If you remember back to last August when I first started talking about Final Fantasy IV, you might remember that I also started talking about Final Fantasy V. Or at least I mentioned that it was a thing, because as much as people like to claim that Final Fantasy IV got toned down because Square believed American gamers were stupid, that’s not what happened But it is what happened to Final Fantasy V.
Of course, Final Fantasy V doesn’t have the allure of Final Fantasy III as forbidden fruit, since it was the first of the three unreleased games to make the official jump to North American shores. Ironically, this took place long before its obvious inspiration came out here. Final Fantasy V is a pretty direct spiritual sequel to Final Fantasy III, you see, in both terms of story and mechanics. It’s also a game that kind of relies on a knowledge that Square was pretty certain most players just didn’t have, which wound up killing translation on the vine and led to a completely different game.
It’s all over but the shouting now. If you’ve managed to build a party that could reach this far into the final dungeon of The After Years, you’ve gotten everything on lockdown. Time to wrap up what has been one of the most bizarrely drawn-out sequels in the franchise, which is saying something when there are only three games in the franchise that have had actual, direct sequels at all.
The problem I have, of course, is that there are really two stories being told through the game. The first is the overarching plot regarding the Mysterious Girl, the Crystals, and so forth. That’s about 50% interesting and 50% rehashes. The second, though, are the individual stories with bits of character development and so forth. For reasons known only to the designers, the conclusion basically abandons those individual stories altogether, despite the fact that the individual tales sort of left them halfway to being finished. Instead of bulking out this conclusion with those smaller resolutions, well, you read the last column. It was bulked out with 20-odd bosses.
It occurs to me at this point that I have been in the world of Final Fantasy IV for 28 columns now. Seriously, this is number 28! It started in August of last year! How did anyone spend this much time working in this world of all the possible settings?
Well, in the case of The After Years, by recycling a whole lot of the first game. But no time to whine about that, we’ve got a final dungeon to explore… soon.
Once you’ve finally had the very final dungeon opened up, you actually do get something else unlocked. Remember all that Adamantite that we were stockpiling all through the game? Turns out that can be used for something, specifically for some powerful equipment. It’s taken us the entire rest of the game to get here, sure, but now we’re finally here and we can go get ourselves some valuable items by turning in seemingly irrelevant items that we had been hoarding through every single tale. Meanwhile, all of the other treasures from the challenge dungeons have been summarily replaced.
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.
My impression of The After Years has been kind of mixed, but I don’t think you can really talk about the game thus far without pointing out that it is, in fact, nine smaller games. At this point, the actual events have all taken place over a very short span of time, and the characters in these stories haven’t done a whole hell of a lot, especially due to the fact that there’s no space for upward motion. Ursula and Yang get two hours of development, awesome, but they don’t show up in any significant fashion in the prior or later tales.
In short, the whole thing doesn’t feel like a cohesive whole at this point, just a series of vignettes that are trying to link together in a vague fashion. But this is the point when everything does link up and all of the characters come together. After lots of hints and little pieces of the whole picture, the last chapters start up, and they reveal what’s going on, why we’ve had all these thin rehashes of old bosses and encounters, and what it’s all supposed to mean.
So it’s time for the whole thing to start feeling like a Final Fantasy title.