I was going to write something about Spec Ops: The Line and how impressive it is to me. Though some argue that its merely school marm finger wagging, I respect exactly how hostile that game is and what it has to say about modern millitary shooters. People complain about the big twist in that game that comments on choice but ignore how it contextualizes the next big choice in the game. It's a real favorite of mine.

But, being underslept on the wrong side of a very wonderful night, I don't have the focus for that. I also don't have time to replay it like I'd want to. But what I want to touch on, super briefly, is related. And that's elegance, specifically the elegance of multiple systems working together to accomplish the same thing.

I don't mean the same thing I meant with Dishonored. That was a case of a game that made a thematic point by combining several elements, not all of them mechanical. I do think Dishonored is Elegant but specifically, I want to talk about the way two mechanics can join together to create more than the sum of their parts.

There are tons of examples. One that comes to mind right now is the way that bonfire warping and healing gems work together in DS2 to emphasize brief, brutal encounter design. Short distances between bonfires and the ability to warp means you only have to get through an encounter once, so the challenge is upped. With this increased challenge, they wanted to change how you heal, thus the decreased number of flasks. However, they wanted there to be a way to passively regain health after these encounters. These encounters were designed to be met with full health. Thus healing gems.

Maybe not the strongest example but it's one I think about from time to time. Here's an example of the opposite. I admit that it's come up a lot lately so I relish the chance to get my thoughts down but: FF12. I hate the License Grid in FF12 because it's inelegant. It actually ruined the game for me (along with the bland characters and forgettable plot). Here's why I think the FF12 License Board is inelegant.

For those unfamiliar, (and it's been since release that I've played it), but character advancement in FF12 is gated by two systems; equipment and the license board. First, equipment. In FF12, equipment consists of not only weapons and armor but also spells and special abilities. Everything your characters can do other than basic attacks and summons are bought. This is essentially like it is in FF1. And it's fine. It's not particularly innovative or fun but it means that at any given point in the story, the devs have control over what abiilities the player has access to. If the devs want to put an ability on the table that's slightly over powered or ahead of the curve, they simply price it a little higher. Ho hum, but not inelegant. Just boring.

Character progression is also gated by the License Grid, however. The way the License Grid works is that in additional to gold and xp, you get tokens from battles that can be used to "unlock" abilities, armors and weapons for your characters. However, these don't actually give you the power. You still need to buy them. So essentially, everything you want to do in FF12, you have to buy twice. This is broken and dumb.

They're both gated by the slower of the two (geographic/story progress). You'll likely have more license points than you can spend at any given point, while only having access to a handful of abilities for purchase. So, what is the purpose of the license board?

It's possible the idea was to make customization of characters an option. However, there's no need and the game incentivizes homogeny. Let's say I have the ability to buy all of my characters the Spear ability. Plenty of license points. I get to a town that sells the spear ability. What motivation do I have to not buy spear for all my little dudes? I don't have anything else to spend all this currency on. Some of my people may never use a spear. But they may as well have the ability to use one because why not?

Even if don't have extra license points, FF12 has a rigid and entertaining sidequest system (the bounties), so it is encouraging you to get some extra XP and resources.

Town after town, this makes all of your characters interchangible. I find this immensely unsatisfying. You're no longer making choices about build. Or at least not meaningful choices. If more items were available for sale in each town, I wouldn't have the ability to buy them all. If each character didn't have access to the same board, they couldn't become so similar (which is what they did in FF10). Instead, whenver I get to a town that sells a new armor, everyone buys the license for that armor, everyone buys that armor.

What we end up with is the worst of both worlds. It's not like FF1 because every character can do everything. It's not like FF10 where multiclassing characters took a serious resource investment and was an interesting build choice. It's not like FFTA or FF9 where abilities came from equipment/stores because everyone can wear everything, again. It just doesn't work.

Now, it's possible this didn't bother you. There are a lot of good things about FF12 that maybe kept you going. But do you see what I mean about these systems not being complimentary? They're not elegant. The systems don't work together and I would argue it's the least satisfying character advancement system in the series since FF2. FF2 is broken but it's not inelegant. It's just misguided. It's not like they came up with the system in FF2 and then came up with a system to undermine it.

So yeah, FF12, boo, elegance, yay.