The Kingdom of Baron has been building up its military forces and expanding its territory. Cecil, a Dark Knight and commander-in-chief of Baron’s airship fleet, the Red Wings, returns from a raid on the peaceful city of Mysidia, and starts questioning the morality of such reckless destruction. Sensing his doubts, the king demotes him and sends him out on a mission to prove his loyalty, alongside the captain of Baron’s Dragoons, Cain/Kain, who is also Cecil’s best friend. However, the mission simply proves the king’s villainy, and Cecil, with the help of the various people he meets on his travels, decides to make a stand and hinder Baron’s growing imperialism, especially as he discovers that there is more at stake that just territorial squabbles. The king is actually a pawn in the hands of his mysterious general, Golbez(e), who seeks the power of the elemental crystals which uphold the balance of the world for some blatantly nefarious purpose.
As you can see, the elemental crystals are back again, but there are very few recycled elements from the original FF besides that. The story gains in structure, and takes some very welcome darker twists and turns. We are treated to a hero who has allegiance issues and conscience crises, and actually starts out on the wrong side of the good-evil divide. What’s more, his is not the only, nor the most serious case of such boundary-hopping. In fact, Cecil is all but upstaged by Cain/Kain (just look at the game’s original logo), who has since become a fan-favourite.
The biggest criticism I have in regards to the storyline is the game’s over-reliance on ‘fake deaths’. No fewer than four different party members find themselves in apparently lethal situations, only to magically reappear safe and sound some time later. One other party member does actually die, but by the end of the game, you might be more surprised that it worked, rather than moved. Another important criticism concerns two gratingly sexist episodes, even by oldschool JRPG standards: the whole visit to T(o)roia and a late-game interlude between Cecil, Edge, Rosa and Rydia.