August 5, 2021

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From Final Fantasy 12 to Uncharted 3: exploring gaming’s Orientalist fantasies

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Over the last couple of months I’ve been falling in love all over again with Final Fantasy XII. I know I’m late to the Zodiac Age party, but I’ve been marvelling at how much this game has come into its own since its original release back in 2006. Certainly the remaster’s smoothing-off of the original’s (literal) rough edges helps, but I’m not the first to observe that it feels a bit like gaming has caught up with some of its ideas that weren’t fully appreciated at the time like its distinctive automated battles. Or maybe it’s just that I’m in a different place in my life, and FF12’s peculiarly hands-off approach to monster hunting fits so much better into what a 30-something wants after a day at work than it did the long holidays of a student with time on his hands.

Its idiosyncratic systems are what FF12 is best known for, but they’re not the only thing that’s distinctive about it. Let’s talk about that setting and art direction. Where most other fantasy RPGs go for worlds drawn from the European middle ages and Tolkienesque clichés of elves, dwarves and orcs, FF12 instead bases its convoluted adventure in a land inspired by the Near and Middle East. It doesn’t map straightforwardly on to any particular real-world counterpart, but all the tropes and stereotypes of a magical, fantastical East are there, particularly in its early portions. It’s filled with bazaars and deserts, nomads and wadis, billowing silk trousers and men smoking hookahs.

The developers visited the east Mediterranean to gather inspiration – especially Turkey – and have also mentioned India as a source of ideas. So we have the starting kingdom of Dalmasca and its echoes of Damascus, while the dialogue in the floating city of Bhujerba is seasoned with a liberal helping of Sanskrit.

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