Day 3 opens with a new tradition: Chime’s morning reports. With a fixed angle shot and a chibi host, these sequences weirdly reminded me a lot of Dokopon Kingdom, which is from a completely different genre! Gonna have to cover that game at some point in the future too… The morning reports are split into two parts: first an Adventurer Report, where you can click on various elements for more details, and then a rather sterile, one-page financial report that’s exactly like you’d expect and mostly covers data you already knew. You’ll be spending a lot of time on these screens… urm, the first one, anyways. Kyle and I eventually came to pass the controller back and forth at the start of each morning report, since the game lacked all of our traditional swap points.
After this, we’re given our proper introduction to the adventurer system, and so it’s time for me to explain it here, too! Not far from the foot of the castle’s keep is the town’s one and only fixed, interactive element: the Frog Board. The castle and its surrounds are filled with frog decorations that go completely unexplained (including some that look like a perfect replica of the Bullfrog Studios logo?), and this is one of them. Anyways! Every morning, at the end of Chime’s report, she’ll ask you to place Behests on this and any other sign boards you’ve constructed in the kingdom, one per board. Most of your adventurers will wake up and then go straight to the board that interests them the most, a process that seems based on the level of the challenge, but is still ultimately random, leading to a few wildly inappropriate adventurers showing up at each board basically every morning. You can then assign whichever adventurers you choose from the assembled crowd to do each behest, while telling the others to go mind their own business, which they will do by either grinding for EXP in a dungeon of their own choice, or by resting in town if they’re tired. While you can talk to them as they wait at the board to give them orders or see their stats, it’s faster to got to the board itself, which offers info on everyone present (or not yet present, if you make it to the board quickly!). The interface could still be a lot faster, but it could also be a lot worse, it’s pretty close to the middle.
But how is all of this adventuring done, you ask? After all, the player is sitting at home with Leo, constructing buildings or doing other things that have nothing to do with swords and sorcery! Well, the game is actually doing a number of simulations behind the scenes while you play with Leo, essentially walking each adventurer through the dungeon one challenge at a time. For example, they’ll frequently run into monsters, which they’ll battle entirely without your input! If an adventurer wins a fight, they carry on with their mission, but if they lose, they can either flee from the dungeon, which will drop their mood considerably to effects we’ll discuss later, or they can be “wiped out,” marked with a skull… so Kyle and I naturally just started addressing them as “dead.” They’re not actually dead, at least, no more than any other Final Fantasy characters are after a random combat, and will be back on their feet the day after next. Since poor mood often leads to the adventurer giving up on work the next day, there’s basically no difference between fleeing and “death” after all.
While adventuring, your agents can also find one-time treasures and various other benefits. One of the key missions you’ll be repeating is “Exploration,” which is intended to find this sort of stuff. This includes benefits like mapping the dungeon for later adventurers, which cuts down on random events that get you lost, or other time-wasters! It’s all you can do in the early days for each dungeon. One key discovery you want to find in each dungeon is “shortcuts.” This is because dungeons aren’t some roadside attraction, but the literal roads themselves, and every time your adventurers want to go to a later dungeon, they have to pass through the previous dungeons, first! Shortcuts make this possible before the bloody sun expands to consume the Earth!
One thing the game never makes clear is what happens to adventurers who end up taking the same job at the same time. Despite what you might assume, they don’t actually team up, or at least not yet! The impression I get is that each adventurer ends up facing their own “instance” of the dungeon, to use an MMO term, each with their own copy of the same monsters and same boss at the end if you choose to send them after a boss (although everyone on a boss mission will return home the moment the boss is killed). Because adventurers tend to travel through dungeons at a similar rate, this means you often see the same boss being nearly killed by the same adventurers at the same time, or a boss thrashing one adventurer while another adventurer is nearly ready to win!
By the way, because adventurers never really die, and because everyone remembers discoveries collectively, this is one of those games where everything always gets better, with nothing worse than day-long setbacks in the form of “death” and morale. Unfortunately, rather than embrace the natural ease of this sort of setup and just create an easy, casual game, Squre Enix made some very odd difficulty decisions later on to try to squeeze blood and challenge from this stone of their own creation, and we’ll be paying for it in the long run.
Before you can see the results of your first days’ orders, Pavlov shows up to apologize for being a dick during his introduction. And by “apologize,” I mean he insults your face. Or at least he tries to, but the translation fumbles in the attempt: “No wonder you hide your ugly mug behind a mask,” he says, the translator probably mistranslating a word for “hat” or “crown,” since Leo doesn’t actually wear a mask. Pavlov reveals that he’s here to keep a promise, almost certainly to Epitav. He does this by assisting Leo with detailed stats on Padarak’s populace whenever he wants. This isn’t delivered in the most convenient manner, mind you. Instead of being available at the touch of a button, like Chime, Pavlov follows you around the town, frequently tripping as he does so, and you have to talk to him to get the info. Not only does he take a second to show up if you’ve been travelling with any real speed, but once he has caught up, he sometimes gets in the way of your attempts to talk to anyone! You’ve probably guessed by now that I think Pavlov is one of those features I wanted moved to the 1 and 2 buttons! His physical presence is probably included to facilitate a much, much later feature that we’ll be seeing towards the end of the game, and even that could have been tied to another button!
Once our adventurers (which I quickly took to calling “the kids”) were marching off to our doom, we turned our attention to hot dogs. Urm—breads! To breads! What did I say? We placed the bakery in a central location near the starting houses we had already placed, and everyone seemed satisfied with that, though the game didn’t fully explain the benefits. Here’s the deal, a “deal” that you’ll be spending most of your playthrough interacting with!
Once you build a Bakery, you get a meter underneath your cash and elementite supplies. This meter represents the town’s morale, and under it, you can find a single empty circle (if you want to get technical, this circle was what you really unlocked by building the Bakery, and similar buildings will unlock additional circles, though the game never draws a connection between the two, either to this or any of this feature’s direct upgrades, very confusing!). Fill the meter in any of the ways I’ll explain in a minute, and you’ll get an “orb” in the circle, after which you start a new meter. We’ll talk about these “orbs” later, but unfortunately, that meter reset holds true even if you don’t have an empty circle at the bottom, costing you a full meter with no benefits! They really should have had the thing turn into a small elementite or cash payment, just to keep it from being a total loss.
How do you raise the meter? Well, by making your people happy, of course! The easiest way, and the one you’ll spend most of your time doing, is just to chat with them, though you’ll only get points to your meter if you talk to people when they have speech balloon with a green smiley face above their heads, which happens more or less randomly. You can only talk to each person in this fashion once per day, except for your adventurers, whom you can talk to both before they go to a dungeon and after (supposing they go at all). Naturally, NPCs will have something to say depending on what they’re doing at the time. Your adventurers give you minor lore details about the specific dungeons they visit, and your townspeople either give you NPC gossip about the macro plot, or useless rattle about bread, situation depending.
But that’s only part of the whole picture. You can also make people happy by providing basic services, namely the Bakeries and another civilian building we’ll get way, way later, and to make sure they’re in the general area of people’s houses. These structures give your people a morale point every time they go out grocery shopping. NPCs also talk to one another from time to time, and this gives you a morale boost as well. Happy people may also pay extra tithes for that day (which is why they’re called tithes and not taxes, to imply that they’re voluntarily proportioned), though don’t expect it without a little intervention.
But what do the orbs do? You can use them for one of two things. You can use them to upgrade your town’s level at the castle, which is surprisingly unrewarding, or you can use them to increase morale when you talk to people, which actually isn’t much better. The latter sounds like a contradiction in terms: we’re spending the orb we got from morale to get the orb… back? Using an orb in this fashion makes it more likely that people will pay extra tithes, but even that barely qualifies. But there’s another side to this feature that the game won’t explain until you find it yourself. For the time being, we’ll talk about the basic mechanics, even though they might seem pointless. When you tell Chime you want to increase morale, the orb disappears and Leo starts sparkling (as if this poor, chugging Wii game weren’t dealing with enough polygons, the game wants you to keep turning on a damn particle effect!). Talk to a regular townsperson when you sparkle, and they’ll not only be happier, but will magically increase their relationship with a family member, making it more likely that they’ll talk to that family member in the future, generating more morale autonomously! Townspeople can also make friends to similar effect, but your influence doesn’t seem to have anything to do with this. By building up relationships like this, you’ll eventually reach a more-or-less permanent state of positive morale. And if you talk to an adventurer, and their stats will temporarily go up, which is a more immediately interesting benefit (it’s not clear if this is useful at the end of the day, does it carry over to tomorrow?). If I’m honest, these adventurer benefits are what you’re really going for when you spend an orb in this manner, but there’s no harm in chatting to civilians on the way to your army of chumps, or as you’re waiting for the bonus bar to expire.
You’re probably asking yourself: wait, so this game’s primary gameplay loop has you giving orders at the start of the day, and then spending most of your playtime talking to NPCs about the same topics ad infinitum, while you wait for results to come in? Well, that’s one way to put it, I won’t deny. For what it’s worth, the system isn’t that bad at the start of the game when there are only so many people and so many adventurers, the latter of which who have so little to do that their results come in in a timely fashion. I’d even say this sequence of affairs lasts for a good chunk of the game! But in the end…
One other feature that unlocks on this day is that one of the Moogle Brothers, Mogiosh (mog-EE-osh? mo-gyoish?) takes up permanent residence at the foot of a tower on a wall in the middle of town. Not only will he let you climb to the top of the tower (a completely useless option that I suspect pre-dates the bird’s eye view button on the standard controls), but he’ll also give you the details on various buildings and features. His list contains several permanent blanks, some perhaps due to DLC, and others definitely due to us playing in Normal Mode, since New Game+ allows access to Hard Mode and a set of newer features unlocked by additional dungeons. I’ll discuss this matter of Hard Mode content as we go along, but suffice to say, some of the removed features should have probably been in the core set, and the game has problems without them. Indeed, the DLC also bumps a few Hard Mode exclusive items down to Normal Mode, in a way that almost feels like a paid balance patch, given how limited the game feels without them. In Square’s partial defence, Nintendo refused to push most patches until nearly the Wii U era, if even!
Something else you can do from this point on is to hire new, level 1 adventurers at 100 gold a pop, at least until you hit the initial cap of five. Up to four prospects will wait outside the castle for you to inspect, which honestly takes too long. There should have been a common list or spreadsheet like with the notice boards (indeed, speed is a constant problem, and if loading times and even certain minor animation flourishes would wrap up faster, the game would be much improved). Then again, there isn’t even much reason to inspect the new troops at this point in the game. Later in the game, certain buildings can improve starting stats, but at this point you’re choosing between the amateur with 5 strength and the amateur with 6, and it doesn’t really matter. Once recruited, the character will go home with a new 3D model, plastic surgery and genetic modification and everything. By the way, most of the game’s character models were borrowed from FFCC itself (MLK’s credits only list a single character modeller of its own as a consequence!) and there was no effort put into keeping things like hair colour constant between… “mutations.”
Franklin wasn’t able to beat the boss the previous day (we probably should have assigned him to Explore until we were closer to 100% for the dungeon, like we would do later in the playthrough), but the game gave us our first glances at neighbouring dungeons just to whet our appetite, even though you can’t go to them until the boss of previous areas is done. A dungeon’s description includes a list of monsters (including an orange-listed boss and a purple-listed enemy that comes up later, not that the game explains either), as well as various factors, discoveries and prizes that have been found, including an exploration meter to let you know when you’re done. For example, our first dungeon, Pallum Dei Caverns, includes Mini Mu monsters (Mus being a recurring, squirrel-like enemy that debuted in FFVI) and a not-so-threatening “Wee Worm” as the boss. The dungeon itself is described as being, “A small maze of natural tunnels,” and that it had a “Fountain of Restoration” that we had found, which adventurers could use to heal between fights. It informed us that a large, local cache of elementite had already been found, so only a few earnings taken off the bodies of dead enemies were going to be found there in the future, making it important to make tracks to later dungeons!
Franklin beat the Wee Worm the next day, prompting Chime to ask us to give him a medal. Medals are given to anyone who beats an orange or purple enemy on a Behest. Common medals, which are in infinite supply, boost stats, seemingly relative to the character’s level rather than the challenge’s, but limited-quantity special Medals can later be earned with their own benefits.
Kyle and I weren’t aware of all the game’s systems yet, so the very next day, we simply noticed that one of the new dungeons was level 2 and the other was level 3, and assigned a Behest for the level 2 dungeon. This was a good call, but not necessarily for the reason we made it! But it turns out there are actually prizes for clearing the boss in most dungeons, which the game misleads you about accidentally by not having one at Pallum Dei. Generally, beating dungeons unlocks a new construction feature back in town, and the level 2 dungeon would unlock a new Weapon Shop building. The level 3 dungeon offered a less tantalizing “House+” upgrade, which just raises the number of houses you can make, as though our elementite supplies allowed us to reach the starting cap to begin with!
Franklin actually took out the level 2 boss really early, which prompted us to assign a behest to the level 3 dungeon, a Goblin’s Den. But when we tried, Chime warned us that the goblins were armoured, and the adventures wouldn’t be able to beat them without weapons – they literally were unarmed! One of these actions prompted a new cutscene on Day 8, where Franklin and Dana appeared and told us about the Goblin’s Den (it’s a shame the individual dungeons don’t come up in the plot very often after this; indeed it’s one of the obvious fixes I’d add if I were set to making a sequel… though I admit, I’d probably be pulling more ideas from other games in this niche subgenre than anything else!). Everyone was alarmed, as the monsters shouldn’t be able to organize like this since the destruction of the Miasma. Leo got all upset about this and tried to run off to the enemy camp, only for everyone to repeatedly insist that he not. Game, I get it, but constantly waving a carrot in the player’s face and then explaining why they shouldn’t eat it isn’t how you motivate anyone, and a character being not just once, but repeatedly told not to do what they want to do is just digging you in deeper!
Anyways, we’ll have to build a Weapon Shop to deal with the goblins, prompting Hugh to shout: “That’s a brilliant idea! Training takes time, but weapon only take money!” It’s all of military history in a nutshell! Here’s the idea: after you build your first shop and from that point on, adventurers will then go shopping after accepting behests, using the money they carry on their persons from their daily salary (and possibly money found in dungeons?). Your job is to provide the shops and to provide the shopkeepers with money for “research” to offer new, more powerful (and more expensive!) weapons, which only show up the next day. Once you’ve unlocked them, there are three main shops: a Weapon Shop, an Armour Shop, and an Item Shop that sells restoratives. Some specialist shops that will show up later on. The shops don’t have much variety for simplicity’s sake. Generally speaking, Normal mode only allows one or two item “types” per shop: at present, Weapon Shops sell “Swords” and that’s it. Once we get them, Armour shops will sell heavy armour, and Item Shops sell potions. We’ll unlock the second type of items at each shop later on.
As a city builder game, one of the game’s main factors is actually traffic management (indirect traffic management, in this case), as time actually matters since adventurers will bug out of dungeons come nightfall (though you can improve on this later). If we had known that at the time, we might have placed the shops a lot better! Unfortunately, we didn’t realize traffic management would be such a big deal at the time, and all we did know was that various buildings have areas-of-effect, but the shops didn’t, and so we decided to isolate them in “adventurer’s quarter” on the literal opposite side of town! As things settled around us, we never bothered to fix it! Thankfully, our layout was still good enough to serve, especially once we started issuing Behests to the south, near the adventurer’s quarter (although the hardest dungeons are to the east!), but I know one thing I’d change if I played the game again!
At this point, I’ve covered most of the basic systems, so! Next post: picking up the pace!