Balthier Truly is the Leading Man

So, I’ve recently been on a huge Final Fantasy XII binge; most of my time outside school and college applications have been dedicated to exploring the vast and expansive world of Ivalice and reworking myself through the story of Princess Ashe’s reclaiming of Dalmasca and its independence from Archadia. It’s a good thing I hadn’t done a review of this game to this point, because up until now I would have had hardly anything positive to say about it; frankly, the game annoyed me more than Final Fantasy X, which is hard to do. However, over the years the game has really grown on me and is now probably my favorite of the series, next to Final Fantasy IX. I can get onto a whole tangent about why this game is awesome (which I may do in another essay), but that’s not what this rant is about. No, this rant will be about a something a little more specific.

Now, those of you who played FFXII, you probably found yourself a little annoyed with the awkward placement of two certain characters: Vaan, the lead protagonist who seems to just be there for the ride, and Penelo, who seems to just be there for Vaan. It’s true; other than Vaan’s loose association with the plot due to his brother Rex, these two characters seem to be of no consequence to any real end in this plot and are rather vestigial. You’ve probably also heard rumors suggesting something along the lines that Captain Basch was supposed to be the lead, but was pushed into the side so that Vaan could bring about a bishounen, teenage icon aspect to the story. If true, that would have totally been awesome and much better than what we ended up with. But this, too, doesn’t matter, because it turns out that another character is actually the lead, and that character is Balthier.

Yes, Ffamran mied Bunansa, better known to us as Balthier, that charming sky pirate with the awesome sideburns, is the leading man of Final Fantasy XII, just as he proclaims several times throughout the game. For you nonbelievers who don’t take his word at face value, a close examination at his role in the story will surely clear any confusion you may have.

Aside from one of his first lines being, “I’m the leading man,” we see that several plot points indicate him as being the most closely relevant to the overarching story of FFXII. Sure, we have Ashe and Basch with their whole drama of seceding from Archadia and restoring the nation of Dalmasca to what it once was, which is important and all, but consider that the bigger drama is of the nethicite, the gods known as “Occuria”, and Dr. Cid’s plight with Venat to free mankind from the gods’ control. With this in mind, lets start by discussing Venat:

Venat, the rogue Occuria, lends its hand to Dr. Cid, Balthier’s father, and corrupts him into a mad scientist bent on pulling the reins of history back into the hands of man, a seemingly noble purpose. Dr. Cid’s obsession with the nethicite and it’s power causes him to lose focus on what really matters, which causes Balthier to eventually abandon his father, putting his past behind him. By proxy, Venat is responsible for Balthier leaving his father and the Draklor Laboratory and running away from his problems. Here we get the setup of Balthier’s very own “hero’s story” archetype; he’s running away from his problems and is not ready to face his demons, in this case his father and Venat.

So he becomes a sky pirate along with his Vieran partner, Fran. Years later while pirating, however, he gets himself involved with Vaan, which in turn gets himself involved with Ashe and Basch and their story, which is what he see in the gameplay. During the course of the game, very subtle hints are lain out pertaining to his past, which can be very easy to miss if not given a second thought; these hints include his relationship with nethicite, and his opinion of paternal figures.

At first it would seem that he wanted nothing to do with Dr. Cid, the Draklor Laboratory, or the nethicite at all, but the events of the story cause him to get dragged into it whether he liked it or not. It is likely he wasn’t aware of Dr. Cid’s and Venat’s plan, so whenever nethicite or the Draklor Laboratory is mentioned he has a very serious reaction to it. Later, after a chance meeting with Dr. Cid in the Draklor Laboratory, Balthier’s role in the story changes and he becomes very prominent with the plot and how things go from then on. He even eventually has to confront Dr. Cid in Pharos at Ridorana, killing him, but not before discovering Cid’s plan with Venat and the awakening of the Sky Fortress Bahamut.

After killing Vayne and Venat, just who is it that stays behind to stop the Sky Fortress Bahamut, the massive airship designed to be Archadia’s ultimate airship and the tool of mankind’s war against the Occuria as Dr. Cid’s last testament, to fall onto Rabanastre? Why, Balthier of course; what a poetic turn of events. After first having run away from his father, Balthier becomes the one who stops his father and his plan to rage war on the Occuria. Even after killing Dr. Cid, Balthier is even the one to destroy his father’s final legacy in the form of the Bahamut, then still citing that he is the leading man of the story.

It’s no wonder why Balthier is the most popular character of Final Fantasy XII. Not only is he charming, witty, and the overall most likable character in the game, he’s also the most complex character who’s role as the leading man is downplayed as he mostly stays out of the limelight. Even if he wasn’t a likable, cool character, the fact that his characterization was handled so carefully as to make him the most subtle lead protagonist ever is a pretty impressive feat, especially by game standards. I’m just going to say it: if it weren’t for Balthier, Final Fantasy XII would have sucked, no question. Until next time, I’m the Geek With Taste, just geekin’ it up.

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