The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, part 8
On the seventh tale of this episodic sequel, the premise has officially worn thin. They started out so promising, a chance to really dive into characters in limited settings and expand on the dreary experience of the original game, but as the overarching plot has become more and more relevant each episode increasingly feels like tying up loose ends and moving all of the pieces to their proper spots on the game board. Which, to be fair, is probably why the tales are getting worse over time rather than better.
This tale is the last of the initial offerings from way back in the start; after this, it’s all-in or nothing. And it stars a character who was little more than a footnote in the first game whom I already know has to be in a certain place at a certain time to make Yang’s story work properly. Here, then, is the weakness of episodic stories like this – the interlink of multiple things happening at once is cool, but it deflates a lot of tension when you know that things have to fit together later.
But let’s not hold that against Edward, hmm? After all, the guy has had a rough enough life; he accomplished pretty much nothing of worth in Final Fantasy IV in narrative terms, and he’s become the designated punchline for “worthless character” in the franchise. So perhaps Edward’s Tale – Star-Crossed Damcyan will have a bit more meat to it than I’m dreading, yes? It could even be, dare I say it, pretty fun.
Our scene opens with the royal chancellor arguing with Edward’s assistant, Harley, about the kingdom’s financial insolvency. She promises to speak with Edward, who is upstairs strumming his harp, at which point it becomes clear that he’s secretly shuttling money off to Mist, Fabul, and Eblan as recompense for their aid in restoring Damcyan. It’s an interesting glance at Edward’s character, although it’s not altogether clear why he’s keeping this a secret – perhaps popular sentiment?
Edward sees the meteor falling toward Fabul and discusses it with both the chancellor and Harley, prompting the millionth utterance of the phrase “the horrors of the past have returned” as if nothing bad ever happened before that whole Golbez thing. Edward sends a message to Cecil, Harley requests to take over the investigation, and then time passes without messenger or Harley returning. So we’re in control now, whee. Time to loot the castle and look for the next plot coupon, yes? In this case, it’s mostly a chance for Edward to sleep, see Anna’s spectral form to accentuate his manboypain, then wake up super-early and head out to find Harley.
The chancellor lobs three generic guards at Edward to serve as escorts, and after a quick jaunt around the palace to loot everything, it’s time for a jaunt to an area that we’re not supposed to be in yet for levels and gil. The Antlion’s Den is just nearby, and it’s a good place to loot early. Since your party has no tactical options of note at this point, you turn on auto-battle and walk around, mostly; the one exception are the Yellow Jelly fights, which I just ran from rather than wasting items on. Amusingly, you can go see the Antlions at the bottom if you want, and true to what Edward said in the last game they are, in fact, completely tame.
Once you’re done faffing about in there, it’s over to the Impact Crater yet again, but at least this time you’re exploring it from the other side. It’s short and fairly uneventful, especially as you almost immediately run into guards who tell you that Harley is fine and just bewildered. Once you find her, she’s musing that the land itself seems to have putrefied from the impact. Harley joins the party, at which point we find out that her being cute and smart do not translate to being remotely effective in combat.
Here’s the problem, and it’s one that speaks to the system problems underlying Final Fantasy IV. In a game with any customization, Harley would have options. Her physical stats are poor and her commands are fairly useless, but her Intelligence is high and she has good caster-type gear options. But in Final Fantasy IV you don’t get to learn magic or change jobs or anything, so she becomes what amounts to a mage without actual magic. I’ve mentioned before that the game lacks any real strategy beyond “level up more” in most places, but here is where it’s really highlighted.
Once you’re just about out of the crater, Harley and Edward spy Baron airships heading to Damcyan, and… it’s just a messenger! Admittedly, one who delivers a rather ominously out-of-character message compared to Cecil’s usual demeanor, as Edward notes, but at least the place wasn’t immediately burnt to the ground, so thank heaven for small favors. Edward sets off to personally stop by in Baron, which means a jaunt back through the Underground Waterway but in reverse.
Something is clearly up with Harley in the waterway, but she insists she’s fine. As soon as we’re through and we reach Kaipo, though, she collapses with desert fever. Edward looks at Anna and Tellah’s tombstones and starts playing his harp again, followed by a vision of Tellah smacking him in the face with the big obvious message that he needs to stop maundering over the past.
What follows is… either brilliant or stupid, I can’t rightly tell. Edward, by his lonesome, has to go from Kaipo all the way back to the Antlion’s Den, grab a sand pearl, and then come all the way back. On the one hand, it’s blatant padding; on the other hand, it also elegantly gives Edward a boost in levels without awkwardly shoving in another dungeon. Not having to take detours for treasures helps, as does the fact that Edward can consistently Confuse with his attacks and has a pretty high speed. Of course, this all ignores the fact that Harley lives and works in a desert…
Your return trip is, mercifully, a bit shorter, but not by much. A few scenes happen with Harley vaguely implying that she’s a love interest, then the group hops on a boat and sees Yang passing before falling behind. (Hooray, lining up!) Then it’s off the docks and back to more grinding.
This is pretty crap, honestly. The strongest groups of enemies just sit outside of Baron, you still have no real tactical options, and with a full party you’re leveling very slowly on everyone other than Harley. You can, of course, kill off the guards once they hit their level cap to make things go a bit faster, but reaching that alone is a bit arduous. Auto-battle on, walk back and forth, watch Netflix. Sandwich gameplay at its finest.
Here’s the real kicker: guess what happens once you set foot inside of the castle. Did you guess nothing? Because… all right, it’s not actually nothing, but it’s not like a fight or anything. The group gets into the palace and speaks with Cecil, who acts pretty normal, and Edward seems mollified until Cecil offers him a gift. Edward replies by giving him flowers that Cecil seems to appreciate, at which point Edward beats a hasty retreat.
Why? Well, they weren’t just flowers, they were whisperweed. Which Cecil should have recognized. I’m rather fond of this as a plot element; it’s Edward being clever and a nice callback. Edward hears the mysterious girl chatting with Cecil (or not-Cecil, I suppose) and realizes that the box contains a Carnelian Signet, the same ring used to destroy Mist in the first game. Edward’s ship then sees Yang’s boat getting swallowed by Leviathan, and… that’s it. That’s the end.
Kind of a non-starter for an ending.
Edward’s challenge dungeon reflects the idea that Damcyan is more of a mercantile center than a military one. Your real goal in here is earning lots of gil, because all of the treasure chests at the end cost money to open. You can use your own money, of course, but you can’t take money from within the dungeon out. You can take items from the dungeon out, though, and there are several merchants selling stuff, so you can use that to save a bit of the gil you get in here.
I’m actually fond of this dungeon, and I think it’s a clever use of what the designers had to work with. The combat in this segment isn’t terribly engaging no matter what, but this inserts some unpredictability and variation into the process while also asking you to evaluate risk vs. reward. So it can be a bit slow, but it’s perfectly functional. Heck, while it would be a bit lame, if you have enough money you could just blow through everything and open the final chest without slowing down, then reload depending on what you get. (It’s not something you can do repeatedly, but since the only really useful item in here is the Adamantite, it’s an option.)
Ultimately, Edward’s tale is sort of all over the map. It has positive aspects and negative ones. The fact that it doesn’t shoehorn in unnecessary dungeons is nice, but the fact that combat is blandly one-note and pointless the whole way through is another matter, and it makes up for a lot of time with mindless grinding. At least the narrative held together better than in the last few tales. Time to start wrapping all these threads up, then!