It's also true of Celes. Locke bursts in to report that Celes told him there's an Imperial army marching on Narshe. Celes doesn't say a word then or when Locke, Cyan and Edgar argue over whether she's an Imperial spy:
The ex-general's silence raises an intriguing question: Has she joined the Returners? All she's said in-game is that she is, or was, General Celes, now "nothing but a traitor." Those could be the words of a loyal soldier smitten with shame or sorrow at having been cast out. And Locke strikes me as the sort to assume the best of people.
Whatever Celes is thinking, I hope to see her and Terra speak up for themselves and display more autonomy soon.
Meanwhile, Kefka's army is on the march. He orders them to get the Esper at any cost, overriding his soldiers who point out that Narshe is neutral:
I'm trying to remember: is this the first time that Final Fantasy has embraced the grayscale complexity of, "enemy soldiers aren't faceless evil; there's some good and some bad in everyone"? FFIII changed black/white to polarities rather than good/evil, with Warriors of Dark arising at times when the Light overran things; Cecil was a military officer grappling with pangs of conscience; and Gilgamesh was pure chaotic awesome. But this is the first time I can remember ethical, honorable souls among the rank and file. (Hmm, maybe a bit in FFIII when the soldiers of Saronia were forced to fight one another.)
Back in Narshe, the village Elder is finally convinced that it's too late to mimic Switzerland.
(I'd like to know why the people of Narshe are dressed in mummy wrappings.)
We head off to the mountains, where the villagers have hidden the Esper, to take our stand. Along the way, we get some character interactions, huzzah!
Edgar has some friendly advice for Celes: "Locke has a complicated past. I wouldn't go thinking he's fallen for you or something!"
Hey...Ed? You just said that Locke isn't interested, so why is Celes "cold as ice" for not being interested? (But I love Celes' "Dammit, Jim, I'm a soldier, not an X" lines.) The GBA script changes Edgar's line to, "So much for my next suggestion..." which makes a lot more sense, considering his reputation as a flirt.
Also, surely there's more pressing things to discuss with a military officer with intimate strategic knowledge of the enemy you're about to fight?
Edgar hurries ahead, and FFVI takes a pass at the Bechdel Test:
Terra punts back with a question: "You...can use magic too?"
Celes Backstory Dumps that she was infused with
This is all very interesting. Here we have two people, both raised by the empire, but one was given a position of authority and is comfortable with magic as a gift, whereas the other was abused, enslaved, and now views magic almost as a curse. I'm interested to see how Terra responds.
*facepalm* Annnnnd we're back to "Female character, love interest Y/N?" Seems like the guys don't get quizzed on this half as often.
I get it, really. Terra feels cut off from the human race, and she's trying to find something to love, something worth fighting for, and to feel loved rather than just exploited. (THE FIFTH ELEMENT made this its female lead's character arc as well). But still, I was hoping for some kind of "the empire terrifies me" vs. "the empire was good to me" debate or "my magic seems a little different from yours."
As we reach the field of battle, Cyan's paranoia bursts out again. Frankly, while I like Celes (and her spiffy white cape), I approve of his caution.
Celes' response is a steely non-answer that satisfies my own doubts more than empty assurances would (according to Cyan, she led the attack against Maranda, and I have no reason to doubt him). It will take deeds, not words, to demonstrate exactly where her loyalties lie:
- Is she opposed to the war, or just Kefka's despicable methods (poison, slaughtering civilians, etc)?
- Does she feel so betrayed and bitter about her imprisonment that she's striking back at the empire?
- Is she a traitor to her emperor? Or, again, is she opposing Kefka, but still a loyal general at heart?
- Has she truly joined the Returners' cause? Why? Not simply out of gratitude to Locke, surely?
Kefka, of course, frames this puzzle in simple terms, the very term Celes used for herself when Locke cut her chains:
"How delightful! This'll be fun!"
Carrier pigeon note to Emperor Gestahl: that's the second or third time I've seen Kefka express delight at someone turning traitor. Why are you still trusting this clown?
Then Kefka, whose goal seems to be to slaughter as many people as possible, sends his hapless minions towards us like sheep across a minefield. He has no problem representing Absolute Evil.
Terra actually gets to do something, hooray! Even if it is basically to act as a human cursor, dividing our party into three groups to fend off an entire imperial cohort. (The Returners and villagers are nowhere to be found when the going gets tough!)
No problem! At this point, we are a human buzzsaw.
Edgar demonstrates that Kefka isn't the only one willing to use BIOlogical warfare:
I love to use Gau & Cyan as a Kimahri & Auron tag team. Mowgli Boy is devastating, since I've stocked him with all the strongest Rages (mostly multi-target abilities), while Cyan can crack open a single foe like a walnut or do Quadra Slam if the need arises.
Talking to party members between enemy encounters reveals battle quotes. Most are generic "we're fighting the nasty empire rah rah" filler, but Celes surprises me:
So, despite magic being a "lovely gift," despite her position as General, she felt enslaved, too?
We clear out all the grunts, poor dears. When we reach Kefka, I am disappointed to find no biting commentary between Kefka, Celes or Terra. (first glimpse of Kefka's kooky in-battle form...why do the bosses always get taller?)
I actually replayed this entire sequence because the first time, I was beating my head against the interface and couldn't figure out how to assign cursor-Terra to an attack group. But I wanted to see if she had any special quotes during the showdown with Kefka. (Other than "Kefka....he stuck that crown on me?" —nope).
Unfortuntely, I forgot that Celes' awesome Runic Blade ability neutralizes any spells, including Terra's. Oh, well, we still thrashed him.
Kefka flees like a Gilgamesh, sans snappy dialogue (at least in the Playstation version).
So we're finally free to do what Edgar and Banon have been agitating for since they first met Terra: use her to communicate with the Esper and enlist its aid.
We all gather around the frozen Esper, which Narshe Village has placed at the very edge of a precipice. I'm sure this will go over well. So to speak.
(Is it my imagination, or is this where Terra, Biggs and Wedge landed in the prologue?)
The Esper starts glowing and making *twingle twingle* noises again. Terra shouts "Nooo!" and does the Stagger Step of Mindfuckery (which we'd all recognize if we saw it on the street, who says that fantasy games and SF haven't taught us anything).
Suddenly she gives a bright flash of light and nearly knocks everyone into the abyss. (Shades of FFVIII's Rinoa on the Lunar Base...)
Terra walks towards the Esper, hypnotized. The girl can't get a break; something is always messing with her head.
"What!? What am I feeling? What's going on?" she asks in a tunnel vision landscape in which the rest of the party has vanished from her awareness.
And here, at last, she's self-aware enough to ask the Question which has been building ever since she escaped the Slave Crown. We get slow text-animation, letter by letter, to indicate a rare burst of emotion:
Locke's and Edgar's voices intrude on this dreamlike tableau, calling Terra's name and urging her to step away. Surprisingly, Celes can hear the Esper as well, and her words also break into Terra's trance:
Sure enough, as I had predicted back when Banon first proposed this harebrained scheme, the Esper zaps Terra again. LEARNING CURVE, WHAT IS THAT.
(To be fair, Terra didn't remember enough to warn them that this happened during her last Esper-encounter.)
When the lightning fades, Terra transforms into.... Shiva?!
In one of the more heartbreaking, memorable, and downright terrifying moments in the whole Final Fantasy saga, Terra rises into the air with an inhuman scream and flies off.
She races over the world at breakneck speed as if trying to flee from her own body. (I would liken it to my first cat's reaction to having a bell tied to his collar, but that's a totally un-epic analogy).
The scene changes. We're back in the house where Terra first awoke. In a touching inversion, it's Celes looking after Locke.
Locke, playing the part of amnesiac, asks Celes to fill him in. "She changed into a... something, and...took off. She looked like...She looked like...an Esper...
Edgar joins the discussion.
"Screaming across the sky." Brrrrrr.
I'm once again struck by how the good guys' words contain seeds of ethical ambiguity. Edgar is genuinely concerned for her, but he doesn't say, "She needs our help," but rather, "We need to find her." I'm still waiting for Terra to become agent, rather than object, of a verb.
We divide the party, leaving a few behind to guard Narshe. I reluctantly part ways with my two tanks and head south with Celes, Locke, Sabin and Edgar. We stop by Figaro for the night, the kingdom that Sabin left to his brother to rule.
"Hmm... Castle hasn't changed much..."
Flashback time! We learn that there were rumors of the Empire poisoning Edgar and Sabin's father to death:
And he's not the least bit interested in discussing the succession. (Which, really, should've been pretty clear-cut: their father's last wish was for them to divide the kingdom between them, and Figaro is geographically divided into north and south by a mountain range. In a way, they wind up doing so in deed, if not in name.)
Flashback!Sabin lashes out:
"No one cared when Mom passed away, either!" he snits.
Edgar follows him up to the battlements, where Sabin threatens to leave this "war-sick realm for my dignity and freedom." Was Figaro fighting a war with the empire back then? I've never been quite sure whether Figaro was a conquered vassal state or feigning an alliance to avoid being attacked.
I'm surprised to see that Edgar, too, pondered abandoning his responsibilities:
Edgar finally suggests settling the question with a coin toss. "If it's heads, you win." Seems like an awfully arbitrary to determine a country's fate. "We'll choose whichever path we want, without any regrets. Okay?"
"This one's for Dad!" Edgar says in the flashback, which promptly ends.
Back in the present, Edgar pops out and says, "And then, you opted for your freedom," letting us know that Sabin won.
Refreshingly, they really don't seem to have any angst or bitter regrets about it now that they've been reunited. There's some playful banter —
"And you're a King Crab," Sabin returns, somewhat lost in translation, but it's clear enough which of them was cut out to be king material. The lengthy scene of brotherly love concludes with a toast to Mom and Dad and—
I'll drink to that.
(I wish Faris and Lenna had gotten a throne room scene like this.)
Well, that was heartwarming. Now It's time to bug the chief engineer and teleport Figaro's Moving Castle across the mountains.
On the far side, we stop by the village of Kohlingen checking for rumors.
Awww. Poor Terra.
A little girl describes "That shining creature! So frightening to us all! But I found it...beautiful!" Terra's making quite an impression.
In the basement of a nearby mansion, things suddenly take a macabre turn.
People that have said "Uwa, ha, ha!" in this game so far:
- This guy.
The treasure turns out to be Rachel, the woman Locke couldn't protect.
Locke mourns at her bedside. Flashback time!
From Locke's earlier comments, I assumed (mea culpa!) that Rachel was a Distressed Damsel, imprisoned and tortured to death by the Empire. It turns out that they were a treasure hunting team, and she saved Locke's life by pushing him to safety from a crumbling bridge and taking the fall in his stead.
She survived but lost her memory (no wonder Locke glommed onto Terra). Her father, furious, drove Locke away, and Rachel herself told Locke to stop hovering around her, no doubt egged on by Dad. While Locke was gone in self-imposed exile, the empire attacked Kohlingen, killed her parents and mortally (?) wounded Rachel. The last word she spoke was Locke's name.
The Hojo-like loremaster seems perversely amused by their tragedy:
(Come to think of it, this is the first of many FFs with people trapped on the point of death and/or frozen in crystal. Oh, wait, no, Aria in FFIII was stuck in some kind of time stop.)
This means that Locke's rogue/thief persona hides a grimmer truth: he's searching for a "treasure" that will revive his love. I suppose that's better than locking himself in a coffin and moping, but (obscure reference is obscure) I can't help thinkig of One-Eye being preserved on the point of death in Elfquest. In sum: Ick.
At this point, Locke seems to have lost hope. "I...failed her..." he tells the other party members, and slumps away. The party follows, but Celes hangs back for a moment with Rachel.
I wonder if Celes feels some responsibility... was it her troops that attacked Kohlingen?
Shadow's hanging out in the bar. "We meet again," he says.
He's probably still pissed that we knocked him out and dragged him onto that nightmare train. Fair enough.
Down south, we stop by the high-class of Jidoor and stock up. Wealthy locals make disparaging comments about the poor people who left to settle up north. Classism, much?
Occasionally, the game's habit of assuming a particular party leader is amusing:
Edgar: *cough* I beg your pardon?
Sabin: Hey, Bro, I always said you were the pretty one!
We wend our way north to Zozo, the village of "poor" people, which really is dismal, dark, raining, full of murdered bodies on the streets and thieves and ruffians. Stereotyping much?
At the top of a nightmarish block of apartments, we find a surprisingly cordial person standing in the rain.
Gentle folk? Is this a joke? You just saw my Celes with Genji Glove beating the insulation out of a Hill Gigas with flail/cutlass, didn't ya?
Aha, you did.
Inside the penthouse, we find Terra a little worse for the wear.
We hear a disembodied voice from a summons we've met in several games now, but who so far hasn't had quite the character development of Bahamut and Leviathan:
"Is she all right?" Locke asks, kind-hearted as always. (And we know from the last scene that this situation is far too parallel to Rachel's for his comfort.)
Uh, SURE, LOCKE. It's perfectly all right to get turned into a glowing screaming non-human when you didn't know you weren't human!
Ramuh shows himself, realizing they're Terra's friends. He finds it strange that they call her "Terra." Not as odd as the ploddingly ordinary "Tina" which was her name in the original Japanese. (Yes, I know, it sounded more exotic over there.)
Terra awakens, lurches around the room, and collapses in the corner.
They are shocked to learn that Ramuh is an Esper. Don't Espers live in
Commence Backstory Dump!
Ramuh tells of the War of the Magi from the Espers' perspective. They created a new world (nice trick!) and fled there to escape exploitation. However, 20 years ago, humans seeking Magitek power discovered their hiding place.
Ramuh laments that many Espers have been trapped in the Empire's Magitek Research Facility, being drained of their powers. He escaped, rescuing a few of their crystals.
Locke finally remembers that Terra's still just lying there (talking around her again, guys!) and carries her back to bed. She's awake now, but still panicky. She's not an Esper, Ramuh says, but "actually quite different."
Hey, Locke? Have you tried holding her hand? Making comforting noises at her? Talk to her, mebbe?
But no. Ramuh sets us on a quest to rescue the imprisoned Espers, in the hopes one of them can calm her.
Ramuh sacrifices himself, and the last of his power transforms into magicite — a creepier substance than in FFXII, since it's distilled from living beings (more like Mako). He also bequeaths us the other Esper crystals he saved from the Magitek Facility.
Thanks for your faith in us, gramps! You sure you wanna give us Espers, though? It seems like we're repeating the bad guys' mistakes. (This is the inverse ethical debate of FFX, where machina use isn't really inherently sinful or evil; it's the application that's problematic. However, machina aren't alive.)
Cyan and Gau have caught up with us — gee, hope Narshe is safe —and we fill them in as we descend. Celes shows visible distress at the revelation that the Empire has been draining Espers for Magic.
"I don't remember because I was asleep when they...augmented me," she replies. "But I've heard rumors to that effect."
So yeah, she knew.
The party divides once more; guarding Narshe is a good excuse for the party members that can't come along. (I'm missing my back row, dangit).
Celes speaks up (hoorah!) and announces that she'll go to the Empire since "I know it well."
Oh, Locke. You and your protectiveness. (I appreciate that the game acknowledges both the positive and negative aspects of setting yourself up as everyone's white knight.)
We send Sabin back with Gau, return to the Snob City of Jidoor, and barge into the ginormous mansion, property of one "Owzer," in the back of town. (Locks? Guards? Burglar alarms? Naaaaah.)
The resident Impresario -- how did he get off the Phantom Train? -- is in a tizzy and mistakes Celes for the famous opera singer we've been hearing about.
Yes, of course, because most opera singers go clanking about in armor carrying a large sword and flail when they're –
Oops, sorry. We'll just sit back and enjoy this "identical twin" comic opera, shall we? Final Fantasy is at its best when its characters are suddenly thrust into show biz.
Of course, opera buffa has to include letters randomly dropped in foyers...
"My Dear Maria,
I want you for my wife.
I'm coming for you...
The Wandering Gambler"
When Locke inquires about the identity of our "Wandering Gambler" ("You born on a farm, son?" says the class-conscious Impresario), we get our first glimpse of Setzer posing at the prow of his airship.
Am I the only person who played these games out of order and thought of Setzer as a campy AU!Sephiroth?
I barely resist the temptation to use Seph's name. I'm not particularly a Sephiroth fan, but see the comic potential.
I will also resist calling him "Seltzer," despite my great childhood love of Allan Sherman:
(Yes, I have weird audio associations, as we'll see again shortly.)
Setzer is of course the proud owner of this world's "only airship." Just like holding two spheres at once in FFX's Cloisters of Trials, it's usually dangerous to have more than one airship in Final Fantasyland: they might mutually annihilate each other, causing a calamitous matter/antimatter explosion. (Just look what happened when the FFIII characters flew Cid's Enterpoop to the surface world, which already had an airship.)
Hey wait! Why isn't Setzer named "Cid"? Is that allowed?
General Celes is finally contributing strategy to the group:
(I keep noticing FF echoes: Ashelia tries to steal Balthier's airship in FFXII, and winds up getting him to kidnap her.)
We head south to the opera house, where Locke has a plan.
Edgar and Cyan, optional party members: "'I'? What are we, chopped flan?"
Celes is less than pleased to be so used, uttering her most famous line:
However, she heads into the back to practice. And now we move to the level of WTF farce.
Oh, you again. He drops off a letter which they fail to read. I would be amused if Ultros' cunning plan goes thud.
I saw Uematsu's "Draco and Maria" performed live at a Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds concert at Comic-con a few years ago. Here's a fan's mashup of this scene's game graphics synched to the incredible Distant Worlds recording. Of course, the performance doesn't go off nearly as smoothly in-game.
Locke barges into Celes' dressing room (!) to help her memorize her lines.
Rather than thwacking him, Celes diverts the subject back to Locke's motives in freeing her from imperial prison. Shrewd Celes is shrewd:
Non-answer is answer.
Celes doesn't press it, and her "On with the show!" gives me whiplash as she settles abruptly into her new role as primadonna. The prologue begins...
Dang that two-timing Prince Rasler!
Seven years before FFX debuted voice acting (apart from occasional vocals on FMV soundtracks), FFVI found a clever way to suggest singing with simple sound processor tricks. It sounds like someone gargling the tune, but it works.
Celes throws herself into this imaginary romantic role with gusto, despite her scorn for "love-starved twits." Her playacting seems to inform some of her later behavior in the game, as if the Maria persona rubbed off on her.
Here's the famous "Celes tosses bouquet" sequence shown in the opening FMV:
Ultros gets in on the letter-writing act. The Impresario begins to have second thoughts about Locke's sanity when he hears there's a purple octopus sending threatening missives, too.
The Draco & Maria libretto serves as a charming handbook of clichés that one should never use in writing.
(Blast JK Rowling; I'm not particularly a Potter fan and still can't help thinking of Draco Malfoy.)
In the opera house rafters above the stage, Ultros prepares to drop a 4t weight.
And with that, the bane of an arthritic gamer's existence begins, timed battles. We battle through a ton of random rats in the ceiling (meh), reach Ultros, fall to the stage...
Oh, lor. So this is all a buildup for Locke to play white knight again.
Locke, honey, she's a Magitek Knight who can probably fry calamari without even raising a sword. And you need some debonair style tips from Balthier before you embark on a "leading man" acting career.
The Impresario is less than impressed by Locke's "awful acting." So too is the octopus, although he's not really one to talk:
"can never defeat me!" or words to that effect.
This just gets crazier and weirder. Worse, the evil octopus villain keeps reminding me of poor Paula Tiso (FFX Lulu voice actor) playing Laughing Octopus in Metal Gear Solid. I keep imagining Ultros' lines in her voice, and it's terribly, horribly wrong.
Boss battle time...
No, actually, I was pining for Rubicante, or at least Gilgamesh. HEY WAITAMINUTE WHERE'S CELES AND HER GENJI GLOVE? Argh.
Cyan beats the calamari to a pulp. Locke sits out the battle confused, poisoned, and impified. Afterwards, while Locke is striking his victory pose for the audience...
(Celes was fully armed under that opera gown? I suppose she was just sitting it out with a box of popcorn, watching the guys deal with the annoying octopus.)
The Impresario makes the most of the mayhem:
Setzer drags Celes — a Magitek-enhanced soldier, mind you — back to his airship and thwacks her down the steps. I'd like to think she's just playing along here.
Celes takes advantage of game mechanics to
Setzer is none too pleased to find his lounge occupied by a fake Maria plus strangers.
At this point the plan hits a snag: they can't hijack the ship, because he's the only one who can fly it. They all make their case, spilling out a catalog of Imperial sins. (I'm curious what Gau would've said.)
This is news to Setzer. As far as he knows, the empire is warm and fluffy and rescues kittens from trees. Oh, sure.
You tell 'im, Celes!
(Er, wait, she'd have first-hand knowledge of that smashing, wouldn't she? Setzer fails to spot the irony.)
Oh fer cryin out loud. He says he'll only help if Celes marries him.
Celes appears to agree, then smoothly slips in terms and conditions, appealing to Setzer's gambling instincts: she challenges him to a coin toss. Edgar loans her his lucky coin...
Locke has a conniption about the idea of Celes marrying Setzer, but she wins the toss. Setzer is mildly amused to discover that she cheated:
Unusual? Yeah, right. You're a gambler, you gotta know that ploy. (Again, I assume he was also playing along, although his "Ha! What a low trick!" sounds authentically surprised.)
Celes is still blushing from Setzer's "you look stunning" comment a moment ago. I just noticed that Edgar is blushing, too. Heh.
Tangent time: Despite my giving Edgar a hard time, I really like the guy: thoughtful tactician, competent ruler, inoffensive flirt, gadgeteer with automatic crossbow. His fake coin raises my opinion of him 500%. He must've suggested the coin toss to give Sabin an out, instead of being saddled with co-rulership. With anyone else, it would've been a power grab, but for Edgar, it was actually an act of generosity to let his brother abandon familial duty (a big thing in Japanese culture, remember) while saving face. Now, here's a question: I've read that the coin features Sabin's and Edgar's profiles. Was it struck in anticipation that they'd both rule as king?
Back in the present, Setzer gives in with,"I have nothing to lose but my life!" and we adjourn to the flight deck.
Outside, Locke is having second thoughts about anime physics: "This unwieldy-looking ship really moves! Could it crash?" Of course it can, Locke! This is Final Fantasy!
Setzer is hardly reassuring:
And off we go. Setzer's ship, the Blackjack, sets course for the imperial base on the southern continent.
Aw, heck. I knew I shoulda grabbed Gau. WAIT! I need my berserker fireball-caster! Turn this ship around!
Nevermind. The Path of Plot Advancement beckons. Tune in next time, when I hope to get poor Terra back in the party!
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