The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, part 4

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

Artwork from a sketch by Yoshitaka Amano

There’s no place like home for the holidays, with the acceptable caveat that “home” can mean a variety of things other than “at the home of your parents.”  Sometimes your parents are pretty toxic people to be around.  Which, not coincidentally, is the subject of this next installment in Final Fantasy IV: The After Years.  Or at least it’s related.  They occupy similar headspaces.  Look, doing segues on December 24th is difficult, especially when you’re working very far ahead.

One of the things that I do wish was a bit more common in these little vignettes was more character study work.  They’re quick and inconsequential, which is part of the point, and that’s all well and good.  At the same time, it’d be nice to get inside the characters’ heads a little bit more.  Most of the plot sequences are entirely given over to advancing the plot at a whipcrack pace, and the characters are all hurtling toward their destinations with little chance to bounce off of more than one or two other people.  Sort of a missed opportunity.

He's, like, one of the only characters who seems to actually have character traits, one of which is him being dumb as hell.

I actually like Yang a lot. He is also a complete idiot. These two things are not in opposition.

Equally missed opportunity: we’ve only really got two characters introduced in this game who weren’t born in the first.  I realize it’s a minor quibble, but it sticks out in the mind as we move on to Yang’s TaleThe Master of Fabul.

Right away, we’re thrown into a battle against three monks-in-training; Yang easily flings them around and tells them to become stronger.  His daughter Ursula then rushes out, requesting once again to be allowed to train, to which Yang refuses more or less by fiat and in direct contradiction to his own stated philosophy.

Have I mentioned in previous columns that Yang is dumb?  Yes, I have.  Yang is dumb.  Also, his chancellor wants to talk to him, so that’s fine.  Turns out the rumors that Baron is stealing crystals again have reached the castle, but Yang outright refuses to believe that it’s possible, despite any and all statements he hears to the contrary.  Yes, I know I just said that the guy is dumb, but this is plenty of supporting evidence.  When you still remember what happened the last time you heard about the same nation stealing everyone’s crystals, I would think you’d give rumors of the same at least some attention.

Yang’s refusal to listen to the advice of his advisors is interrupted when a monk bursts in, announcing that Ursula has slipped out of the castle.  So, naturally, Yang goes looking for her with a pair of generic monks.  There’s kind of a running mechanical theme with these tales.  Over to Mount Hobs, then, to find Ursula.

As you could probably guess, the start of this particular tale is pretty bland in terms of gameplay, because your squad of monks can do one thing: punch stuff.  They punch it very well, but it’s completely down to turning on auto-battle and maybe throwing a potion around post-fight.  Once we reach the top of the mountain, Ursula fends off a few monsters on her own, then Daddy and the little nameless monks jump into help as you fight a Mom Bomb, because of course you do.

Yang is pissed off, of course, but Ursula claims she was going after a shooting star that she didn’t bother to tell Yang about, which was a smart decision, as again, Yang is dumb.  Case in point: he is quickly outfoxed by Ursula when he tells her to go back to the castle, pointing out that she’d be walking back through the danger he wanted her not to be moving through in the first place.  Ursula plays like a version of Yang that trades raw power for speed, which matters more than you might think; sure, she hits for a bit less, but she hits a lot faster.  On to the impact crater!

The crater proves that the group has not substantially improved its tactical options – it’s still a matter of just punching over and over.  At the bottom is a memorial to the monks of Fabul, which sort of makes no sense, but then the sylphs show up and warn Yang that someone is gathering the Crystals again.  Back up Mount Hobs, and would you look at that, Baron airship flying to the castle.

Second verse, same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit better.

This is really not a boss I needed to fight again, but apparently that’s what I’m going to be doing in this, so…

Once the group arrives back at Fabul, it’s essentially time to do the Siege of Fabul all over again, exactly the same as last time.  I think at this point it’s safe to say we’ve left “homage” behind and have wandered into “rehash” wholeheartedly.  This is the exact same plot, right down to a dramatic confrontation in the Crystal chamber, although this time it’s between Ursula on her own and Kain.

Once Kain has been beaten, he gets the Crystal anyway because of course he does, and Yang decides to go to Baron to find out what the hell is going on.  Ursula demands to come along, and Yang grudgingly concedes.  The group hops on a ship, which is soon attacked by monsters and has to make an emergency stop on the nearest unexplored island in search of fuel.  (This is shortly after the group momentarily sees and greets Edward on another ship; that’s a story for the future, obviously.)  Yang, being Yang, volunteers to go look for it himself; Ursula eventually decides she’s done with this and goes after him.

What follows is a kind of near sequence in which you swap back and forth between Ursula and her bodyguards looking for Yang and Yang himself, all the while flashing back to Ursula’s life from birth to the present.  Yang’s reasons for not training her finally become clear, as he’s worried she only values strength above all else, which his wife points out is also true of Yang himself.  In short, he at least recognizes he’s kind of an idiot and wants Ursula to do better.

It occurs to me that as much as this game is a pastiche of the first game, the character moments probably make it a better overall experience.

At the end of the path, Ursula finds some palm trees, followed shortly by an attack by an Adamantoise.  The monks are all quickly reduced to critical condition, at which point Ursula has another flashback to watching her father train the younger monks.  Ursula learns a new trick and the group kills the shit out of the Adamantoise, at which point Yang accepts her as a disciple.  You get the general idea.

Back on the ship, it’s back toward Baron… until a familiar whirlpool opens up in front of the ship.  Yang orders the crew to lash themselves to the boat, remembering the last time that Leviathan attacked, but we don’t yet find out if it mattered at all.  Yep, the usual routine all over again.

Yang’s challenge dungeon barely is.  You walk down a series of hallways with high encounter rates and keep picking the right door as you go through.  I got through pretty much the whole thing with auto-battle turned on; there are only one or two enemies that don’t get one-shot on the Waning Moon, and you can easily weather the damage and pop some Hi-Potions after the battle.  More to the point, because there are so many encounters, you’re likely to fly up levels until you can crush the enemies beneath your heel.  I get what the goal was, but it doesn’t quite hit it.

Even more so than the previous part, this one is all over the place.  There are big chunks of padding in here and a terrible challenge dungeon set off by some really nice character bits and a story that is more or less a rehash of previous stories.  Between the extremes, it all boils down to average; if the two characters with the majority of the screen time were not interesting in their own right, it’d be downright bad.

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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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