Hello and welcome to my liveblog of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, possibly my favorite game for the Game Boy Advance, which I have started playing again recently.
The game begins in a snowy town called Ivalice, in which two groups of four school children are having a snowball fight. One of the boys (either Lyle, Colin or Guinness, whom I will call the LCG Trio) complains about being on the same team as the relatively timid Mewt Randell, and teases him about his stuffed bear.
Our protagonist, Marche Radiuju, steps in, but doesn't say anything, prompting the LCG Trio to tease him for his status as a new kid and compared to a girl. A girl named Ritz Malheur takes umbrage at this, but then insists that Marche tell us his name. Soon afterward, the snowball fight begins, under the supervision of Mr. Lesaie.
The snowball fight is essentially a mandatory tutorial for moving and fighting under the supervision of Ritz and Mr. Lesaie. You only have one ability, the Snowball, which does a single point of damage if it hits, with most of the group having a few dozen points of health. I suppose it's realistic, as an ordinary snowball won't do much to injure a person, and these kids wouldn't be able to do much in an actual battle.
Of course, there's someone who has a low amount of hit points even by this standard; Mewt. Everyone on the opposing team seems to focus on him, and with 8 hit points (compared to most of the other kids who have a few dozen HP), he won't last long.
Before Mewt can be KOed, the battle comes to an end with a scripted event in which two of the bullies chide Mewt for running away; I'm not sure if it's a result of his health dropping low enough, or everyone getting a turn. A scene follows, in which the other three boys continue throwing snowballs at Mewt.
Mewt insists that he's fine, and while one of the LCG Trio says that it's proof that he is fine, Marche points out that he'll be treated worse if he lets them know that they're hurting him.
One thing I've always been curious about is what kind of person the sole girl on the opposing team is. She's not as unpleasant as Lyle, Colin or Guinness, but she doesn't speak out against the way Mewt is treated like Ritz does and Marche tries to (and neither does her counterpart, who's Marche, Mewt and Ritz's teammate, but that's another matter).
In any case, one of the LCG Trio strikes Mewt with another snowball, one that has a rock in it. Ritz protests, but the boys respond by calling her hair white, and saying that she dyes it. A fight is about to break out, but Mr. Lesaie has had enough, and decides to call the three bullies in for a punishment, while checking on Mewt.
After the snowball fight ends, Mewt thanks Marche and Ritz. Mewt invites Marche to come buy a book with him, but Marche declines the offer, having to get his brother out of the hospital. Marche points out that his brother was born with a certain disease that weakens his constitutions and prevents him from walking, and the Radiuju family moved to Ivalice because it's better for him. They decide to meet up at Marche's home later.
On the way back home, they pass a man getting scolded by two other men, and Mewt is quite displeased with this. After the scolding ends, the man, who's Mewt's father, comes over, and greets him; while he seems nice enough, Mewt seems less than comfortable having him around, and reminds him that he still has work to do, prompting his father to leave.
According to Mewt, his father used to work at a larger company, and after Mewt's mother died, his father"broke down big time". Marche, however, points out that in spite of everything, he does seem to care for Mewt, an observation Mewt doesn't contest.
If you're playing the Japanese version, the scene comes off as completely different. Mewt's father was driven to drink by his wife's passing, and this reference to alcohol (ab)use is obviously censored for this game.
In any case, Marche soon has to part ways with Mewt and Ritz, and asks them to meet him back at his house. After Marche is gone, Ritz turns to Mewt and suggests that Marche, for some reason, doesn't have a father. Her remarks are ambiguous, but it's suggested that she doesn't know for certain. Apparently, the radio drama confirms the theory that Marche and his brother's parents are divorced.
Marche meets his brother, Doned, in their room, and you can see that Doned uses a wheelchair. Doned makes some good natured banter about Marche's inability to do sports, even if he's significantly better at the snowball fight than Mewt is.
The Radiuju brothers' mother then announces that Marche's guests are here, and Marche asks her to send them up. After some introductions, Mewt produces the book, one that he bought in spite of not knowing the title of the book, much less its contents. He then opens it up.
A brief cutscene follows, showing some illustrations of the characters from the game world and some odd writing.
The four kids then try to make sense of what's written in there, wondering if it's Latin or some such, and propose that it might be magic. Doned says that Marche could use magic to become better at sports, much to Marche's annoyance (in one fan translation, Doned says he could use magic to become able to walk).
In a scene showing some fairly blatant Foreshadowing, Mewt wonders if they could change the world to be the way they wanted, possibly to his favorite game, Final Fantasy. Ritz and Mewt then have to leave, and Marche sees them out. Meanwhile, Doned wonders what things would be like if he could use magic.
Ivalice then changes literally overnight, with the humans of the town becoming various fantastic races, monsters appearing and the town changing from a snowy village to a desert. In the bedroom, Doned disappears, while Marche then floats and changes into a soldier.
Marche awakens in the middle of a town, and, while disoriented, bumps into a Bangaa, whom he makes the mistake of calling a "lizard". A moogle named Montblanc then arrives, telling Marche to apologize. Marche does so, and then begins to walk off with Montblanc, before the Bangaa and his companion challenge him to an engagement. Oddly enough, the original Japanese suggested that the Bangaa didn't accept Marche's apology, while the English localization vaguely implied that he started the engagement for the heck of it.
Marche is quite confused, but Montblanc does his best to explain how the engagement works.
You can also see the Law system at play, which is one of the more controversial parts of FFTA. Here, however, to my knowledge, you can't use any items, so it's easy enough to defeat your enemies without the situation becoming Unwinnable.
The first engagement is quite easy; essentially focus on the weaker of the two Bangaa, and they'll go down without much trouble. It's not quite impossible to lose, but it doesn't require much thought.
In the aftermath of the engagement, one of the Bangaa uses a Potion (one has to wonder where the other is), but then the Judge notices, gives him a red card (which, like in soccer, means instant removal from the game, compared to a yellow card being a warning) and sends him to prison in Sprohm. Usually, the impact of an action on the course of the battle, combined with the strength of the law, determines a punishment; if you injure a unit with an attack, you'll likely get off with a yellow card, but if you kill a unit, you'll almost certainly get a red card.
Montblanc explains how prison works, and Marche, intimidated by the idea of going to prison, and confused by Montblanc's name-dropping, wonders what he's gotten himself into.
After things have calmed down, Marche thanks Montblanc, who tells him to never call a Bangaa a lizard. Marche apologizes, saying that he's never seen a real one before, or something like Montblanc. Montblanc, confused, asks if he's from Cadoan or Muscadet. If you think about it, it makes sense. Marche is clearly not from their current location, Cyril, hasn't been to the Bangaa city of Sprohm, and Marche has never seen him around Baguba Port, the Moogle city, so only the Nu Mou and Viera cities remain.
Montblanc says that they're in the city of Cyril in the land of Ivalice, and they work through the confusion of what "Ivalice" is exactly- a town or a country- and whether Marche has actually seen bangaa or moogles before. Regarding the latter, it's suggested that Marche has played Final Fantasy (although the twelfth installment is the only one that would fit, and it wasn't released at the time), but it's not clear why Marche seems so unfamiliar with the races in it.
Of course, Montblanc, being from a medieval High Fantasy world, doesn't understand what a video game is, much less the idea that he's part of one. He doesn't believe Marche, but wants to hear more about it, so he takes him back to the clan, a group of individuals who fight together and do missions. The default clan name is "Nutsy," but I tend to put in my own, based on what I feel like naming it at the time.
You now can place Sprohm on the map. Supposedly, there's a way of getting really good treasure by placing certain locations in certain places, but it's hard to figure out without a guide, so I just place them wherever i feel like. In any case, by placing the icons, you can get some odd terrain combinations, like a forest surrounded by deserts, or a lawless Jagd (I'll discuss this more in detail later) next to a city.
Now the next step is to get a mission. At this point, there is only one mission available, Herb Picking. Here, you look over the details of the mission, including the objectives and the rewards, choose which items to bring on the mission (which can increase your stats, and may in some cases, be required, but you don't have any yet), then confirm your selection and pay the token information fee for the mission.
The first mission is fairly easy, pitting your group of Marche, and one representative of each of the five playable races against a few monsters with relatively basic abilities. Most engagements allow a maximum of six units against five or six enemies, save for special circumstances. At this point, however you only have a few basic abilities (since they're granted by equipment, until you gain enough AP to earn them permanently).
The music for this mission, which plays in most battles, is a bit slow and generic. By comparison, the "Companions Who Surpassed Their Tribe," from the snowball fight is a more upbeat and exciting battle theme that would have been better as the default theme. The game's soundtrack is generally quite good, so it's unfortunate that this piece is a bit generic.
After the battle, Marche and Montblanc get around to picking the herbs; often, the missions they do are a certain task, and the enemies are just standing in the way of it. Marche remarks that the mission was easy, and Montblanc says that he picked herbs when he was younger. Montblanc remarks that the mission was cheap, which he suggests was a benefit for being a new clan.
Essentially, the tutorial is over, and now you know what you're doing, so the world has started to open up. This is a good place to stop for now.
The Next Installment: Marche gets accustomed to doing missions as a clan and meets one of his friends.