliment to an empty and superfluous character.
Basch: Basch is a refugee from daytime television. "I didn't do it! It was my EVIL TWIN!" I expect to see this sort of thing in the soap operas my grandmother watches daily, not in my RPGs.
Ashe: "Oh goodness, what a hard thing it is, being a princess. You have all sorts of princess-concerns as you do princess-things in a princess-way at all princess-times!"
It's not that they didn't try with Ashe. They gave her a few moral dilemmas about how far she'd go for power and revenge. But it all just fell pretty flat in delivery. No one around her seemed to really care very much, besides Balthier, and she didn't do any real soul-searching to solve her moral dilemmas. Just sort of decided, "Hm, I think I'm going to be wise instead of giving in to desire for power!"
Vossler: Vossler joins your party for a little while so that he can warn Ashe that her other companions can't be trusted, right before turning her and them over to their enemies.
Larsa: I'm going to forego commenting on Larsa's dull-as-dirt personality here, and instead remark that his existence is a somewhat frightening thing. It's not him that's scary, it's the reaction he gets. Fangirls, my good readers. Squealing, obsessive fangirls. While always a disturbing phenomenon, they are particularly unnerving this time because they are all getting their panties in a twist over a well-groomed 12-year-old. One which, I might add, looks considerably more like a real-life person than most RPG anime-tastic prettyboys.
Thanks a bunch, SquareEnix. Fangirls weren't creepy enough already; we needed PEDOPHILE fangirls.
Vayne: Vayne's the bad guy. Much in the same way Basch is, Vayne is an example of Square taking a very lame and silly excuse for doing bad things ("My imaginary friend Venat made me do it!") and then trying to create a serious character out of it. He's also kind of stupid, in that his goal is to play huge games of international politics and war strategies and such to accomplish a goal (free mankind or humekind or whatever from the manipulations of a bunch of alien ghost things--yeah, every part of this game's plot sounds pretty silly when you sum it up, like that) that Ashe and her little entourage of dull servants are going to do anyway, with a lot less planning and fuss.
Reddas: Reddas is a plot-convenient guy who conveniently shows up to help you, and then even more conveniently dies to help you.
Reks: Reks is Vaan's dead brother whom you very briefly control at the start of the game. In an irony which is both hilarious and depressing, during these first 20 minutes of the game before he's killed off, he is given more development and personality than every single character listed above gets during the rest of the 60+ hour game.
Fran: You know, I have to admit that I wanted to like Fran, going into the game. I'll admit I have a thing for both Viera, and for very, very nearly naked women, and Fran is a perfect specimen of each of these things. And compared to most of the cast, her few moments of deep and interesting characterization during the Eruyt Village bit of the game makes her a shining light of characterization and skillful writing. But in the end, she is just a more shapely version of the same Sack'O'Yawn that everyone else is. She's there for the sole purpose of fanservice and having a character who can conveniently explain some of the silly, far-fetched magical bullshit that the plot's plagued with.
Balthier: When Balthier first joked about being the "leading man," I didn't realize that he was actually 100% correct in this claim. Balthier's got a charismatic and fun personality, his actions have motive and direction, he interacts and guides all his companions through their personal dilemmas, he leads them along through the story rather than just be led by the nose by whatever plot devices come up, and he takes the story's spotlight most frequently through the game from the moment he joins you until the moment the game ends (though I could be wrong on this one thing--it just SEEMED like he did to me, but that might just be because he's the only part of the cast with a personality worth paying attention to). Vaan might be the main character of FF12, but Balthier's the game's protagonist, no two ways about it. I dunno where he came from, either--he'd be a well-developed and original enough character to draw attention even in RPGs with casts known for such, but for FF12, the gap in quality between him and every other character is just absurd. Ah, well. Rock on, Balthier, you are the sole reason to play this game.