Everyone knows how money works in video games – kill a few monster or smash some jars, and then take your earnings to the nearest shop to trade for whatever you need. That’s usually about all the participation players get in these fictional economies.
Then Final Fantasy 12 came along with the loot and bazaar systems, proving that the single player shopping experience could be so much more than mindless consumerism most games fall back on.
Unlike the rest of the Final Fantasy series, slaughtering wolves and bunnies earns approximately zero gil and instead rewards the player with bits of teeth and fur, otherwise known as loot. Killing multiple of the same enemy creates a chain, rewarding diligent hunters with rarer or more numerous loot drops. These chunks of zombie flesh and enchanted stones have no purpose on their own, existing only to be sold to stores for money.
And money, of course, powers the player’s march towards better and better gear. For most players, things end right there.
But sometimes, that useless junk triggers seemingly random, unusual wares to show up in the special bazaar section of shops. Those items appear according to massive hidden ingredient tables for over 100 possible items, many of which can be produced multiple times (just in case you needed hundreds of eye drops).
Most players fail to realize that this harvesting and selling system transforms them from the ordinary consumer, at the whim of what shop owners are willing to sell, into the supplier, something usually reserved for MMOs. The player becomes the farmer, gathering materials and bringing them to unseen crafters, who then refine those resources into potions, armors, and weapons needed to finish the game.
Suddenly, having an inside part in how the kingdom’s economy works puts you into in the position to decide how your game plays out to a certain extent.
Not liking what options you have for heavy armor? Want to try messing around with a weapon type the game hasn’t unveiled yet? Dig a few areas ahead, gather a new set of materials, and see what you uncover in the bazaar. The supplies you find are the only limit in the bazaar.
This opens up a massive variety in what the heroes can use to tear apart their enemies outside of character level or story progression (with a few barriers to keep story sensitive areas a super duper secret). Even better, it encourages players to do things they wouldn’t normally do, like tackling sidequests or figuring out how to lure various hidden monsters to them, for new loot.
Finally, equipment makes sense! Instead of items being mere keys periodically given with each new town to unlock later gameplay segments, they also reward effort and exploration through greater variety.
In a series normally so bogged down in plot elements and romanced, the bazaar system gave people a more tangible reason to fight and explore the world (not to mention loot that actually makes sense from killing wild animals). It could easily have been expanded to replace much of the traditional item shop with its distinct organic style, growing and filling out the player’s needs while also removing tons of immersion-breaking artificial equipment barriers present in normal stores.
Instead, we got digital item shops in Final Fantasy 13. *sigh*
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