After buying a few skills for Agrias and Ovelia (I was disappointed to learn that Ovelia doesn’t show up in most battles, and in fact we haven’t seen her in battle since the Falls), we headed south.
Battle 15: Zaland
Zaland was a town on or near the border to Lionel. Determined to make a good impression with the locals he was going to plead with for sanctuary, Ramza immediately got involved in a local conflict and the massacre of around half a dozen local men and women. Remember kids: enemies aren’t people.
The cause of this scuffle was a man named Mustadio, a Machinist by class, but something of a con man by profession. He was being chased by a group in the employ of a man named Ludovich, and they wanted a special stone from him, something called “auracite.” They even claimed to be holding his father hostage to get him to cooperate! Ramza showed up in the middle of this, and you get to choose his response (although since he shouldn’t be able to see or hear through the hill and wall that are between him and the city, I’m not sure why he as a say in things!). You end up in a fight either way, but like with Argath, your decision determines whether you have to rescue Mustadio or simply have to clear the board of enemies. There are Bravery rewards again too, but this time they’re wired in such a way that you gain Bravery with both choices, but gain more for the rescue. I don’t claim to understand why they did that, since there isn’t anything brave about ignoring Mustadio? We chose the rescue this new NPC, which may have been a… mistake.
Kyle seemed especially anxious about going into this fight based on his past experience with the game, but he managed to pull it off in one go. He split the party into two, one scaling the town walls with their moderate Jump stats and one heading in through the gate. Mustadio, meanwhile, was running around on computer AI and making an absolute ass of himself. He was armed with a rifle, which is normally only available to – get this – the Orator class. Mustadio had the Machinist prestige class instead, and his special ability was able to prevent enemies from either moving or attacking (this ability is called “Aimed Shot” on the PSP, but “Snipe” on the PSX. “Snipe” is a lot more effective and punchy, I like it better than “Aimed Shot,” to say the least). Mustadio used Aimed Shot to perfect effect early in the battle, taking one of the enemy Black Mages out of play for an extended stretch. Unfortunately, in his computerized eagerness, he left himself completely exposed to enemy attack, putting the success of his own rescue at risk! Ahh, classic Mustadio!
While a pair of enemy Black Mages threatened to roast Mustadio at the outset, Kyle’s forces on the wall managed to distract the bad guys into attacking them instead. Unfortunately, this meant Ramza taking a wound that would later result in his being knocked out, but it was a handy start that prevented the battle from ending with Mustadio’s death only a few turns in. Mustadio continued to fritter near enemy lines even though all we wanted was for him to run into hiding, but the fight went well enough from that point.
After the battle, Mustadio introduces himself and took us somewhere safe, what with us being fellow murderers and all. He identified his pursuers as members of the Baert Trading Company, a world-famous trading organization, but apparently one that secretly profits off of slavery and other crimes behind the scenes. Mustadio also explained what a Machinist was supposed to be: apparently we weren’t so far away from “the Clockwork City of Goug,” a place built by an ancient and advanced civilization (yawn) that the Machinists try to study and copy.
Asking about the cardinal, Mustadio told us that the cardinal had fought in the 50 Years War and was thought of as a hero. Mustadio really believed that the cardinal would shelter the princess, but he wants to be brought along as well so that he could plea for the cardinal to help him get his father back from Baert. All the while, Mustadio refused to tell us about the auracite (indeed, the party never heard anyone say “auracite,” even though the player had). Because Mustadio was being such a frustrating git, I wasn’t buying his story, and even Ramza was going to leave him behind in the mud. We would have gotten away with it too, if weren’t for the princess stepping in and proving herself more generous… if less intelligent… than our dubiously intelligent leader. I guess Mustadio gets to stay, then.
After the battle, our shitty White Mage generic (you know, the one with 50 faith?) got to learn Raise, which was what we were shooting for all along, only to learn that his low Faith made the spell so unreliable that we might as well have not tried at all. To try to round him out, we gave him Fira and the Black Magick skill, which had to replace his Item skill. You can see where this disaster is going.
We stopped off in a Tavern to catch up on rumours, finally learning the true importance of Prince Orinus: because he was an infant, whichever Duke wins the support of the Ivalice Council will become Regent, which is why they’re fighting each other over it. Kind of an important detail to have shoved back this far into the narrative, don’t you think? We also learned that Duke Goltanna of the Black Lions was being pinned down by a peasant’s revolt caused by “the Order of the Ebon Eye,” who sound like delightful people, definitely not demonic cultists at all. At this point we also began filling out Errands, but as there was a cutscene the moment we tried to leave town, I’ll get back to that in a second.
Outside the town gates, Agrias and Ovelia were having a private conversation. Agrias said that the cardinal was a man of “utmost loyalty to the Crown,” and was acting like this was a reason to trust him. This means that even Agrias has had her brain carved out with a spoon, because Jerkface has already pointed out that the Crown wants Ovelia dead. Ovelia then began picking at a poor tree, which was a nice, natural animation for them to use. Really, what 2D games would even bother with such a small movement? They would have just had the text say what she was doing, but Square went to the added effort, good for them! At this point, Ramza arrives and begins to eavesdrop, and we learned that Ovelia had spent her “entire life” in monasteries. She said that she met another girl at the monastery who had also spent her “entire life” in monasteries, only for Agrais to reveal that she’s talking about Ramza’s sister Alma, who was never mentioned as spending her entire life in monasteries, so what gives? At least Alma is back in the plot now, that’s nice. Ovelia then reveals that Alma tried to teach her how to make a grass whistle, and Ramza reveals tries to help her do it.
Now Kyle, excited by the fact that we had finally discovered the Errand system, wanted to walk all the way back to Eagrose to find more of them. Unfortunately, when he tried to do so, we hit a random encounter from the depths of hell when we were crossing Zeirchele Falls. The monsters were deployed at the top of the falls, with the high ground advantage. I should also mention that the enemy party included three Mindflayers, which could use Mind Blast to inflict us with Confusion or Berserk, essentially taking a party member out of our control. Also present was a Time Mage equipped with Summon magick as a backup, but it was really the Mindflayers in the end. After a confusing, drawn out and RNG-heavy battle, Kyle lost.
After replaying the cutscene and saving this time, Kyle gave up on going to Eagrose. But it wasn’t his call, since I had the controller at this point. I walked as far back as the monastery before stopping, since I could pace back and forth between there and Dorter without any threat of a random encounter. This seemed better than running into Mindflayers by pacing at the falls! Unfortunately, the moment I tried to return to the main path to end our Errand, who should show up but four Mindflayers and one Squidraken recolour at Zeirchele Falls? The Squidraken wasn’t so bad, as all it could do was remove buffs that we weren’t using yet to begin with, but the Mindflayers made a sauce out of us even after Kyle and I came up with an improved strategy. Our next attempt to grind our way through Errands ended up with us getting into a fight at the cursed Siedge Weald, but we pulled through with a win and that proved to be the worst of it, and soon back on track with our entire party. We even pulled it off using Ladd, the weakest party member still in the force!
Cashing in on our Siedge Weald and Errand experience, we bought both Ramza and Arthur the Monk skill Revive, which could raise the dead. At a loss for what to do with Meryell, we got her Steal Helm from the Thief skill tree, which I now regret (if nothing else, we should have saved up for Steal Weapon), but who knows what might happen in the future?
Battle 16: Balias Tor
Battle 16 took place on the road south, where more thugs from the Baert Trading Company challenged us, demanding that we hand over Mustadio. Balias Tor divided the arena right down the middle, so Kyle tried to focus his efforts on the high ground, only for Mustadio’s AI to immediately mess everything up by running down a flank. We ignored him, which has proven a fairly reliable strategy ever since (Ed. writing from the future, I want to say that I didn’t really get comfortable with FFT until they finally ditched these insufferable AI Guest party members and gave us full control!). This fight included two Summoners, our first serious encounter with the Job, and Mustadio managed to hurt one of them with a crit early in the fight, which convinced the AI to burn through both of the Summoners’ AI, Summoning a Moogle to heal the wounded one! At least we discouraged them from trying to attack us!
While Ramza dropped low in HP early in the battle, Arthur was able to revive him with his new Monk technique… and then our shitty White Mage was able revive Ramza again when he died a few turns later. Our hero. After finally chasing down the Summoners – they weren’t able to call an attack Summon until virtually the final turn! – we were able to move on to the next town.
Back in Eagrose, Dicebag was talking to Gaffgarion, giving him orders to kill Ramza’s group. Dicebag said that he originally hoped Ramza would come home after he saw what life as an exile was like (perhaps implying that he had never planned on having Ramza charged for treason if he had simply returned home), but now he was willing to order his brother’s death. When Gaffgarion asked about the cardinal the protagonists were going to see, Dicebag just said that it was already dealt with. Towards the end of the conversation, Gaffgarion suggested that the other Bag might not be so loyal to Dicebag as could be hoped, which was something that had come across in the game’s writing… or at least it had prior to his ordering What’s His Name to shoot Tietra, but I guess that makes him more of a morally grey character? (Ed. Nope! Zalbag’s order to essentially shoot Tietra is arguably out-of-character in hindsight!)
Gaffgarion then asked how the original kidnapping had been botched, and Dicebag told him that someone (Jerkbag) had killed the men he had assigned to take Ovelia (I presume this is discussion refers to the kidnappers sent to kidnap Ovelia at the start of the game, but it could also be referring to the people we fought at Zeirchele). Dicebag didn’t seem to think it was a big deal, but Gaffgarion wasn’t so sure. Why Dicebag would overlook such an obvious flaw in his plan when he’s made out to be such a mastermind is confounding to me, but I guess that’s the way they want to play it!
Returning to our party, we got Arthur the Aurablast Monk skill, a mid-range attack that might prove helpful. Goodness knows we were already happy to have Stone around every time we landed just short of the enemy, and this was essentially an upgraded Stone! Frankly, we should have swapped out his Buttstuff skill at this point, because it wasn’t accomplishing anything now that he no longer needed Stone.
Past the tor, we arrived in Lionel itself, and were allowed in without a fight, much to my surprise (cutscene pictured above)! I had at expected at least one more battle before the cardinal!
Cardinal Delacroix heard our cases, and was so generous about them that only Ramza and his friends could be stupid enough to believe he was being genuine. “Oh, sure, I’ll write straight to the pope and tell him to take down an entire Dukedom in response to one kidnapping you can’t even connect to them. And Mustadio, your lack of evidence has swayed me to shut down the entire Baert Trading Company, which is so important to the world’s economy that I’m sure nothing bad will happen when I send my guards to slaughter their way through their company headquarters.” Dicebag must have sent this guy a letter saying that the world’s four biggest rubes were about to knock on his door because he doesn’t even try to hide his lies. Geeze, I was actually kind of interested to see how Dicebag’s scheming was going to ruin Ramza’s perfect political refuge, but the moment the game reveals Cardinal Delacroix, it’s like watching a cartoon plane crash: instead of arcing towards the ground like a real-world plane, it abruptly turns 90 degrees downwards and jets toward the bedrock at rocket power. This guy is barely even pretending to be anything less than evil.
Delacroix then tried to goad Mustadio into revealing why the Baert Trading Company was so interested in him, and when Mustadio hesitates, Delacroix reveals that he had already guessed. Reaching into his cloak, he pulled out a red Materia – erm… a red “Crystal,” or at least that’s what Agrias calls it. Delacroix asks if we’re familiar with “the legend of the Zodiac Braves?” Ovelia recites the legend: in the past, someone or something called the Lucavi ruled the earth. One day, twelve heroes plus a certain Saint Ajora, whom we later learned was a supreme religious figure in the church, drove the Lucavi “to the spirit world.” Apparently, each hero carried a Zodiac Stone made of auracite, and legend says they’ll return some day to save the world again. Curiously, going to the tavern after this scene causes the tavern-keeper to give you a Rumour covering an entirely different legend about a young king trying to conquer the world with a demon, and the Zodiac Braves defeating that instead. It’s early enough that I won’t challenge the two contrary myths, but it is confusing!
In any event, the cardinal has one of the twelve Zodiac Stones, and we already know that Mustadio has another (it’s not yet clear which zodiac symbol is on either stone). I wasn’t sure how to feel about this. Since I was still enjoying the idea of a political plot at this point, even if I wasn’t enjoying the execution, I was a little disappointed to be reminded that this was a Final Fantasy game, and that subtlety is a thing Final Fantasy uses to fill time between explosions. A big, world-destroying monster was probably just around the corner, and nuts to politics. I’m not sure why I was so disappointed, though. Didn’t I praise FFII for its mixing of a realistic, low-fantasy plot with a high-fantasy villain? But something feels different here… if only I could put my finger on it! I think, after some consideration, that it might be participation of the player characters in the high fantasy elements, where FFII’s party remained mid-to-low fantasy even when the bad guys got bigger?
Delacroix kept his promise to Mustadio, saying that he would send soldiers to the Baert headquarters in the Clockwork City. Ramza decides to go join the attack on Goug, which prompted another real-world pause from me as I discussed with Kyle just how annoyed I was at Ramza for leaving the princess unprotected the moment he got the opportunity. Agrias stayed behind, but she’d hardly be enough to protect Ovelia against an entire city-state!