Okay, so a question: What is the window for recruiting Opera?
As I understand it, it's after the Tournament. I recall reading somewhere that you had to do the PA in the port town, before you go to Linga (It's been a while, so may have things wrong). Is that correct?
Is there then a time limit to get her before you advance the story, or do you have to do the entire side quest at that time?
Basically, I want to know if you can recruit Bowman/Precis before Opera. Is this possible?
I believe it's NOT after the Armor Tournament. In fact, if I recall correctly, you can't recruit Opera after that. You basically have to go to the third port town (the one near Lacuer) and enter the bar. The scene will trigger only if you entered Krosse in PA mode and walked towards the castle. After meeting Opera, go back to Krosse, speak with the king and go to the dungeon near the lake.
Precis, yes. Bowman...maybe, but I wouldn't risk it. The steps to get her: -Near the beginning of the game, do a Private Action in Krosse. Head north from the entrance and go down the road to the castle. You'll see a three-eyed man. There's nothing else to it, but it's a key trigger for later. -After the tournament, head back to Hilton and go to the bar. Opera will ask you if you've seen the three-eyed man. When she finds out you saw him in Krosse, she'll head there. Go after her. -Go to Krosse and speak with the king. You'll be given a chance to ask about Opera. He'll tell you she went to the Mountain Palace and give you permission to enter. Go there. It's north of Krosse on the map, between there and Kurik. -Once inside the Mountain Palace, you're free to explore and whatnot, but for Opera specifically, go right whenever you get the option. You'll eventually encounter her and be able to recruit her.
That's it. Though, if you want to recruit Ernest later, too, you have to finish the quest, and there are a couple more steps: -From where you find Opera in the Mountain Palace, continue down the path. You'll eventually fight a boss and then find a strange laboratory. Opera will realize Ernest was there, but left. -Leave the Mountain Palace, and do a PA in Arlia. Speak to Opera and she'll tell you her ship crashed in the forest. Go back outside of Arlia to reform your group, then re-enter and go the place where Claude and Rena met. There will be a short cutscene. If Precis is in your group, she'll also salvage a piece that will be a useful weapon for Opera. -Continue through the game. When you leave the Hoffman Ruins, there will be an (easy) bonus boss. Afterwards, you're given the opportunity to recruit Ernest. Note that if you reject him there, Opera will leave as well, so only do the Ernest steps if you plan on taking him along.
Now, as for Precis and Bowman, yes, you can certainly recruit Precis before Opera. Heck, you can get her even before the tournament starts. The problem with Bowman is that right after he joins you, there's a fairly big shakeup that changes many of the options available to you. Notably, you can't leave Hilton for Krosse anymore, which will cut off Opera's quest (it will also cut off the Ernest steps if you haven't done them yet). Now, the actual trigger for this event comes when you go to Lacuer, so it's possible the flag will still be open if you head straight to Hilton after recruiting Bowman, but if you want to try it, I'd make a backup save before his quest, just in case. There's really no benefit to getting him first, honestly; if anything, you're better getting Opera first, since you can pickpocket a powerful weapon from her in the cutscene at Bowman's house right before he's recruitable.
You can't fool me! There ain't no such thing as a sanity clause!
Cool. It's not so much a matter of how, just when. From memory the Mountain Palace was a bit tough, so I was thinking of getting a third character first. But I'm going for Bowman this run, so I'll just have to do without.