Battle 22: Lionel Castle Oratory
What, seriously? We got all the way to the Cardinal’s oratory? First the kidnapping in Eagrose and now this! Cities have guards, FFT! Soldiers! Bodyguards, maybe? This is a world where Evil Fedex had several missions worth of armed thugs, but apparently we’ve chewed through the garrison of the city-state of Lionel’s in just three? All you need to do is represent them in a cutscene instead of ignoring them, or maybe throw us into a battle with them first! Geeze.
Our party confronted Cardinal Dealcroix, who demanded the Zodiac Stone, but Ramza simply repeated his demand for the cardinal to hand over Ovelia. To my surprise, Delacroix actually told Ramza where she had gone and that she had accepted the help of the conspiracy to become queen. Delacroix didn’t even try to get Ramza over to his side, though he did sort of mock Ramza for not… already being on his side? Ramza then says a few lines that I’m going to have to discuss at length.
Firstly, the smaller complaint, which I’m mostly mentioning to record my knee-jerk reaction while I was playing. Ramza says: “[I cannot] stand by while men suffer and die on the whim of some select few.” This is mostly a problem with word choice: it sounds like Ramza knows these people want to impose themselves as tyrants. Unless I’ve forgotten something, Ramza doesn’t know things are that bad, and while I don’t mind him extrapolating, the line is delivered with unusual certainty. When I saw the line, I really did feel like I had missed a scene where Ramza had learned a lot more about the conspiracy’s plan.
But then we come to the next problem. For context, Delacroix has just insulted Ramza for trying to change the world with few allies. Ramza then says: “Do you truly believe you can change the world? Not even I am so naïve as that.” Wow, the chief sheep himself is calling out someone as being more naïve than him! An insult for the books! But the wording here is… ugh. By responding to “You don’t have enough people for change,” with “Change is impossible,” Ramza is saying it’s not possible to change the world no matter how strong your movement. Meanwhile, the sentiment of “Change is impossible” is just ahistorical at best, especially from someone who was just in Goug, and simply ludicrous coming from a game set in a medieval setting and played on a portable computer. I can’t help but imagine that this too is a poor localization… but I wonder. You’ll see why as we go along.
The cardinal decided this conversation isn’t going anywhere (and it wasn’t, but he really could have kept trying, considering he’s implied to be a politically astute man and all that) and instead decided to chastise Ramza for not changing the world with his auracite. Delacroix then uses his own auracite. Rather than summoning one of the Zodiac Braves, as previously implied, the auracite causes Delacroix to transform into a sackcloth demon called Cúchulainn the Impure. Surprise! The Zodiac Stones are actually a source of evil. And that means we’re come to The Bigger Problem, maybe even The Biggest Problem.
Up until this point, FFT seems to have been attempting to tell a serious story about social issues, and I have been trying to take it seriously in return. But now, all of a sudden, FFT introduces the Lucavi, and treats them as the secret, evil-for-the-sake-of-evil puppeteers behind all of Ivalice’s problems. It’s as though the game never wanted to make a serious social point to begin with? We already know from Arazlam that the church is going to play big into this storyline and that they try to suppress the truth of what Ramza was doing, implying that they’ll be the villains to some degree. This sounded like social commentary! But now we know that demons are responsible! It’s like a built-in escape hatch from FFT’s own plot, stamped: “Demons Did It!” Oh no, you’re mistaken! Religion isn’t really a social ill, and we didn’t spend the last 40 hours of gameplay saying that it was! It’s just demons. Please don’t ban our game.
I’m frankly of the opinion that FFT has just surrendered its right to be taken seriously as social commentary, which is probably for the best. It’s probably my fault for mistaking it for serious social commentary to begin with. It’s just a slightly more realistic genre tale. Oh, sure, the authors’ political opinions are still bubbling to the surface, and I reserve the right to comment on them when they’re as ridiculous as “feudalism cannot end,” but I can at least stop trying to deduce the moral at the end of the tale.
Cúchulainn doesn’t have much to say, though what he did have to say was enough. One particularly unusual point was that he claimed to somehow be both the cardinal and a Lucavi at the same time, sort of like a corrupted, two-person version of of the Christian trinity. He was our only opponent in the battle, and his stats were unlisted, a clever and irritating touch. Cúchulainn opened the fight by casting Nightmare on most of our party, a spell that randomly inflicted either Sleep or Doom. He then surprised Kyle by jumping over party lines – I’m not sure if this was an ability or just a factor of being high up and having a high Jump stat? – and then killed Josephine with a single attack. Kyle revived Josephine, but only after a bit of confusion that we probably should have looked into. If we had, we would have been able to avoid similar problems in the future, but we didn’t, and sure enough ended up paying for later on in the session (let’s just say she was on a slope and we’ll get back to it later). In the end, Josephine, who had by this point fled to the other side of the arena to escape a Bioga, successfully got off a Flare spell and defeated the demon in a single shot.
After the battle, Cúchulainn remarked on having a master that was going to return, and then exploded, leaving the Zodiac Stone behind.
At the other side of the continent, Jerkface arrived in Zeltannia, which we discovered was actually the home of Duke Goltanna of the Black Lions. Do you remember Duke Goltanna? The guy who was discussed off-hand in, like, the very first scene of the game, and a few scattered times since? As it happened, I did remember Duke Goltanna, but the game sure didn’t deserve that I did. Jerkface identified himself as “a Blackram lieutenant in the service of […] Baron Grimms,” and claimed to have rescued the princess, who was now resting in medical care in another room. We quickly learned how Jerkface was going to get away with this lie: Baron Grimms and his Rams had been wiped out while fighting that peasant rebellion we had heard about earlier, which meant that there was no one alive to contradict Jerkface’s story.
Among the duke’s advisors (most of which will disappear after this scene and never return), was no less than this game’s Cid, Count Cidolfus Orlandeau, better known as simply “Orlandeau.” Misreading his Dark Lord of the Sith hood, my immediate reaction to seeing him was to declare: “Evil Cid! Come here for a hug, Evil Cid!” As it turns out, Cid is not Evil Cid, but it’ll take a little while until we get to this point. By the way, when I say he’s “better known as Orlandeau,” I mean it. The game and Kyle almost never refer to him as “Cid.” On the other hand, I never referred to him as Orlandeau! Sorry buddy, you’re “Cid,” and there’s nothing you can do about it!
Jerkface and his allies had prepared an accomplice for this introductory performance, and Jerkface introduced him here. This was a so-called “captured” soldier that would claim the princess’ kidnapping had been arranged by one of the Goltanna’s servants, and that that servant was a White Lion sympathizer. He named a man in the room as the guilty party, and Jerkface immediately killed the man as he tried to flee. Now, I want to point out just how “pristine” Jerface’s cover is here: he has no one to vouch for him, he not only probably doesn’t have any records about himself in the late Baron Grimms’ barony, being a commoner he’s 100% disposable, and he just lopped off the back of a man’s head based on hearsay. If he hadn’t just handed Duke Goltanna the perfect causus belli on a silver platter, I think Goltanna would have executed him on the spot!
Using Jerkface’s lie and Ovelia’s support to back him, Goltanna goes on to “sack” the royal capital of Lesalia and “banishes” the queen for supposedly trying to kill Ovelia (“sack” is in scare quotes because the game is ambiguous about the actual impact, whereas “banishes” is in scare quotes because within just a few lines, the game will claim the queen is held prisoner at one of Goltanna’s forts, Besselat, which isn’t banishment at all!). Duke Larg, meanwhile, somehow gets his hands on the crown prince and declares him the rightful heir. The War of the Lions was off to a riotous start.
This ended Chapter 2. Chapter 3 began three in-game months later, though we didn’t learn that number until we were chasing rumours in a tavern a few cutscenes later. Sure enough, the game had updated the calendar when we weren’t looking: we had hopped from 21 Leo to 18 Scorpio. Checking the wiki, I learn that Leo has 31 days, Virgo an unusual 32, and Libra 30, so that means that the game advanced exactly 90 days in between chapters. Well done!
Chapter 3: The Valiant, basically began in Duke Goltanna’s war room at Fort Besselat, where he was speaking to his chief advisors. This included Cid and the Marquis de Limberry, whom you might recall from his role as victim in the Chapter 1 kidnapping plot. One of the other counsellors (they’ll get their names in the Journal once they prove they’re actually important, and not about to have their heads sliced off by jerkfaces) mentioned that “the count [of soldiers] stood at twenty thousand – forty, if both sides are counted.” Bear in mind that before this game is done, our party will have somehow upended the entire war with a force of seven numbnuts and a sheep.
The unworthy-to-be-named noble adds: “Alone, we’ve sustained, ah, two hundred thousand wounded.” Kyle and I had a laugh about this because the number was simply absurd. Despite boasts from historical records, medieval armies simply couldn’t be that large thanks to technological, communication and logistical concerns. While you could argue that magick could alleviate all three, the characters soon bring up mundane logistical concerns, as though FFT chooses to turn its common sense and sense of scale on and off like a child playing with a light switch. In short, the twenty thousand soldier force mentioned in the previous paragraph is around the upper limit I’ve seen for entire, real-world medieval armies. The idea that a medieval army could sustain 200 000 casualties and not somehow end up in negative numbers is laughable.
To elaborate, 200 000 is four times higher than the largest estimates I’ve seen for an entire healthy medieval army, and ten times higher than the average estimates. (It’s important to compare to medieval armies as, for various reasons, it was actually possible to field more people in previous eras! But that’s a different discussion.) And 200 000 is just FFT’s causality count! This casualty count is so high that even if they had a million soldiers, which would be unworkable until the industrial age, casualties totalling one-fifth of their number in less than three months would still be more than enough cause to surrender on the spot. But I suppose this isn’t FFT’s fault, it’s more of a genre thing. Fantasy has a scope problem. Maybe they’re talking about civilian casualties? They don’t seem to be, and given that only one person at this table even cares about civilians (as we’ll see in a moment) strongly suggests that they’re not, but I suppose that it’s possible.
I’ve wasted enough time on these number problems, let’s just let the NPCs make their cases. We learn that the White Lions and the Black Lions are both having food problems: White Lion territory is flooding and Black Lion territory is in the middle of a drought, and so nobody has anything to eat. Refugees are massing at the capital in Lesalia, but most of Duke Goltanna’s counsellors here think this is to their advantage, since Larg is currently occupying Lesalia, making it his problem and not theirs. Cid is the only one who seems to care about the people, and when Goltanna suggests they triple the tax rate, Cid suggests they’d be better off making peace with Duke Larg before the people all starve or riot. In a point that confuses my question of “Does FFT understand economy or not?” Cid says that the war simply can’t be sustained from a logistical perspective, suggesting that FFT does have a slight understanding of economy, only for Goltanna to basically announce that if he’s mean enough, everything will come out right. He’s like some kind of 80s kid’s villain trying to tear down a forest to build a mall. Worse, there’s no sign of famine in the plot to come (this is basically the last mention of it!) and that seems to suggest that he’s actually correct! The scowl that filled ten thousand plates! Does FFT know what it’s doing or not? I guess you have to make up your own mind!