Battle 08: Lenalian Plateau
Arriving at the first set battle on our way to the Brigade’s fort, we discovered that we had apparently only let Milleuda go for her to fight us again in the very next battle! I’m, uh… that’s really uninspired, FFT, I don’t know how else to put it. I would have expected at least one battle’s gap between repeat bosses. Milleuda and her band were apparently trying to flee the scene of the fortress! Well, Ramza, you let her go last time, why not a second go? Oh, Milleuda herself is going to force the fight? Well good for you, lady, your poor judgment is an inspiration for us all.
Speaking to Milleuda, we learned that the bandits are under the mistaken impression that Tietra is a Beoulve, and so was a genuinely valuable prisoner who might stay the hand of the evil Bags. Unfortunately, Milleuda was too irate at the nobility to listen to Jerkface’s pleas that they’re mistaken about Tietra. In fact, they’ve mistaken Jerkface for nobility himself, even though that goes entirely against what he was just saying, and what Argath said to Jerkface in front of Milleuda when she was first captured and had no reason to lie! Milleuda decides to fight just to spite him.
Milledua’s force consisted of a few knights, two Black Mages and a Time Mage. While the Time Mage was an x-factor for me, I needn’t have worried, as Milleuda, both Black Mages, the Time Mage and a Knight stood in a perfect cross, i.e. the area of effect for a spell, the kind of setup you always hope will happen but still feels like Christmas when it does. Almost her entire force dropped dead after one Thundara, and Milleuda herself was left on 1/4 health.
Towards the end of the battle (i.e., the very next turn), Ramza finally shed his supposedly “neutral” silence and asked Milleuda a question so stupid that my impression of his character not only finally coalesced, but plunged out from whatever former height like a penny screaming down through the air to crack the sidewalk below. He asked her what the nobility had done wrong to her and why she was angry. Ramza, you vapid hamster pellet, she’s been talking about her motives for the past two battles, and so have all of her comrades that you’ve also spoken to over the course of the entire game! There is literally no way you don’t understand her motives unless you’ve been silent for the past few hours because you’ve had your fingers in your ears and you’ve been humming a happy tune. This isn’t naivety – which I think is what the authors are going for – and for that matter it’s hard to believe Ramza’s education pointing him in the wrong direction, since we never hear anything from him but empty confusion! He simply, truly, honestly hasn’t been listening to a word she’s said… or for that matter, a word his supposed best friend has said! I couldn’t believe how let down I could be by a character who hadn’t fully emerged as a character at the time he let me down!
I’m serious: I was so frustrated by Ramza at this point that our video recording stops dead for 27 solid seconds as I sat there in the real world with my head in my hands!
Milleuda makes me feel loads better by saying that Ramza’s ignorance represents half the problem, and I guess that must have pissed him off because he stops talking and goes straight back to stabbing. After overkilling Milleuda by about 70 points of damage, we were surprised to find that she actually dropped dead! In the plot, I mean, not because we did 70 points of overkill.
It was here where we made… a mistake. We decided that we wanted to train a new mage to back up Josephine’s black magick with some white magick. Having still not realized what was truly wrong with our archer, Meryell – her low Bravery – we then selected one of our remaining troops and converted him to Chemist… even though he had a Bravery of 70 and a Faith of 50. Basically, we had put both him and Meryell into the wrong side of the job tree, and all the time we spent training both of them was effectively wasted. By the end of the session – having worked out the problem a few hours earlier – we were debating whether to drop the shitty caster or to use the only (obscure, late-game) route available to us to permanently boost his Faith! What a mess!
Since we hated Meryell the Archer, we decided to change her to Meryell the Thief, in hopes that even if she continued to suck, she could at least perform Thief actions that would be tied to flat, random odds rather than stats. Yeah, it turns out that’s not how they work. Thief abilities are in fact tied to stats. We had a lot of trouble getting her Job Points as a result, and sort of forgot about her after this.
To wrap up this character upgrade section, something long-term: after seeing Josephine save the day in two fights in a row, we decided to save up for Thundaga rather than give her anything else, and were already debating whether we’d rather give her Thundaja or Flare first, in the long run. Flare is stronger, but is a single-target spell for better or for worse, whereas Thundaja is a wide area spell (Ed. for better or for quite often worse).
Before the next battle, we found ourselves in a windmill, where Wiegraf was asking Gragoroth why the latter had kidnapped Tietra (also present). This is a good question, considering Wiegraf killed the previous subordinate who tried to kidnap somebody. Gragoroth insisted that having a “Beoulve” as their prisoner would buy them freedom from the army, as he had mistaken Tietra for another full-blooded Beoulve sister. Wiegraf pointed out that they had nowhere to run to even if they do get away. Gragoroth basically called Wiegraf’s rebellion pure idiocy at this point, but the discussion was cut short when Wiegraf received news that Ramza was coming. He ordered Gragoroth to let Tietra go, but that sure as fuck wasn’t going to happen.
Battle 10: Windflat Mill
To my surprise, Wiegraf himself engaged the party. Kyle warned me that he belonged to a special class, a Holy Knight, which only certain characters possess (he was technically a “White Knight” in the remake to remove the implication that he worked for the church, but the wiki assures me that the two classes are identical). This gave Wiegraf medium ranged attacks that couldn’t miss, which would make him very hard to engage. Thankfully, he wasn’t very heavily accompanied: only two Monks, a Knight, and a Chocobo (which is a type of monster in FFT). Once again, we rushed Jospheine to the fore to cast Thundara, but after she landed her spell she was taken out by a 50 point Pummel attack from one of the Monks, which was something we weren’t remotely prepared for.
While this is happening, Wiegraf recognizes Ramza and begins talking smack about Dicebag, saying how The Bag couldn’t be trusted and was an experienced manipulator. Ramza doesn’t want to believe it, but given Ramza’s observational skills, that isn’t particularly surprising. We finally finished Wiegraf with melee attacks, and Wiegraf was forced to flee. Or rather… he was forced to teleport. Do you have any idea how many problems a spell like teleport introduces to a story like this? It’s a lot. It’s also infuriating when attached to enemies like this. The problem basically arises from the game’s refusal (or quite possibly its technical inability) to intercut a scripted sequence with gameplay. If we had jumped to a cutscene where Wiegraf escaped on Chocobo-back, I’d have bought that, but instead he uses Teleport, essentially saying “The authors didn’t know how to resolve this situation, and on top of that, now you have to deal with the fact that your actions have no meaning in this narrative and plot points will only happen at the author’s whim, not in relation to your capabilities. When antagonists escape, you have no way to stop them, and when they don’t, it’s just as arbitrary, so you can claim no credit for the victory.” Ironically, the most effective part of FFT’s narrative about “authority preventing those under their power from effecting change,” is the fact that FFT itself refuses to allow you to effect change!
In any event, before the teleportation, Wiegraf tells Ramza that Dicebag had arranged the marquis’ kidnapping, and that it’s all part of the conflict between the two “lions” of the title: Duke Larg, of the white lion, and Duke Goltanna, of the black lion (whom you might recall being mentioned in the prologue). With this bit of information, he left. Naturally, the remaining bandits had taken Tietra and ran while we were distracted, though it’s not clear to me how they got out of the mill.
Battle 11: Ziekden Fortress
Ziekden doesn’t turn out to be much of a fortress: it’s actually just two interlinked buildings without a wall or anything. It’s not clear why Wiegraf believed he could hold out against the army when the place has no defences.
Speaking of the army, it’s already here with Zalbag at the lead! Ramza’s “long way around” plan didn’t work after all, and maybe for a good reason: it seems Argath is in part of the army’s vanguard, implying that he might have sent Ramza the long way around to delay him. There’s no sign of the rest of this so-called army, just Zalbag and Argath’s immediate retinue, but apparently the army is just off-screen, for realsies, definitely not a hundred cardboard standees and some dry ice. Only one bandit is in sight: Gragoroth, but he has Tietra held as a human shield. Gragoroth threatens to blow up the entire tower’s store of gunpowder to keep the army away from him, if Tietra wasn’t enough.
Ramza arrives on the scene from the rear along with Jerkface, but Zalbag says that Gragoroth’s threat “changes nothing!” and gives Jerkface the order to shoot at him with his crossbow. Whether deliberately or accidentally (given Argath’s dislike of Jerkface, I suspect this is deliberate), Argath fires and hits Tietra. With his second shot, he hits Gragoroth. Gragoroth retreats into the fort, which should probably concern everyone who heard his threat about the gunpowder, but apparently everyone here is as willfully ignorant as Ramza.
Just then, news comes in that Wiegraf has rallied reinforcements and Zalbag goes off to tend to him, leaving Argath in charge. Argath, being an animated statue made from human feces, decides to not even allow Jerkface to go to his sister’s side, and then he basically calls the soldiers to attack Jerkface for basically no reason. In response, Ramza…
Okay, I want you to comprehend the sheer scale of this. At this point, the game begins the battle and says “Defeat Argath,” without any additional commentary or dialogue. If you’re paying attention, that means that Ramza is going to betray the country of Ivalice and his home province, but nothing is said. Not a word. And you know what? It gets worse, because you’ve actually dragged your entire party in with you, and they also don’t get to say a word! During the first turn, Ramza talks about Tietra’s death, but his betrayal of an entire nation and family in the process? Not worth mentioning!
The biggest problem we had in this battle was that Josephine ended up on a bad flank, far away from Argath. This meant that she and Arthur were tangling with an otherwise inconsequential Knight and Black Mage, keeping them off the backs of the rest of the party but not really helping out in the centre. And Argath could do a very good job controlling the centre: he was now multi-classed to use Knight-style Rend attacks with his crossbow. Rend attacks can permanently destroy equipment, but we got extremely lucky, as not only did he barely use Rend (only once), but he failed in the process, and it was against Jerkface, as if I gave a damn about his equipment in the first place. Oh, and just to make things worse, Jerkface’s AI must have been told to attack Argath exclusively. About half-way through the battle, the AI must have decided it couldn’t pathfind a route to Argath, Jerkface decided to stay in one place throwing rocks for most of the fight, which didn’t help in the slightest.
Finally, part-way through the battle, Argath mentioned that Ramza’s attack is high treason, and Ramza revealed the reason for his actions: he genuinely thought that the Order would reject Argath’s actions as criminal and favour Ramza’s thoughts on the matter instead. Length of real-life pause in the recording: 24 seconds. Okay, this one legitimately was naivety on Ramza’s part, as Argath points out. Ramzles: your brother, a representative of the Order, gave the order to shoot at Gragoroth, not Argath, which should have removed all doubt. But the scene continues! Ramza protests that he didn’t choose to be a noble, which is making the tragedy of a friend’s murder all about himself, the scumsuck. Kyle and I bemoaned this over another real-life pause as well. Seriously folks, I haven’t felt this divorced from a video game character in a very, very long time, and I’d been playing a bunch of Yar’s Revenge around the time that I wrote this, a game starring a giant space housefly.
Argath gives a half-decent speech about power structures, and then I dropped a lightning bolt on his head at the cost of Josephine’s good health. And I mean that: she was in shit-shape. Forced to split my party to deal with the remaining enemy Black Mage, I figured we were going to lose the battle, but to my shock and amazement, Jerkface himself saved the day by pathing to Argath at last and killing him, like a page straight from a brutal storybook.
(Ed. At this point in my original draft, I decided to take this opportunity to voice some concerns I had about Ramza embodying modern virtues in a historic setting, and with other stories that do the same thing. As it happened, FFT didn’t trip over any of those concerns, and so I’ve decided to erase this section. I’m acknowledging this to illustrate some of the problems that come from this new, “Journals were written just after playing and won’t be extensively edited,” approach: sometimes I have thoughts on the matter-at-hand that turn out to be completely irrelevant! They can take up a lot of space, too! Because I don’t want to waste your time, I will still be editing certain sections out if they prove to be utterly pointless, at least for the time being. Obviously, I’ll have to change this policy once the Journals catch up to Marathon play.)
After the battle was an FMV, in which Jerkface finally got to his sister’s side, but much too late: Tietra had passed on. Oh, and the fortress was suddenly 20x larger than it appeared on the battle map. Just then, Gorgoroth finally managed to detonate the gunpowder, blowing up one of the towers and setting fire to the bridge where Ramza and Jerkface were standing with Tietra’s body. Ramza is separated from Jerkface by fire, and the next thing we knew, Ramza was wandering off into snow on his own, apparently choosing exile over facing justice for his treachery.
Now, I hope you’re paying attention, because if you are you probably just noticed that the reason Ramza thought Jerkface was dead during the flash-forward prologue has now been clarified: Ramza saw him standing vaguely near a fire, an identical situation to the one that Ramza escaped unharmed, and without looking back, Ramza just decided that Jerkface couldn’t possibly have escaped. Stunning. I just had to go look up the original scene on the PSX, where it’s clear that Ramza and Jerkface are considerably further apart when the explosion hits, and the PSX version also decks Ramza across the head with another explosion, just to make Jerkface look extra-dead and to insult to the death of two friends and the loss of his trusted family. Suffice to say, the original version makes more sense.