Part 13: Infiltrating GranorgMusic: Forever Proud
We've finally reached Granorg. Our contact should be here with our assignment.
As soon as we arrive, Aht runs ahead into the city.
The storied kingdom of Granorg at last. The agent's here, right?
Yes, at least he should be.
C'mon, guys! Hurry up!
Haha, good ol' Aht.
Let's hurry inside!
...... I heard this was a nation proud of its tradition, but somehow I thought it'd be... cleaner.
Thank Queen Protea. It's probably her tyranny that's left the country in such a mess.
I feel sorry for the people here, if this is the state their nation's in.
...... We'll talk later. Right now, we need to meet the agent and get our mission details from him. Let's go.
To put it bluntly, Granorg is a pretty shitty place to live. Right at the entrance there are tons of people who complain about how they're starving and how the soldiers treat them like trash.
What is going on in this country...?
There are also corpses littering the streets. When we try to go deeper into the city, we run into some dialog.
Vanoss and Liese come up behind us, and we go to the side of the plaza to speak.
Music: Unending Clear Blue Sky
Is it because Stocke's with us?
Well, Stocke, it looks like we part ways here. Perhaps we'll meet again someday if fate permits it.
We'll be working this city for a while, so drop by sometime! For you, free admission!
Aht? Isn't there something you want to say?
Hm? What's the matter?
...... *sniffle* ...... I don't wanna say goodbye to Stocke... *sob*
Aht, Stocke has a job to do. That's why he came here. You shouldn't disturb him.
Besides, we'll be in the same city for a while. You'll see him again...
No... It's not that...
Aht turns and runs into the city.
Oh, child, what are we gonna do with you?
My apologies, Stocke. She'll be all right. Don't worry about her. We'll be on our way now. Good luck to you all!
Yeah... Same to you.
Vanoss and Liese follow Aht into the city.
..... Well, now that we're on our own again, let's get back to the mission.
The agent's supposed to be at the square in the commercial district... Which is... Err... Towards the castle on this path, and then east... I think.
Well, Aht's left our party now, so we can't abuse her traps anymore. Oh well.
Music: Forever Proud
Across the plaza is this guy who sells Mana Crystals, the items we can use at save points to refill the party's HP and MP. They're really expensive for this point in the game, though, so I don't buy any. Pretty much every city has a guy like this, so you can always restock on Mana Crystals if you need to.
There's a sign just offscreen that's worth reading as well.
Resistance member sightings must be reported to the Granorg army.
It looks like the unhappy citizens have decided to do something about their horrible leader.
Just to the north of the plaza is a four-way crossroad. The agent is to the east, so in proper JRPG fasion, we're going to go everywhere we're not supposed to go first. We'll start by heading north, toward the castle.
Looks like there's quite a commotion here. This is as close as I can get (it looks like there's a gap between the people, but we can't fit.), but you can tell from here that there's a man up on the gallows.
Let's see what the citizens can tell us about this public execution.
"I heard that guy was captured inside the palace. I wonder how he got in... Also, why would he try and do something so stupid?"
"...What you see here is the public beating of a traitor. Oh, are you a traveler? ...You probably shouldn't be seeing this, then."
"This country has an underground movement opposing the queen called the Resistance. That person they captured is probably one of them."
"After they're done publicly beating him, they'll publicly execute him. What's happened to this country? There's no way the last kind would have done this."
"They say that this is all for the good of the people, but these are transparent lies... A morally bankrupt monarch can only bring about a bankrupt monarchy. This country is circling the drain. It's over... There's no hope... But someone... Someone has to do something..."
Well it looks like we won't be heading north anytime soon, so let's go back to the crossroad and head west, downtown.
There's an inn right by the entrance to downtown. There's a boy right by it who has something to say about the Desert Crows.
"I'm going to write them a letter and ask to be their apprentice! Then I'll rob that evil Queen Protea and give the people here all the treasure!"
I hate to break it to you, kid, but the Desert Crows aren't that great. We beat them easily, and we were only like, level five at the time.
Further west from the inn are the grocers. We talk to the man in the green coat.
"Hmm... It's not here, either. Excuse me, are you a traveler? My name is Hilstar. I'm an aspiring chef... But I need your help with something. Would you mind listening to my request?"
Hilstar: My father, the court chef, is going to taste my cooking. I'm trying to become the finest chef in the world. If I can't impess my father, I'm hopeless. So I decided to complete the ultimate dish... One my father said was impossible to perfect. If I can actually make this dish, there's no way he wouldn't be impressed. A giant boar steak, sauteed in a Cornet-style sauce. This is the "impossible" dish. I was wondering if you could gather the ingredients to make it for me.
Why don't you just ask a vendor? Wouldn't it be quicker?
Hilstar: Unfortunately, I don't think I could get a vendor to source the ingredients now. The boar meat I need is in Lazvil Hills, and the vegetables are only sold in Cornet Village.
I see. The vendors can't get those items for you due to the war.
Hilstar: Yes. The ingredients are basically separated by two armies at this point. Since Cornet Village is in Granorg- controlled territory, I was able to get some vegetables. But I need someone to get me the boar steak at the very least.
Hilstar: Thank you so much. I'll research the secrets to this dish and conquer it!
We'll pick that up next time we're in Lazvil. For now, we're going to speak to the nearby vendor about Conuts. You may remember a botanist in Alistel wanted us to find out how to grow them for him.
Do you have any produce from Cornet Village...? For instance, Conuts?
"Yes, actually. This is the last one in stock."
I don't want the seed. I just want information on how to grow them.
"Oh. I'm sorry, but I don't know. You'll have to go to Cornet Village and ask someone there."
Cornet Village, eh...
There's also a bar further west, but there's nothing for us there at the moment, so I head back to the crossroads and head east, into the commercial district.
(There... That looks like it may be the Alistellian agent. Guess I should go find out.)
"You three must have been sent by Heiss..."
That's right. You're the agent?
"That's me. I'll give you the short version. Princess Eruca is next in line for the Granorg throne. You're to assassinate her."
Assassinate Princess Eruca? Not Queen Protea?
"Use whatever means you deem necessary. It's entirely at your discretion. From here forward, there'll be no support from us. I'm leaving the country right away myself. That's all. Best of luck."
The agent leaves.
We're assassinating the Princess? By any means necessary, huh.
I had a feeling this would be a really important mission, but... An assassination? *sigh*
The screen flashes white, and...
Music: The Melody Connecting the World
You've safely reached Granorg, but you've been entrusted with a grave task. Only remember this... You are the one who decides what to do from here, Stocke. ...Let us now add a new chapter to the White Chronicle.
Hm? That there in your hand... It's a page of the White Chronicle.
We can use that to unseal a new power.
Unsealed the power of Mana Burst!
Mana Burst is a means to release your pent-up inner strength. The power just unsealed is the most basic Mana Burst, called Turn Break. Use it to rob enemies of their opportunities to act.
Those who travel with you can also use this power.
The others, too...? I see. I'll give it a try.
Mana Burst is a new mechanic for battle. I'll go into detail later this update, the next time we're in a battle.
Now then, what will you do?
Stocke climbs the stairs and enters the door on the left...
Music: Forever Proud
That's the mission, so that's what we're going to do. What do we know about her?
I've heard she's quite a lady, with beautiful golden tresses.
Why do you think she's the mark, and not Queen Protea?
Good point, Protea holds all the real power in Granorg. If the goal is to throw the country into chaos, she'd be a prime target...
A couple of people walk by behind us. They're visible for about a second before speech bubbles completely hide them from view, so I have no screenshots of them.
"Hey, did you hear that the princess might be involved with the Resistance...?"
"Shhh! What if the soldiers hear you talking like that!?"
Never mind the soldiers, did you guys catch that? Aha... I think this thing is starting to make sense.
Assuming that's true, then this could be quite a scandal in the making. It seems there's more to this than meets the eye...
Regardless, our first objective should be to secure a route into the castle. Let's gather some intel first.
There's still more sidequesting to be done here. First we head for the nearby item shop. The inside looks the same as the inside of every othe item shop in the game.
"Welcome. Oh, Princess Eruca's ring? The replica? Yes, it's quite popular. I'm afraid that we're sold out, and I don't know when we'll get more in stock."
Well great. Looks like that poor girl's day has been ruined.
Anyway, there's nothing else interesting in the commercial district, so let's head back to the main gate. We're stopped by a soldier along the way.
...Hm? What do you want?
"...... ...No, it's nothing."
We speak to him again.
Did you have something to say to me?
"Y-Yes... Wh-What is your relationship to her...?"
What? I don't understand.
"Don't play dumb! I know you entered the city with her!"
Do you mean Aht?
"No! Aht is just a little girl! I'm talking about Liese!"
I met them along my travels. That's all.
"Oh... I see... ...Hey, could you do me a favor? Can you bring Liese to me? I want to talk to her one more time. So, please! Bring her here!"
(What should I do...?)
Accept the job.
I can do that for you.
"Oh! Thank you!"
Liese is downtown, by the inn, practicing her dance routine.
I'm sorry, were you practicing? I have something that I needed to tell you.
That's fine. What did you want to discuss?
The gatekeeper asked me to bring you to him.
Oh no... Him again...
Did something happen between you two?
Hmm... There was something, but, maybe it was actually nothing... In short, we love each other. That's our relationship.
I gathered that. What I don't understand is why you don't go see him.
Humans and Beastkind can't be together. Our cultures, our ways of thinking are too different. So I shouldn't allow myself to get any closer to him. It'll just end in heartbreak. Honestly, if it wasn't for my job, I wouldn't have come here. I'm sorry, but could you go say no for me?
Back to the soldier, then.
I told her what you wanted, but she said she can't do that.
"...I knew it. I thought she might say yes if a traveling companion asked her... Thanks, though. I'll think of another way. I won't give up on her..."
That's all we can do for this soldier for now, so let's go grab another sidequest. We head into one of the rooms in the inn.
"It has to be THAT pigment. It must be..."
Is something wrong?
"Hm? Who are you? ...Actually, never mind that. I just need help. A miracle, actually. My name is Kaizan. I'm an experienced traveling artist. I've almost finished my new work, but the finishing touches aren't right. This will be my masterwork if I can finish it the way I want. But I've run into an impasse that may force this work to remain incomplete. I need green paint. I'm all out of green. I need a crisp, beautiful green and I can't finish this piece with anything less than the best."
I understand your request. Judging by the way you were acting earlier, that paint must be hard to come by.
"That's the problem... It's basically impossible to get... The green I need comes from shaving down an ore called Almakalite. Only one artisan knew the precise proportions to make the perfect green. But he died in an accident at Alma Mine... He loved Gran Plain, so I wanted this painting to be a tribute to him... And if I don't have that paint, this just won't be a fitting tribute."
I'll do my best.
"Thank you. I don't know how you'll be able to do it, but I have faith in you."
(In the other timeline Alistel conquered Alma Mine very early. Maybe the artisan's life turned out differently in that world...)
Alright, we've done all we can with sidequests, so let's get on with the story, shall we? Our goal is to gather information, so the law of videogames says we must head for the bar, west of the grocery area of downtown.
As we approach, two familiar men pass us.
Hey, weren't those two...
Yeah, they looked like those bandits we took down earlier.
The Desert Crows, or something like that, wasn't it?
The screen pans up, but the Desert Crows are nowhere to be seen.
Huh... They gave us the slip. Where'd they go?
That's weird. Let's go check behind the bar.
Well, no use worrying about those losers. Let's go get hammered!
Barkeep: Come to think of it... You guys weren't the ones making all that racket out back, were you?
Huh? I don't know what you're talking about. Is there something back there?
Barkeep: N-Not really... Just some stacks of old boxes and barrels. B-But if it wasn't you guys, don't worry about it. And, uh, those things are stacked pretty high, so keep clear of them, all right? We aren't responsible for any accidents.
The nearby soldier starts speaking, now.
"...Say, barkeep. Could I bother you for a sec? Don't you think... it kinda smells in here lately? Reminds me of a sewer. Is there some kinda hole in the ground?"
Barkeep: Hey, this place isn't THAT run down. The smell of the underground waterway just drifts this way if the wind is right.
"Ohhh... I didn't know that thing stretched all the way under here. I thought it only connected the palace to the city."
"...Er... It doesn't connect to the palace! Wh-What am I saying... J-Just forget I said anything! I've been drinking, see, and... Well, I'm a drunken liar! You hear me!? Please don't tell anyone you heard that from me!"
(An underground waterway... That may be useful. But where is the entrance...? If you can smell it from here, it shouldn't be too far...)
Well, the backside of the bar smelled pretty awful, so let's start our search there.
...Look here. There's a hole underneath all these boxes.
It looks more like an entrance to the underground waterway than a hole.
Yeah. I don't think the average hole has a ladder.
Someone must have made this. Think it was those "Desert Crows"?
It must lead to the palace.
If it does, won't it be dangerous?
Maybe, but it's worth checking out. Let's head down.
...But it stinks.
Oh, get down there, you sissy!
Music: Shadows Dance in the Darkness
Oh boy! Every game needs a sewer level!
As you could probably guess from the fact that it's a sewer level, this place is really awful and I don't plan to spend any longer here than necessary. After taking a few steps forward, Stocke spots something.
(What're those two doing?)
(Note: Hertz is the one with the black hair, Bram is the one with the sword and eyepatch.)
Bram: Don't sweat it; the intel I got is legit. It'll lead us right into the palace's clink.
Hertz: But we've walked everywhere, and all we've found are dead ends, bro.
Bram: No no, we've gotta use our noggins. I wager there's a mechanism of some sort...
Hertz: ...What kind of mechanism?
Bram: You saw that lever by the drawbridge, didn't ya? If we jerry-rig that somehow...
Bram: You scared the daylights outta me and my partner! How long've you been standin' there!?
Long enough. Say, aren't you guys the bandits we ran across in Lazvil Hills?
Bram: Ah, you remember, then! Name's Bram! Bram of the Desert Crows! ...I thought you guys were just grunts, but maybe we share the ol' shadow trade after all? If so... Too bad! The treasure's ours!
Hertz: That's right! We're going after Queen Protea's treasure!
Whatever. We're not after that kind of stuff. We aren't going to stop you.
Bram: Y-You sure? ......
Hertz: Bro? You hear that noise? It's kinda eerie.
Bram: You don't think there're... ghosts down here, do ya?
Hertz: Well... I did see the shadow of a little girl not so long ago.
Bram: ...This ain't the time for jokes like that. ...Hey, you want my advice? Just leave. This place ain't got nothin' but dead ends.
Bram: C'mon, Hertz, let's go put some elbow grease on that lever.
Hertz: Maybe it'll open a path!
Bram and Hertz head deeper into the sewer.
Strange guys aside, it sounds like we found our way into the palace.
This awful place is a series of thin walkways with planks between them acting as bridges. It's built like a simple maze, with levers we'll need to operate in order to open the path forward.
This is probably the first place most players will encounter an ambush, because these little assholes drop from the ceiling right on your head with no warning. If an enemy touches your back, they'll get the advantage in battle, similar to how you get the advantage when you knock an enemy out with your sword.
Music: Blue Radiance (Piano Arrangement)
Now's a great time to explain Mana Burst! You may notice new bars have been added to our status boxes. These are Mana Gauges, they fill as we give and receive attacks, and fill faster as we build large combos. Once a character's gauge is full, they can unleash the power of Turn Break.
Using Turn Break will allow us to select an enemy turn panel to delete. What makes this useful is that using it doesn't spend the character's turn, it only empties their Mana Gauge. Turn Break can be extremely useful for setting up massive combos during boss fights, or for simply stopping the enemy from attacking for a few turns while you heal.
Unfortunately, I couldn't get any shots of Turn Break in action, because...
The sewer is full of these assholes. That 50 isn't telling us how much HP Stocke lost, it's telling us how much of his Mana Gauge was depleted from that attack. Thanks to these enemies, it's just about impossible to fill a character's Mana Gauge in this place.
It's kind of funny, they gave us this new power just before a dungeon where it's impossible to use the damn thing.
Anyway, that's all I have to say about Mana Burst, so let's get back to the dungeon and get this over with.
Music: Shadows Dance in the Darkness
The sewer is full of dead ends like this.
Whenever we come to an area like that, there's always a nearby lever to pull. When we pull it...
Bridges rise out of the water, allowing us to continue forward.
Bram: Looks like some foot traffic opened up the passage proper. I almost forgot... That noise from before... Well, I just heard it again. All I'm sayin' is that we might not be alone down here. Just a bit of friendly advice... Watch your back.
Sounds like we'll have to fight a ghost or something. Whatever.
Mana Sight doesn't only reveal sparkling items, sometimes an entire chest will appear when we approach it. This chest had 2000G in it.
I just wanna say that videogames need to stop pulling this shit. Presenting the player with two paths with a 50/50 shot of either hitting a dead end or progress is just monotonous and needlessly time-consuming if you pick the wrong path. There is nothing of interest on between the fork that leads to this lever/dead end and the end of the paths, it's just a waste of time. And of course, the lever raises bridges right there, but we can't walk around the lever so we have to double back a second time just to cross.
It's just busywork, and I don't get why so many games do it.
Here's a shot of a surprise attack in action. I'm showing both screens so you can see how many hits we have to take before we can do anything about it. Surprise attacks are awful, and there's no way to avoid them your first time through this dungeon, because you won't expect enemies to just drop from the ceiling on you.
Why are sewer levels always so terrible? I don't care about how regardless of the game sewer levels all look the same (boring), but somehow sewer levels are always an example of the worst design a game has to offer. I can't think of a single game where a sewer level had interesting and pleasant design, they always seem to fall into the problem of being built as mazes that constantly throw bullshit and/or tedious mechanics at you.
Oh thank God, we're finally out of the sewer!
I guess this door leads into the castle dungeon or something?
AAAAA THERE'S MORE GOD DAMN IT.
(This is an accurate recreation of my reaction here the first time I played this.)
Thankfully, the ladder up is just a couple screens away.
Hertz: Righto, bro!
They climb the ladder just before we arrive.
Sounds like the palace should be up that way.
So we're finally sneaking in... The moment of truth. Err... I'm getting anxious...
Try to stay calm. If you don't, you'll make careless mistakes. Just consider it... another day on the job.
Y-You're right... We can always count on Stocke to keep his cool. Besides, those Crow guys don't seem to be taking it too seriously either.
Yeah... Those two might even be taking things a little too lightly. Hopefully they don't make any trouble for us up there. All right. Let's move.
We climb the ladder and end up in an open cell.
What genius designed the prison with an entrance to the sewer right in a cell? There's no way a prisoner dug a perfectly square hole through solid concrete and then installed a ladder, this had to have been an architect's design choice.
Bram: What's all this? You blokes have some business in the palace too? Well, I take it you're going up for an audience with Her Majesty. Not to worry. It's not my business, so I'll leave ya to you and yours. Be seein' ya!
Bram: Oh! Wait, wait, wait! Next time I see ya, I'll be takin' my revenge for last time! Fair warning!
Bram runs into the palace.
Hertz: Right, pardon us, gents!
Hertz: Hey, brooo! Don't go leavin' without me now!
Nothing to do here but follow them into the palace, I suppose.
Bram: Damn you! Get your grubby hands offa me!
"How did you get in here, anyway!?"
Ugh. They got caught...
They just had to get in our way, didn't they? Now the soldiers will be on high alert.
Right... It looks nearly impossible to get through undetected...
Forcing our way through isn't exactly an option.
(Forcing our way in... That's never a good way to go. Even if the assassination succeeded, we'd never make it out alive. But can we really avoid casualties, given our situation? I have to think about this one carefully...)
I'll be the decoy.
Nothing could possibly go wrong.
I'll take point and break through the guards. Raynie and Marco, use the distraction to get into the castle.
Y-You can't, Stocke! That's suicide!
You're going to try and take that many on by yourself? I'll go with you! Maybe then--
No. One decoy is enough. If I'm alone, I'll have a better chance of escaping the palace. Another person would just be a liability.
The assassination may be difficult even for two people as it is. That's why I'm entrusting it to you two. I'm counting on you.
Stocke charges down the hall toward the guards.
Music: To the Battlefield
Stocke chose to break through security alone... Acting as a decoy, the plan gave Raynie and Marco their chance to infiltrate the castle. Stocke performed admirably, and though he was heavily wounded, he managed to escape. But a few days later, he heard some unsettling news. Raynie and Marco were captured by Granorg soldiers. They were charged with the assassination of the princess, but something was amiss. The date the princess died and the date they infiltrated the castle were different. What did it mean? Granorg's citizens became enraged at the news of the assassination. The war intensifies...
I didn't think you'd be able to get through such tight security. You're a very talented secret agent.
But your comrades got caught up in something big while you escaped. Were they really the ones who assassinated the Princess?
You have to keep them alive. Stay with them, Stocke. If you're there, you can ensure that your entire team makes it out alive.
It wouldn't be wise to stir up any trouble at this point. ...Let's pull back. We need to reassess our situation.
"Get them upstairs! Cross reference them with that tip off we got!"
We return to the sewer's exit to discuss our next plan of action.
What should we do, Stocke? That passage is crawling with guards, and we'll never get through unnoticed.
There's that white flash we've become familiar with.
Music: The Melody Connecting the World
It's faint, but I sense the Chronicle's energy here as well...
...Then taking down those guards won't solve anything.
Indeed. But it will be difficult to pass them without being discovered...
Do you have an idea of how you will accomplish this...?
...I do. Heiss is the key. He single-handedly created Specint. His espionage skills are unparalleled. He taught me the basics after I transferred from the army. But just the basics. He may know a skill that would be useful at a time like this. ...Then again, I doubt he'd just up and teach it to me...
Isn't it normal for an employer to give their subordinates the skills they need to succeed?
He's anything but a normal employer... The more you struggle, the more he wants you to test your own limits. That's the Heiss I know.
I see... Then he might teach you if you were not his subordinate.
The other timeline...! You're right. I left Heiss in that history.
If you cannot extract something from him due to your current relationship... Alter the relationship, and perhaps you will have the chance.
True enough. I'll give it a try. If there's an opportunity to run into Heiss in that timeline... That would be my chance.
That's the spirit. You're growing quite accustomed to traversing history. Keep it up, Stocke.
Well then, until we meet again.
Well, say goodbye to the Standard History, we won't be seeing it for awhile. We won't return here until chapter 3 of the Alternate History.