o/~ Some are good and others dumb o/~
So, Squall, Selphie and Zell are about to get their first assignment. Selphie, Squall, Headmaster Cid, and a Garden Faculty member are there on time, but Zell's late because he was having too much fun on his hoverboard. Not that I blame him. I'd ride around on one all the time, too, if I had one. Back to the Future Part Two really made them look cool, though I can't say the same for this game.
When Zell finally does show up, the faculty guy confiscates the board because it's dangerous to use them inside the Garden proper, which Zell was doing. Cid explains that SeeD has been hired to assist a faction of freedom fighters in someplace called Timber. It's just us three because they didn't have much cash to work with. If we talk to Cid again once we've been briefed on the mission, he'll give Squall something called the Magic Lamp. It really comes in handy to use it soon as we're on the world map, because it contains a Guardian Force called Diablos. We'll have to fight him, but it's really not so bad if you hit him with a Blind spell or happen to have enough of it junctioned to somebody's attack that it takes effect that way, as it'll leave him without physical attacks. Diablos will still use Demi spells and an attack called Gravija, which will take off percentages of our health, but can't actually kill anybody.
Once we can use Diablos as a summon, he's weak to start, but his attack is based on his level, which translates pretty much to being a percentage of the enemies' health that gets taken off each time Diablos gets used. So if he's at level 50, for example, the attack will damage the monsters for half their total health.
Diablos also has a useful command ability called Mug, that acts a lot like the Sneak or Steal commands in previous games, in that it allows whomever has it equipped to take an item from an enemy and do some damage in the process.
And speaking of command abilities, by now, I usually also have the Card command for Quetzacotl. The good news is that this is an ability that will allow one character to turn enemies into cards for the card battle game or refining into still other items. This process seems to reduce the amount of experience the party gets, because that's based on the amount of damage and kills. The downside is that it seems like the monsters need to be damaged prior to being turned into cards in order for it to work, which would be bad enough if it wasn't for the fact that I'm only at level 11 and there are already some monsters that die in one hit.
To actually get where we need to be for this first mission, we'll have to take a train from the town of Balam to Timber. You'd think that the Garden would have given Squall and the others tickets, or at the very least, a company credit card to use for that, but they don't. When I said before about Squall having to pay for everything including transportation with his own money, I meant it. It's 3,000 gold to get on the train.
Zell says it's a nifty rail system, since there's a tunnel under the sea between Balam and Timber. He then tells Squall to use the ticket to open the door to the private section of the car. Might as well make use of it, even if it's not a long trip, since Squall's paying for this out of pocket. It's just too bad they don't have drinks or a TV or something in there for us. All we get is a nice couch, two bunks, and a copy of something called Pet Pals Magazine. After Zell explains what little he knows about Timber, everybody passes out and the party is replaced by three other characters called Laguna, Kiros, and Ward.
Laguna, Kiros, and Ward are Galbadian solders involved with the invasion of Timber, something that happened nearly 20 years before the start of the game. Laguna's taking his men AWOL, not because he has a conscience and wants to mutiny, but because he has a boner for a female pianist in someplace called Deling City and wants to do something with it, so they're off to take care of that, stealing a vehicle they find seemingly abandoned in the woods.
And of course, when they finally get to town, Laguna just parks his transport in the middle of the damned street like an American tourist. Ward tries to call him on it, but he says it's OK, and as we head for the hotel the pianist, named Julia, is performing at, we see that our truck is indeed blocking traffic as a result of where we left it.
At the hotel, our new trio of heroes head directly to the lounge, where they're such familiar faces that the hostess takes them to their regular table and knows what kind of drinks to bring them. When Julia comes out to play, Kiros and Ward egg Laguna on to go say hi to Julia like he said he would, and he finally mans up and does it. On his way, though, he gets a stiffie – I mean a cramp in his leg that he has to walk off instead. Julia notices this and apparently thinks it's cute, so she walks over to Laguna's table and invites him to her room so they can talk in private. Ward and Kiros see her coming and make a graceful retreat to the bar.
On his way to Julia's room, Laguna tells himself he's not going to mess this up, even though we know he's going to. There's also a ranking Galbadian officer who's got a crush on Julia, too, and threatens to have Laguna and friends sent to the ends of the earth for daring to flirt with Julia. I don't think we need to talk to him, given how the game progresses, but I usually do anyway.
Up in Julia's room, Laguna shows a level of social awkwardness that I'm only too familiar with. In fact, that's part of the reason why I'm still single at this point in my life and sometimes come across as as much of an ass as Squall. After he loosens up a bit, Laguna starts going on at great length about how he wants to quit the military so he can be a travel journalist who writes about all the cool places he goes. I've got more than a passing familiarity with that feeling, too.
After awhile, Laguna's team-mates come along and tell him that they've got new orders and they need to go. Squall and the others then wake up, back on the train, just as it's pulling into Timber. From there, we meet two guys named Zone and Watts, who represent the Forest Owls, a resistance faction in Timber. Once the password is given, Watts takes the party to another train platform, where their base train pulls in. Onboard the train, Zone and Watts officially introduce themselves and have Squall go wake up their “princess” so they can start discussing the mission they hired SeeD for. Squall is understandably irritated that he's the one that has to go get her, and his expression of such is enough to give Zone a bad case of stress induced stomach cramps that'll keep coming back every time he winds up in a situation where he might actually have to do something himself.
Much to our misfortune, this “princess” is the girl from the party. Her name's Rinoa, if I didn't say that before, though we know that officially now. She'll actually be one of the playable characters now, too. Her limit break uses her dog Angelo as a weapon. Much as I usually don't agree with PETA, I have to wonder what they'd think of it, because there's something that just seems wrong about that to me. And this is coming from a guy who hunts.
With that, I think I'll give the game a rest for awhile and just make mention of a couple other details.
See, as hard as it is for me to pick a favorite character in this game, it's very easy to pick a least favorite, and that award goes to Rinoa. Before anybody brings it up, yes, I remember what I said about her before, and no, that's not just based on her looks. I'm not that shallow. It's also based on the fact that she's written as the spoiled rich guy's daughter who's used to being able to act on her whims and not worrying about the consequences because daddy and his credit card can usually clean up the mess with little or no difficulty, and now she's in charge of a resistance cell that's in a position to cause something very much akin to World War One. Sadly, it's all downhill from here, folks.
One good thing to come of this game is Laguna's party. Maybe it's because we spend less time with them in the game, but I actually kind of wish the whole game was about them instead of the band of characters we actually do get for this story. It actually goes to prove something I said in a Final Fantasy 13 thread in the forums over at The Spoony Experiment, that there were no fewer than three potential stories in this game, and any of them could have been good if they'd just picked one and stuck with it the whole way. Instead, we get bits and pieces of this one, and at least two others involving Squall. I'll get more into them as they come.
And with that, I think I'll close this issue out. I'll see you next time, when we get into the first of several potentially civilization-destroying fuck-ups between now and where the game should have ended. Until then, have fun and DFTBA!