Why did the developers decide to add Vaan and Penelo? Why couldn’t the developers leave them out?
Of course, each provide interesting foils for Ashe and Balthier from a narrative standpoint. Their childlike demeanors keep them sane and on the right path.Take a look at Vaan’s original name, courtesy of the Final Fantasy Wikia:
Vaan’s early name was “Aqua” (アクア, as seen in Akihiko Yoshida‘s concept art) and intended to be an Iyashi kei character (癒し系, “therapeutic type”, a kind of Japanese stock character).
From a development standpoint, they wanted younger effiminate characters to appeal to their target demographic.
Vaan is known for going over several personality changes over the course of development, originally written as a rugged and world-worn character until the developers reconsidered the target demographic and Vaan was rewritten to be more effeminate.
Tastes aside, why concentrate on these two at all? Isn’t the main character Ashe, or Balthier? Why does the game want us to think Vaan and Penelo are the main characters? Perhaps because they were the most Japanese of the group in a sea of Western characters. In this sense, Vaan and Penelo are self-insert Japanese characters.
Final Fantasy XII had a very Westernized feel to it. The clothing was traditional JRPG nonsense, but the character models, including the faces, had a decidedly Western tone. Al-Cid, Vossler, Reddes, Bashe, etc, all Western facial models. Vaan and Penelo, are quite different in look and demeanor. In fact, they represent the original JRPG characters we’ve all come to know and love, from a Western perspective. Most of the staff knew this at the time:
When commenting on Vaan, Kawazu said Vaan, in particular, is a little bit younger than the series is used to, and there are many people on the development team who aren’t necessarily feeling he is the right character to be the main, because it clashes with the other characters and game environments, but also commented it’s traditional for Japanese RPGs to start out with a young, inexperienced character, who grows throughout the story, and that having the lead be a younger immature character is somewhat expected. He also said that doesn’t necessarily mean the producers and designers always like that, but that certain concessions must be made to cater for what the market wants. Vaan’s status as the main character was a decision made to appeal to the game’s intended demographic, causing focus to shift from a more masculine written role to a younger and more energetic one.
The market wanted to envision themselves in a Western game, and Japanese target audiences come first.
It makes you wonder about Penelo. Balthier and Basch routinely send Vaan on errands. They treat him like a boy. She’s his friend, yet she never follows him through any of the towns. She always stays behind with the more Western characters. Even in the beginning of the game, she flirts with those on the street, while nagging Vaan to do his job. What does this mean?