The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, part 5

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

Artwork from a sketch by Yoshitaka Amano

It’s the end of the year, and I intend to celebrate with a trip through the tale of the most unpleasant party member from the original Final Fantasy IV!  No, not the worst party member from the original game, the most unpleasant one.  Which is a spot that has much more competition, since I don’t think anyone seriously contends that Edward was anything other than terrible in the original.

On a more meta note, I will express a touch of regret that the last column for 2014 is of a rather undramatic part of the game’s narrative.  Not that I’m not still enjoying The After Years more than I expected to, since it adds a lot of depth to the characters that had previously been lacking.  Yes, it’s a rehash of the plot from the last game, which is less than ideal.  At the same time, it’s also a better overall game and seems to have a more impressive narrative flow, and the structure is a bit more fun.

I think this is the reason why most mage players in MMOs are insufferable.

Because nothing gets me excited like seeing a spoiled jerk with a god complex waltz around talking about how great he is for four hours, I tell you what.

Enough woolgathering, though, let’s get on with Palom’s TaleThe Mage’s Voyage.

Let me say, for the record, that Palom is one of the most unpalatable characters from the original game.   The only reason that I didn’t get into that more in the original game is because, well, he joins your party for about one hot minute and then gets turned to stone.  But he’s insufferably arrogant and generally contributes nothing beyond providing magical damage at a point when the party would otherwise be without it.  Porom is more interesting simply by virtue of the fact that she’s not a screaming dildo.

Anyway, the tale opens off by Palom being a dick to a ship’s crew because he wants a fresh fish and they aren’t catching any.  This after he gets mad at the captain for being polite to him and referring to him as “Lord Palom”.  Make up your damn mind, kid.  A quick flashback establishes that Palom’s being sent to train one of the Epopts in Troia after being a complete turd to the Mysidian Elder, who refuses to allow Palom to start following in Tellah’s footsteps.  Porom kind of wonders why she wasn’t allowed to go do the training, to which the elder not-so-subtly hints that it’s partly because Palom needs to learn some humility.

I would like to note that the person acting like a spoiled brat here is, in fact, twenty-two years old.  This is the sort of shit that is intolerable at age nine.

Moving along.  Palom’s been on the ship for a month, so he’s quite happy when the boat finally hits land.  Once he makes it to Troia – which does not have a port in the town proper and is walled off by rivers, I’ll note, thus requiring Palom to pick up a chocobo – he finds out that of the eight Epopts, one has fallen ill.  The new trainee, Leonora, is introduced, and she’s shrinkingly apologetic but pretty defensive of the Epopts.  That’s something, I guess.  Her goal is to reach the top of the Tower of Trials, at which point she’ll be deemed capable of joining the government.

The tower itself is structured as a series of lessons from Palom to Leonora, and it’s replete with pots that will fully replenish your MP, which makes this something of a walk in the park.  The limiting factor of magic is, well, it costs MP and you can’t just blow all of that at any given moment.  When you’re never far from a place to replenish that MP, though, the whole thing becomes little more than an exercise in unloading the post powerful attacks you have every round; there’s no limiting factor any longer.

Would there have been another way of managing a chapter with two casters?  Probably not.  But it does mean that the overall structure is a bit skewed.

After a series of little vignettes covering Leonora’s ability to use black magic and Palom’s growing fear that she’s actually going to learn to be a sage, the top of the tower is reached.  Palom starts to insult the Epopts once again, Leonora tells him off, and then we’re back to climbing down the tower.  Despite the fact that by his own admission, Leonora is already further along the road to sagehood than he is, Palom still takes every opportunity to be a condescending prick to her.

Seriously, he’s horrible.

It doesn't take much to qualify as better, either.

You can do better, Leonora.

Once the pair is back in Troia, Palom wonders why the Troians need Black Magic, and if you guessed it had something to do with the rumors involving Baron you’d be right.  The timeline there is kind of iffy, though.  Palom was sent there by the Elder, not by the Epopt’s request, and the trouble with Baron started happening recently, while Palom’s been on the seas for a month.  So the plot here makes no sense, basically.

A few bits of unresolved supposed tension take place between Leonora and Palom, then Palom realizes as if for the first time that the moon is back in place and might have something to do with the rumors that Baron is doing untoward things.  Baron airships approach, and Palom volunteers to take the Earth Crystal before Baron can arrive.

Not-Rydia shows up as soon as Leonora and Palom grab the crystal, and it’s off to a secret passage to escape the Baron troops as fast as possible.  There’s not much to say about it; it’s a passageway, things are there, they die, out the other side, hooray.  Leonora suggests hiding out at the Lodestone Cavern to avoid pursuit once the pair gets out of the castle, and Palom agrees; for some reason Baron’s troops have not flooded the town, so there’s a chance to rest up and restock there before hopping a black chocobo and flying where we need to go.

The Lodestone Cavern is fairly unremarkable, aside from being an ideal place to grind for future Challenge Dungeon access.  Getting Palom up to 30 means he’ll learn Bio, and much like in Rydia’s tale it’s crazy overpowered; once he picks it up, fights on the full moon are essentially just Bio spam until enemies die, which frequently takes one round.  When you reach the end of the cave the Baron soldiers will reappear, and the duo will dart into the Dark Elf’s old chamber from the first game, where… well, you’ve been reading about how this game loves to bring back everything from its predecessor, you can guess who we end up fighting.

It’s not much of a fight – a couple of Bio casts and he becomes the Dark Dragon, at which point there’s nothing to be done but defend until Shiva shows up to blast him.  That means Not-Rydia is back.  Palom tells Leonora to run, grabs the crystal, and then casts Break on himself, once again echoing something from the first game.  Leonora de-stones him, reveals that she’s known him since the end of the first game, and the two of them launch into battle against Not-Rydia, only to lose to a quick Shiva summoning.

Elsewhere, we see Porom traveling with Kain when she suddenly senses that something happened to her brother.  Foreshadowing!

Also, no Palom!

I think I had more fun with this one, but then, the final bosses weren’t nearly as annoying.

Palom’s Challenge Dungeon has a gimmick that was, essentially, ripped off from the Final Fantasy I challenges – you get a series of random floors with different treasures and layouts.  It also hosts an enormously irritating final boss that plays with Barrier Shift; essentially, you have to wait and see what the boss is going to cast on you, and then figure out its new weakness.  You’ve got a 50% chance of guessing right at any given interval, but so long as you play along it’s not all that hard, just really tedious as you shift through spells and hope to find the right one to hit him with.  Trying to nail him with non-elemental spells, meanwhile, just provokes hard-hitting counters and self-heals that you can’t eat through unless you’re nearly at the level 40 tale cap.

The trick, really, is to abuse the ATB system a little.  Hit him with Slow, then toss out an -ara spell from Palom.  Once you’re healed up, you let him throw out a spell, make sure both of your casters are ready to go, and toss out a spell from Leonora to try and pick out his weakness.  If Leonora’s spell does damage, you have enough time for Palom to quickly cast a second-level spell from the same element, but if it doesn’t, you can easily have him cast the one remaining element.  It requires a bit of gymnastics with buttons, but it’s less boring than the alternative.

Not only did this tale fail to make me like Palom any more, it actually made me like him less.  It also has a screwy timeline and a plot element that exists mostly for trimming up loose ends so that the three people who would have asked “what about Troia’s crystal” will be appeased.  The charm of its predecessors wears off, replaced with annoying, kind of craptacular content.  My hope is that this is the exception rather than the rule as I keep going forward.

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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