All right, the first thing to do before starting the game is make sure that the options are where I want them. In this case, I want tutorials off (because I already know everything) and Hyper Speed on (this is unlocked by beating the game and allows me to massively speed up fights so they only take a couple of seconds).
With that set up, I begin the game and am dropped into Chapter 1: The fugitive Bearing Hope.
At the southernmost tip of the continent is the land of Norn Valley.
Although this barren land of rocky mountains and red earth is Fantasinia Kingdom territory, it has become a haunt for thieves.
Through this wasteland runs a girl, kicking up a cloud of dust as she flees.
Battlefield 01: Thieves' Stronghold
Valley Entrance: Check Point!
Beyond the Cliff: Check Point!
- Girl with Sword: *pant* *pant* ...! A dead-end!?
Small Stronghold: Check Point!
- Man's Voice: She can't have gone far. Keep your eyes peeled!
- Girl with Sword: What now...? If I don't do something, I'll be caught... You're not exactly helping your chances by talking to yourself, lady. Oh! That's...!
- Girl with Sword: Perhaps I could hide here...
(some soldiers appear near the girl's former location)
Valley Entrance: Check Point!
- Axe Soldier: Didn't I see her run this way...?
(A woman in armour appears at the valley entrance.)
Small Stronghold: Check Point!
- Armored Woman: What's wrong?
- Axe Soldier: Forgive me, Ma'am. We lost her trail around here. Do you really need to apologize for something totally out of your control?
- Armored Woman: Are there any likely hiding places nearby?
- Masked Soldier: She might have ducked into that old fortress there. This is what you get for choosing the most obvious hiding spot int he immediate area.
Blaze! -The fire is lit!-
Burning Stronghold: Check Point!
- Armored Woman: Alright, torch the place. We'll smoke her out.
- Sword Soldier: Yes, Ma'am!
High Road: Check Point!
- Armored Woman: It's a question of what's less painful... Fire? Or my sword. Just when you were looking to not be a complete psychopath...
- Guy's Voice: Hey! Whaddaya think you're doing!? The guy in question happens to be Spike Spencer, doing one of the better voices in the game.
- Armored Woman: Huh!? Who're you?
(Two guys appear on the road.)
- Silver-Hair Boy: That's exactly what I was gonna ask about you!
- Masked Soldier: It's the thieves that infest this dump! It's almost like they might, you know, live in the fort you just burned down.
- Flunky: Are they allied with the scum who attacked us?
- Thief Leader: You've got some nerve, burning down our home! We'll show you what we do to anyone who messes with us!
- If Milanor dies...
- If you use up all your cards...
After that cutscene, I'm immediately dropped into the preparation screen, where I can't really do much right now. I can look over my characters, check out the map of the area, and get incredibly irritated at the five-second loop that's playing this whole time.
At any rate, my forces currently consist of Flunky the Thief and Milanor the Stray Thief (that is the absolute worst class name I have ever encountered). Flunky is a guest, as shown by the fact that he can't gain any XP. They're both armed with what the game considers to be axes, though Milanor is equipped with one that's infuriatingly named after the second-best scythe in Riviera
Also, take a good look at the weapon Milanor's carrying
and tell me how that can be considered an axe.
Seriously, what the hell, Satoko Kiyuduki?
Anyway, there's nothing to do on the character select screen right now, so I just hit X to confirm my "selections" and...
...go to the card selection screen. You use cards to fight in this game, and you're going to need a lot of them. I start with five: Steal, Mind Change, Refreshment, Mirage, and Rockfall. Only two or maybe three of those are worth using into the endgame, but right now I need all the help I can get.
After selecting all of my cards (each mission has a card limit; this one coincides with the total number of cards I have), I head right into the battle...
...after one more cutscene!
- Armored Woman: Pah! What can a bunch of petty thieves do? Do remember that these guys are, in fact, callow youths. You might do best not to taunt them.
- Thief Leader: You'll eat those words!
I then get to choose a card to use for my first turn. Each card has four things of note: movement, power, a skill, and an Ace Type. You can ignore those last two for now. Movement is how far you can move your characters during your turn, and it's shared between all your characters. Power, meanwhile, is used to determine how much damage you do (obviously).
For now, I choose Steal, which has 12 movement and 1000 power. I then move Milanor to where the sword girl was in the intro cutscene, where he discovers...
Bumpy Road: Check Point!
Discovery! -What's this!?-
- Thief Leader: Hm? Well lookee here...
(Item get: Hair Band)
- Thief Leader: What's this?
There's stuff hidden in the scenery of almost every map in the game, and you won't find half of it without a guide.
I then move Flunky to the nearest enemy, a Bandit. In order to attack this guy, I press Square while my cursor is on Flunky. I indicate the enemy I wish to attack, confirm my selection, and fight it out!
Battles work like so:
- You can only start one fight per turn. Later I'll have a method of getting multiple enemies with one attack, but right now it doesn't matter.
- Each unit has 8 dudes in it (6 in the GBA version), and it loses a fight when all of them are defeated.
- Each fight (called a clash) starts with a charge where the attacking unit chops down some of the defending unit's members, then a counter where the defending unit does the same.
- After that, the two units fight. There are a few ways you can intervene, but none of them are available at the moment so all I can do is watch my pixel-men fight the other pixel-men.
- Once one unit is defeated, damage is calculated. How much damage the winners do is based on the number of members who survived, a token calculation using stats, and a few other miscellaneous factors that are all lumped together under "bonuses".
- The game generates a percentage using these factors, then applies it to your card's power to get the damage you do to the target's Morale (which is the replacement for HP in this game).
- At this point, damage is altered by a percentage that is based on the terrain the losing unit is in (the GBA version applied this directly to the damage you do, which led to lots of wins that did nothing for you).
- The card's power is then increased based on how much damage you do.
I'll explain this more thoroughly in a mechanics update later, but right now all you need to know is that Flunky won, the bandit died, and Steal gained 40 power.
I then use the remaining movement (4, for anyone wondering) to move Milanor to where the bandit was standing. There's another enemy right next to that particular square, and I want her to attack Milanor on the enemy turn.
Upon ending my turn, Milanor is attacked by the enemy I put him next to. She's an Assassin, and Assassins use bows. Bows can't be countered, which gives her enough of an advantage to bring Milanor's unit down to just him. However, for this map and this map only, Milanor is totally unkillable, and thus he wins and kills the assassin.
On my next turn, I choose Mind Change. This card has 6 movement and 1300 power. I move Milanor next to the last enemy on the map, the armoured lady from the intro cutscene. She's a Valkyrie, and they use swords.
Moving next to her also triggers a cutscene:
- Thief Leader: C'mon! I'll show you a real fight!
- Armored Woman: Such impertinence!
I attack her, and Milanor reduces her Morale from 1160 to 536.
- Thief Leader: Heh! Still think we're just a bunch of petty thieves?
- Armored Woman: (...He's good!)
I then suspend my game, because I want to savescum the results of this next turn, and for a very specific purpose.
The armoured woman attacks Milanor, and promptly bounces off his Plot Invincibility Shield. This defeats her, which naturally leads to a victory cutscene.
Fended off the enemy! -Milanor achieved his revenge!-
Pull Back! -Time to regroup!-
- Thief Leader: What do you think of that, huh?
- Masked Soldier: Th-They're stronger than we thought!
- Armored Woman: Accursed thief...! Withdraw the troops! We're pulling out!
After the enemies retreat, I'm taken to the victory screen. It informs me that Milanor was the MVP for that battlefield, because he did the most damage. The MVP gains a point or two (depending on whether you finish the map in a certain amount of time or not) in a random stat.
In this case, I finished the map in a total of four turns (counting every turn by every side), and Milanor's bonus was added to his Luk. This is good, for reasons I'll explain later.
I also obtained the armoured woman's Iron Choker, and the card she was using, Revolution.Once I can use its skill, it'll be quite handy. It's still handy right now, though, because it has 10 movement and 1300 power.
Anyway, one more cutscene for the road.
Burnt Stronghold: Check Point!
- Thief Leader: Everyone still standing, come and gather 'round! They knew what they were doing... We lost a few men. Hm? Hey! You in there!
- Girl with Sword: !?
- Thief Leader: I know you're hiding in there. It's safe to come out now. Evidently, these are the nice kind of thieves.
(The girl leaves the former fort.)
- Girl with Sword: ......... When will JRPG writers learn that punctuation is not acceptable dialogue?
- Thief Leader: Hmmm... you're a pretty one. What're you doing here?
- Flunky: Isn't she a survivor from Castle Paltina? Apparently Twitter is a real thing in this high fantasy setting.
- Thief Leader: What? So... those guys were from Bronquia's army? Note that Milanor is explicitly illiterate. How he knows politics well enough to figure that out is therefore beyond me.
- Girl with Sword: ...Please! I have nowhere else to turn! I need your help to defeat the Empire! This girl's plan is seriously to enlist the first random group of tough-looking people she sees?
- Thief Leader: Our help, eh... Well, it won't come cheap. I'll think about it if you give me that sword of yours. Unfortunately, it's kinda glued to her hand.
- Girl with Sword: ...This sword is precious to me. I'll not part with it. But I can give you anything else. Name your price. ''...Probably not the smartest thing to say to a band of thieves whose leader's first meaningful interaction with her was to hit on her.
- Thief Leader: Anything...? That's a lot to offer.
- Girl with Sword: ...I am Princess Yggdra of Fantasinia. And I am glad you said that, because I'm sick of typing "Girl with Sword". If you aid me, you have my word as royalty. Royalty of a now-nonexistent nation, sure, but...
- Thief Leader: Hmmm... Alright... How 'bout your castle? We need a new base, you see.
- Yggdra: Very well. This is one of the smarter decisions Yggdra makes in this game. That should give you an idea of what she's like. Although, right now it's being occupied by the Empire...
- Thief Leader: We'll just have to steal it back from them, won't we? I couldn't stay here even if the fort was still standing.
- Flunky: We've already picked a fight with the Empire, after all.
- Yggdra: Then... begging your pardon, Mr...?
- Thief Leader: Milanor's the name. Finally! You've got a deal, Princess.
- Yggdra: Thank you...
- Milanor: Let's move out, everyone. And you'd better be ready to help unload the moving van when we get there! Is that sword all you've got to defend yourself? You don't have anything else?
- Yggdra: Well... I have these.
- Milanor: Hey, cards! These'll help.
Honestly, I don't mind card-based battle systems, but it's still ridiculous that military forces in this setting determine how far they move and how they fight using cards. It wouldn't be so hard to believe if they didn't tie movement range to the cards, but I guess if they think it's best...
- Yggdra: This is the 1st Cavalry's... The other is from the 2nd Cavalry. They're from the knights who gave their lives for me.
- Milanor: Then we'll make use of these against Bronquia. It'll put their souls to rest.
- Yggdra: ...Yes, I believe so, too. I hear these cards hold an ancient power within them. I must borrow those powers now. You don't have to be so melodramatic about it! Only with them can I make all of our wishes a reality...
- Milanor: That's right. (Card Get: Banish and Sanctuary)
I'm then given the chance to save my game. I do so, of course, because this has been going on for a stupidly long time already and I'm not about to add another overly long battle right now.