Remember FFT’s Errands, and the artefacts they sometimes rewarded? You know, the ones that referenced past Final Fantasy games, accelerating the grand, incestuous tradition of Final Fantasy cross-references? In international versions of FFT, there’s only one artefact you get to examine up close: the Scriptures of Germonique. But this wasn’t necessarily the case in the Japanese release, where all the book-like artefacts can be experienced to some degree, in this case in the form of “sound novels.” These were never translated, not even in international versions of the remake.
What does FFT consider a “sound novel?” The term shouldn’t be confused with “audio drama,” and the word “novel” shouldn’t be taken literally either. Basically, they’re text-driven short stories that happen to have dynamic background music (the music is available internationally, if only in FFT’s hidden sound test). FFT’s sound novels also happen to be games of a sort, ranging from Choose Your Own Adventure-style stories to games with actual variables to track.
There are four sound novels in Japanese versions of FFT, which are attached to the artifacts, “The Veil of Wiyu,” “Mesa’s Musings,” “Nanai’s Histories,” and “Enavia Chronicles.” Thankfully, three of the four were translated and recreated in HTML back in the day by Mark “Tuffy da Bubba” Rosa. I don’t know why the fourth novel, the Enavia Chronicles, was never translated and is not even mentioned on Rosa’s site… although I can’t help but notice that while the first three are clustered together in the in-game artefacts menu, the Enavia Chronicles are found in another part of the artefact menu, so I suppose there’s the littlest, teeniest chance that Rosa might have overlooked it by accident?
The sound novels have no bearing on the plot of FFT itself. Nominally, they’re nonfiction set within the world of Ivalice (I can’t vouch for the untranslated fourth novel), though in practice, one is nonfiction, one is supposed to be nonfictional coverage of an uncertain historical event, and the third is could go either way. The claim that they’re nonfiction is a little silly in any event, what with the branching narrative, but that’s what FFT says!
Unfortunately, Rosa’s versions of the games were created in 2003-4, and on Geocities no less, so they bear a lot of the faults of the old web. The sound novels’ eponymous music has to be downloaded separately, and the downloads are PSX rips and can only be played with a special audio codex (Geocities had incredibly limited hosting size and this was probably the smallest format available). Variables have to be tracked by hand if you want to play fair. Perhaps the biggest problem is the fact that Rosa relies on HTML anchor tags to navigate the games’ choices, but he used an Internet Explorer-exclusive shorthand for the tags (specifically: the tags are not properly closed) and so the games can’t be properly navigated on other browsers. This locks out most mobile, Mac and Linux users today, and is sure to confuse any Windows users that didn’t catch Rosa’s warning on the main page and went in with Firefox. Since Rosa offers downloadable versions of the three novels, it would be easy to add the missing HTML tags with a Find and Replace, but it’s a fix the user has to do on their own.
But don’t let those problems discourage you! Rosa’s translations are still a great resource for anyone looking into this forgotten corner of Final Fantasy history, and we’re going to look at the three translated novels right here. Since the artefacts are acquired randomly, we’re also going to look at them in the order given by Rosa, starting with the story from The Veil of Wiyu, which Rosa titles “Oeilvert” (literal French for “green-eyed”). Ed. Actually, thanks to HG101, I later learned that “Veil of Wiyu” is, in fact, a wild mistranslation of the name “Oeilvert!”
Of the three translated sound novels, “Oeilvert” is the closest to a traditional Choose Your Own Adventure story, though the game does track a few of your decisions in hidden variables (or at least it did on the PSX release). At the start of the story, you’re shown a oblique, confusing communique between a number of people with French names. After this, you find yourself in control of woman named Simone. The game only gets more confusing from there, as it seems to hop around from perspective to perspective. But whose perspectives are they?
There are actually multiple factors complicating “Oeilvert,” which makes the story even harder to explain. The first is the fact that Simone is often speaking to a man named Pablo, an author. In addition to scenes set in the real world, “Oeilvert” will jump into Pablo’s fictional stories without much forewarning (Rosa uses a slightly different font to convey the writing. I’m not sure what the game originally did, as I can only find a video playthrough for one of the sound novels, and it wasn’t this one). Other shifts in perspective put you in the perspective of a woman named Oeilvert.
For now, we’ll focus on Simone: we often see her chatting casually with Pablo, so the player will probably be surprised to see that one of the options you have while interacting with him is, “Kill Pablo.” In fact, “Kill Pablo” recurs in almost every interaction the two have. While killing Pablo right from the off will answer a few of the story’s mysteries early on, it won’t get you a very satisfying ending.
To cut to the chase, over time you learn that Simone is actually a hit-woman, code-named Oeilvert. She’s been hired to kill Pablo, but she’s been putting it off. It’s not for any matter of conscience: Pablo is one of the infinite video game amnesiacs you can find lined outside the employment agencies, looking for protagonist work. He used to know something that Simone and her superiors still want to learn about a man named “Black.” Simone wants to know this secret more than her superiors, in fact, whereas they’re willing to wait a bit but would rather see Pablo dead. While she can buy time with them by pleading her case, they won’t support her forever, and sure enough the only way to get the full truth is for your superiors to run out of patience and call out a hit on you, as well!
Complicating Simone’s search is the triple threat that, 1) Pablo doesn’t seem to remember anything about his past unless it comes across unintentionally in his writing, 2) Pablo never stays inspired long enough to finish his writing, and 3) Pablo is so infatuated with Simone that he’d rather not talk about writing to begin with, and keeps mooning over her in French. She obviously wants no part of the latter and complains frequently, but he just carries on with the harassment, which starts to make all those “Kill Pablo”s look as much cathartic as mercenary.
This novel has eight possible endings (for some reason, Rosa’s version has a “0th” ending that’s just a copy of the Kill Pablo ending, which I suspect is some sort of mistake). In most of the endings, one of either Pablo or Simone ends up dead. To get the ideal ending, you have to uncover most of the story’s mystery, including (to my disappointment) parts that Simone would already know. It turns out that Simone, Pablo and Black used to be part of a rebel force trying to end Royalist rule in their country a few years back. The comparisons to Ramza’s plot should be obvious. But it turns out that neither Simone nor Black were actually true rebels: they were both Royalist moles that got unspeakably lucky and ended up in the upper echelons of the rebellion! The comparison to Ajora is pretty clear here, as well. Simone ended up assassinating Black after he became a liability to the Royalists, never knowing that Black had some sort of plan that would free the two of them from the Royalists’ power. This plan is never detailed, but involved a special talisman and some money.
Meanwhile, Pablo was a genuine rebel this whole time. In the true ending, he recovers his memory and reveals that he gave Simone the talisman years ago without either of them realizing what it was. This convinces Simone to come over to his side for real, and the two of them assassinate their way through the Royalists.
That’s about it for the first novel. The second, which comes from the artifact Mesa’s Musings, concerns someone known as “Mesa, the Saviour.” I know Mesa is called “the Saviour” because that’s what he’s called in the description of Mesa’s Musings in the Artefacts menu, but since this story we get to interact with takes place so early in Mesa’s life, we’re never told how he ended up being known as “the Saviour!” It’s just a bit of background texture! Of the three translated novels, this is the one that most feels like in-universe fiction instead of nonfiction, if only because it’s so damned outrageous. My chief concern with its so-called historicity is that it seems to imply that airships were still in widespread use a mere 200 years before the events of FFT, but I suppose I can’t be sure that wasn’t the case.
Your lead character here is Mesa, captain of the Gloria, an airship he inherited from his father. The plot here is a lot less complicated than “Oeilvert”‘s, and a lot more game-like to boot. Mesa is on the hunt for “Caimsunhama, the legendary City of Gold”… or rather its treasure, since the city was raided generations ago and the loot hidden in a now-forgotten vault. Mesa’s following a lead left behind by his late father, and has narrowed his search down to a ring of eight islands. He knows that that the only way to get into the vault is to find four keys left by the nobles that sealed it, and of course he has to find the vault itself. The trouble is that he has limited fuel, nowhere to refuel, and… oh yeah, the Palamecian (“Palamekian”) Empire from FFII is chasing him with their own airships (Palamecia was one of the “Wonders” you could find during FFT itself, so yes, that detail does fit with history).
This is the one sound novel I have video footage for, so I can tell you that your fuel is carefully monitored via an “HP” bar at the bottom of the screen. Every time you visit an island, you lose fuel, and you also lose fuel if you’re damaged by the Palamecians. Indeed, you even lose fuel even for attacking the Palamecians, using more fuel for the stronger attacks. This forces you to gamble on each attack, weighing the benefits of a strong and costly attack one versus a weak and cheap one. On the other hand, the only way to run into the Palamecians in Rosa’s version is to foolishly return to an island you’ve already cleared, so maybe they’re not as big a threat as you’d think? It’s possible that Rosa’s version is overlooking a feature somehow (maybe the Palamecians showed up at set points, or randomly, in the real game?), what with its Old Internet inability to track variables or generate random numbers.
The game has you bouncing from island to island trying to find the four keys in a linear order. There are, in fact, eight vaults, not just one, with one vault per island. One vault starts off unlocked and contains the first key; three are locked and contain the other keys; one vault contains the endgame like you’d expect; and the remaining vaults contain derelict airships that you can siphon for extra fuel. Each key but the last are used on two vaults: one to get the next key, and one to get more fuel. Thankfully, locked vaults make it clear which keys you need, so it’s possible to work your way backwards, though the odds of your getting through the game on your first attempt is still a matter of luck.
Besides learning that Mesa and some of his crew used to work for the Palamecians, there isn’t much story here until you get to the end and discover that you’ve been pranked: there’s no treasure, just a message from Mesa’s father explaining that he made up the entire legend of Caimsunhama and it got out of hand! After the player has groaned their way through that reveals, the letter adds a P.S. where Mesa’s father had a change of heart and left his own treasure there at a later date, so Mesa doesn’t go home unrewarded. Yeah, fine, whatever.
The last translated story is supposedly an excerpt from Nanai’s Histories. According to the Artefact menu, this book describes the lives of everyday people in order to tell life lessons. The Artefact menu even tells us a bit about the book’s author, Nanai, but I won’t dwell on that. Naturally we’re only going to focus on one of the stories from the Histories, and our subject is Tango, a gambling addict whose life has just been ruined. I find it hard to tell exactly how I’m supposed to feel about Tango. The author (be this the real-world author or Nanai, it’s hard to say) spends most of the book on a polemic against gambling. Bear in mind that gambling is illegal in Japan, except for horse racing and certain infamous loopholes like pachinko parlours, and we’re here to talk about horse racing today. I get the impression the author might be in favour of a larger, blanket ban, if you follow me. Again, I don’t know if I’m talking about Nanai or the real-world author.
But despite the anti-gambling stance, the story is otherwise happy and comical despite revolving around gambling! The plot is even resolved by gambling, and I also can’t help but notice that (despite the author’s claims to the contrary) none of Tango’s current problems are actually the fault of his gambling? His business has failed, but that’s not necessarily the fault of his money-management skills – he was robbed! The author could have argued that without gambling, Tango would have cash for an emergency, but that never comes up! Next problem: Tango’s wife is cheating on him, but she blames this on the business failing, not the gambling? The question is whether or not the author was aware that the story contains these contradictions. Given my problems with the lack of self-awareness in the rest of FFT, I sort of doubt it. In any event: geeze does it make for a disjointed read!
This last sound novel plays more like a classic text adventure than the previous two games, though it’s driven by multiple choice menus instead of a text interface. You navigate an area and solve puzzles, and there’s even bonus objectives! Gameplay starts when Tango goes to pout over his misfortune by visiting the chocobo racetrack on the day of “the big race,” with no intention to gamble. While he’s there, he makes a strange discovery: every time one of the lesser races is run, the winner ends up being the one chocobo that Tango, personally, didn’t hear anyone talking about in the moments before the race. Deciding he has nothing left to lose, Tango decides to put his money on this peculiar luck. There are three sections, each with their own distinct area and puzzles. Your job is to walk around the racetrack and get recommendations from as many people as possible, so you can learn not to bet on the chocobo they recommend! Oh, and Biggs and Wedge appear as bartenders during this sound novel. That’s neat.
Like in the previous sound novel, you’ll be managing resources in this one, namely your time, as Tango has only a few minutes to gather his information before he has to make his bet. Beyond that, the gameplay has nothing in common with Mesa’s Musings. Instead, the area is interconnected like a classic, menu-driven text adventure, and you have to solve various puzzles to get your info. Curiously, the game also has you rationing your cash-on-hand and picking up gambling chips along the way, even though Rosa’s version doesn’t account for these in any way and you don’t seem to be able to run out of cash with the expenses available, suggesting that cash isn’t a resource you have to manage. I suspect that the original game would have multiplied your current holdings whenever you won a bet, though it’s not clear if that would have given you alternate endings, as Rosa’s version has only one, static ending.
Long story short, Tango’s luck holds out all the way to the big race. The game also has him talking with his wife between rounds (in the middle of her date with Tango’s former best friend!), who is happy to get back with him if he wins it big, despite her lectures to the contrary. Yeah, I don’t even know with this story. I personally found it the most fun to play, what with the adventure-style puzzles, but jeeze, the writing!
As for the untranslated Enavia Chronicles, all I know about them is from the FFWiki summary, which says that it’s a sort of romance where you control a noble daughter, Lucia, in her relationship with a lowborn man named Kurt. Given each of the previous three novels had distinct gameplay, I suspect this one would have had something special too, but I have no way of knowing exactly what it was. What a shame!
That’s it for the sound novels. Sadly, the sound novels seem to have been forgotten by the fandom, excusing a few posts implying they might be included in a later version of the PSX “FFT: Complete” fanpatch (relevant posts dated 2016). To make things worse, at the time of writing, the in-progress download of the FFT: Complete patch is outright offline, but maybe that’s a fluke. Still, time may tell if this forgotten corner of the franchise might one day see light internationally.
Next week, we return to the main numbered series as we begin coverage of Final Fantasy VIII.