The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, part 10
All right, people, let’s talk about villains.
Redeeming a villain is at once the best and worst thing you can do to them. It’s super tempting, obviously, because when written well a villain is easily one of the most fascinating characters in a story. So now you get one of the most interesting characters in the story as someone the audience can actually cheer for, which is why the temptation arises. Yet a redeemed villain has to be different than their original villainous incarnation, often meaning that they set aside the cool stuff that made them likable in the first place.
Yes, it can be done; Emma Frost was a prime example of taking a villainous character and making her a protagonist with good aims rather than necessarily a hero in her early days (that’s kind of been undone with years of character decay). It just doesn’t happen frequently. I bring all of that up because The After Years is wandering into that territory now, and given the game’s narrative chops and track record up to this point, you will hopefully forgive me if I don’t have the utmost confidence in the game’s ability to do a complex concept justice.
So who am I talking about? Golbez, naturally. Not that the game doesn’t take pains to avoid pointing this out with The Lunarians’ Tale – The Blue Planet That Was. A better title may have been “making all of these vignettes stitch together into a cohesive whole sort of maybe” but that’s unwieldy.
We start off with Cecil and Rosa in his bedroom, which still inexplicably has three beds in it, staring out at the moon that isn’t there and wondering how Golbez is doing. The game then shows the millionth shot of the arriving moon, we get a title screen, and Cecil beats the loving snot out of Golbez in a dream sequence. He wakes up, looking less like the armor-clad villain of the last like and more like the Dude with a serious bleach job. Also I guess it’s notable that this is the Man in Black from Edge and Rydia’s tales, although as those were approximately nine million years ago the revelation isn’t all that stunning.
Anyway, Golbez climbs out of the end dungeon from the first game to find that the crystals are all discolored. Golbez inspects them and gets worthless foreshadowing, at which point Fusoya shows up and the pair heads out. Fusoya inherits the usual traits of sages in these games, able to cast literally everything but with a tiny MP pool, which means that Golbez winds up being our Black Mage while Fusoya is kind of just there.
That having been said, I do like how the game generally pulls a neat little trick wherein its classes fill different roles based on the rest of the party. This was more prominent in Ceodore and Kain’s tales, but it comes up here as well; Golbez is a fine physical attacker, but here his value is casting and he gets played accordingly. Sort of the cleverest use you could make of the admittedly thin system.
There’s no real direction given once you’re out and about on the moon, so it’s easiest to take on the cave that served as the home of Bahamut in the original game as your first objective. It’s relevant to the story later, but that’s later and this is now. Unfortunately, neither Fusoya nor Golbez can quite carry a dungeon on their lonesome, which means that you wind up having to pick fights to engage in the most pointless dipshittery possible: you get a single enemy on the field, use Golbez’s Pressure ability to paralyze it, have Fusoya use Bless to recover HP and MP, set down the PSP and go watch a movie while you heal up to full.
Friendly reminder, this guy was the main villain for most of Final Fantasy IV.
At a glance, Bahamut has been petrified, but Fusoya state he’s chained in another dimension. He also suggests we check out a meteor crash site to the south, which to the grand surprise of no one who has noticed this game’s penchant for reused assets is basically identical to that meteor on the main planet. After a bit of exploration, you run into the Mysterious Girl again, which results in another boss fight as she summons Asura.
The difference is that this time you’re expected to actually win. This is a bit of a deviation. Asura is immune to everything, but the Girl herself isn’t, so it’s basically a game of casting at her while keeping the duo’s health out of the danger zone. It wouldn’t be so bad if the pair had enough MP to actually make it through the fight without a bunch of Ether, but here we are. After the fight, she teleports away and…
Wait, no, never mind, she’s dead. Very dead. Fusoya concludes that she’s behind the state of Bahamut, and he fears for the crystals. So the group scurries back to their old haunt… only to find the crystals all darkened, along with the same girl teleporting in. Missing an opportunity for a Vagrant Story-esque “You were most certainly dead,” the pair leaps into combat against her once again, although this time she summons up Leviathan. It’s the same fight, but without Asura’s direct support she’s actually pretty easy with some Slow and Haste.
Fusoya determines that the Blue Planet is in trouble and decides to summon the Lunar Whale, thus meaning that the events of Porom’s tale were entirely based upon misunderstandings. The pair tries to summon it, then one of the crystals shatters and who should show up but Mysterious Girl v3.0. I have to admit that this is kind of cool – what we thought was a singular threat is actually a collection of them, thus explaining the seeming indifference shown toward pretty much everything. The girl vanishes toward the bottom of the palace where the Lunarians wait in stasis, and Golbez and Fusoya rush after her.
As the pair descends, the crystals above keep shattering, which is a neat effect. To my irritation, the enemies in here, while not overly difficult, love focusing their attacks in on Fusoya and thus making life far more annoying than it needs to be.
The seventh crystal shatters as the pair is nearly at their destination, at which point Kluya (you know, Golbez and Cecil’s dad) joins his energies with theirs and helps summon the Lunar Whale. Never mind that the Whale was meant as a means of transport to see what was wrong on the planet, not to really save the day up on the moon, but the important thing is that it surfaces. Then the last crystal shatters, and the seal that had been holding Zeromus in place after the first game is suddenly gone.
So guess who shows up?
Zeromus is a lot weaker than he was back in the day, and this time Golbez and Fusoya do fairly well with their new dual black magic attack. I only got hit by one attack of his before the scripted end of the fight; he breaks out Big Bang, and Fusoya whisks Golbez away to the Lunar Whale mid-battle. It isn’t stated what happens next, but it’s not hard to put the pieces together.
We then get a series of flashbacks to the first game, moving backward through time until we see Golbez and Cecil as children. Golbez wakes up on the deck of the Lunar Whale, then sends the ship toward the Blue Planet out of concern for his brother. And that’s the end of the tale, which explains a few things but not exactly the questions we wanted answered.
As the last of the standalone tales, the Lunarians get two challenge dungeons. The first one is a pretty bog-standard dungeon which doesn’t offer Adamantite, but it does offer Diamond equipment, can be blown through quickly, and offers a final boss who is defeated more or less by casting Reflect on your party and then letting him kill himself. The big treasure here is the Proof of Courage, which can then be taken to the second challenge dungeon in order to take that on. It has some slight randomization on the final floors but otherwise it’s equally straightforward.
I wouldn’t say that the Lunarians’ tale is bad, exactly, but it suffers from having a lot of pomp with very little circumstance. You get the sense that big things are happening, but you don’t really interact with most of them outside of re-examining what’s already taken place elsewhere, and neither of the two main characters get personalities beyond being plot devices straight to the end. It also suffers from its heavy use of the game’s lunar tile set, which is painfully bland and gray; sort of an interest-killing layout, honestly.
However, this is the end of the stand-alone tales. So it’s time for these disconnected vignettes to reach their climax.