The Balamb Garden University, or BGU, is one of three institutions in the world responsible for training SeeDs: an elite mercenary force available for hire for military or peacekeeping operations, effectively providing armies the world over with a stock of high-quality combatants. Of course, JRPG age conventions immediately introduce a level of discomfort here, as most of said combatants are essentially underage. As the game begins, a group of students from the BGU are due to pass their final exam. It turns out to be far more eventful than expected, but they succeed and are promptly given a problematic first assignment. Galbadia, the largest military power in the world, is seeking to expand under the leadership of President (read: dictator) Deling Occultand his mysterious acolyte, the sorceress Edea. A tiny resistance group called the Timber Owls has contacted the BGU to help them liberate Timber, a small country that was invaded by Galbadia some 20 years prior. As you can probably guess, things don’t go according to plan, and Edea reveals herself as the real mastermind behind Galbadia’s expansion. The world soon finds itself on the brink of an Occult War, something that has already occurred in the past and resulted in the destruction of the Centra civilisation. Thwarting Edea’s plans seems to be the answer to the problem, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps the answer lies in the strange dreams the team experiences…

We’re back to military expansionism, that good old staple of videogame plots and, incidentally, of all even-numbered FFs in the series up to this point (I’ve literally just noticed this). And a group of orphaned (except for Rinoa) youngsters who need to cope with the threat, just like in the early games of the series. Growing up and accepting one’s responsibilities are also both prominent aspects of the storyline, which fits its ‘educational’ context. The story becomes a lot more complicated though, and you’re definitely in for a few surprises.

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