Be forewarned, folks, this is going to be a long one, even if I don't make it all the way through the game.
I fully intend to get as close to that as I actually can, of course. I know I said the same thing of Final Fantasy 8, but I actually like this one, as opposed to the general indifference I hold towards its immediate predecessor.
One thing I really do like about this game is that there's a teaser scene during the opening credits where we get to meet the hero, young fellow named Zidane, and the band of mercenaries and actors he's a part of as they plan the kidnapping they've been hired to do. They've been hired to kidnap Princess Garnet of Alexandria. The leader, an owl or bat fellow named Baku, explains the basics and then hands the details over to teammates Blank, Cinna and Marcus, who explain that the plan is to put on the show as planned, and that it'll be Zidane's job specifically to go get the Princess and put her on the ship.
This little meeting starts off with the first battle of the game when Baku charges his assembled crew with a sword while wearing a mechanical dragon mask. Why he does this, I'm not exactly sure, but it is a good intro to the game's battle system. Since all the members of this band, called Tantalus, are thieves, they all have the Steal command, which comes in handy, and Baku has some armor that can come in handy in a bit. Zidane's going to be the main protagonist of the game, so he's also got a special command in his menu called Skill. The only one available right now is one called Flee, which allows the party to escape from some battles a little easier, but there will be more coming.
Once the credits complete, we're introduced to another of the game's heroes, a little Black Mage named Vivi. He's billed as a kid, but given some of the details of the character and the power he winds up wielding, I'm not entirely sure of that. As far as favorite characters in the franchise, Vivi's kind of interchangeable with Final Fantasy 4's Cecil for my all-time favorite. He's certainly my favorite character in the game, in part because there are a ton of reasons I can relate to guy, from major things like his shyness and apparent lack of self confidence to little things like his quirk of frequently adjusting his hat, which is something I do at my day job.
There's actually quite a bit that can be done once we get control of Vivi. The most obvious thing is trying to get into the play that Tantalus is putting on as a cover for making off with her highness Princess Garnet, called I Want To Be Your Canary, which is supposed to be a popular one in Alexandria. The wolf guy at the ticket booth will tell you a bit about what's supposed to be going on thus far, in about as much detail as the PS1 could muster. It was certainly more than we could have expected from the SNES, of course, but not as much as might have been available in later games. When Vivi hands the guy his ticket, it turns out it's a fake that a little rat kid named Puck slipped him a bit earlier so he'd have somebody to help him sneak in.
We could just go ahead with that, but there's a good deal of other stuff to do instead. I spent a good 45 minutes just running around the town of Alexandria collecting items and cards and talking to people, just because it's handy to do all that stuff. Plus, there's a guy called Alleyway Jack who will teach a bit about the card game that I usually go for because it's a nice refresher between playthroughs of this game. I'm not sure why, but I find this card game, called Tetra Master, to be a little easier to learn and play than the Triple Triad variant from FF8. In part, it's because it's a little easier to figure out how each card interacts with the others on the board, what with the little arrows around the edges. Plus, there are not nearly so many oddball rules to worry about, as I can remember.
Plus, there's people to talk to. Everybody has something to say, and a few of them have things to do, as well. There's the little girl named Ilia, who's going to visit her grandparents. There's the group of little girls doing jumprope games that Vivi can get in on. Maybe it's because I'm the one playing here, but it seems that Vivi's really no better at jumping rope than I am. But the little girls still want him to keep playing with them. And there's the little boy who needs help finding his cat.
Getting back to the main plot, Puck horks a handy ladder from a sign maker who's calling it a day so he can go see the play. His plan is to sneak into the theater by way of the rooftops. To get up there, we're going to have to follow Puck up a church steeple, and in doing so, we run into the first save point of the game.
This is another unique thing about this game that I like as compared to many of the others in the series that I've played. In this case, the game is saved with little characters called Moogles, who first showed up in Final Fantasy 6, if I'm not mistaken. They tend to show up at critical points and offer the opportunity to save the game, use tents, and a few other things as the situation requires. Most often, there's something called Mognet, which is a mail service among the Moogles that offers flavor text and hints along the way. The first one of these we meet is named Kupo, which is actually something of a verbal tic that a lot of Moogles have, in that they tend to add the word “kupo” to sentences in various places. I get the sense that “kupo” actually means something in Japanese, but I've never bothered to go looking for what that might be.
We also meet another Moogle named Stiltzkin, who's going on a trip and will sell the party some decent items at save points as the game goes on. More on him as he shows up, though.
Since this is the first save point, I took advantage of it and took a break in playing, since there's a good 45 minutes more of stuff to do before we get to where I want to end this chapter.
On the way across the rooftops, which is where we were going when I made use of the save point, we find that Vivi's a bit scared of heights. I know that feeling only too well. He and Puck do manage to sneak in successfully, of course, and we meet two more playable characters, Princess Garnet and Steiner. We can sort of tell that Garnet's up to something because she's acting a little funny in the cutscene. Either that, or Steiner sees Vivi and Puck and just can't or won't do anything about them just yet, because the play's starting. At least he's exited about it.
The play Zidane and his troupe are putting on is basically an amalgam of a few Sharkespear plays, based mostly on Romeo and Juliet, from what I can tell. Essentially, there's a princess who wants to run off with her peasant boyfriend, but the king insists that she marry the prince of another kingdom for political reasons, as was the practice at that time.
At the same time, we get to see Garnet getting ready to sneak off and stow away on the Prima Vista, the theater ship Tantalus travels and performs on. Naturally, this kind of schmutzes up the plan to kidnap the princess, but they make it work all the same.
Part of the reason it does is because the main force we get to see trying to find Garnet again is Steiner's Knights of Pluto, and Steiner has to go give the orders to all eight of his men one or two at a time, which kind of takes awhile, and can be kind of tricky. There's a reward to getting all of them, but I think it changes depending on how many we actually talk to. I think I pulled it off this time and got an Elixer for my trouble from the last guy, who's in the tower.
The tricky one is the guy who's in the square mezzanine or foyer or whatever it's called outside the theater, but at least he's the first one to say he's actually looking for the princess without being told to do so. Part of the fun with this one is that there are quite a lot of other folks to talk to in the process here, as well, most notably in the dining hall, kitchen, and library.
Along the way, Zidane and the others have to kick Steiner's ass a few times, as well. The first time he's got a leather hat and a silk shirt that the active party can steal. And, of course, Steiner does a limit break and causes the little flealike bugs called Oglops that one of Zidane's cohorts was carrying, and they use it as a chance to escape. The second and third times, he's on stage, so the option to get them is gone.
In between the second and third times, Vivi and Puck get caught and accidentally foil the plan, causing the queen to order an attack on the Prima Vista to keep Tantalus and Garnet from escaping. From there, we have to kick Steiner's ass for the third time because he won't let us have at the bomb that the queen fired onto the deck. The bomb winds up going off as a result and causes the ship to crash into a forest full of fog that it's said that nobody's escaped from.
The situation's a real mess because not only is the ship toast, but the princess is missing as well. Cinna and the others are freaking out about that when Zidane asks about it, thinking that maybe she got squashed under the ship when it came down. That part of the scene reminds me of the two times in the Star Trek movies we got to see the Enterprise get blown up, referenced here and here.
As the scene progresses, we get the first instance of a mechanic that, far as I know, is unique to this game in the series, called the Active Time Event, or the ATE, where we get to see other events going on at the same time someplace else. In this case, we see Garnet and Vivi being pursued and captured by one of the bigger monsters in the forest. Eventually, Zidane's gonna go looking for her, but that's where we'll pick up next time. This chapter has gone on for long enough now, so we'll pick up more or less here next time. See you then, folks, and DFTBA!