The ruined castle is the Tower of Owen, I suppose, while the Impossibly Tall Tower (yet another FF trope) is the endgame's penultimate dungeon.
Which reminds me, you have GOT to see Twinklebat's FF cosplays: Refia, Cloud-in-a-dress, Mjrn, Red XIII, FFI White Mage, and a Moogle wearing Lulu's dress. (Also Twilight Sparkle. She wins so many internetz, this cosplayer.)
Okay! Enough futzing around. Time to leave the Floating Continent for the greater world beyond!
We plunge into the dark cloud that Cid told us about. Will the Enterpoop make it through? A fierce gale pushes our heroes backwards across the deck...
Yeah, Cloud can make me feel pretty draggy too sometimes.
Dramatic moment is dramatic!
Gee, thanks, Papa Smurf! Your track record in airship safety hasn't been stellar so far, so let's hope we don't regret not buying travelers insurance!
Let me ogle your adorable little Scholar and Ranger outfits for a moment.
Okay. Enough ogling. Ta-da! A whole new world! Well, sort of.
Here's the surface world with a cute itsy bitsy floating continent on a plate, just like Midgar! (Which totally explains the Aeris cameo in that FMV, right?) Also a bit like Cocoon.
This is where the game took a deeper turn for me. Screencaps don't convey the full impact of this unsettling landscape (or lack of) and its melancholy, heart-tugging music. That swirling mist is like primordial chaos, with only a few tiny bits of land poking through the murk and the rest a featureless void that goes on forever. Very uncanny and beautiful and sad.
I've forgotten to show you a map of the Floating Continent, but here's where we are now. The floating continent is the little tiny speck partly covered by the ship's icon. Then... nothing, for a long, long way.
Despite the ludicrously small scale of the Floating Continent, the map effectively conveys how the fabric of space itself has been terribly ravaged, something that no game did quite this effectively until FFXIII-2's Escherlike, bleak 200AF Oerba. (Again, stay tuned for parallels in FFV).
We strike out for the largest remaining island (since the island to its south consists of a You Can't Go Here Yet mountain range).
The first time I played, it took me quite a while to muster the courage to put the ship down, since the Enterprise won't alight on solid ground, only water. Thankfully, it didn't sink into the abyss and vanish like a mammoth falling into the La Brea Tar Pits. We moor along the shoreline and head inland.
Inside the temple are some much-needed healing Wellsprings and a puny chunk of crystal:
Well, great. We've hit another You-Can't-Go-Here-Yet barrier. Um?
There's a cave near the temple full of kelp, monsters, and a sealed door. You-Can't-Go-Here-Yet is starting to become vexing. We return to the good ship Enterpoop and fly north, bouncing off the You-Can't-Go-Here-Yet top of the crystal tower which I forgot to screencap, until finally, we discover what looks suspiciously like MYST ISLAND, complete with a half-sunken ship (not ours) alongside it:
A happy coincidence, since MYST was released two years after Final Fantasy III, and Final Fantasy III was only playable in Japan.
We clamber onto the shipwreck. Inside we find "Gramps," who is caretaker (guardian?) of "Miss Aria." She's in a bad way, he says, after fighting the darkness.
I'm getting some vague Caius & Yeul vibes, despite Gramps' age. They seem like a precursor of the guardian-knight & priestess-sorceress trope that pops up in several later FFs. Unfortunately, Gramps is too old to wield a Big Fricking Sword. (Or is he?)
Gramps explodes our heads with a temporal paradox:
Wait...what? You're not sure how many days have passed since time stopped?
Paging Stephen Hawking. Help, we've fallen into a singularity and can't get out!
We give up grilling Gramps on temporal physics and lob a healing potion at Aria, hoping she'll make more sense.
The real question, hon, is whether you're thinking of becoming our fifth party member. I'd strongly advise against it. Trust me on this.
Yep, destiny and all that. So, got a plot coupon for us?
Somehow, I was afraid you were going to suggest that. As you wish, Miss Aria, but I'm pretty sure this isn't going to end well. Off we go.
Aria attempts to explain the time paradox, but I'm still confused.
So did we also unstick time over at that temple we visited earlier? Why are there just a few spots on the map that aren't featureless void? Why is the Floating Continent teeny weenie but untouched by the temporal anomaly? Why am I demanding logic from a game with epic sheep music?
I'd suggest Gramps come with us to make sure he doesn't get frozen in time again once we leave, but frankly, he's probably safer far away from us.
Still scratching our heads, we follow Aria to the Temple of Water, where she picks up the shard we couldn't get to earlier.
Aria explains that she and the other priestess broke off the shard and used it to seal the crystal's power away for its own protection. Which explains precisely nothing. I'm a little lost at this point, but I'm pretty sure we're going to wind up reversing the polarity of the neutron flow, uncoupling the Heisenberg Compensators, and/or channelling mitichlorians before this is over.
Pocketing our crystal shard, we check around for stray Gelflings and fanged tribbles, then head to the nearby Cave of Tides.
Aria keeps saying endearingly sweet things and buttering us up all the way down to
She unseals the locked door and provides healing and protective magic as we fight our way through the creepies and crawlies and inevitable giant crabs.
Eventually we find the crystal and keep a sharp lookout for zero-gravity Sephiroths as Aria kneels to pray...
Can we just get away from here before a plot device pounces on us? That virgin sacrifice gown you're wearing is giving me the willies.
Er... oh, right. Our turn. So, exactly how are we supposed to do that?
One hand wave later, we're walking away from the crystal and then OF COURSE this happens.
Aria shoves Luneth out of the way as some big shadowy whatsit goes hurtling past.
Memo to Warriors of Light: my inner Lulu is NOT PLEASED. Clearly you need guardian training.
"It seems luck was on your side today," the inevitable Villain Voiceover intones, er, subtitles...
Hey, didn't we defeat this guy back in FFI, when we encountered him keeping mermaids in a fish tank?
Luneth does a pretty good Cloud imitation here and leads the charge.
Bippity bappity smite. Ouch, poor Luneth got clobbered. One more miniboss down. (Who the heck is this Xande bloke, anyhoo?)
Unfortunately, Aria is living (or rather, dying) up to her clothes. And I'm afraid that anyone who ships Arc/Luneth has to tiptoe around this entire heartbreaking sequence.
There's a long, touching scene here, following the classic Shakespearean my-last-lines-take-20-minutes-to-say style.
Dangit, the chibis are making me sniffly. I am a total sucker for certain Utena-ish "protect the princess" tropes, unfortunately.
And then deus ex machina thwacks us with another of those frequent Early Final Fantasy Earthquakes — which is sadly anything but fantasy for players living in Japan — and the roof caves in.
In what passes for a dramatic cutscene, the muck disperses from the world outside...
...and Luneth receives the next plot coupon, courtesy of a dream sequence and a mysterious crone wearing a modified propeller beanie. I like her already.
Er... thanks for the guidance, ma'am, but who the heck are you?
Bishie Boy is understandably a little disoriented when he wakes up.
You're only asking that now? How about back during the Hovercraft Tree or Epic Sheepwalk sequences?
Gramps is evidently mightier than he looks, lugging four heroes including one wearing full plate mail through the mountains, over several rivers and into this village. Miss Aria probably should've just gone with him to the water crystal shrine.
Again, I'm noticing Final Fantasy V parallels. Stay tuned.
So we stagger out of the inn, and soon learn that another minion of Xande is intent on stopping us. Except he's yet another villain who neglected to study the Evil Overlord Checklist. We were unconscious and helpless for days, so did he sneak in and stick daggers in our backs? HECK no. That would be too logical. No, he's found a much more creative approach to putting the kibosh on heroic exploits.
Repeat Sev's Mantra.
Wait. Did he say... Goldar? MY Goldar? My dear, beloved, oh-so-goofy GOLDAR that I totally wanted to be my robot friend when I was five years old? THIS GOLDAR?
NOOO! GOLDAR! YOU CAN'T HAVE TURNED TO THE DARK SIDE! I NEED YOU TO DEFEND ME FROM SCARY MONSTERS IN RUBBER SUITS!
Oh, wait. He said Goldor. Phew. Childhood icon saved from the evil powers of cynicism.
Moving right along.
At last. I was feeling curiously deprived of sewer crawl dungeons in this game.
In yet another curious example of the randomness of early Final Fantasy games, Refia discovers that she can bang on the piano and make everyone in the room dance the dosey doe.
All righty then.
Various villagers enthuse at us about a legend that four Warriors of Light will save them from Darkness. However, the village elder, Gill-NOT-a-Turtle, thinks we need to meet the local eccentrics before we claim their mantle.
Words cannot convey how much these dudes annoyed me on my first playthrough. But they kinda grew on me, they and their Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse soundtrack.
Yep. These guys are convinced that they're the Four Warriors of Light.
Ingus is not.
Having paid our respects to our elders, we return to Gill-Not-a-Turtle and try again to procure a plot coupon to enter the (locked) sewers to seek the old lady who has the Levingrass shoes that'll float us over the marsh to enter Goldor's castle to find the key to unlock the chain that's binding our airship in one place. Er. Or something.
We are thwarted by the voice of sanity pointing out that it's frickin' unsanitary to go adventuring in raw sewage.
The four old men overhear us trying to persuade Gill that we're the Warriors of Light. The Wannabe Warriors of Light decide to beat us to the punch.
No way! WE are the chosen ones! Hissy fit! Pout!
Gill comes to his senses and realizes that the heroes have to undergo a sewer crawl, or it won't be Final Fantasy. So he unlocks the sewers for us. Which is totally the sort of key a village elder keeps on a chain around his neck. (Maester Mika uses a similar approach to deal with troublemakers and dissidents in FFX.)
I'm sure I'll mind, thanks.
Recalling from my last playthrough that I'm soon going to need some heavy hitters leveled up, I reluctantly switch back to Ginormous Screencap-Blocking-Hats (Dark Knight and Dragoon, courtesy of the Water Crystal).
Deep in the sewers...
Timmy down a well again, huh? We're on it.
I totally fail to screengrab the Four Old Men being menaced by these giant purple frogs before battle begins...
Everything is better with purple. Also, rare screencap of Refia's bow, which like so many Final Fantasy weapons folds up just like a canoe (what?) when it's not her turn.
Afterwards, we receive a "hearty helping of thanks" from the four old dudes, who reiterate that whoops, sorry, they thought they were the heroes of this story. (Which actually might have made a fairly entertaining game. Ah well.)
On we go searching for the old lady of the sewers, who's competing with Medusa ("hih hih hih hih") for oddest laugh in this game:
Delilah's not convinced we're the Heroes of Light either, and tosses exploding shoes at us in place of the Levingrass boots. The Four Old Dudes warn us away just in time. Clearly the TSA needs to hire these guys.
Exploding shoes. I mean, what else would you carry with you at all times if you were living as a hermit in the sewers?
The Four Old Dudes convince Delilah that we really are the Warriors of Light, so she tosses over the genuine article.
Ingus ponders how on earth four people are going to wear one pair of Ugg boots.
Thankfully, the Four Old Dudes have a rubber band teleport spell of Plot Advancement, so they catapult us back to Amur village. We head out, dodging random encounters with That One Dragon that tends to wipe out the entire party.
Riddle me this. If Goldor is so greedy that he hoards gold behind lock and key, why did he waste a buttload of gold chaning our ship? And for that matter, isn't gold one of the softest metals around? Enterpoop should be able to break free, no problem!
But then we'd miss out on the Dungeon of Shiny, so nevermind.
We solve the one-pair-of-Levingrass-shoes-for-four-pe
The Dungeon of Shiny has gold everything, including bears. Oddly enough, things made of soft gold hit MUCH harder than sword-wielding lizard men, giant sea serpents, or anything else we've met so far besides That One Damned Dragon.
So here's Goldor, and I am relieved that he isn't a giant robot.
"You will not take my crystal!" he says. (Too bad. I think all the minibosses in this game should quote the giant rat. "You no take shiny, squeak!" It could be a running gag.)
Goldor's battle form has a fabulous purple cloak. Good show. Emperor Mateus wants to know who designed his armor.
Goldor actually lives up to his taunts and gives us a fairly sound drubbing before we knock him down.
"Neither will you! Hah!"
We all stand around drooling while Goldor staggers back to his throne (where he had stashed the Earth Crystal; he can't sit down in that armor anyway, I suppose) and...
Reaction shot time!
Take 2 HP from cute, and then we'll find out.
Oh, hang on. Ingus has to get in a stuffy line, first. Goldor conveniently dropped a key before he expired.
We grab the key, taking one last look at the Dungeon of Shiny.
So, that's that. The Enterpoop is free as a bird! We fly around the world, waving at the Floating Continent! What new frontiers will open before us? What—
Oh, hey, part of the northwestern continent of the surface world is completely paved, with a wall enclosing several small villages and a large castle. Let's take a look!
Red Alert! Red Alert! Deflector shields buckling! Evasive maneuvers, Mr. Sulu!
Dammit. Not again.
Because it's frickin' Final Fantasy III, that's why. Airships come with expiration dates.
"This wind," Ingus notes. "It carries the scent and sound of war. Best be on our guard."
When we approach the castle on foot, we discover a full-scale war going on between the red shirts and the, ah, red shirts.
Driven from the castle gates, we wander out into the curiously paved countryside around the castle — OOOPS, forgot to screencap again — into a nearby village, where we learn that AsphaltLand is called the Kingdom of Saronia, where all is not well. The king has ordered his own troops to fight one another, the king's son has been banished as a traitor, and one villager babbles about Gigameth, the king's advisor, whose shadow looks like
We investigate. And I'll have you know that I took the time to level up Arc in the "Bard" job class just so I could have him look dapper and dashing (with no giant hat in the way) for the sequence coming up, even though that left him vulnerable in an upcoming boss battle. The things one does for art.
So! Inside the tavern, we find another batch of bullies picking on another youngster. Yes, it's a visual quote of an earlier scene in the game. FF is starting to grow up (even if its heroes aren't).
(Apropos of nothing, I'm reminded of one enemy stronghold in Suikoden V, where Prince Hero can talk to several guards who chastise him for dressing up like the rebel leader —they warn that he might be mistaken for the prince and arrested!)
Arc unconsciously mimics the prince's body language:
So we beat up the bullies and they run away crying. Afterwards... cue the violins...
Our Rasler lookalike introduces himself as Prince Alus, son of King Gorn of Saronia, and thanks us for helping him. He repeats what we've heard before, that the king was ordering his soldiers to fight one another, and when the prince tried to stop it, the king banished him.
Sure, why not. Seeing as your soldiers just blew up our third airship, and your entire kingdom is surrounded by a You-Can't-Go-Here-Yet wall, we've got nothing better to do!
"I can ask for nothing more than that. Thank you!" gushes Alus.
Arc, as Sev notes, is the most dapper and dashing of bards.
The rest of the party watches the two young men, bemused...
The Prince takes us over to the library, although it turns out the king has barred entry...
Straight to Arc's heart. I'm tellin' ya. Are you seeing this, guys?
Refia sure is.
*stomps on Luneth's foot*
Ooo, we get the Ingus Pissy Face!
All right, I'll stop scraping for tiny pathetic splinters of ship and get on with it. So we head back to Saronia Castle, after leveling up some Dragoons in the convenient nearby Tower of Power Leveling. But Arc still has to wear his Dashing Bard outfit for the sake of art.
Although actually the Bard is seriously badass. Once you level it up a bit:
- Bard always goes first. ALWAYS.
- Bard spells are songs, which depend on what harp the Bard is holding. Songs cost ZERO MP.
- You can swap harps with the equipment command every turn and then pick which song to sing, still going first. So you have access to all your available spells/songs.
- Songs multi-target the whole party or all foes.
- The heal spell is like a multi-Cura, with healing based on some multiple of the bard's level and job level. After a while this means 300-400 HP healed for everybody, every turn, before any further blows are exchanged.
- The enemy damage spell is like Demi, but it works on bosses. So you can lop off thousands of HP from a tough boss at the start of battle.
- Another Bard song is Aura, which lets everyone in the party do double damage and also boosts their speed and critical hit chances.
So basically a Bard is a red mage with the most essential white and black magic who always goes first and never needs to recharge MP. Except all magic is multi-target. That heal-every-turn-for-free spell can really cut down on the damage in this game, plus it compensates for the Dark Knight's dubious "Souleater" ability, which does lots of damage to multi-targets but also chews off a chunk of the Knight's HP.
All right, enough Bard Class geeking. Back to Castle Saronia we go!
At first, the sentries are all, "NON SHALL PASS WITHOUT MY — er, the king's — PERMISSION!"
Then they get a memo from the back to let Alus through. We are shown to our bedroom(s):
Sleepover time! Awwwww.
In the middle of the night, Alus can't sleep. He confides in Arc...
Arc reassures him that the king must still love him and have a good reason for all this, and that they'll have answers from him tomorrow.
Er, not quite. First the king has to do this...
The king hesitates, giving Arc and Alus time to wake up...
The Legion of Silly Hats munches on popcorn as the real villain comes on the scene...
Dramatic moment is dramatic.
Gigameth demonstrates once again why fantasy kings really need a more reliable vetting process for their chief advisors.
Our Hero to the rescue! (who is not wearing enough armor for this particular battle, oops)!
Once again, the villain grows a pair (of wings). Poor Arc is left all alone to fight him while the Dragoons jump and vanish for a turn to escape the loving attentions of this particular monster's hard-hitting magic and status effects.
Once again, while I am not one to judge by appearances, I think the king might have considered a background check on someone whose shadow looked like a giant bird-man-thing.
The Rule of Cool says everyone is back on their feet after any boss battle. But first, we have the King's Last Words.
The king explains that he was under Gigameth's spell and sent his son away to protect him. He entrusts Saronia to Alus, croak out a much-needed "I love you, son," and expires. Golly gee, a Final Fantasy father who actually cares about his kids instead of dicking with them, OBVIOUSLY MUST DIE IMMEDIATELY.
"No, sire, you never stopped loving your father," says Suddenly Eloquent Arc, launching into a brief pep talk.
And just to spoil the mood, I'd really like to know why there's a pocket protector stuck to the top of Alus' head.
Our boy king vows to restore peace to Saronia, stand up for justice, and find us another blinking airship.
Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah! Now give us an airship!
Let's see how long this one lasts. However, I'm going to pause here, as I'm afraid I've nattered on too long in this installment.
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