The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy IV, part 2
All right. So let’s go over this for just a minute. Assume you work as an innkeeper in a desert oasis town not too far from a major castle. One day, you see someone new strolling into town. Closer inspection reveals that he is a man in ominous black armor, carrying a young girl who has obviously been injured and weeping recently.
What I’m getting at here is that it’s a major miracle that the game’s lot didn’t end here, with Cecil being sent to every single possible jail. I mean, the explanation would just make it worse. “See, it’s because I killed her mom!”
Yes, after you’ve blown a village to hell, the only thing to really do is head for the nearest town in the hope that the girl you traumatized and almost killed isn’t actually dead. The innkeeper lets you take her to a bed to rest immediately, and said girl wakes up after about five seconds of bed rest. Despite Cecil’s eagerness, she’s a little reluctant to chat with him due to the whole dead mother thing, so Cecil also prepares to go to sleep. Until soldiers burst in, anyway.
Apparently soldiers from Baron tracked Cecil and wanted to make sure that the summoners were all dead, so you have to enter a stupidly easy fight against a general and three soldiers. That’s apparently all it takes for the little girl named Rydia to warm up to you, because apparently bad men don’t defend you after they burn down your village so he must be okay. She also now joins your party, which I guess means that Cecil is all right with putting her in consistently life-threatening situations as long as he’s there too?
The game’s strong narrative focus kind of goes off the rails here, really. You don’t have a clear direction for where you need to go next, which makes a certain amount of sense – you’ve sort of cut ties with everything and are stranded in a desert, after all – but also leaves you wandering about until you bump into a plot again. What you do hear is that some guy named Tellah didn’t approve of his daughter Anna’s girlfriend and that there’s a thing called the Underground Waterway, but you don’t really have an obvious reason to move in that direction. Oh, and I guess you discover Rosa was apparently tossed out into the desert and needs a jewel to cure her desert sickness, which can only be found in the cave where the Antlion dwells.
I should note that this is the point where my playthroughs of this game have traditionally stalled out and just stopped, and I have no idea why. Maybe it’s because I just lack staying power. Every time I seem to get to here and just sort of shrug and move on despite the fact that I haven’t even given the game half a chance at this point. And yes, this tripped me up again whilst playing for this project, although you won’t see it on your end. (No one wants to read weeks of “nope, don’t feel like playing Final Fantasy IV” for this feature.)
The Underground Waterway has monsters a bit rougher than what’s milling about outside, but it’s still not too bad – which is good, since the party still functionally consists of just Cecil and his sword. Rydia’s a little girl without any offense other than magic, and frankly that’s still a highly limited resource. Partway through the cave Tellah shows up, joining the party chiefly because you’re going in the same direction and he wants you to help him kill a bard.
Having dealt with plenty of bards in Final Fantasy XIV, I’m all right with this plan.
After some more faffing about in the cave, Tellah suggest that the group rest for the night, explaining a bit more about why he’s after a bard and Rydia’s potential. It’s not much, but it’s one of the first times that a game really takes control away from you mid-dungeon to worry about the story. Shortly after that you nab an Ice Rod for Rydia, which is a welcome addition as it allows her to cast for free.
Yes, I realize that I said these sorts of items faded early on in the series, but it seems my own memory was decidedly inaccurate. Seeing one this early is welcome, too, since it lets one of your casters be more useful early on.
As you move through the dungeon, you start running into more varied enemy types, including enemies that only take significant damage from certain sources. Red Mousse, for instance, just won’t take enough damage from physical attacks, and Zombies shrug them off likewise; you need to use Blizzard and Cure, respectively. In some ways it’s nice to see that brought to the forefront, while in others it’s annoying to kind of be strongarmed into it. You get a brief break before another mini-dungeon that’s still basically the same area, followed by a boss fight.
The boss fight is pretty straightforward, as you’d expect at this point – you swing at it repeatedly and have Tellah heal you when necessary. Despite Tellah being overleveled compared to the rest of the group, he’s kind of crap at dealing damage, but Rydia and Cecil hit hard enough that it’s not much more than a simple matter of keeping at it. One nice trait is that the critter’s tentacles vanish as it takes damage, something that was true in the original version as well and is accompanied with some fairly nice sprite art even here.
Once you step out, you’re ready to see the gleaming spires of Damcyan Castle… which last for only a moment before a fleet of airships come by and nearly level the damn thing. Rushing inside amidst dead guards and ruined columns, Tellah finds his daughter dead, at which point he rushes at the bard who supposedly tricked his daughter. (Yes, this is the origin of the “spoony bard” line that has been used as a meme basically forever after.) What follows is a mock-battle in which Tellah basically just punches his would-be nemesis while screaming in rage, and it’s only Anna recovering just enough to be heard that stops the assault.
It turns out that the bard in question, Edward, is the prince of Damcyan, and he was about to bring Anna home before the Red Wings attacked under the command of the mysterious Golbez. Anna dies, Edward is heartbroken, and Tellah rushes off to kill Golbez on his own in a rage. On the one hand, it’s sort of cheesy and handled in very broad strokes, but it’s handled pretty well, and it packs more emotional punch than Final Fantasy II‘s storyline scenes. Cecil smacks a bit of sense into Edward, who agrees to help him retrieve the sand pearl… after saying one last goodbye to Anna.
The bad news is that we’ve lost Tellah, but the good news is that we’ve got a hovercraft now. We can at least save one person’s life… assuming, of course, we can get the necessary antidote to desert sickness without dying ourselves.