A thousand years prior to the game’s timeframe, the War of the Magi transformed the world into a barren wasteland. Magic has disappeared from human knowledge since then, partly out of fear of its destructive potential, to be replaced by technology. Yet, recently, Emperor Gestahl of Vector and his demented general, Kefka, have been researching the means of bringing magic back in order to–surprise, surprise–dominate the world. Their research focusses on Espers, mysterious magical creatures, and Terra, a strange young woman who seems to be able to use magic naturally. Her memory has been wiped, and she basically serves as a mindless WMD. Rumours of an Esper having been discovered frozen in ice in the Narshe coal mines prompt Kefka to send Terra and a couple of soldiers on an investigation. The mission doesn’t go according to plan, Terra finds herself on her own, meets members of the Returners, a resistance movement fighting against the Empire, and that is what kickstarts the action.
The storyline is one of the game’s main qualities, blessed with good pacing and variety. Magic, for the first time, is not simply accessible to everyone and not necessarily perceived as a benefit. Other themes which weren’t present in the series before, such as genetic engineering and experimentation, also make their debut and give the game a very welcome darker edge.