I defy you not to bob your head while listening to that with headphones. Or, to quote a couple commenters on the above video:
question: What is it about riding giant chickens that restricts random battles? ~ The Zeldaniac
Picture this, if you're an enemy and you hear this song, are you going to interrupt it by attacking the guy riding the chicken, or are you just going to dance? ~ hoodedbro1001
Now back to our regularly-scheduled playthrough.
So, in our opening FFVI sonata, our heroes Edgar, Locke, Sabin and Terra had reached the rebel hideout of the Returners. We had just imbibed our first Backstory Dump courtesy of Banon, the rebel leader, when news arrived that the town of S. Figaro was under attack and that imperial forces were headed our way.
Just in case we chose to make Terra, Mysterious Waif, refuse the Hero's Call earlier when the rebels were begging her become their
"You'll probably even gain some understanding of your own abilities..."
They are genuinely concerned for her well-being. They also really need to utilize her powers. That tension between compassion and exploitation continues to intrigue me.
Edgar, who showed himself a capable tactician back at Castle Figaro, sends Locke to S. Figaro to delay the imperials while we evacuate.
Banon says that he's got a raft stashed for an escape route. Which is peachy for us, but how are the rest of the rebels going to fit on it? Ed needs to teach Banon a thing or two about securing your people before bailing on them.
Once aboard, it's an exciting Disney flume ride battling rapids, monsters and insane octopus...
Wait, back up... octopus?
Add another screenshot to the "odd evil laughs" file.
Meet Ultros, this game's version of Freddicante and Gilgamesh. (Some fans theorize that he was inspired by Cthulhu, in which I would be a lot more interested if Lovecraft wrote dialogue like this.)
(Minor plot hole here: if it's so amazing that Terra can do magic, then how come Banon has a multi-target Heal ability? Sure looks like magic to me.)
Ultros makes a lot of "juicy morsel" and seafood jokes during the fight. I don't even want to think about all the tentacle porn this scene must have spawned.
True to trope, Mr. Octopus runs away to boss fight another day.
Sabin is so outraged that he leaps into the rapids for rematch and is swept away. Um...?
So the party splits up. While this happened occasionally in IV and V — characters breaking off for their own mini-adventures, sidequests and tête-à-tête scenes, allowing for snatches of character- and relationship-building — FFVI is where the bifurcated party becomes a major narrative device:
"If one of us has to become a Fayth, I volunteer..."
Er, sorry, wrong game. And I don't want to imagine a mog wearing Yunalesca's butt floss, so let's finish our river rafting trip, stat.
Scenario #1, I choose you:
We slog back to Narshe, through the caves (waving at the moogle village in passing)...
...and reunite with Terra's old friend, who now has an actual name. (This is the bloke who freed her from the Slave Crown
...they all went slightly berserk when the Esper was discovered.
BANON: This young woman is our only hope of reaching out to that Esper.
ARVIS: My people are dying to know what the Esper looks like. Maybe Terra can help restore some order to the town?
The GBA Script makes a little more sense (during playthrough, I thought "berserk" meant the Esper was possessing them or driving them crazy, and I wasn't sure how the girl last seen attacking them in Magitek Armor could calm them down save by terrifying them into submission):
Arvis: Everyone's been a little on edge since the esper was discovered.
Banon: We believe Terra may be able to help us get answers to our questions about the esper.
Arvis: Well, the townspeople are still quite curious about it as well. If we approach them in the right way, there's a good chance they'll agree to let her see it.
"Berserk" or no, I get the impression that the townsfolk are proud/protective of their Esper as they might a local Shinto spirit (think of the Fayth in FFX).
The scene ends with a prophetic pronouncement from Edgar:
You really know how to inspire confidence in The Plan, Ed.
In most hero-quests, the goal is clear, and the path to it is usually known in advance, so the quest is just a matter of overcoming obstacles on the way there. In FFVI, the good guys are a lot less sure of the way forward. "Let's throw the Ring in the Fire." "But what if it causes a ginormous volcanic eruption that covers Gondor in lava?" "Uh...well we've gotta do something, so let's try it, okay?"
Before we can attempt anything foolish, the scene switches back to the Historia Crux, and Mog sends us onto the next timestream.
His fate, it turns out, is to get hopelessly lost.
Sabin washes up on the overworld map nowhere near anything we recognize.
Checking out the little hut, we find Shadow and his freaky dog, which barks and sends Sabin cowering behind the ninja.
(I learn from FFWiki that the dog's name is Interceptor. Like Angelo in FFVIII, it will occasionally charge enemies for massive damage. I wish I could get a screenshot of it playing Snoopy vs. the Red Baron against aerial opponents).
After Sabin recovers from his fright (!), he asks for directions to Narshe. Shadow, surprisingly chatty, reports that the Imperials have "built a base somewhere beyond the forest... they seem to have their sights set on Doma Castle."
"So Doma's next, huh? I have to reach Narshe immediately!" Sabin exclaims.
After this, Shadow provides not a single word of guidance.
In the course of making this writeup, I've created my own sketchmap of FFVI's World of Balance in order to figure out where the heck we were.
See that "Old Coot's Cottage" in the northeast? That's Sabin's current location. Now look where Narshe is.
Wait. Why is Shadow leading Sabin due SOUTH to Doma on a dead end peninsula, when Narshe is due WEST?
While playing, my suspicions of Shadow were roused as soon as he started being helpful. When we last saw Shadow in Figaro, he wouldn't speak two words to us. Edgar and Locke, the brains of the party, were afraid to go near him (and I will note that Locke has no qualms taking on the imperial army). So why is Shadow Sabin's new best friend? Did Sabin give him the Secret Handshake of Martial Arts Dudes, or is Shadow an imperial spy?
Or maybe our ninja just suffers from that common "can't admit he's lost" male-ady.
Shadow also warns Sabin that he may abandon him at any moment (i.e. during a random encounter).
This is a self-fulfilling prophecy, as I've learned to KO Shadow to keep him from running off.
About that old coot. The cottage's sole occupant is a few rivets short of a steam engine.
First the old man threatens to toss us out onto the Veldt, babbling something about a "mischievous boy." Then he tries to get us to fix his cuckoo clock, stove, lawn, or possibly his bed. (Accompanying cuckoo-clock soundtrack is appropriate.) We exit
After discovering every single you-can't-go-there nook of this continent — thanks for nothing, Shadow — we trip over the Imperial camp and hide behind a crate to eavesdrop. The soldiers are worried that Kefka is going to replace General Leo.
Sadly, I don't think that's metaphorical. They heap abuse on Kefka when his back is turned.
Now... is that metaphorical? Innnnnnnnteresting. (Or is Kefka just less humane than Terra, despite being more human?)
Most of the soldiers are summoned away for the attack on Doma. Quick! Now's our chance to sneak through!
Inside, the defenses are crumpling. One loyal knight proposes to fling open the front gates and challenge the imperial commander to a duel, on the theory that if he wins, the imperial army will collapse.
I will try not to point out the military stupidity of the following sequence and just note that Batman wants his cape back:
Sure enough, Sir Cyan beats the commander, and the rest of the troops run away. How the heck are these guys terrorizing towns across the continent? And why is General Leo such a pushover?
Oh...wait, that wasn't Leo.
We have a heartwarming scene back in camp with Leo counseling his troops to patience, instead of wasting lives in a futile frontal assault.
In a few brief exchanges, Leo shows himself to be wise, honorable, good with his men: a model leader. So of course a "carrier pigeon from the emperor" summons him away. As soon as his back is turned...
Sabin, beside himself, leaps out crying, "That's inhuman!" Note to self: start watching for Humanity/Inhumanity subtext.
We chase Kefka all over camp, never getting in more than a punch before he runs off again. (That's Shadow being Invisible.)
Somehow, a shuriken-tossing invisible ninja and a kickass martial artist totally fail to stop a CLOWN from reaching the river. Kefka turns the water purple with a bit of purple prose:
With a mournful honk, the almighty Angst Goose descends upon Castle Doma. Its defenders keel over one by one, overcome by the fumes, apart from the two sentries on the topmost tower. I can't help thinking of them as Sir Basch and Sir Vossler, even though no-name sentry doesn't have time to stage a Sudden and Inevitable Betrayal...
(The poison's so bad that even that banner turned purple. It was blue just a moment ago.)
When they reach the throne room, the king gasps out his last, telling Cyan to go save his own family.
Cyan and Vossler split up to hunt the castle for survivors. There aren't any.
Cyan reaches his quarters and discovers a nasty shock.
So another Final Fantasy Mom bites the dust, but at least she has a name. For one final twist of the Angst Dagger, Cyan's son Owain stumbles out of bed to die at his father's feet.
Cyan promptly loses it ("D...dear me...I..Impossible! Idiotic!!!" says the slightly oddball translation) and rushes outside to wreck bloody vengeance.
Sabin, who has apparently been standing around twiddling his thumbs — not like he has anywhere to go, after all — offers a helping hand. They bond while beating up troops, until Sabin gets fed up with Cyan's court manners (no wonder he bailed on life as a royal)...
Sabin's adventure from this point on is a Cyan/Sabin buddy flick. Shadow never gets any lines, as he might've randomly run off before we reached the camp.
We slaughter all Leo's remaining troops, who are less skilled at fighting in Magitek armor than three renegades who have never donned a mech before today. Imperial Magitek Academy is even more of a joke than Stormtrooper Sharpshooter Training.
"Only one route, through the forest to the south," replies Cyan.
Does anyone in this entire world have the faintest notion of geography?
So we go south, which actually means north then east and then south, to the Phantom Forest. And despite entering it from the north, once inside, we have to take the north exit on every screen or risk going in circles. NO WONDER I WAS LOST GOOD GRIEF WHAT IS THIS A TESSERACT.
P.S. my pareidolia is having a field day with this screencap. I see a frowning goddess-figure in the water; her shoulders and neck are the white glowy patch and the trees' reflections are ribbons hanging down the sides of her headdress over her ears and she's got glowing nostrils and a furry hat. Is it just me?
Shadow keeps trying to bolt the party after every battle, announcing that he's earned his fee. SO WE KILL HIM. Or rather, we KO him and drag his body along. Uweee hee hee!
Eventually we find a train (!) in the heart of the forest.
Ominously, once you step onto this screen, you cannot back up. Not even a step.
Sabin thinks we should check the train for survivors. Cyan, putting two and two together, abruptly freaks. "Sir Sabin! Sir Sabin!"
Ignoring him, Sabin pushes onboard. Cyan follows under protest, exclaiming as they step aboard, "This train is haunted!" Only after the train starts moving does Cyan reveal what he bally well should've mentioned back on the platform...
"I don't want to go THERE!" Sabin says. Too late, sucker. (We rouse Shadow with a Phoenix Down now that he can't escape. Uwee hee hee.)
It's really interesting how much anime has integrated trains into modern mythology. Remember the trains in Spirited Away? (Or for that matter the mystery train at the beginning of Kingdom Hearts 2?)
The game designers have a field day riffing on the "Train to Hell" trope. The caboose includes a conductor (inexplicably named "Impresario" in keeping with the game's opera-references) who ghoulishly brandishes a blank train schedule (the dead don't need schedules). Ghost merchants try to sell us items, while ghost hitchhikers fill out the party to give us a full contingent of four for battles. There's even a haunted dining car with helpful waitstaff. Sabin, who evidently doesn't know the Persephone legend, digs in ("Can't wage war on an empty stomach!") while Cyan panics.
I think it's cute that Sir Cyan is still serving royalty, although I doubt he knows it.
...However, apart from a few ghostly allies, most of the Phantom Train's undead passengers are properly spooky and hostile.
We eventually reach the locomotive and throw various switches to try to stop the train...
...but the train attacks!
Yes, we are outrunning a fricking train while periodically turning around to fight it. Final Fantasy laws of physics, gotta love 'em.
So we beat up the train. It agrees to let us off, but not before giving the Angst-knife another twirl.
Cyan spots his wife and child boarding just as the train begins to pull away.
Cue an absolutely classic scene of anguished-protag running along a platform calling after loved ones. Cyan is at least consoled by their voices in his mind as the train rushes off into the darkness: "My love... You made me so happy. Don't forget me..." "Dad! I'll make sure Mom's all right!"
So. On the other side of the Phantom Forest, the most direct route is obviously to cross a grassy plain, enter a cave, navigate the tunnels, climb another mountain, and discover ourselves above another rushing river. Sabin, are you feeling a little déjà vu?
Sabin recognizes the spot as the "Baren Falls" [sic] and consults his two trusty guides for directions.
YES THAT IS TOTALLY THE SWIFTEST ROUTE TO NARSHE....
Uh, Shadow? A little help, here?
"...Sir Cyan is clearly an even more inept guide than I am. Kefka will be pleased. Anyway, the Empire is not paying me enough to follow you two suicidal maniacs a step farther."
Er, actually, no, Shadow just splits without another word. But I'm sure that's what he's thinking.
So it's time another fine Final Fantasy tradition, cliff diving. A stiff drink and/or one of Laguna's inane pep talks would come in handy about now.
Hopefully there are no giant orange octopus down here... Oh. Of COURSE. There WOULD be piranhas fighting in freefall in the waters of the tallest waterfall of the world.
...I am so disgusted I forget to screencap. After an interminable number of fish battles, we wash up, a la Aragorn, on the banks of a river.
Er...well, at least it's not a horse smooch. The odd-looking person (?) scampers off when Sabin stirs.
We wander across the Veldt to the town of Mobliz, where learn that a guy up north who's a little "psycho" "threw his own kid out, convinced the boy was a "monster" after the mother died in childbirth. (Send out another membership card to the Dead Final Fantasy Moms Club). The crazy old coot with the broken clock and unmowed lawn suddenly becomes far less funny. Luckily the kid survived, and is now Tarzan.
There's a couple kids, Duane and Katrin, whom we cheerily interrupt having a snog in the back forty. To atone for our sins, we waste an hour on a sidequest for a wounded imperial conscript sending carrier pigeon missives back and forth to his lover in Maranda.
(He gives us an HP-regen relic for our troubles.)
Another villager informs us that the currents of the "Serpent Trench" will sweep us to the town of Nikeah, if we can find the "breathing apparatus" (!) that was stolen. Um, this is starting to feel like Final Fantasy I here, guys... I'm losing the plot.
We head back out to the Veldt, where Wild Boy shows up after battles begging for food. Once fed, he befriends us, tussles with Sabin using moves that resemble a hopping flea, at Cyan's old-fashioned,"Who be thou...?" "Thou! Thou!" Gau shouts, and it becomes his new favorite word.
Gau's hijinks exasperate both Sabin and Cyan (probably reminded of his son, as he steps away looking sad), and Wild Boy attempts to make amends by offering a secret treasure he's found.
At this point I succumb to grinding and attempt to pick up a bunch of useful abilities for Gau, our resident Blue Mage Berserker.
I also rediscover the odd fact that much as I like the music of the Velt (and the People of the Mountain in FFX), tribal drumming puts me right to sleep.
Back on the Path of Plot Advancement, we head to Crescent Mountain (there's always a Crescent something in these games, have you noticed?)
After picking Sabin's pocket and causing yet more mischief, Gau makes his peace offering:
Um. Guys. GUYS. That's one diving helmet. For three people. Even if you tell me the oxygen tank is magically built in, I see a problem here.
Sabin, undaunted, contemplates his third cliff diving exploit in as many days.
At this point I determine that Sabin is crazy. Oh, well, here goes nothing! *sploosh* Sure ya wanna come, Gau?
Gau has second and third thoughts, but eventually musters up the nerve to follow Mr. Thou. Poor kid.
After another wild and improbable flume ride underwater and across the bottom of the ocean, we wash up half-drowned in the Shopping Emporium of Nikeah. Good thing I racked up all that gil on the Veldt!
We bump into one of Final Fantasy's old standbys, a WTF dancer, wearing considerably more clothing than Bibi did back in FFI.
Understandably, Cyan is not in the mood for flirting. We'd better get out of here before the barkeep throws him out. (Hey, is that Minwu in the corner?)
We hop a ferry and head upriver.
Oh, no. Cyan the Navigator thinks we're almost back to Narshe. Tune in next month to see whether we survived our tour of the Antipodes.
So finally we can switch to Locke. ABOUT TIME.
I'm curious what Locke did to delay the Imperial army, but this writeup is long enough already, so let's just get out of here...
Locke is the nicest guy you'll ever meet, unless of course you call him a thief.
So we fight this poor schlep and steal his clothes, using them to sneak around town. Locke also mugs a soldier for a second handy disguise (green uniform):
I wonder why Emperor Gestahl picked a literal clown as his right-hand-man. Then again, I think we had this discussion before with this guy back in FFIII. I suppose Kefka is a step up; at least he's not an Undead Clown. My mind runs off on another FFXII tangent, and I suddenly wonder if Doctor Cid in all his insanity is an evil genius version of Kefka. (Only not really, because Cid has "greater good" reasons for what he does, but still, there are interesting parallels).
Whoops, sorry, digression. Back to busting out of Figaro.
We sneak into the house of the rich man, who gives no explanation for his betrayal...
...and after more sneaking, we find the secret passage to his wine cellar, where is a makeshift prison cell.
Locke peeps through the cracks in the door...
Locke must really get around, to recognize Imperial generals on sight.
In a simple yet brutal scene, we watch her being beaten by her own soldiers. If they ever remake this game with modern graphics, they'd probably have to suggest everything with sound effects and Locke's reaction peeking through the door:
Celes retorts, "How can you serve those cowards...?" and rants about Kefka's poisoning of the people of Doma.
The guard beats her until she collapses, then leaves. The other nods off. Cue a gratuitous yet touching Star Wars reference:
It's especially fitting, since Celes' spitfire no-nonsense personality matches Leia's.
Locke introduces himself: "I'm with the Returners. Name's Locke."
She's badly hurt and tells him to leave her here. Locke, of course, can do no such thing, and promises to protect her.
Wounded or not, Celes proves quite capable in battle — in fact she's a Mage-Knight who can cast white AND black magic. Wait. I thought that was innate to Terra because she wasn't a normal human?
We eventually escape the town, trek across country, spend a cozy night at Sabin's empty cabin — hush, they don't know each other that well yet — crawl back through the cave separating S. Figaro from the Narshe area — and oh, drat, the Empire sends something to collect Celes.
She has another ace up her sleeve, however...
Except that Runic Blade is actually useful, because she's recharging her MP every time she absorbs a magical attack.
Locke's all, "Are you sure you'll be okay?" Hey, would you ask that if a guy told you he could handle something? I'm just sayin'.
With Celes' general kickassedness, we defeat it easily.
Meanwhile, back in Narshe, the Returners are meeting with the village Elder. He's hemming and hawing about committing to their cause, afraid of repeating the very same mistakes as their ancestors.
Banon admits he's got a point. The Emperor is coming to take the Esper and exploit it for Magitek power, and if the Returners use Terra to fight back, it'll be the War of the Magi all over again.
Sabin bursts in on the meeting, introduces Cyan and Gau, and reports how Kefka poisoned the people of Doma. The Elder of Narshe is shocked— "Barbaric!" — but the news only makes him more fearful on his village's behalf.
Locke bursts in dramatically to end the stalemate.
"The Empire's poised to attack Narshe right now!" Locke says.
Cyan is none too pleased to meet the source of this intelligence:
It's a good thing that Cyan backs down from Locke's intervention, because I think the old knight could probably flatten him.
Terra causes more consternation by reminding everyone that she was also a soldier of the Empire, which throws Cyan into a tizzy again. Edgar, as usual, has words of wisdom:
Edgar is reminding me of original-Trek Captain Kirk: a ladies' man, dashing, a capable leader who is actually a good tactician. It's hard to remember old Trek after everything that came after, but many episodes ended with an Aesop, and Kirk was often delivering speeches about compassion, tolerance and respect for different beings and cultures, when he wasn't having the requisite fistfights or Shatnering his lines. He was a level-headed, capable and mature commander, unlike the reboot's Kirk.
All right. Can we please stop squabbling and decide whether we're going to do this insanely stupid poke-the-Esper experiment?
...ack, someone else bursts into the room to interrupt. It's as bad as telemarketers.
And on that entirely predictable cliffhanger, I'll pause.
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