(This chunk will be a bit short. You don't mind, do you?)
As per Galuf's last wishes, it's time for us to launch his long-delayed assault on Castle ExDeath. I would pretend that this is the endgame, except that I've played FFV before, and cannot help but be aware that this is really the "Let's go to Zanarkand / City of the Ancients / Lunatic Pandora / OOPS there's more plot" dungeon. Still, here we are.
Krile, why are you standing in quicksand?
From the outside, it appears that we've already hit the Dungeon of Shiny. But wait! That can't be! In Final Fantasy, the transparent crystal castle is usually the penultimate dungeon.
We hit a dead end on the second floor. Butz thinks there's nothing else here. I guess he was scraping gunk off his shoe when we approached the castle, or he might've noticed the upper stories.
Krile senses the deception with her Wunderkind Powerz (tm) and calls on her Grandpa's spirit to help her break through the enchantment.
THIS IS HARDLY THE TIME FOR SLASH, YOUNG LADY.
Wha? Scene change. Wolfman Kelger says he's about to "shuffle off this mortal coil." (I still can't get over the fact that Butz mortally injured him in a silly and pointless duel). Galuf's spirit, hovering over Kelger's head, spoils his deathbed speech to his followers by bugging him to lend some spiritual mojo.
Then Kelger expires. Er...thanks?
FFV is really reminding me of FFX-2 on this playthrough, not just because of the trio of ladies, but because it starts out so light-hearted in tone that many players overlook the way the story grows darker, more epic, and more serious — augmented by another hero-squad's backstory — as it rolls along.
Back in Castle Exdeath, we suddenly find ourselves in Castle H.R. Giger.
Ewwww. Bring back the dungeon of shiny!
Near the top of the tower of random lava pits and flesh wallpaper, we find Carbuncle, who like many early FF summons won't aid us until we defeat him in a duel.
I often gripe about FF critters getting hit by the ugly stick in recent installments (FFXII coeurls and chocobos, I'm looking at you), but it looks like some of them have progressed from demonic to cute. It's hard to believe this fellow became the cuddly Pokésummon of FFVIII.
On the next floor, we find an empty chest. As soon as we pass it, a familiar red figure bounds past.
Ooh, you guys are sooo burned!
And ye don't think yer boss might object to your rifling the silverware?
*boss fight begins*
Already, our fourth battle. I feel we've gained an understanding...
... an understanding that I will pound you silly! Ha ha ha!
Wait. Did Gilgamesh just flash us?
Augh! I'm blind! Avert your eyes, lassies!
(My favorite dialog in the game. Ironically, this is the first time I've seen it in-game, since I previously played the Anthology version with the lifeless script. I boned up on what I'd missed in the GBA translation.)
Oh, I don't want to kill the poor goofball. He pulls out his pilfered prize, the not-so-legendary sword, Excalipoor. It looks like Excalibur but hits like a swizzle stick. Gilgy is outraged at the shoddy workmanship of dungeon treasure.
Ehhh!? Why, I've been had! This is far from the strongest of swords! I feel so betrayed!
And then, to add insult to injury, Exdeath breaks in via Villain Telepathy Intercom to castigate his minion.
You worthless fool! For your continued bungling, I banish you from this dimension!
Wh-what!? No! Anything but that!
Into the interdimensional rift he goes!
Oh well, back to our ordinary fantasy adventure. Alas, poor Gilgy.
We catch up with Exdeath and the three remaining crystals on the top floor.
Butz dusts off a hoary Hero Cliché.
Mwa-hahahaha.... Have you any idea what I plan to get away with in the first place?
Wha? No, but...
Actual LOL. That's not the way "We won't let you get away with this!" scenes usually go.
CLUELESS HERO TO THE RESCUE, BECAUSE A TURTLE SAID SO! OR SOMETHING.
We... defeat Exdeath? That was awfully easy.
However, like every Warrior of Light before us, we fail in our primary task. Curse you, Immutable Plot Device, and your little dog Handwave, too!
The crystals explode in a burst of sparks. (Wait, aren't we gonna get any more job classes? I demand my money back!)
We're knocked unconscious by the blast. When we come to, we've come home.
So then... we've won? This doesn't feel right. How can I tell we've completed the mission if there's no closing FMV? (Try asking that at school sometime! Or work!
Baffled, we stop by Castle Tycoon.
The chancellor brushes aside the king's death ("a great loss...but we must do our best to continue on without him") and is all gung-ho to celebrate "Princess Sarisa's" return. Hey! Isn't she the queen now? A little respect, sirrah!
Krile and Butz are nearly pushed out by the guards before the Chancellor grudgingly acknowledges them. No red carpet for the Warriors of Light in this universe, nosirree.
Shortly, Faris has something worse than Exdeath to deal with.
Wh— You want me to go out there— dressed like this? Are you mad!?
Chancellor: Come now, Princess!
HE'S IN HER FRICKING ROOM DRESSING HER UP?! Off with his head!
When Faris emerges from her makeover, Butz's ogling can be measured on the Richter Scale.
Oh...She-she's gorgeous! Yowza! She really is! ♥♥
Sigh. This is exactly why Faris was dressed as a man, and it's gaming in a nutshell. As soon as they see your tits, everything else about the character is secondary.
Poor Faris. She can't woo fair princess. The only way she can be with the princess in any capacity is to become a princess. Even if that means giving up who she is. My shipwreck twitches feebly amongst the bittersweet dregs of irony.
So there's a ball. But the queens — er, princesses — are stuck up on their thrones, and the soldiers and dancers keep Butz and Krile from approaching.
Krile tires of the celebrations (this isn't even her world, after all) and bails. When Butz goes outside to check on her, she says she feels like Galuf is fussing at them to hurry. And do what?
Sneaking out of the castle, they discuss destinations. Butz suggests hooking up with his chocobo friend. Krile is surprised he has one; she's got the monopoly on Critter Charisma, after all.
What, you don't believe me?
Well, you're so poor at riding wind drakes.
And then Butz hits her. What the? Of course, she hits him back and decks him, but I still found this exchange of blows troubling and rather out of character for Butz.
After making up, we seek Boko the Chocobo back in the pirates' cove. Krile the Wunderkind can speak chocobo, of course.
Butz negotiates with the wife to spare Boko for a while.
Wandering around, we soon realize the map is different:
Krile's world and Butz's world have combined!
Our wanderings come to an abrupt end when we fall in a pit.
Butz yells at Boko, Krile yells at Butz on behalf of Boko and tells him that he was driving too fast, and then we have to fight a boss battle to avoid becoming Antlion chow. After which we blunder around, failing to find an exit until a rope dangles down. It keeps getting jerked just out of reach...
I seem to remember this problem in Zork.
Faris' voice drifts down from above.
Faris rescues them -- I won't even ask how she hoists a chocobo -- and gives 'em what for.
Faris couldn't cope with the danged dress, even for Lenna's sake.
I also note that the chancellor was ordering around the "princesses." Possibly unimportant for gameplay purposes, but I can't help thinking that Tycoon's chancellor has enjoyed his stint of being in charge since the late king's departure. . Being a puppet royal would not sit well with Captain Faris Scherwiz.
Next, we head for Ghido's cave, which is conveniently close by. He's gotten toppled by the two worlds colliding. Upsy-daisy:
Annnnnd another double entendre gets slipped past the censors. Have I mentioned lately how much I love this translation?
More Backstory dump time! (Butz drives Ghido to distraction by parroting whatever he just said).
So, the problem with Exdeath-the-evil-tree started five hundred years ago. A thousand years ago, there was a different villain, the wizard Enuo, who unleashed the power of the Void on the world. He was defeated by Twelve Legendary Weapons (fetch quest time)! However, the Void could not be erased, because it was, well, void.
This sealed the Void within the inter-dimensional rift between the two worlds.
Exdeath, who's been hiding in Krile's hair as a splinter ever since we "defeated" him, pops out to take up the story.
Wait— so in plain English, you're saying that this Void whatevernot is coming here?
No offense, but I'm less than impressed by a villain who can impersonate a toothpick.
Now that Exdeath has mashed the two worlds back together, there's no place for the void but right here. He demonstrates:
Krile's spidey sense tells her that the Void is swallowing Tycoon.
Poor Faris. Not that there's anything she could've done, but she did choose to leave Lenna behind.
Faris charges Exdeath and gets clobbered a la Auron. Krile and Butz try the same thing and get knocked down too. We are saved from death by Ghido, who springs into action with a credible imitation of Yoda, flying around and around Exdeath and distracting him like an armor plated mini helicopter.
Ha, ha... Perhaps you should've taken the chance. You'll find no such tasty diversions in the afterlife!
Exdeath Knocks Us All Down, and we wake up groggily near the Library of the Ancients.
Scholars from Surgate in Krile's world and the Library from Butz's world have reassembled a sundered book that tells us our next assignment. Fetch quest time! Ghido lays out a Sidequest Shopping List:
- Retrieve the Four Tablets from four different locations
- Which each unlock three of the Twelve Legendary Weapons in the Sealed Tower
- Grab the ultimate white and black magics, Holy, Flare and Meteor
- And (optionally) pick up a few summons, including, of course, Bahamut
The scholars at the library have their priorities straight.
(Since I'm playing this on an iPad, I think, "get a tablet!")
We head out towards the Desert of Shifting Sands. On the way, we stumble across the Guardian Tree.
I'm going to transcribe this whole scene, because it's surprisingly angst-rich for such a light-flavored game. It strikes me as the transition from early FF, where "save the world" was assumed, implicit, and a matter of course, while in later games, there is often a moment near the endgame when the heroes vocalize what's at stake.
Grandpa... Why can't Grandpa come back to life?
So many lives have been lost...
We must stop Exdeath. The people around the world need us... No, not only the people, but all life...
Aye...so many sacrifices have been made already... I won't stand by while more lives are lost!
Let's go...so there won't be any more sacrifices.
This is classic Final Fantasy Angst. They've all lost family, the usual slew of npcs, and two party members, yet they seldom brood about their respective losses during the course of the game. Does that make the game more shallow? Or does it make the characters more mature than the emotional trainwrecks of VII and VIII (much as I love said trainwrecks)? I suppose FFV is shallow, yet I find myself seeing more texture in it every time I play it.
By this point, even Faris, Queen of De Nile, believes that Lenna is dead. Instead of beating herself up with guilt, Cloud-style, or withdrawing from everyone, Squall-style, she responds with characteristic determination and defiance.
Our first stop is a pyramid that we passed earlier in the Desert of Shifting Sands. It takes a Plot Coupon to open the door:
Inside is a shrine to Egyptomania, complete with mummies, hieroglyphs and asps.
And at the top, we get... rather a let-down, to tell the truth.
A tablet. Gosh, I'm underwhelmed. There's also some creepy Shinra Mansion / Sephiroth music, for reasons I fail to understand.
Off in the distance, Bahamut rises out of the ocean, as if threatening to pounce us, but it's a false alarm. He swoops over and tells us to challenge him on North Mountain. Can we say "level up first"?
Returning from the desert, we again pass the Guardian Tree. Suddenly, we hear the trill of a wind drake! Faris gives a cry. Hiryu appears and deposits Lenna at our feet.
And here's one of those heartwrenching moments.
She's been possessed by Melusine, a fascinating lamia-like creature from medieval folklore, but I'm sure that's not the least bit interesting to her friends. And she's tough.
Exdeath drops in to gloat, then heads off to wipe out the "turtle infestation" at the Library of the Ancients.
Things are looking bleak for Our Heroes, until the Tycoon wind-drake intervenes.
So now both sisters have lost their dragon-friends.
When I played this scene in the Anthology version, I thought that Hiryu had simply distracted the demon possessing Lenna long enough for us to break free of her spell, and then we had to fight her. So I thought that this was Lenna under the glamour of enchantment, with the demon embodied in the snakes wrapped around her. Scary! (And Fanservice-y).
In the iOS version, it's made clear that "the demon is expelled from Lenna's body!" by Hiryu's sacrifice before we counterattack.
Poetically, Faris gets the killing blow.
Hands off Lenna, ye scurvy wench!
We stagger back to the airship, badly in need of an inn and shop to resupply. In the meantime, Exdeath calls upon the Void. (Which, for a change of pace, is not purple. Oh, that's right, dark = purple; we've already seen that void = bluish light.)
One by one, nearly every place we know is wiped from the map, its denizens sucked up into the void. Walse... the Moogle forest...
...Butz's tiny hometown, all wiped out.
Happy-go-lucky, laid-back Butz completely loses it, driving the airship at a careening pace over and over across the globe, proving that you don't need fancy graphics or voice acting to represent a soul-rending meltdown.
Faris and Lenna poke him back to sensibility.
Now, we could just dive into the nearest Void — there's holes all over the map by now — and hunt Exdeath.
But you know that fine old Final Fantasy tradition: "SIDEQUESTS BEFORE SAVING THE WORLD!"
We find a new location, Phantom Village, in what used to be the southern island chain. It's been frozen in time for a thousand years. (Shades of Dream-Zanarkand, perchance?) Interior topography is a bit surreal, with most of the buildings (shops) doubled, and their other halves only accessible via secret passageways.
Okay, so the game still isn't entirely serious.
(This helps with the "Bard" class.)
Crescent Village has not been sucked into the Void, but a big tower has appeared on top of the underwater base where we found our airship. Cid's now trapped beneath the tower (Vortigern!?)
However, I can't seem to break into that tower yet, so I go for the Sealed Castle where the Twelve Legendary Weapons are housed. I hadn't made it past the lobby until now, because this monster keeps appearing:
Did Exdeath rip his soul into multiple pieces, like Voldemort? Is the Exdeath who's been our nemesis a hollow shell with no soul left in him? I don't know, but this dratted monster is immune to nearly all damage except Holy, which is pretty unfair since we can't acquire it yet.
He casts Death. Often. Bastard.
(We kill him by throwing tons of money at him, plus the ever-handy Blue Magic, 1000 Needles. Which — hey! — predates Cactuar by several games.)
Staggering past such foes, we set out the first tablet we've recovered to unseal three of the Legendary Weapons.
Masamune (of course). We also pick up Excalibur and Holy Lance for Exdeath's Soul extermination. Once again, Exdeath makes our lives difficult by being an unusually competent villain. Got a monster who's vulnerable only to a few weapons? Make it the guardian of those weapons! Grrrr.
Meanwhile, Exdeath has by now realized that Melusine failed to slaughter us. Time to call up some more minions.
Is that an FFX glyph they've added? Never mind. Good grief, there are a lot of minibosses...
Seek them out and kill them!
It's a good thing that his allies are so accommodating about taking turns instead of coming at us in a huge miniboss army, or we'd be done for. (Hee, I see a wee Ahriman at upper left!)
Now I'm going to pause while my iPad downloads ten zillion screencaps into my computer. Don't worry, I'm not going to use most of 'em.
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