Holy crap! Did you all see that the long-rumored HD remake of Final Fantasy XII Zodiac Job Version is finally happening?! You all have no idea how excited that makes me! Depending on what day of the week you ask, Final Fantasy XII is my favorite Final Fantasy (alternating with FF5, and hey, the Four Job Fiesta starts soon, so sign up for that!) It’s gonna be so great to revisit FFXII again with all the new additions from the Japanese re-release and spruced up visuals and Fran and Balthier, oh my GOD! Two of the best characters in the whole series!
And, in typical Square-Enix fashion, with the announcement of a new game comes a couple of new figures! They’re making an all-new Balthier and a Judge Gabranth to join Fran, released quite recently in their Play Arts Kai line.
Play Arts Kai, for the unaware, is a “revision” of Square-Enix’s old line of Play Arts figures, which they distributed around the mid-aughts both in Japan and abroad. Said figures mostly had a reputation for being kind of mediocre: hard to pose and stand, with emphasis on looks over function. Kai figures were supposed to fix these problems: they were bigger, more poseable, and featured some incredible detail in the sculpts. Yet the early Play Arts Kai figures also faced harsh criticism: they looked great in their shiny, elaborately designed packaging, but the visual appeal faltered once you got them out and tried to pose them like you saw in the promo pictures.
I’ve mostly avoided Play Arts Kai since the early figures, and since then, plenty of companies have jumped into the market to release well-sculpted, articulated figures geared towards fans and collectors. “Surely, the advancements made by other companies in this market has influenced Square-Enix to improve their own product line!” I thought. And hey, those pictures looked pretty good!
Square certainly seems confident in the quality of its pieces, too – in fact, the official MSRP for Fran in the United States is $120. One hundred and twenty U.S. dollars! That is no chump change, no siree. Of course, I ordered her from Japan at a discount, because I at least attempt to be somewhat frugal with my stupid nerd stuff. I can’t say there wasn’t some hesitation with my preorder… but it’s Fran, and Fran is so rarely recognized, even by her own creators! I waited eagerly for her to grace my doorstep.
Then she arrived. And now I am here to warn you, dear readers: Don’t believe Square-Enix’s lies.
(In contrast to the picture set for Nendoroid Kirby, which was mostly done in my room, I opted to take Fran outside to showcase her in natural light. The results showcase her colors very well… but that’s not really a compliment, as we’ll see very soon.)
So here’s the figure! Looks pretty nice, at a quick glance… well, except for the face. Notice how in all of those promo shots that Fran’s face was kinda-obscured? That’s because it’s seriously off from her in-game model.
Here, let me show you:
Apologies for the weird angle and blurriness, but… kinda striking, isn’t it? Bigger eyes, smaller lips, a rounded cheek shape, and a far more blunted nose. Faces are one of those key things that can make or break a figure, and in this case, while the face looks good, it doesn’t look like the character it’s meant to represent. At all.
But that’s the least of this figure’s problems…
Moving on from the face and looking at the hair and ears, we start to see some issues with the colors. Notice how the “sideburns” and the color of her inner ear is wildly different on the left side compared to the right? On one side we see silver-colored hair with prominent gold accents and a pale off-white inner ear, while on the other side we have almost entirely silver hair and a yellowish inner ear (with a weird bit of brown towards the inner ear’s base). That’s some seriously jarring inconsistency in paintwork. (Click on the images for full-resolution photos to get a more detailed look at just what’s wrong here.)
Mass produced figures do have some minor paint errors occasionally – no two figures have exactly the same paintwork – but for one hundred and twenty U.S. dollars, well… could we have at least checked to make sure colors were consistent on both sides of the body? At least the helm and other hair ornaments look nice – they’re pretty ornate, and the sculpt reflects that.
Oh right, there’s her ponytail, too. It’s a static chunk of plastic that you can move around with a ball-joint into various positions. They attempted to give it the same color scheme as the rest of her hair.
I say “attempted” here because, uhh..
See those conspicuous black flecks in her hair? There are several more besides the big ones you see here. I’m not sure if they’re paint from something else or the color of the base plastic or what, but they’re on there and tough to NOT notice. In fact, the whole ponytail, on close inspection, looks like it suffers from being oversprayed. You ever use an airbrush or spraypaint on something, and spray either too much or way too close, and wind up shooting out a glop of uneven paint that malforms, oversaturates areas with color, and flakes off when dry? Yeah, it’s like that. That’s awfully amateurish-looking for a figure that runs one hundred and twenty U.S. dollars!
That’s not the end of it, either!
A look around Fran’s body reveals lots more visible painting problems
In the case of Fran’s freakishly-segmented butt, the base plastic color on one piece was different from the other, so one part has a slightly darker tint – and, in the right light, you can actually see the gray color of the base plastic peeking through. Nice visible brushstrokes on there, too! Sure am happy with my one hundred and twenty U.S. Dollar investment so far.
Honestly, though, besides the face looking wrong, the sculpt and overall construction of the figure is actually pretty solid. The joints are a bit stiff at first – they feel very similar to Revoltech joints, even down to the clicky noises they make when you move them. The figure has a good heft to it, feels sturdy, and holds the poses you make with it.
But there are still some things about the engineering that make me go “Huh?” Like, why is Fran’s flank armor permanently attached to her thigh? Why wouldn’t you just use softer, more rubbery plastic for it and make it a separate part? It would have made the segmented butt look less weird. It might have even let you get rid of that unsightly separation.
There’s also the question of the overall quality of the plastic. Sometimes impurities (specks of dust or debris) get into the plastic used for making these figures, and cause visible discoloration. Higher quality plastic is generally molded in such a way to reduce these as much as possible. When they do get in, they’re generally either caught by QA or are embedded so deep inside plastic chunks that we don’t see them at all.
But there is definitely at least one on my Fran figure, possibly more! The left picture is what I think is a stray speck of paint, while the right is almost assuredly a pretty conspicuous impurity that crept its way into the mold… and someone decided it was still OK anyway.
Anyway, we need to actually get Fran standing so we can properly show off her poseability! Let’s see, where is her stand in the box? This thing is pretty tightly packed.
Yes, you don’t even get a pre-made stand like you would with even the cheapest of figmas, you get this awful plastic abomination (on a godforsaken BLISTER CARD, meaning you can’t open it without permanently damaging the figure’s packaging) that you have to assemble and screw together yourself with tiny, tiny little screws and washers and don’t seem to want to tighten properly. The end result looks something like this.
The large scale of the figure means that suspension pegs aren’t gonna do the trick – you’re going to need a proper claw to hold Fran up. While I like the idea of using those little hexagonal slots to alter the arm’s curve and height… well, remember what I said about those screws being loose? Yeah, unless you’re super lucky they aren’t gonna be able to grip and support Fran properly.
Simply getting Fran into this particular pose – and getting the claw to somewhat hold her – took about half an hour. Even then, I cheated a bit: part of her heel is in the other open “arm peg” of the base. ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY U.S. DOLLARS!
Hey wait, I see something in her inner thigh. I need to look in more closely. That can’t be what I think it is.
See, these figures based on copyrighted characters gotta have that copyright text somewhere on the product itself. Most Japanese toy companies have realized that people hate having it molded onto to figure itself, and instead put it somewhere where’s it’s less visible, like the bottom or side of a figure base. Not Square-Enix, though! They’re going to make sure their copyright is forever tattooed on Fran’s leg in the most infuriating way possible!
Oh, and lifting up her “satin” reveals even more half-assed paintwork, but at this point that’s hardly a surprise.
Maybe I’m just being too negative here, though. What do we have in the way of accessories? Poseable figures like these usually come loaded with fun accessories.
Well, in Fran’s case, you get… two extra hands and a bow and arrow. No alternate faces, no hands for holding other accessories your other Final Fantasy figures might have… just a pair of extra hands and a basic weapon.
Some of the “metal” bits of the bow are, rather inexplicably, made of painted clear translucent plastic, as you’ll probably see better if you click the image. Also, click on that image of the “arrow holding” hand for more cheap quality plastic and bad paint. Awwww yeah. I sure do miss my one hundred and twenty U.S. dollars right about now.
So, given that the stand sucks, you only have one facial expression (I know Fran didn’t emote all that much in-game, but seriously?), and there’s a single weapon for Fran to wield, what you can actually do with this figure feels extremely limited. Sure, the joints feel nice and the articulation is generally good, but when you don’t have faces or hand gestures to help convey action and emotion and you’re worried that the stand won’t support her weight well without both feet on the ground, it makes for a pretty dull piece.
Quite frankly: this figure is bad. The sculpt features a lot of nifty little details, but things like the face, the segmented booty, and the silly flanks-attached-to-leg-parts really detract from the piece as a whole. It feels nice to pose, but there’s nothing to pose with that would make her fun for things like photoshoots and dioramas. The myriad paint problems – and the stupid copyright text branded straight onto her skin – are nearly impossible to forgive. And that stand deserves to go right into the trash.
The fact that the MSRP for this figure is
One Hundred and Twenty U.S. Dollars
is absolutely absurd. Things like Medicos’s line of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure figures, while considerably smaller, have just as much sculpting detail without the embarrassing paint and construction quality snafus this figure features prominently, plus more accessories and a stand (with a lowercase s) that actually functions out of the box. And they cost a fraction of the price!
I think, however, that Square isn’t trying to compete with 1/10 or 1/12 figures like those. It feels like they’re actively chasing the 1/6 figure collector market with the Play Arts Kai line – the figures are similarly sized and packaged. While 1/6 poseable figures aren’t really my thing, there’s no question that – from what I’ve seen – Hot Toys’s 1/6 scale figures and the Real Action Heroes line absolutely wreck this. If other Play Arts Kai figures are of similar quality – and I have no reason to believe they aren’t, based on previous experience – then there’s no comparison. Even if those other figures cost more, they are actually worth their asking prices. This would make me hesitate for even fifty dollars if I saw it before I purchased it.
Alas, much as I would like to resell this and recoup some of my money, the fact remains that it is one of very, very few pieces of official Fran merchandise out there. She’s one of the most difficult modern FF characters to find represented anywhere, and my sheer love for the character compels me to keep her, hideously inadequate though her plastic representation may be. (Plus, reselling her means subjecting somebody else to crushing disappointment.)
In conclusion, my review of Play Arts Kai Fran can be summed up by this image: