The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, part 9
Time to start going all in, then.
The short version of the flow of the game is that the first seven tales pretty much take place at the same time, following characters hither and yon in a bunch of events that tie together thematically but not in narrative. This, then, is when everything starts getting explained. It’s an interesting approach, which saves the trouble of having a big twist partway through the story but replaces it with a set of mysteries that players can either figure out early or get bored with reading about for the tenth time.
I’ll get more into that once I’m actually done, though. For now, it’s time to jump ahead to the first tale that starts clearing up all of this mess, spearing the events that will take us through the rest of the game. As you could probably guess, that’s a not even remotely subtle reference to the fact that we’re kicking off with Kain, who’s supposed to be a brooding badass but really comes across more as a moping manchild who has serious issues with his spear. That… may both be a little too on-point and unintentionally autobiographical, yes?
So, then, Kain’s Tale – Return of the Dragoon. Even though we’ve seen him already.
Kain’s tale is the first tale to import data from a previous save, specifically Ceodore and Vincent Adultman‘s adventure. This becomes the standard as the games wear on, hence why it was important to spend time in those challenge dungeons back in the beginning. That’s right, it wasn’t just unnecessary padding of short stories! I mean, it was that, but it wasn’t just that.
Unfortunately, this also kind of kneecaps the reveal that we’re sure to get further on, which as I’ve said is that Vincent Adultman (or The Hooded Man, according to the game) is Kain. Because there’s literally no other reason to include Ceodore and Vincent Adultman in this tale. We didn’t import data from Palom’s tale into Porom’s tale, or for that matter Porom’s tale into this despite the fact that we had Kain as a party member there. I’d call them spoiler warnings, but that seems absurd because it’s a spoiler based solely on the interface and also if you thought reading this series so far would not include spoilers you’re kind of not getting it, really.
Let’s just get started.
The tale starts off with Kain on Mount Ordeals with a mysterious voice speaking to him, first as he heads down the mountain then as he heads back up. He reaches the monument and flashes into the mirrored room which has not yet been broken, his double rushes from the mirrors to confront him… and then we get a title catch. Hinting that this scene took place well before the sequel stories as a whole, then.
Flashing ahead, the story reminds us of what took place at the end of Porom’s Tale, then cuts ahead a little more to Kain and the Mysterious Girl heading to the Devil’s Road. Kain seems… oddly disconnected from the proceedings, helped along by the fact that he’s cutting down monsters without breaking a sweat. Once he gets to Baron, the Mysterious Girl asks him again what he intends to do, to which he repeats his refrain of “kill Cecil.” The girl asks him to retrieve the Wind and Fire crystals as well to prove his resolve, which Kain agrees to readily.
It’s pretty obvious that Kain isn’t acting like you would expect, but he is acting like Kain, which is interesting. It’s a nice little bit of narrative thread woven among character actions, which is one of those things these games were supposed to do and didn’t quite manage much of the time.
Anyhow, we pick up again with Ceodore and Vincent Adultman in Mist. The duo is kind of blocked off by a mountain on one side of Mist, which Vincent Adultman suggests is easily dealt with – just climb it. So we’re into one of the few original dungeons in here, which is stuffed with enemies that give insane experience rewards. It’s pretty uneventful otherwise, and once the pair’s on the other side they see Kain’s Red Wing airship heading to Damcyan. So… guess where we’re headed.
Before that, however, we see a flashback to Kain facing himself at the top of Mount Ordeals… and losing. This is actually pretty cool, again; it’s a specific callback to the original game, and it speaks to a flaw in character that had been present in Kain but never addressed. Yes, it’s the same sort of thing that’s true for Palom’s own stupidity, but this does a much better job of illustrating how the fault in Kain’s world is Kain. It also strongly hints that the Kain on the airship is his dark side, which would explain everything nicely.
In Kaipo, a group of zombie soldiers assaults the pair, which… makes no sense, and is the exact opposite problem that runs through these stories. At their best moments, they echo the original game elegantly and keep you grounded, moving different characters through homages. At their worst, they’re just hollow clones of the original, often divorced from meaning or impact. After that, it’s off to the stupid waterway again, which culminates in another octopus fight.
Spliced in through the dungeon are side-flashes to Kain (or mirror Kain, whatever) going after Damcyan’s crystal. He meets Edward, who asks what Kain’s really after, which we’ve heard before, at which point Rosa jumps in to tell him that he should stop. To the surprise of no one, Kain ultimately wants Rosa for himself, and as he says this the soldiers from Baron rush in. Then Edward opens the box he got from Cecil, unleashing the same amount of power from the opening of the last game. It’s a neat series of dramatic cuts, and again it hits a high point, an echo of the last game but playing out very differently.
Once all is said and done, however, the group gets out of the cave after Kain has beaten the shit out of Edward and is taking off with the Fire Crystal. Rosa is on board as well, because as we all know she just can’t resist an opportunity to be captured and used as a hostage. However, Cid was with Rosa when she escaped, and he still isn’t far – the Enterprise flies in and opens fire on Kain’s airship. Vincent Adultman demands everyone get on the Enterprise, and the chase is on!
The chase ends two seconds later as Cid, Vincent Adultman, and Ceodore catch up to Kain and Rosa after a series of cuts through the castle, where Rosa finally identifies Vincent Adultman as Kain, because for some reason Edward and Cid couldn’t. At which point names get really confusing. The evil Kain is helpfully renamed “Kain?” as the pair fight, but again, it’s like the foreshadowing predicted – the Kain that’s been identified as such thus far was Kain’s evil side.
Leaving all that to one side, Vincent Adultman has a scene straight out of Persona 4 wherein he accepts himself for who he is, and finally we just have one Kain. He also gets updated to being a Holy Dragoon, because you can’t win that fight without an upgrade, right? The group heads into Baron’s throne room, weapons drawn, and Cecil is sitting there with Not-Rydia… and then the tale ends.
The actual tale itself is really short, somewhat countered by the fact that Rosa and Cid need a bunch of grinding to pull their weight in Kain’s challenge dungeon. Considering that grinding is located in the same area as Edward’s tedious grinding, I felt my eye twitch at the mere suggestion. It’s not as bad, though, since the enemies offer more experience and the per-battles rewards are higher.
As for the dungeon itself? It’s kind of… odd, I suppose, is the right word. Unlike the past few dungeons that had at least a nominal theme, this one is just… a dungeon. It has stuff in it. It’s pretty quick if you run through with a clear goal, and it has an annoying boss. Also apparently you can get lots of good Diamond equipment if you want to farm it, but I’m going to go ahead and say that it’s probably not 100% necessary. It is nice to actually have a party big enough that there are tactical choices in the battles again, since most of the tales involve auto-battling to the end of time and the past few runs have not featured the most fascinating content.
Kain’s tale is actually super-short, but it’s also very satisfying and reminds me of the stuff that originally made me fond of this sequel, building on its rather lackluster predecessor in new and engaging ways. The challenge dungeon is unfortunately a bit of a wash, but everything else comes together nicely. It’s a shame that the big reveal was so thoroughly telegraphed as to be obvious, but at least we’re only getting the drawn-out redemption plot once here, right?
I hope I’m right.