The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, part 2
As much as it surprises me to say so – and it does surprise me quite a bit, let me tell you – I’ve been enjoying The After Years up to this point. Sure, Ceodore’s only got the thinnest sketch of character motivation, but he’s not exactly alone in this fact, and the general feel is of events cascading quickly out of control while at the same time not feeling forced. He’s lost a lot, possibly everything, but he still has the will to push through.
Of course, will doesn’t make monsters not attack you, and not too long after his dying order from his commander, he’s being accosted by beasts. The first two are barely even relevant, but the third one has him on the ropes until someone mysteriously jumps into battle. Someone with narrow features and a portrait that makes strong eye contact. Someone with long blonde hair and a penchant for appearing dramatically. Someone who is referred to as only “the Hooded Man,” despite the fact that his identity is immediately obvious to anyone familiar with the original game.
Do we have to pretend we don’t know him? We… we do, don’t we.
If you somehow missed this – it’s Kain. It’s obviously Kain. I have not played further ahead or checked this in advance, but come on. The only way he could be more obviously Kain is if he introduced himself as Kain. This is Kain without that ridiculous Dragoon armor. And yet here we are, pretending it’s not Kain.
So, since we’re supposed to ignore his obvious identity, I’m just going to refer to him as Vincent Adultman.
Ceodore and Vincent Adultman head to Mysidia, where Vincent is sure that someone can unlock the Devil’s Road to get from Mysidia to Baron, as was done in the first game. We stop by the Tower of Prayer, only to run into Porom, who has grown and filled out quite a bit in the intervening 17 years. She’s also gained pink hair, but seeing as Ceodore’s hair is blue while his parents are white-haired and blonde, I think this is just a thing that happens. Porom sends a generic white mage and black mage with the duo, claiming she can’t leave the town at the moment. Still, free party members!
Apparently, in the intervening 17 years someone decided that just being able to warp from point to point on the Devil’s Road was for suckers, so now it’s filled with teleporting maze antics. Happy day. It’s also got some damage floors and you don’t have access to Float, just a pair of mages that can never level up. I’ve had better times, is my point. Luckily, most of the enemies on the Devil’s Road are both pushovers and undead, so a bit of fire sets them right.
Once that’s over and done with, well, we made it back to Baron! To the castle! Where a pair of guards refuse to let Ceodore enter! Or recognize him! This is probably fine! Vincent Adultman knows something’s amiss, of course, so he tells Ceodore to leave the whole “batter down the front door” approach to one side and seek out an alternative. He suggests sneaking in through the castle waterway, with the game sort of subtly smirking at the idea of “heh, he’d know all this, wouldn’t he, who is he?”
Not that Kain was with the group when they did all of these things.
The Ancient Waterway hasn’t changed much since back in the day, still filled with water-themed enemies and the usual hidden passages. If you remember its layout from the original trip, you remember it now. Once the team is out, Ceodore runs off to find his parents, while Vincent Adultman investigates the prison to find a bunch of Baron guards unconscious in cells. In the throne room, he meets up with Cecil, who doesn’t recognize him; Ceodore apparently didn’t see Cecil, and the two get thrown out of the hall in short order.
Apparently, Cid’s personal airship is also missing, so now Ceodore knows what he needs to do – find it. The generic party members head back to Mysidia, and Cecil sends troops after the interlopers, which inspires Vincent Adultman to flee up to Mist Cave. At the cave, a guard is stationed there to prevent access, who quickly turns into a monster that gets dispatched by the pair. There are tremors striking the cave once inside, and Ceodore falls down a pit early on, forcing the pair to go around through different routes rather than just reusing the original layout.
Unfortunately, it’s still pretty bland, simply because the loss of your mages reduces the tactical options worth considering to “attack a bunch.” The whole thing is intensely straightforward – even the last boss here can be dispatched quickly just by casting Float (acquired at 25 for Ceodore) and then spamming the pair’s Band. Kind of weak.
The Baron soldiers have swept the cave, but the mist unexpectedly thickens and gives them a chance to hide, misleading the guards into assuming that Ceodore and Vincent Adultman are back near Baron. Making their way to the other side of the cave, Vincent Adultman mentions he’s looking to defeat a dragoon of Baron, thus nicely setting up some misdirection (it’s still obviously you, Kain). A quick cut to Mysidia and Porom says nothing, then we see someone who looks like Kain with the wrong colored costume show up… okay, maybe it’s not Kain, but my money is on elaborate misdirection still.
The first tale is done, but there’s still more to be done; each installment has a special challenge dungeon which unlocks some bonus stuff, relevant when you import everything in for the finale. In Ceodore’s case, it’s a rehash of his first dungeon, albeit with a couple of super-irritating secret passages added and (obviously) much tougher enemies. At the bottom lies the Mythril Golem and your big reward chest, which can contain lots of things, from an X-Potion to the valuable Adamantite, meaning that you’ll need to run the dang thing multiple times to get the best rewards.
Actually, maybe “tougher” isn’t quite the right word, since many of them just have cheap tricks that aren’t easily dealt with in a two-person party with no real strategies beyond “hit it hard.” The bright side is that it’s very easy to whip through the dungeon once you’ve picked up all of the one-time-only treasures, so it wasn’t too onerous to make it back through until Ceodore and Vincent Adultman had the most valuable treasures. And I was more than willing to ignore the other ones.
So how is the game one episode in? Oddly, a lot better than its predecessor. Sure, the characters still appear to be thin sketches rather than actual pieces, but since the story is hardly focusing on Cecil or Rosa, it’s not as big of a deal that they kind of lack anything approaching a personality. The plot moves along quickly enough, the levels scream by, and it seems to largely be an example of how to do episodic snapshots of gameplay in an efficient format. It also removed a lot of the more irritating aspects of Final Fantasy IV like the sharply limited inventory system.
In short, I’m enjoying it so far. Far more than I enjoyed its antecedents. So I suppose it’s time to chill until the next episode.