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Zodiac Brave Story 6/9/21

An army lays dead around him. His sister sits in the clutches of demons. But as Ramza Beoulve wanders the ruins of a castle, he sees his life has just as many successes as failures. Chapter 102, No Less Than You, is up.

That's a wrap on Part 4, and we'll start updating again on either 6/30 or 7/7.

 

Writing this one was a bit strange: if there's a section of the story that first called me to write this novelization, it's this one. Between Wiegraf's transformation, the Duke's cruelty, and the battle for Riovanes Castle, this part of the story seized me from the first time I played it as a child, and I wanted so badly to tell it in my own way.

 

But so much always changes between conception and realization, if only mechanically. When I first outlined the story, I hadn't quite realized Radia's character yet. Nor had I decided whether Malak or Rafa would be my perspective character in the Hand. Hell, I was planning on having the whole group go to Riovanes from the outset: I didn't realize Ramza would set out alone until I started actually writing it all out! Writing, like any plan, does not survive contact with reality.

 

But reality intrudes in other ways, too. I published the first part of the Zodiac Brave Story on 8/23/16. When I did so, my beloved grandfather and brother were still alive. Donald Trump was not yet president. And none of us had ever heard the term Covid-19.

Grief is the biggest reason Parts 3 and 4 took so much longer to write than Parts 1 and 2, but not grief alone. The last year has been a struggle: creating in that time cost me more than I realized it would. I was stuck for months on a single set of chapters: on Izlude's interrogation, and it's aftermath. Writing is always personal, but it takes more of a toll now, with more of my own losses and traumas to deal with.

I already gave some small part of the struggle I had realizing this Part to Alazlam Durai, with his own fictional losses and fictional struggles. But if I gave him my struggles, I must also give him my strengths. Alazlam Durai wants to reach the truth. I want to share a story I've loved for decades in my own way. And neither of us does these things alone.

Thank you for reading.

Zodiac Brave Story 6/2/21

Lost in a maelstrom of screaming souls, a dead boy forgets even his own name...until the voices of those he loves reach out to him across the void. Chapter 101, Miracle, is up.

This is an important chapter for a lot of reasons, and one I've been waiting to write. What Malak experiences here is important to the most fundamental expansion I've made in the Zodiac Brave Story, and we're going to spend the next three parts untangling what exactly it means for our characters and the world in which they live. It was also a nice way to send off Berkeley, Clarice, and Clara, who were some of my favorite supporting characters to write.

Full disclosure: their names are taken from the generic characters my friends and I roleplayed as during a group playthough of Final Fantasy Tactics, and they draw elements of their characters from those friends. It was pretty fun to tell those friends, "Hey, I'm brutally murdering you this week!"

Zodiac Brave Story 5/26/21

A wounded woman cradles her dying brother with the swords of assassins at her throat. A young man struggles to find some way to save her. And a dead man strolls casually across a rooftop, to make his demands. Chapter 100, Dead Man Walking, is up.

It's nice to finally have introduced our endgame villains! We've met Loffrey before (albeit only in passing), but I've wanted to give Cletienne something to do for a long time, and I figured this would properly help hide what happened at Riovanes (since any survivors would likely reveal the Templars were there). Loffrey's "Class" is a bit weird and we'll get into it later, but Cletienne's main class is Summoner, as I hope you would guess from him riding Ramuh into battle here.

I'm having a surprisingly good time writing Lucavi Elmdor. Since we actually got to spend some time with him before his transformation, it's fun to play with the contrasts between the humble, thoughtful man Ramza met in a different era of his life, and the confident creature we see now. Wiegraf was interesting because we see the trajectory of his fall: how he loses enough of himself to be willing to become a Lucavi. Elmdor's case is a bit different, and feels precisely the opposite of writing Barinten. I'm looking forward to doing more with him in Part 5.

Zodiac Brave Story 5/19/21

His army is slaughtered. His castle lies in ruins. But for all he's lost, the Grand Duke has still farther to fall. Chapter 99, Fallen, is up.

I'm not going to lie: it took me a couple drafts to figure out exactly how this chapter should end. I knew what the Duke's fate should be since I started writing him, but nailing the right blend between detail and the horror of the unknown took some doing. I hope I got there in the end.

 

I wanted to change the scene of his death a bit (so that his ranting here is more evidence of a profound breakdown than of having the situation in hand). I also wanted to change how he gets the better of Rafa: how it's an act of surprise, rather than one of cunning or psychological power. I'm also unsure whether I properly conveyed why Malak doesn't simply strike the Duke down here.

Zodiac Brave Story 5/5/21

Alone in the broken fortress of an enemy, Ramza Beoulve faces down a demon sprung from the body of a man he once admired. Chapter 98, Belias, is up.

This is a chapter I started writing almost at the same time I starated working on the Zodiac Brave Story, and it's gone through a number of revisions since then. I knew early on that it would involve Beowulf and Radia (once I figured out the particular versions of those characters), but the dimensions of the conflict (both physical and emotional) kept changing as the story changed, not to mention the narrative stakes. On some level, Wiegraf Folles is one of the most importance characters in Final Fantasy Tactics, and I wanted to do my interpretation of him justice. I hope I succeeded.

Zodiac Brave Story 4/21/21

As an explosion shakes the ancient fortress in which she's been held as a captive, Alma Beoulve braves bloody hallways in the hope of escape. Chapter 97, Castle of Monsters, is up.

I'm going to keep changing how events go down in Riovanes Castle, and Alma's scene here is an example where I think everything works out just right. The expanded characterizations I've given to Alma, Vormav, Izlude, and the Hand give every part of this chapter a nice bit of extra dramatic weight. I like how things have turned out so far. I hope you feel the same.

Zodiac Brave Story 4/7/21

As a mortal man, Wiegraf Folles was strong enough to challenge heroes and princes, and to make the most fearsome warriors of Ivalice tremble in their boots. Now, he hosts a demon of legend, and his strength can shatter armies. And it is all Ramza Beoulve can do to survive. Chapter 96, Pathetic Wretch, is up.

Some version of this chapter has been drafted since I began the story in 2016. Wiegraf Folles is one of the highlights of Final Fantasy Tactics, and the final battle against him in the game is one of its strongest moments. I'll get into more of the mechanics of adapting the battle for Riovanes in a later news post, but I want to get granular with the battle against Wiegraf in particular here.

I think I may have said, in an earlier news post, that if I had been in charge of Final Fantasy Tactics, Wiegraf would have been the main villain of the story, replacing Vormav. That said, this is still an incredible climax battle in the original game. Wiegraf is an enigmatic character in Part 1, with a heroism that seems at odds with the barbaric nature of the Death Corps: your encounters with him set the tone brilliantly for the moral ambiguity that characterizes so much of FFT. 

Just as importantly, the boss fight against Wiegraf near the end of Part 1 is one of the game's first major challenges. He has access to the same unique powers Agrias demonstrated in the prologue at a time when your characters likely only have access to the base classes (and probably only a handful of those, only partially developed) and has a robust group of allies to back him up. Beating him is difficult, but rewarding.

The return to Orbonne (and Wiegraf's reappearance) are already interesting in themselves (seeing how the lives of others have been sucked into the Church's orbit, not just your own), but the duel between Ramza and Wiegraf at Riovanes is the best bit. You face a foe who was once strong enough to fight your entire team in one-on-one combat, trading barbs on philosophy and morality all the while. It's a perfect intersection of story and gameplay, and probably one of my favorite gaming moments of all time. It played no small part in making me attempt this novelization in the first place. I hope I did it justice.

Zodiac Brave Story 3/24/21

The Grand Duke has all the great powers of Ivalice dancing in the palm of his hand. Chapter 95, Out of Hand, is up.

 

This was probably the easiest Barinten chapter to write thus far, and one I drafted pretty damn early in the writing process. When I increased Barinten's role in the story (to make him a more significant supporting antagonist, and a perspective character, to boot), I didn't expect him to be so difficult to write. Then again, I drafted this story before the Trump Presidency, so maybe I just find such naked evil a little harder to stomach when it's a part of my daily life. Setting Barinten against other villains (and making him nervous in the process) makes it a little easier to get in his head.

Zodiac Brave Story 3/10/21

A young man left his friends behind, in hopes of saving his sister without losing the people he loved. A younger woman abandoned her brother and her friends, in the hopes she might save them from the monster in their midst. Now they march together into the heart of a wicked man's power, to try and do the impossible. Chapter 94, Firmly Planted, is up.

It's funny how you make up formatting rules as you go. When I started planning this book, I wasn't entirely sure which characters would end up getting perspective chapters and which wouldn't. I can bend those rules when I'm doing one of the villain one-shot chapters (Gustav, Wiegraf, Delacroix) because the one-shots are baked into the narrative, but with the recurring perspectives, I have to choose which character is going to provide the most insight and dramatic weight. Gaffgarion and Malak, for instance, are useful because a) they're fun to write b) they provide insight into what the villains and antagonists are up to and c) they're ignorant of a lot of what's going on (Gaffgarion and the plot of the Lucavi, Malak and Barinten's true nature), so they carry dramatic weight. Naturally I'm worried about what happens when one of my other perspective characters joins Ramza's party, but we'll save that for another time.

 

I think this has paid off really well with Rafa, however. If I'd made Rafa perspective character, you'd know what she was thinking and feeling at every stage. But we see her through these fractured perspectives instead: through the eyes of a predator, through the eyes of her brother, through the eyes of her captive, and through the eyes of a man who starts out as her enemy, and ends up as her friend. Her character gets to be slowly unveiled to the audience, growing and changing at each step. 

Parts 3 and 4 have been harder to write than I expected, but Malak, Rafa, and the Hand have been a lot of fun to work with, and I hope to write something like them again some day.

Zodiac Brave Story 2/24/21

Two young men, one a captive and the other his captor, start to find commonground...only for betrayal to shatter their moment of peace. Chapter 92, Harsh, Cruel, Dangerous, is up.

 

In the aftermath of a hellish interrogation, two captives cling together in the thick of a storm, struggling to survive their imprisonment...and to make sense of their father's legacies. Chapter 93, Our Fathers' Shadows, is up.

Chapter 92 has been up for awhile (sorry for the lack of news post) and was pretty fun to write? Especially the second half. I realized I have a tendency to slip anachronisms into Malak's writing (for instance, he uses the phrase "phoning it in"), but when I nail his and Izlude's voices, there's a back-and-forth I really like, and the memory breakdown at the end might be one of the best things I've written in all of ZBS so far.

Chapter 93 was a lot of fun to write, as well, but also weirdly difficult? I kept hitting lulls in the conversation that I didn't know how to fill. I think that's symptomatic of the same forces that have been plaguing me throughout this whole pandemic (and that have made each chapter take so much time to write). When I could nail the voices, I really enjoyed myself, but getting in that headspace was harder than usual.

Sorry for the long silence, but it won't happen for at least another few months: I've completely finished a rough draft of Part 4: Of Men and Monsters, which means that, starting now, I will be updating with a new chapter every two weeks until this book is finished. Thank you for your patience.

Enduring Together 12/6/20

It's a cliché for a reason: it is always darkest before the dawn. The darkness we feel now will pass soon: the dawn is in sight. We simply have to stand together. You can read my thoughts here, or download the pdf here.

Republican Abuse 10/28/20

There is simply no other way to put: the Republican Party is Abusing America. Read it here, or download the pdf.

This election is important. Call. Donate. Protest. Vote. And make sure that a party that abuses our nation and its people is not allowed to hold the reins of power.

Zodiac Brave Story 7/22/20

The Grand Duke's protege comes before him, with a plan more cunning and audacious than he ever dreamed. Chapter 91, The Gamble, is up. 

This was a pretty fun chapter to write. It's still fairly difficult to write Barinten for me, but since so much of this was grounded in Malak, I think it was a bit easier. 

Zodiac Brave Story 7/8/20

A sister hides from the brother hunting for her. A brother stays with her, hoping to learn more about the enemies he faces. Together, they hatch their plan to rescue their respective siblings, and kill the monster who threatens them. Chapter 90, The Ambitions of Monsters, is up.

Sorry for the delay there, folks. Work started up again, which slowed me down somewhat, but the real reason for the unexpected hiatus was more about the story. What happens in each chapter of Part 4 (but particularly from Chapter 88 onwards) is densely interconnected to the events of the other chapters, so I have to check and recheck that everything is fitting together in a way that makes sense. So far, so good, and I'll try to pick up the pace a bit to make up for lost time.

That said, I really liked writing this chapter! Rafa's gotten a chance to shine over the last few chapters, and I think she and Ramza both come off very well in this chapter, bonding over their mutual compassion and their mutual pain, and joining forces in their mutual determination. Plus I finally got an excuse to organically explain the Hand's powers, which I have been waiting to do since I first introduced them.

In case it's not obvious at this point, I have tried very hard to have major characters draw their inspiration from the actual classes of Final Fantasy Tactics. I explicitly described Clara as a time mage; can you figure out what classes Berkeley and Clarice are supposed to be?

Zodiac Brave Story 6/10/20

Ramza Beoulve walks willingly into a trap to save his sister, and finds an offer of alliance instead. Chapter 89, Breaking Point, is up.

With an actual dialogue between Ramza and Malak, I actually got a chance to showcase their parallels! Plus I get to give Ramza another humanizing moment as he grapples back towards righteousness.

Zodiac Brave Story 5/27/20

A young man lies in wait with his sister and his comrades, all of them restless as they struggle with their inadequacies against the monumental forces before them. Chapter 88, Lying in Wait, is up.

I'm really enjoying building the parallels between Ramza and Malak. I was going back and forth about whether or not Malak was a useful perspective in this story, but I've enjoyed almost every one of his chapters, and am further excited by the chapters that lay ahead. 

Minor spoilers for the story ahead: people who've read this know that Malak joins Ramza's group, and I'm sort of uncertain whether to give him perspective chapters when he's part of the main cast? Odds are I'll keep Ramza as the "party" perspective and use outside perspectives to add color and texture to the narrative, but we'll see how everything shakes out.

Zodiac Brave Story 5/13/20

The young man soldiers on alone, wading through blood and snow alike to keep the people he loves safe. But when he reaches the end of his rope, he finds unexpected comfort from an unexpected place. Chapter 87, Alone, is up.

 

Not too much to say about this chapter, except that my characters keep ending up rather gayer than I expect them to. Then again, we don't have any canon love interest for Olan, and I sort of like the idea of him as a quietly pansexual horndog. I think Ramza's demisexual for me, though probably pretty heteroromantic.

American Greatness 4/17/20

The Presidential Election of 2020 is probably going to be the most important election in living memory. It is essential that we remove Donald Trump from office, and that Joe Biden rise to this moment and become the president we need.

This essay is also available as a pdf, which you can download by clicking here or on the link on the left side of this page.

Zodiac Brave Story 4/1/20

The Grand Duke preens over his precious captives and stolen treasure, and schemes to sit the throne, whatever he has to do, whoever he has to break. Chapter 85, Formidable Prizes, is up.

I'm not gonna lie, getting into Barinten's headspace takes an actual toll. When I write my villains, I usually do one of too things: I take something admirable and try to see how it could be twisted into something antagonistic (a strong moral code, an ambitious goal), or I try to empathize with and understand behavior I find monstrous and show how any human could arrive at that path. I cannot do either with Barinten. The cruel and callous way he views the world, the privilege he was born into, and the pleasure he takes in hurting others to express his strength, is personally abhorrent to me. 

It's a little scary out there, folks. I appreciate you reading.

Zodiac Brave Story 3/24/20

Though wars are fought in her name, the puppet queen feels her strings most keenly, and fights to be free of them. Chapter 84, Queen of Ivalice, is up.

I've been trying to give my women more agency than the original game does, and part of that is figuring out how to make Ovelia and Delita's relationship more equitable without significantly altering the story (given that their relationship starts with a kidnapping and ends with a marriage). Having Ovelia share some of Delita's manipulative tendencies (and being flattered by his honesty with her, compared to others) helps pave that path. Plus we get to see a little more of Ovelia both acquiescing to the manipulations of others and pushing back against them.

This is also the start of our fourth book. I hope you enjoy.

Zodiac Brave Story 3/16/20

A man sets out alone, to save his sister and strive for the righteousness he always dreamed of. And as the young man sets out, the historian who loves this tale shares his difficulties in telling it...and his determination to follow the example of his hero, and finish the job he started.

You may have noticed that I did not update with the regularity I intended in my last post nearly eight months ago. There's a lot of reasons for that, a few of which I  gave (in form or another) to the good Alazlam Durai as an interlude (his little confessions marks the rough halfway point of our story). My challenges are not quite so pronounced as Mr. Durai's crisis of confidence, and the ones I've faced are mixed with blessings.

Firs thing's first: I've written three books of material for Zodiac Brave Story in less than 4 years (without even getting into editing and writing other books and projects, both longer and shorter than this tale, including one I'm very excited about and will tell you more of later). And as I'm not a full-time writer, working on all these projects while also having to work for a living takes a toll. There was a certain amount of burn-out that was inevitable, and I had to make a choice between taking a break from the project or resenting it. I've wanted to write this adaptation since I was 15: I'd rather finish it a little more slowly than not finish it at all.

And there have been good things keeping me occupied, too! In the time since I started putting this story online, I moved to New Orleans back to Missouri, I got engaged and married, and my wife (!) and I moved back to Missouri so she could go to grad school. There has been a lot to keep me busy.

I finished my first grand outline of the Zodiac Brave Story while helping my grandmother recover from surgery. But it was my grandfather who worried me. It would still be months before he was diagnosed with Parkinsonian Multi-Systems Atrophy (and only after he was rendered more-or-less immobile), and it would be another year before he passed. 

My brother had his first brush with brain cancer well before my grandfather's diagnosis, but he recovered through prompt medical intervention and his own strength, buoyed by the love and support of his friends and family (with special thanks to his wife). When it returned in the form of tumors near his brainstem (close to a year after my grandfather passed), it was much more aggressive and resistant to treatment, and after a long battle, he passed peacefully, surrounded by family.

Grief was always going to take its toll: exhaust my emotional resources, make everything (both the good and the bad) cost a little more. But I don't think I can explain how much I owe to these two amazing men. My grandfather was endlessly supportive of my writing, buying me book after book on the craft and how to make it in publishing. My brother introduced me to so much of what I love, from webcomics I have open in my browser as I read this to anime to movies to videogames (he's the one who introduced me to both Firefly and Cowboy Bebop, so the entire existence of The Collaborative Sessions can be traced back to him). And these are surface details, superficial memories. I tell you that my grandfather was endlessly supportive, and can't convey the questions he'd ask about my writing, or the easy conversations on long road trips. I tell you that my brother introduced me to so many of my interests, without telling you about all the times we stayed up until dawn together enjoying them.

Grief has not stopped my writing, but it has changed who I am, and how I choose to spend my time. But the Zodiac Brave Story matters to me. It mattered to me as a child playing [i]Final Fantasy Tactics[/i] when my grandfather bought it for me off Ebay. It mattered when I played the PSP port in my other brother's apartment while heartbroken over the first woman I'd ever loved. It's always mattered to me. And it's a story I want to tell.

I think there's a reason the creators of FFT frame it as a story told well after the fact. I think there's a reason they make Alazlam Durai our narrator, writing his tale centuries after his heroes have passed. It creates a sense of distance, of mythos, and of possibility. I have enjoyed the leniency that distance gives me: the freedom to put in notes about the world of Ivalice, and of the gap between the stories that enter into the official record and the messy truths that lie beneath. Here, I take advantage of my own weakness to make my teller a little more human. A little more like me.

My grandfather and my brother were both seekers of truths in their own ways. I can't think of a single person I love who doesn't share that quality (not least of all my wife), but I think of them a lot more often these days. I imagine I will be doing that for a long time to come.

But my search for truth is not over, and I hope you will keep me company while I keep searching.

Zodiac Brave Story 7/3/19

In despair, pores through the personal journal of the world's greatest heretic as seen through the eyes of a priest who had long since lost his faith. Chapter 82, Saints and Sinners, is up.

Fans of the game may notice I've made some departures from the source material here, altering both what Simon says about Ajora and what the Gospels actually contain. I can't get too into detail at this time (some of the changes I've made have a direct bearing on future story revelations), but essentially my goal is to better ground the story of Ajora in the story of Ramza, providing parallels between them. Add that to the expanded role I've given to the Hand of Barinten, and I think my telling comes out a little smoother.

I'm sorry for the long, mostly unannounced hiatus. I was working on other projects, dealing with my own grief and family, and having trouble engaging with the story. My brother meant a lot to me, and I can trace a lot of my day-to-day joys to his influence (including my love of Final Fantasy). I am going to prioritize my own mental health and wellbeing, but I think I'm finally in a place to give you guys more regular updates. I appreciate your patience.