After the second battle, the game threw us on to the map screen and asked us to march to the northwest. Um… aren’t we… you know… at a school or something? A school in this town? Shouldn’t we be staying at school? It turned out that we were actually following some interrupted, half-spoken orders that were given to us by our teacher before he got news of the bandits, which should have been better handled. Kyle outright had to tell me to go back to Gariland so that we could do some shopping, because the game did such a poor job of telling you that that’s an option. Along with the fact that the tutorial was only now unlocked, and the way that the game had for some reason declared Ramza an independently operating party leader of this group of students, with a war chest and everything (2500 extra money!), it kind of made me feel like I was missing a cutscene or three.
The map screen also noted that it was “1 Aries,” meaning this game actually operates on a calendar based around the signs of the zodiac. They even have distinct numbers of days attached to each sign, unique from our calendar!
Heading to the tavern in Gariland (towns are explored strictly via menu in FFT), we got some info on the world around us by asking about various rumours. At first I was intrigued by this feature, only to be scared off of them when we hit the intolerably long history of the 50 Years’ War. The history of the 50 Year’s War appeared in only a single page writeup in Gariland but was extended to something like ten pages in the next town. As I told Kyle at the time: “I’m glad it’s there, but there were so many better ways they could have presented it and they basically picked the worst possible one.” Unfortunately, this wall of text was just so daunting that we skipped it and ended up confused as a consequence, but I think that one’s more on the game than it is on us! I later read the history online sometime between our second and third play session (as the game stopped offering it after a certain point, and we missed it). As for the other, shorter rumours available in the tavern, we learned that the King of Ivalice was sick and probably dying.
Besides playing host to rumours, taverns also served as the PSP verions’ way of facilitating multiplayer battles. That was never going to happen, given that I owned the PSP version and Kyle owned the iOS, which doesn’t even have the multiplayer feature.
At this point, we also made a quick… attempt… at shopping that introduced me to this game’s silly double-tiered shopping system where you can alternately “Buy” or “Try On” equipment, where the first is inadequate and the second is overcomplicated. (Ed. I didn’t get used to shopping in FFT until something like our third session! For the record, “Try On” is well and away the superior option, in my mind, with “Buy” only useful when you need extra of something.)
As we were leaving town, we suddenly jumped to plot sequence as the game will sometimes do, although it usually reserves cutscenes for when you arrive at places instead of when you leave. Specifically, we were in a flashback where we saw Ramza’s father, Barbaneth, a hero of the 50 Years’ War, lying on his deathbed. Here, we were introduced to Ramza’s family: his half-brother Dycedarg, seemingly the oldest and Barbaneth’s heir; Ramza’s his half-brother Zalbaag, Knight Devout; and Ramza’s full-sister Alma. Ramza, the illegitimate son, had somehow managed to be late to his father’s own death, which didn’t endear him to anyone, including me. Kyle and I, already confused by all these new names and interrelations, decided to dub Ramza’s brothers “Zalbag” and “Dicebag.” The Two Bags. We get into such a habit of calling the first brother “Dicebag” that nearly every time I rediscover that his name is actually “Dycedarg,” I become confused and alarmed.
Ramza finally arrived, and his father told him that the pride of the Beoulve family was on his shoulders, and that he was to “Tolerate no injustice.” Barbaneth then added that he had made arrangements so that Ramza’s best friend, Jerkface, could follow him into the Akademy despite not being high-born. With those words, he passed on.
Back in the present, the party was jumped on the way to their ultimate destination, which I soon learned was basically inevitable, from a design perspective: a battle of unknown consequence was doomed to happen on basically every empty map square the first time you came to visit it during the story. This was sometimes, but sometimes not, the case with cities. You could never be certain with cities.
Battle 03: Mandalia Plain
A group of highwaymen and their pet Red Panther monster had ambushed a group of people here, though only one of their victims was still on-site when we arrived. This was Argath, and on seeing him, we were offered the choice of defending him or defeating the brigade. Kyle later informed me that all this decision changed was the objective of the battle, not the narrative. In choosing to play the good guy and rescue the hostage, all I did was making things harder by forcing us to defend a stupid, AI-controlled NPC at the other side of the map, while defeating the brigade, when we would have saved him just as easily just by “defeating the brigade!”
(I later learned that these decisions actually impact the party’s Bravery stat, but curiously, the best option here is to ignore Argath, as this boosts your Bravery! Perhaps the intention was that Ramza is raring to fight the whole enemy group and so is being brave, but they ended up rewarding you for taking the easier route!)
While I was the one who made the decision to rescue Argath, after I did so, it occurred to me that the game’s neatly parcelled system of battles allowed Kyle and I to swap the controller every battle, so I passed him the PSP and he was left with my choice of rescue mission and my poor choice of Generics. I’m a good friend. Because the party still had incredibly limited item usage, Kyle was forced to use Ramza’s Mettle sub-ability, Chant, to save Argath’s life, which unfortunately costs Ramza some HP. By the time Argath was back on his feet in full thanks to our Chemist, the fight was basically over. The Red Panther, which had been our big concern as an x-factor, turned out to be a pushover, and the enemy Thief, easily their most powerful unit, was killed by Argath before we could even register that he was a Thief.
After the battle, Argath told us that he was a knight in training, like us, and that his master, the Marquis Elmdore de Limberry, had been kidnapped from the scene. Argath was desperately concerned for his master’s safety, concerned he would “lose everything” if the marquis died. Unfortunately for him, Ramza and Jerkface insisted on procedure, and they headed north to their original destination, Ramza’s home city of Eagrose, to contact the Order.
By the way, something I should mention about Argath… We actually just sort of… forgot his name after a while? And then we made awkward attempts to refer to him without a name for the rest of the playthrough? It got so bad that I could not remember how to spell his name at any point in this writeup and must have come up with at least four different spellings. The most frequent of these was “Arbant,” or “Arbent,” which I was genuinely convinced was his real name for a day or two worth of writing, before I finally double-checked. I removed the misspellings from this edited writeup, but I think I might have killed a great running joke in the process.
After the battle, Kyle tried to teach me how the Job Point system worked. He didn’t have much luck at the time, but I got the gist of it by the end of the session. Characters can change Jobs between battles, and can unlock new Jobs via a complicated research tree that’s split down the middle between martial classes and magickal classes, with Square and Chemist being the “gateway” classes to the two trees. As your current Job gains full JP, other jobs gain partial JP. For example, Ramza has been in Squire for the past three battles. After this battle, Ramza had accumulated 335 JP that he could spend on Squire abilities, but had also gained 172 JP for Chemist, 175 JP for Knight, and 115 for Archer (Knight and Archer being classes that descend from Squire in the Job Tree). For all I know, he might even have JP in jobs we haven’t unlocked yet! What determines the distribution, I can’t remotely imagine, and I can’t find an explanation online.
Once you’ve gathered up enough JP, you’ll want to spend your accumulated JP on abilities attached to each Job – even in the case of AI controlled Guest party members like Jerface and That Guy We Just Rescued… urm… “Argrab.” Each character has a set of five slots they can use to equip skills. The slots themselves aren’t named inside the game so far as I can tell (they’re simply identified by icon), but I was able to glean a few names from the wiki. These slots are very important because you can only equip one such ability from each category to your character at a time, which run alongside your Job’s ability from the Action category. Some Jobs have other passive advantages that don’t have to be equipped to a slot, like a Monk’s traditional ability to attack at full strength with their fists, and every job gets access to its own Action Ability for free. All very FFV, but much improved!
I already mentioned that you get a Job’s Action Ability for free, but you also have a slot where you can equip a second from another Job. You’ll need to spend time in the job to get JP to buy new powers for that job, but once you do, you can equip all of those abilities at once while doing some other Job. Take a generic Squire, for example. As you’ll recall, Squire is tied to Buttstuff. Urm… to Fundaments. Squire is tied to Fundaments. Take our generic Square and imagine that you buy them a few sub-skills for Fundaments (“Throw Rock,” for example), after which you change over to Knight. As a Knight, you can unlock new Knight abilities, but can also equip Fundaments and all its sub-skills as a backup! Again, very FFV.
The second ability slot holds Reaction Abilities, which are triggered in response to an attack. In the Squire’s case, the only Reaction Ability available was the incredibly weak Counter Tackle. Not worth it, but later Reaction Abilities are much more helpful. Third slot: Support Abilities, with are sometimes passive buffs, but also include the odd additional command that would be added to your menu, like Defend. For Squires, we locked eyes on the “JP Boost” passive ability and decided to earn it for everyone before promoting any of our Squires. Oh, that would mean trouble, but this is how Kyle and I play. The final ability slot is for Movement Abilities: Squires only offered a passive stat boost, Move +1.
While I don’t plan on examining every single job in the game, a look at Chemist is probably warranted. As I’ve said, Chemists are home to the Item skill, the only way in the game to use items, and bad news: you need to purchase the ability to use each individual item before you’re able to use that item in battle. Naturally, we were in a bit of a rush to grab the Phoenix Down ability for everyone we put on Chemist, and thankfully it only cost 90 JP. Chemists could also pass on their passive ability to Throw Items to other jobs as a Support Ability, though that wasn’t an urgent need for us, especially since we were largely reserving our Support Ability slot for JP Boost.
As for Ramza’s other available jobs, we’ll stick to fast but shallow coverage. Knights specialize in destroying enemy equipment, which is an infuriating enemy ability but something of a specialized role for the player to use. Certainly not a bad one, but still… specialized. Archers are self-explanatory, or at least they will be once I add the important footnote that every bow in the game is floppy, wet garbage.
We grabbed JP Boost for Ramza and preceded to Eagrose Castle, where who should be in charge but Ramza’s Lord Brother, Dicebag. On the subject of the kidnapped marquis, Dicebag refused Argath’s demands to avenge his fallen friends and personally rescue the Marquis. In fact, Dicebag basically told him to cram it, since Argath was an unknighted nobody, far from home with no political power to back up his words. Dicebag put the party on guard duty, which is what they were originally sent to do, and that was the end of it.
While visiting some of the delightful bottled scenery of Eagrose, Unknighted Nobody decided to tell us his tragic backstory, and how his family used to be respected until his grandfather betrayed the country and ruined the family name. His moping was to be interrupted by the arrival of Ramza’s remaining siblings – Alma and the other Bag – along with Jerkface’s sister, Tietra, who was apparently living with the Beoulves. The Beoulves were even paying for her education alongside Jerkface’s. The Bag had to leave on business, but he had news: the Marquis’ ransom note had arrived from the Corpse Brigade. The Bag finds this curious: he says the Corpse Brigades are anarchists, and ransoming a noble doesn’t seem like their kind of play. “Would such as they truly kidnap the marquis for want of coin?” Urm… pardon me?
Here’s where you start to see my deeper concerns about FFT’s attempts to make a story about the haves and have-nots, which I alluded to at the end of Battle 02. FFT definitely tries to tell a story about class divisions and the have and have-nots, but it fails at an early, foundational level, that being: FFT doesn’t seem to understand how money… works, and this is not the only instance. It seems to be under the impression that the only reason anyone would ever ask for a ransom is to become A Rich Person, to advance up the class ladder, and so anarchists would not do that? I don’t want to have to break out the Simpsons quotes here, but apparently I have to shatter FFT’s illusions by pointing out… money can be exchanged for goods and services? Which is something the writers don’t seem to understand? Maybe the Corpse Bridge is fighting for a currency-free future, but not only is that never mentioned, but what they want from the future doesn’t change what’s true in the present?
Indeed, the next few in-game hours will be spent talking about how the Corpse Brigade doesn’t care about money while we see them living in slums and caves with barely enough to eat, all while the Corpse Brigade characters themselves will talk about 1) how hungry they are, and 2) how they would gain nothing from having money. You guys: I have a radical solution to both problems that is going to Blow. Your. Minds. We’ll even see some Corpse Brigade members fighting over whether it’s better to kill or release captured nobles, but ransom, oh god! Killing a hostage is fine but ransom is unforgivable! I spent a lot of the playthrough complaining about these writing problems, but it was Kyle who put it best: “Ramza, don’t you think it’s suspicious how they’re asking for money? Everyone knows peasants literally eat dirt. Why would they need money?”
In any event, the Second Bag tells Ramza that one of his spies are missing, but none of the higher ups consider him worth the resources to track down. He then tells Ramza that the spy was last seen in the city of Dorter, and then pointedly reminds Ramza how boring guard duty would be, wink-wink, nudge-nudge. With that, Ramza and Jerkface are divided from their sisters just a moment after they arrived. I guess you can’t fault the plot for inefficiency. Off to derelict from our duties, then!
And I really mean that, by the way. Since game time is measured on a calendar system, and it takes an entire day to move from one map node to another, Ramza will be derelict from duty for a minimum of a week (assuming you walk straight to your destination and then back). You bet your ass I spent the entire next plot arc making jokes about Ramza being court-marshalled for going AWOL.
After a quick shopping trip to buy Ramza a better sword (we still weren’t ready to commit to our generic party members), I started towards Gariland, Kyle warning me too late that the game can throw random encounters at you when visiting old battlefields! Luckily, none happened just as he was saying it – I’m not sure where the gods of irony were, but they definitely missed the ball on that one. But not to worry: as I tried to head east to Dorter, I was torn to shreds in the next mandatory battle, and all without having saved since the end of Battle 03. We had to sit back and watch all the Eagrose cutscenes from the start.
Anyways, on to the next battlefield, Battle 04, not just once, not just twice, but three times!