The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy IV, part 8
The road to the Tower of Babil is a long one. Part of that is because it is not, strictly speaking, a road; it’s a layer of solid rock over rivers of magma. Another part of that is that it is not a tourist destination. Much as I like the idea of dwarven groups riding little dwarven tour buses back and forth, sending postcards that read “LALI-HO FROM THE TOWER OF BABIL,” that’s not what happens.
I keep getting my hopes up, but it’s time to face fact.
After a fairly long trek, the dwarven tanks are finally visible, opening fire on the tower as a distraction tactic. That’s enough distraction for the group to slip in on the bottom floor, rushing toward the obviously advanced facility suspended over a river of lava. The casual presence of technology feels a bit disconnected, but it’s also an interesting echo of the endgame portions of Final Fantasy I, a world far bigger than the pseudo-medieval setting that has seemed fairly stable up until now.
The Tower of Babil features several repeats from the Tower of Zot, as well as a variety of enemies with a weakness to Ice; not coincidentally, you find several bits of ice-themed gear in here, along with various upgrades for the rest of the party. Back attacks can be particularly destructive here, as Rydia is paper-thin and can’t take more than a couple of physical hits before crumpling altogether. Unlike Zot, this tower is also far more vertical rather than covered in mazes, but there’s still a fair number of little side-paths to explore if you want to pick up all of the valuable items hidden throughout.
By far the biggest problem I found myself encountering was the game’s aggressively limited inventory. You’ve got 48 spots for things in the game, and while that seems like plenty it quickly becomes too few if you’re carrying around the many attack items, arrows, and healing items you’ve picked up just by playing. Kind of frustrating, really, but it does at least give the Fat Chocobo a purpose. After a fair bit of further climbing, the group runs into a white-coated doctor sending away Rubicante, the last of the elemental fiends, continuing a slight tonal disconnect between the dungeon and the setting up to this point.
It’s not the existence of advanced tech, it’s the fact that no one seems to think this is strange. Especially since this Dr. Wily lookalike could walk down a modern street without arousing suspicion, while everyone else looks setting appropriate. It just feels… off, like a dungeon hastily ported in from someone else’s game. Perhaps it’s just me.
At any rate, Dr. Lugae introduces himself and then summons his “great creation,” Barnabas, which appears to be Frankenstein’s Monster. The monster is pretty dim, however, and gets dropped pretty quickly; at that point, the doctor jumps into Barnabas and uses him like a suit of armor, which is… also fairly trivial to beat down. With a current success rate of 0%, the doctor turns himself into a terminator with a rocket launcher on his back, because this is a fine idea when he’s failed to accomplish anything up to this point.
Guess what? He still doesn’t do much. Although he put a bunch of my party members to sleep, so I guess that was special? Hooray.
Once he’s been defeated for the third and final time, Lugae reveals that the dwarves are about to be fired upon with a more powerful cannon and the crystals have already been taken to the surface, thus rendering this entire exercise pointless, which you’ll note is a recurring theme in this game. Rushing downstairs, the team uses his key to access a room wherein the cannon controls are housed. There’s a group of monsters controlling them, but they sabotage the controls before they’re killed, leaving the team with the unpleasant task of stopping cannons with, well, nothing.
Yang shoves the group out of the room, telling Cecil to say farewell to his wife and that he enjoyed the journey. It’s not entirely clear what he did in there, but it apparently worked. The team walks out through the bottom floor, at which point Golbez starts collapsing the bridge to the tower. Just before the heroes can fall to their deaths, Cid swoops in on the airship, avoiding what would have likely been a rather painful bath in the lava. Unfortunately, Cid is being pursued by the Red Wings, leading to him abandoning ship with a bomb to stop their pursuit.
Kain wonders afterward, not without cause, why everyone chooses death so readily. It’s kind of a punishing scene; the game has lacked much attachment for these characters, by and large, but it does take pains to show that people are dying for what they believe to be good causes, often in last moments of desperation. Far more so than in Final Fantasy II, you do feel the impact of these character deaths, many of which seem wholly avoidable if only you’d had a few more options.
Cid’s last wish was for the group to meet the engineers of Baron, so that’s our next destination. The engineers happily attach a hook to the Enterprise, which will allow the ship to pick up and carry the hovercraft that we picked up an eternity ago and haven’t used since. That will also allow us to reach a cave near the portion of the Tower of Babil above the ground… which seems like the most likely next destination, doesn’t it? Sadly, picking it up just means it looks like the Enterprise is inside an enormous life raft, which is something less than cool.
Before heading to the cave, there’s a castle standing by its lonesome, but Eblan Castle has clearly seen better days. (Rubicante mentioned destroying the nation briefly; it’s the first we’d heard of them.) There are a few nice weapons in chests here that are guarded by monsters, so it’s largely a matter of picking through the ruins and grabbing whatever we can get our hands on. Boring, but practical. Once the looting is done, a quick recharge is in order, followed by a trip across rocky shoals with the hovercraft to the Cavern of Eblan.
The start of the cavern is pretty much exactly what you’d expect, but after the first floor the party suddenly finds itself in a little underground town. Turns out this is the hideaway for the people of Eblan; I did the best I could to help stimulate their economy by buying some weapons and armor from them. The survivors mention that the prince ran off to avenge his parents in the tower, which implies that we’ll run into him soon. After that interlude it’s back to the winding cavern path, picking up treasures as the group moves through the rather winding layout. This was also where my hatred for the game’s encounter rate really blossomed completely, since there’s nothing quite as obnoxious as taking a step, fighting a slow and non-threatening encounter, then getting into another battle on the very next step.
Upon heading north from the save point, the group runs into Rubicante again being accosted by Edge, the prince of Eblan. Rubicante tries to throw Edge off his stride by claiming he doesn’t remember the names of human countries, which would work a lot better as smack-talk if we didn’t already know full well he remembered Eblan. You were talking about it specifically, dude, don’t be a jerk. Edge attacks to no avail, and Rubicante flutters off without a care, leaving Edge to scream impotently at nothing. A bit of dialogue ensues, Rydia cries, and Edge agrees to join up with the group whilst being something of a creeper in the process.
No time for talking about that, though; the Tower of Babil awaits. It’s rematch time, and hopefully get-back-the-crystals time, too. You know, if we’re lucky.