The Final Fantasy Project: Final Fantasy IV: The After Years, part 12

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

Artwork from a sketch by Yoshitaka Amano

I am not sure how to classify the ending sequence of The After Years, I’m really not.  Because on the one hand, the game basically decided to just throw everything to the wind and fling the entire group into nothing more than a huge, lingering dungeon crawl to cap off the game.  That’s sort of the height of laziness.  On the other hand, it’s the first time in all of this installment that we actually get some choice and control over the characters, even if it’s just insofar as setting up the party.

Final Fantasy IV is the only game in the franchise that really took that option out of player hands in the first place, I’ll note, but that’s a different discussion.

Regardless of that, it is what it is, and we have all of the team members assembled in the Lunar Whale as we speed off to the final confrontation.  Which seems like a long time for us, the players, because getting to this point has easily taken 40 hours.  For the characters this is happening over the span of a couple days.  Bit of a difference in scale.

I know that sounds harsh, but it's fair.

The point at which the game has more or less officially thrown up its hands and stopped knowing what it was doing.

As the group flies to the moon, everyone has a quick palaver about the situation: Cecil is off in la-la land, the surface is getting really fucked, and at the current rate of things the moon is going to collide with the planet with shades of Junji Ito’s Hellstar Remina.  Then the Lunar Whale crashes for reasons that are incredibly poorly explained, and we can finally start assembling our party for the final rush.  Which starts by bringing in all of the characters you don’t plan to use and de-equipping them.

This is a bit more tedious than it sounds.

Once you’ve taken care of that, you have your selection of a lot of characters, some of which provide nothing useful (Luca’s dolls and Harley, for example) and several of which wind up being mirrors of one another with minor differences.  Porom and Rosa, for example, are the same basic character – except Rosa has Aim while Porom has better heals per point.  The result is that you can really choose how you’re fine-tuning the group.  I ultimately went with Kain, Rydia, Porom, Luca, and Ursula, a strong focus on speed and diversity for the group as a whole.

It’s as close as you get to character customization, sadly.  What is kind of neat is that all of these characters have a host of different Band abilities; Bands are sadly not all that useful, but the fact that most pairs at least have one buried somewhere creates a strong image that these characters are interacting on the battlefield.  Unfortunately, there’s a limited number of really good ones, which sort of pushes you to use certain groupings over others.

Anyhow, once on the surface there’s not much to actually do but quickly hop to the left and enter the big bad final dungeon.  It’s basically the final dungeon from the original game, only mirrored and with more boss fights in the middle.  The team grabs stuff, a crystal shows up and shatters to release a boss, and it’s Baigan!  From the first game.  Remember?  Ah, who cares, he’s not a threat at all.  Porom says she doesn’t sense any evil from him, and the group rests for the night.

Little scenes also play out as you descend, fleshing out character inter-relationships a bit, which is nice.  Ceodora and Ursula have a little heart-to-heart, which is fairly inconsequential aside from hinting at a romance.  A few more rooms go by, the Magus Sisters queue up, and again it’s a pretty straight rehash of the original fight with higher numbers.  I’m really glad that the ending of the story is dedicated to the anti-climax, I suppose?  There’s always a post-fight dialogue, but it’s also always stitched together from generic responses, and I can’t help but feel as if the designers sort of ran out of energy somewhere along the line here.

I realize that listing my favorite bits is an exercise that would end quickly.

Yes, it’s a flashback to a part of a game that wasn’t one of my favorite bits from the original anyhow!

Edge has a scene with his ninja, the group moves on, they fight Lugae and Barnabas again, it’s kind of silly.  Porom and Palom have a scene in which Palom finally develops the slightest bit of understanding that he might not be the hottest shit in existence.  The next non-boss encounter is Edge’s parents again, if you had forgotten that happened.  Rydia and Luca chat a bit.  If you notice I’m getting a lot less detailed, that’s by design; whatever shades of interesting plot or character development the sequel had played at are pretty much gone at this point.

I don’t mean that in the sense that there are no character scenes, those are still there.  But none of them advance characters in meaningful ways.  Few of them even give us any insight into these people.  They’re there to fill out space and create the illusion of change.  Combine that with the completely bland rehashes of old boss fights and it’s easy to find the goings-on a combination of predictable and irrelevant.  You know what’s coming, yet you haven’t been given any reason to care any longer.

Hop along, fight Scarmiglione who breaks stereotypes by being harder in his first form this time around.  Hop along into what is finally a new area, fight Cagnazzo again.  (Also a bit of a scene between Luca, Cid, Calca, and Brina, which is… whatever.)  Onward, Edward and Harley talk or something to no real conclusion, Barbariccia shows up again, it’s all fairly rote.  A fire cave on the next floor, a talk with Edge and Yang, and then it’s time to deal with Rubicante because we’re just cycling through the stuff here.

Cleverly, you can challenge Rubicante to single combat with Edge in a vastly powered-down form, when he actually wins.  Which is kind of cool on a conceptual level, albeit pretty much the last game’s deal instead of this one.

This is the world I live in now.

Points for keeping the old screenshots relevant through the whole of the game, though!

At this point, it’s actually advisable to grind for the first time in the running time of the game, which is annoying but at least a notable departure from the norm.  With a Recovery Rod on your black mage and decent arrows on your white mage, it’s more or less automatic.  After that it’s into a technological-style area, because that was the box this dungeon had yet to check.  Around this point I was remembering how Kain’s tale reframed and reused elements of the first game to tell a different story instead of just spinning together idle tile sets until the game hit a time limit.

Anyway, after some stuff dies, Golbez meets his nephew for the first time, then we have to fight the CPU and its nodes from the Giant of Babil in a truly fruitless exercise.  The next area is a clear pastiche of the road to the Feymarch and gives us a chance to reclaim Leviathan and Asura.  Fighting Leviathan is pretty standard and he only managed to hit me with one thing; fighting Asura is a bit more complex, since she can do more and hits hard.  After all of that, it’s down another floor, and then…

Oh, look, it’s Cecil as a Dark Knight.  Yes, we’re doing the mirror thing again.

The “right” way to do this fight is with Cecil, Golbez, Ceodore, and Rosa in the party, purely for story reasons.  You spend a little time whacking him, then he uses Darkness and reduces the whole party to critical health before trying to kill them.  Cecil blocks the attacks, the Knight uses Black Fang, and Golbez jumps in to defend his brother from what would be a lethal blow.  Then Golbez gets thrown into battle alone.

Rosa jumps into help, then Ceodore and the rest of the party jumps in as well.  The Knight tries to kill Ceodore, Cecil intervenes, and finally he’s back to talking and not being useless.  Whee!  It’s also possible to do the fight with just Cecil and Golbez, at which point Golbez dies, which I assume is kind of sad if you haven’t totally disconnected the events from here compared to the original game.  The boss fight here is mostly perfunctory, some lines are exchanged about how everyone’s glad that Cecil is back, then the Mysterious Girl shows up again.  She vanishes after dropping a portal to the final-est dungeon.

Well, best not keep her waiting, right?

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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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