At this point, the game asked us to place the unfortunately-named Nubswood, and then we got a cutscene with the bartender after returning to town, basically suggesting the random encounter mechanic and also saying that not all the clans are “bad,” even though you’re fighting them. Sheesh, writing for kids much? There was a new wave of missions at the bar, but most of them required Key Items just to start! Kyle informs me that many of these are earned from other missions – I guess that’s one way to that sort of thing, but the game could have just had the missions unlock each other directly? A new Rumour at the bar mentioned “Tourneys,” which also sounded like a new mechanic (Ed. though as of the time of posting, we still have yet to see any!).
If I’m honest, the majority of our Session from this point on was random encounters, and like in FFT, I won’t be detailing them. Two of them ran really long, too, both thanks to a single, surviving enemy cowering in a corner. You know, FFT games should really consider letting your opponents surrender! As this was going on, I started to feel confident that the AI was deliberately picking on Neksu the Thief: the AI seems to target your weakest party members even if they aren’t capable of doing serious damage, which isn’t just bad tactics but makes it really hard to train newbies! We decided to take steps to help the little guy, but our first plan wasn’t very good: I figured it would be enough to just pin him to Tavana’s side, giving him Protect and covering his flanks, and boy, I was wrong. He got wiped out. In the long run, we settled on a Job change, ironically to a White Mage like he had been when he joined us!
Another “highlight” of this lull period was my poor attempts to coordinate a certain upcoming quest. The next story battle only allowed three party members, right? Well, I decided to send the rest of the party on Dispatches. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t pull it off, not least because I kept forgetting which Dispatches were current inaccessible thanks to interruptions from random encounters. This forced a reset at one point, and this is when we got a new party member, Carlos the Nu Mou Beastmaster (Ed. don’t get attached, we dismiss him in Session 2, but he does see use in Session 1!). Beastmasters are designed to Control various monsters. You only control them for only a single turn, though! You need specific skills to control members of each viable monster family, and we only got a single use of Control in the entire Session!
Because we had already mastered our only Animist weapon, Montblanc was swapped to Gunner, because we hadn’t learned to restrict characters to either physical or magical Jobs. And gosh, I’m always so thrilled with missile weapons in this subseries. What was I thinking? In reference to the powerful elemental guns of FFT, FFTA’s Gunners learn elemental attacks, as well as multiple status effect + damage attacks, much better than the status effect-only attacks we were seeing from Archer. Oh, and firearms have way higher distance than bows in this game. It honestly seems like a decent Job, and it weren’t for the cardboard missile weapons in this series I’d probably stay with it! Kyle also swapped Marche to Black Mage to pick up some spells, which proved to be very helpful in the long term even if his Soldier training made him pretty bad at them. (Ed. To our surprise, these spells have paid off well into later sessions, but we might be better off teaching him a physical mid-range attack in the long run.)
Skipping another random fight, it was finally time to get back to unique missions.
Battle 07: Fowl Thief
This was a small but interesting challenge: it was three of you against an unusually high-levelled chicken thief. We took our A-team: Marche, Montblanc, and Tavana, instantly forgetting that Montblanc was an untrained Gunner and was completely useless! He was killed in the Thief’s very first action, and we had to Phoenix Down his ass off the ground, because Tavana thankfully had the Items skill equipped (Items is available for all characters by default instead of being tied to Chemist). Keeping Montblanc at a distance from this point on, we went back to his Black Mage spells instead of bullets and pulled things together. The bandit died, wailing about his “boss.” After the fight, a Rumour appeared that revealed that the Thief was a member of Clan Borzoi.
A new Moogle Black Mage named Gerome joined us after the fight, but that was all that happened before we rushed off to the very next mission!
Battle 08: Prof in Trouble
Continuing the academic thread of the Thesis Hunt mission (no doubt building to some sort of arc), it seems a certain Professor Auggie needs rescuing from monsters. Auggie helped us in the defence, a Nu Mou Sage, an upper-tier class that cast a mix of familiar spells. They’re not an upgraded Red Mage like you’d expect, with only one White spell, although it is Raise which is hardly chump change. Instead, they seem to have rare Black elements, like water and earth. Probably worth looking into!
The enemies had a pretty solid edge here: two Slimes on the flanks casting spells, Zombies in the middle, and Professor fucking Auggie running straight into the middle of them! Thankfully, Kyle remembered that Undead in FFTA take damage from Cure spells, which allowed Neksu to finally shine for once. When the Zombies collapsed, an ominous timer appeared over their heads. Kyle didn’t remember what this was about, but we both figured it meant they would revive if we allowed the timer to expire, so I rushed the rest of the fight. (Ed. Certain skills, exclusive to White Monk and… Archer of all things?… can stop the regeneration, but even at the time of posting, we’ve managed to clear every battle with Undead without their help!)
During this fight, I got a giggle out of the fact that one of the big, scary Zombies being named with a modern name like Lyle. Indeed, this is a problem across the entire game, far worse than Paul the Black Mage in FFT. But this was different! Thankfully, Kyle pointed out what I had missed: the Zombies were named after the bullies from the prologue, and probably were the bullies from the prologue, transformed by the same magic that transformed all of St. Ivalice! What this entails, I don’t know yet, though I was a little surprise to come back after the fact and confirm that “Auggie” wasn’t the name of the teacher from the intro! Anyways, we’re hitting children with swords now.
After the fight, we got a Viara Fencer name Molly, and our previous Viera was also swapped to the job. Fencer is the Viera’s starting front-liner class with a weird mix of unrelated abilities. Actually, most of these Jobs have a lot of unrelated abilities? I guess it’s a way to compensate for the Law system, giving you a variety of options in any situation, sparing you from having to multi-class quite as much? But it also it makes it really hard for me to summarize these things, both for the Journals and when strategizing in the game itself! The best I can say is that the Fencer is much like the Viera as a whole: a fast, glass cannon.
We then instantly charged back into the same location for the next story mission! Remember that snow from earlier? Turns out an evil Nu Mou Black Mage has been messing with the weather, and we had been hired to stop him (weird detail here, but FFTA likes to change enemy sprite colours to give them more variety. But in an oversight, they allowed Nu Mou and Human Black Mages to be recoloured red, suggesting they’re Red Mages, even though only Viera can be Red Mages!). The mage was somewhat embarrassingly named Gelato, and he was the closest thing to a traditional fantasy villain we’ve seen all session. This game’s a slow starter, what can I say?
Battle 09: Frosty Mage
This was our first boss fight where the boss was accompanied with allies, instead of strange challenge matches against chicken thieves. We were up against Gelato, two Red Panthers, and an Ahriman. The enemy strategy here was what you’d expect: Gelato’s petty army tried to hold you off while he cast Black spells from a distance. Obviously we took out Gelato as soon as we could, and since the Red Panthers were a joke, the Ahriman ended up taking most of our time. What can I say? We’re still in a decidedly easy stage of the game, and the first real boss fight didn’t change that.
You don’t actually win this fight after defeating the enemies: you win after you destroy some magical orbs Gelato has on-site, and you can just fuck around grinding until you do, a surprise move after FFT made the same mistake in the sluicegate mission.
Marche then decides to grab the early-FFT-Ramza thread and run with it by lecturing Gelato about not asking permission for his evil magical experiments. Sure, you little baby, you go have faith in authority, I’m sure that’s going to turn out great for you in this subseries.
“Frosty Mage” finally ended Marche’s early training as a Black Mage, and we switched Leona our starting Viera over to Fencer since we were well and truly tired with Archer. Unfortunately, this left us with little reason to use Molly the Fencer for the time being, and she has yet to see the field again!
After some Parsec lag, I went to stop a random encounter that was getting too close to our only Cleared area, still unsure if that counted as “Clan Territory” or whatever, or if that was how enemies captured them! Once that was done, we swapped Leona to Red Mage. Red Mages fill the role they always have since FFV: they get base-level magic, but not much else. On the plus side, they can also learn Doublecast for 999 AP, and also seem much better at combat than every Red Mage since FFI, so they genuinely fill the role of an all-rounder for once. Unfortunately, they don’t have the equivalent of the Black Mage’s Rod item, and have to learn every spell one by one.
At this point, we went on to our last battle of the session, but it was a big one and made for a good bookend!
Battle 10: The Cheetahs
The “Cheetahs” of the mission title here are a group of bandits we had been sent to hunt, but don’t worry about them, because they were very nearly background texture to more important plot developments. You see, we weren’t the only clan chasing the bounty: it was finally time to reunite with a member of the main cast! Yes, Marche finds Ritz here with a Viera woman named Shara (Shara is another victim of sprite clash, being grey-furred in close-up portrait but brown at a distance). It seems Ritz has filled Shara in on the situation, and instantly introduces Marche as “from the other world,” which Shara takes perfectly in stride, not least because FFTA seems determined to keep text out of the missions! I guess this is nice if you’re forced to repeat a mission, but I can’t help but wish Square would just give in and add unrestricted cutscene skipping to every game, darn it! Thankfully, this one scattered text during the battle, and to get started, the two decide to team up with you as AI Guests.
The fight here can be tricky, not least because two Guests are gumming up the party lists, which has never been good for FFT. This is the first fight with a rank-and-file enemy caster, believe it or not, and they started on a good position on the enemy left flank. Worse, you and Ritz are the opposite side of a river from the Cheetahs. Oh, and after the eyebrow-raising behaviour of Professor Auggie, you won’t be surprised to learn Ritz charged right into the thick of it, though at least she’s a front-liner! (What kind of front liner? I, uh, forgot to check her stats). Thankfully, when the enemies inevitably surrounded Ritz, they clustered in range of former Black Mage Marche, and we got a nice shot off!
You’d be surprised how long this one goes without a single corpse on either side! Shara and Marche finally managed to drop an enemy Moogle, only for the enemy mage to drop Shara, not that I’m all that mechanically concerned about the fate of guests in FFTactics. God knows they deserve it after charging into enemy mosh pits. By this point, everyone was in a scrum in the middle, and I’d argue we were actually losing for a while there, with Camus our White Monk on his knees (low HP) and Leona already dead. Even though you’d figure the enemy mage would be our priority target, his position was really just that good, atop a hill at the edge of the map with the river on one side and a bush on another: literally only one square to hit him and downhill at that! When our Moogle Black Mage died right at the enemy mage’s feet we literally couldn’t reach him with melee attacks, and it was only when his poor AI ran off out of safety that we were able to get to him!
After spending most of the game on petty plot events, it was finally time for some real development. Ritz confirmed that she and Shara were in a clan, though we never got their clan name. Ritz then tells you her theory of what’s going on: she thinks that somehow the world of “Final Fantasy” has somehow overwritten St. Ivalice! She doesn’t say why she’s so sure this is St. Ivalice, which is a bit of a shame. I doubt it’s a secret or upcoming twist, it feels more like it’s meant to be evident to the player even if they forgot to tell the characters why! This would probably be a bigger gripe for me if we weren’t so early in the game, this is kind of relevant!
(Despite this Ivalice being a distinct universe from the Ivalice we knew from FFT, my understanding is that a lot of its changes carry over to in FFXII all the same. Don’t correct me if I’m wrong though! Probably the biggest change, and one that I’m certain of, is that FFXII inherits the sentient races. I’m curious if there’s going to be an explanation for why no Viera, Nu Mou, or Bangaa ever appeared in FFT, and why Moogles were only a Summoned creature, but I wouldn’t be surprised if FFXII just ignores the matter, since it is just a retcon and it’s often best not to draw attention to that sort of thing.)
To Marche’s surprise, Ritz isn’t actually interested in why things have changed, and Shara, who doesn’t seem to have much patience for propriety, reveals Ritz outright doesn’t want to go back to normal, and is surprised Marche does. Ritz says that if Marche wants to put things back to normal, she won’t stop him, but won’t help either, and she and Shara head off.
After placing the new Eluut Sands desert location on the map, the story continues when you return to town. Clan Sorrow is heading out of the bar from their usual preteen-accompanied binge-drinking when Montblanc and Marche get to talking about how fun missions are, how much Marche has always wanted to “use magic and fight monsters,” and the appeal of becoming the strongest clan. But the two are just hedging around what they both know Marche wants to talk about, and credit to the devs on that build-up. You guessed it: he doesn’t want to stay in this world. I’d find Montblanc a little more likable if this conversation hadn’t been held off for an entire month and a half since the start of the game, but still. Montblanc doesn’t have any practical advice beyond “take it easy,” whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean, but at least the two have cleared the air.
This scene is a good point to discuss something that’s been bothering me: this game’s presumably deliberate, but unmistakably weird handling of its general subject matter. We just saw these two talking happily about fighting monsters and Clan Wars, you know? Ever since the snowball fight, FFTA has been determined to cast its battles as a game. But it’s decidedly not a game, and the characters’ insistence that it is gets stranger and stranger as you leave Red Panther skeletons in your wake. Consider the Clan Wars “not being a war.” FFTA is trying to cast this major setting element as little more than the inter-guild score-chasing conflict of an MMO, and yet characters are fighting tooth and nail for territory, stabbing and burning and threatening each other. It’s hard to tell if this is a genuine theme, or if the devs are just trying to town things down for an extremely young audience? Remember things like, “Not all Clans are bad even if they’re fighting you,” and it does start to seem more like an audience thing. On top of everything else, this problem would slot so, so easily into Square’s deeply entrenched habit of treating battles as narratively inconsequential. But it’s a little much! At some point during the session, we got so annoyed at the game treating Goblin corpses like decoration in a football game that we started referring to nearly every one of our battles as “murders.” If FFTA is building to some kind of point, our suspension of disbelief dried up way earlier than they expected, because the tone is so incongruous with the premise.
Another unusual element so far are the Judges. Putting aside the “sports” angle, the thing that strikes me most about the Judges is that they use their powers in such thoroughly useless ways. And that’s not just a complaint against the surface text of the Laws! Judging a fight over monsters trying to burn down a town? Even if the monsters are full citizens, like in FFL, this should still be arson? Thieves fighting over a counterfeiting process? Thieves in general? Are the capital-L Laws the only thing that’s actually illegal in Ivalice? It feels like this might be building to something, but just like the “fun” bloodsport, I can’t be one hundred percent confident, because again: Square tends to forget battles are narratively important, and I don’t feel certain I should be treating the Judge’s uselessness as relevant, or frankly even canonical, because the company’s problems with this particular trope are just that bad. The only fully canonical example of Judge uselessness then is the one from the snowball fight: the teacher barely punishing the bullies and show no regard for Mewt’s health, and that was a problem the game didn’t actually point out and might not even care about! God knows the teacher didn’t seem to care!
After some shopping, we wrapped up, and as you may already know by now, we returned to FFX-2: Last Mission for the next Session and a half. When we finally get back, maybe I’ll come to grips with some of this game’s more obscure systems, and hopefully we’ll get some actual plot developments on the regular. I’m actually optimistic about the plot, for the record: the slow start seems like it was a deliberate move to set-up to all this, “Life in Ivalice is a fun video game!! Nothing could be wrong with this perspective!!!” stuff. I don’t necessarily agree with the call, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s done now, right? The status quo is established and we can move on, hopefully towards the dramatic. But believe me, if I’m wrong, and we start Session 2 to learn those kids have hired us to build sandcastles in Eluut, I’m going to have words with the Brewers and Gossipmonger’s Association.