The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy IV, part 3

I don't expect it to last, but it'll be nice while it does.

Artwork from a sketch by Yoshitaka Amano

Tellah’s left the party, but in his place, we have Edward.  You know, the character who has long been seen as so catastrophically useless that his very uselessness is seen as a punchline.  In other words, the game continues to be Cecil and his Amazingly Unhelpful Companions, right down to the fact that Edward joins at a remarkably low level and is thus outpaced by a child in overall progression.  Then again, it’s not like he was lining up for battle before his home was assaulted, so I suppose it’s not really his fault.

A bit of grinding is advisable, helped substantially by the fact that the ruins of the castle still contain HP and MP restoration springs for free.  Despite that, the world map outside of the castle is home to enemies that shan’t help substantially; it’s better to try and get in a bit of level buffing via the Antlion’s Den.  That means hopping on Edward’s complimentary royal hovercraft and taking a ride over rocks and shoals to the northeast.  It’s a fairly short trip.

There seem to be a few dozen random deserts in this game, and I don't know why.

Seems like a nice enough place, just a few inches short of lush grasslands. That’s normal, right?

The Antlion’s Den isn’t terribly long, but like the first two dungeons it has a whole lot of fun playing with multiple levels that you have to move between, mostly taking advantage of the fact at the time that you could deal with upper and lower floors on the SNES and make it look plausible.  That’s my assumption, anyway; the overall design doesn’t feel as tight as it did for dungeons in previous titles.  At least the developers understood the need for having save points mid-dungeon; unfortunately, the placement of those save points leaves something to be desired, since this one is located in the middle rather than, you know, near the actual boss.

Once you reach the boss chamber, Edward reassures everyone that the antlion is quite tame, which it demonstrates by trying to eat him.  The actual boss is a snap if you don’t physically attack it; Rydia summoning and Cecil sticking to Darkness rather than physical hits makes this almost trivially simple.  Edward’s kind of baffled as to why a docile animal would attack, but the important thing is that you have the pearl and can make your way back to Kaipo to cure Rosa’s sickness.

Happily, the pearl works perfectly, bringing Rosa back to the world of the living.  A reunion ensues, and Rosa reveals that she knows the next target for the Red Wings – the Wind Crystal of Fabul.  The group agrees to travel to Fabul together, although Cecil doesn’t want to put Rosa in further danger.  It’s a fairly nice bit of character drama that moves the plot along, with a subtle touch when Rosa asks Rydia if she can cast Fire.

In the middle of the night, Edward steps out to sing to himself, only to be attacked by a monster and have a vision of Anna’s corpse.  It’s sort of silly, but it qualifies as character development – and again, it’s a level of integration between the game and the story it’s trying to tell.  It’s very simple storytelling compared to what the games would achieve later, even just with in-character battles and the like, but you can see the seeds that are being planted in an early state.

Once everyone wakes up, you’ve got a party of three ranged characters and one melee, which lets you play around with the rows a bit.  Unlike other titles, Final Fantasy IV only has two row configurations, one for three people in the back row and one for two, with target priority based more on who’s in front than who’s first in the party.  The middle slot, not the top slot, determines the party leader.  It’s kind of odd compared to how the games usually work.  Regardless, a quick shuffle and the team is off to Mount Hobs, which is the only way to Fabul.  It’s a little blocked in by ice, but what can you do?

Upon reaching Mount Hobs, Rosa talks Rydia into learning Fire, which also serves as a reminder that Cecil screwed her life up but good.  The mountain is where things stop being quite as fire-and-forget; enemies hit harder and you can’t dispose of them as quickly.  Fortunately, Edward can confuse things, Rosa does solid damage with her bow, and Cecil still hits hard.  Climbing the mountain reveals a handful of treasures, then quickly introduces the group to a monk of Fabul being accosted by cloaked figures.  He handles them well enough at first, but a bomb attacks, and Edward declares that it’s vital for the group to help.

Guy, bombs are not that scary.

Now, if they were hurtling down from the sky, that would be a different story.

Seriously, these are enemies you can deal with just by not hitting them. There’s no reason to get worked up about this.

Anyway, that kicks off another boss fight against the Mom Bomb.  This fight is a fair bit harder than the previous ones, helped along simply by the fact that you have a full party and really have to prioritize your abilities differently.  It also changes partway through, going from a simple fight against one target to a bunch of enemies after an explosion rocks your group.  Despite that, it’s still not what I would call hard; you’ve got two characters who can serve as dedicated healers and another who has a multi-target heal, and you can swap from “single-target fight” to “multi-target fight” easily with your physical characters.

Yang initially turns down Cecil’s help, but when Cecil explains what’s going on he changes his tune, meaning that the group is on a rush to Fabul before Baron gets there.  This involves a fair bit of trekking to get there, including through forests and mountains.  Despite that, the arrival in Fabul is not outpaced by the airships of Baron, an outcome that seems pretty absurd but is actually… well, that.

Anyhow, Fabul sports a shop that sells some weapons for Yang as well as armor for Cecil, both of which are useful to have.  There are a handful of treasure chests, along with a constant NPC refrain that the king is looking to speak with Yang.  The king is suspicious of Cecil and company, but when he recognizes Edward he immediately realizes that yes, these people are on the level, and he orders the castle’s defenses tightened.  I’m going to be honest, years of seeing this stuff in action made me suspect that this was going to be far more complicated than that.

Cecil, Edward, and Yang join the fighting at the front gate while Rydia and Rosa hang back to aid with the healers, a plan that turns out to be completely fruitless when the Red Wings attack and just fly in with airships.  What follows is a desperate pattern of falling back while trying to beat the monsters and soldiers down before they reach the crystal chamber.  But the team keeps getting beaten back, and when they’ve fallen back to the crystal chamber…

Making dragoons look like dicks since 1992.

If this guy wasn’t a legendary victim of Chronic Backstabbing Disorder by now, it would be shocking.

Oh, look, it’s Kain.

Cecil’s happy to see Kain at first, but Kain has other plans; he attacks Cecil, and he can’t be beaten even if you want to.  Rosa bursts in before Kain can deal the final blow, sending Kain into a sudden moment of doubt, and then Golbez himself shows up at long last.  Unlike in previous games, this carries a lot of weight; you’d heard about this guy before now, but now you can see him in action.  Edward and Yang are brushed aside, Kain retrieves the crystal, and Golbez grabs Rosa as well.  It’s a scene that’s kind of rough to watch, and it’s the first time the series really aimed a direct gut punch at the player to this degree.

Rydia pulls the men back to their feet, saying that everyone needs to recover and put together a new plan.  In the inn, the group discusses what can be done – an airship is necessary but out of the question, since Baron’s the only nation who has them.  But Baron lacks a navy, so the group can approach by the sea.  That leads to a night’s rest, followed by a meeting with the king of Fabul.  He provides you with a ship, and the group happily heads off to the docks to embark on a rescue mission.

Cecil begins to formulate a plan, but it quickly runs into a minor snag – a giant sea monster sucking the ship toward a whirlpool.  It’s Leviathan, and he’s none too happy to see the ship.  Rydia is knocked overboard, Yang jumps in after her, and the next thing Cecil knows he’s washed up on the shore alone.

Yeah, Cecil’s life has been pretty terrible here.

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About expostninja

I've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.

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