From Bahamut’s cave, we went back to the volcano near the sage-town and killed Marilith, and I have to ask… why? Here’s the full scoop: Lich was destroying the continent to the southwest. This was well presented and displayed. The Fiend of Water and the Fiend of Air arrived centuries earlier and had already devastated the North with the terror of ecological success, but to be frank, besides the trees there wasn’t much sign of their evil. Okay, the Fiend of Water sank a city and polluted the water. This is mentioned in the text in the next few towns. Text certainly isn’t as evocative as the rotting land graphics to the southwest, but not bad. Meanwhile, the Fiend of Air doesn’t seem to have done anything about the air (FFV actually seems to mock FFI for this by showing what would really happen if you messed up the air), but you’ll soon learn that she is guilty of other crimes. Outside of the intro, backed by actual evidence inside the game, Marilith’s crimes include…
Absolutely nothing. Oh, sure, there’s a brief mention in the opening demo, if you wait on the main screen. But that’s it, it’s not backed up by any evidence in-game. Her volcano’s not even spewing lava on the NES, and video games are so excited about lava that I’ve seen lava drawn on dormant volcanos. The only incentive you have to kill Marilith is to get directions to the Levitation Stone. It’s not even a very good incentive, considering the game asked you to operate with limited directions during the Elfheim segment. With that incentive removed, it’s just the sages at Crescent Lake calling a hit on an innocent demon-women, like some sort of mafia don. “You like the canoe we gave you for killing the Lich? Well, I happen to have information about a new form of transportation you might be interested in, if you can make the information… worth my while.” Jackasses!
(Ed. Final Fantasy Record Keeper tries to fill this plot hole by saying Marilith was “awoken […] before her time” by the death of Lich, and so hadn’t had a chance to do any damage, but this contradicts the opening, which says she woke up 100 years ago, exactly 100 years after Kraken, and so on to Tiamat! Nevertheless, it’s about as good a guess as you’re going to get, and I’m glad they noticed there was a problem!)
I guess I’m supposed to mention here that Marilith’s dungeon, Mount Gulg, was the first dungeon in the series with “damage squares,” showing the usual video game understanding that lava is only hot if you’re swimming in it. Mt. Gulg’s eponymous theme music is also pretty popular as Final Fantasy tracks go, right up there with Matoya’s theme and some of the central motifs (the song is sometimes known by its alternate Romanization, “Mt. Gurgu”). The funny thing is, this isn’t the first place in the game the track shows up: it was also used in the Cavern of Earth and the cave with the Titan, so I’m not sure why it was assigned the name of the third area to use the tune. I guess this sort of thing happens in video game OSTs. You know, after all these years, I think I’d be more surprised by an 80s or 90s game where all the tracks are titled reasonably, or even accurately.
At this point in the game, we were over-levelled for normal dungeons, so Marilith and her skipped dungeon were no trouble. I think I may have missed the entire dungeon eating lunch or something, because I only have one brief memory of Kyle trying to grab a chest. The perfunctory business out of the way, we got ready for the second half of the game. A sweep of the northern continents told us that the remainder of the world consisted of one town west of the dragons and two towns east, alongside a desert tower (and no landing the airship in the desert). We hit the northeast town first, because it was the town nearest a landing spot. Good call on our part, since this town, Gaia, had most of the top-level items and spells available for sale. We snapped up nearly every available White magic spell, and ignored almost every single Black spell. Instant Death, are you kidding? Instant Death spells don’t work in RPGs! But I guess players didn’t know that yet in ’87.
Since the items here were so great, it’s surprising to think there were still two major dungeons to go. Talking to the NPCs showed that they belonged to the middle of a quest… though we had no way of knowing if they belonged to the third fiend’s quests or the fourth, or if the quests could be played in either order. There was a very manufactured feeling to be walking into the middle of a quest, as though the NPCs were less “people” and more walking puzzle pieces looking for their other halves. It’s funny, but some of the earliest RPGs with overworlds, like Ultima, were trying their hardest to look natural, sometimes at the cost of a playable game, but here’s FFI trying its hardest to be fit onto a console at the cost of looking natural! This town just doesn’t belong to a real world, it’s waiting for the plot to catch up to it!
Talking to folks, we found out that a fairy used to live here in Gaia who could have produced a substance, “oxyale,” that would let us breathe underwater. Unfortunately, she had disappeared. A pirate nonchalantly confessed to selling her into slavery. Oh, that’s nice. No, don’t do anything about that, Heroes of the World. We also learned that the town to the southeast of Gaia speaks in another language we wouldn’t be able to understand without learning it from a special stone slab. Kyle and I agreed that if we couldn’t understand the natives, there would be no reason to visit the southeastern town at this point in the game. True, the translation slab might have been in that town, but that’s just not how games work. Besides, we weren’t in any rush. We headed instead to the western town, far away on the other northern continent. There, we learned that the water fiend, Kraken, had been doing damage to the ocean via a shrine just off their coast. A girl had built a bathysphere to go visit the Water Shrine, but first we blah blah blah oxyale. We get it, folks, we already saw the second half of your plot!
A few interviews later, and we determined that the poor enslaved fairy had been taken off to a caravan located on a hidden square to the northwest. The “hidden caravan” thing was a pretty dick move on the part of the devs, but considering it was something you could work out with a few hints, it was leagues above the dick moves normally found in 80s games. It took about 40 000 gil to buy the fairy out of slavery. So uh… no way or even intent to fight this injustice, huh? Not the slave dealer, the pirate, no one? …Team?
After participating and further entrenching an industry of evil, our characters apparently just left the fairy in her bottle. No, trust me on this, read on: they 100% kept her imprisoned, but I won’t be able to prove for a few paragraphs. This is because, conscious of her needs, Kyle and I decided to keep her away from home and in her bottle as long as possible by doing some exploration. I like to imagine we were juggling her in the air and throwing her at monsters as we went.
Why delay? Well, it just so happened that we had spotted a suspicious river north of the caravan that led to a waterfall, and Lord British knows, no video game in history has been able to resist a conspicuous waterfall. The cave we found there was stocked to the point of boredom with almost nothing but golem monsters, but at the back of the cave we found a strange sight: a robot, which broke down after giving us a weird cube. Aw, geeze! We’re following separate plot threads!
It wasn’t that hard to work out the fairy would give us the oxyale, and that would let us fight the Water Fiend. That led us to believe the cube was part of an unrelated quest to find the Air Fiend. We weren’t about to try to jump ahead in FFI’s plot after what happened last time – what if we ended up half way through the Air Fiend’s fortress only to find out we needed some sort of supercanoe? Clearly the Water Fiend, Kraken, had to die first. We returned to Gaia, where the fairy immediately fled from us, saying she was frightened, as though we had only just now freed her after giving her significant reason to be afraid of us. I can’t imagine what was going through the developers’ minds, especially considering this is a problem unique to later versions. In the NES version, the fairy was automatically returned home when “bought,” which might make it hard for players to realize she was new here or that she belonged here, but holy shit, Dawn of Souls, what an awful way to explain her getting home!
When we found her again, she had cooled off about our abuse through miracle of the plot. She gave us the oxyale, which in her words was an apology for running away, not a thanks for the rescue. Geeze, what did we ever do to her?
So we descended to the shrine, after learning the girl that built the bathysphere was a mermaid ghost or something. Sure, why not. I think I was supposed to be emotionally moved by this sequence (at least in the New Style versions), either to feel it was eerie or sad, but I just don’t feel it was very well conveyed in the few lines involved. I want to say that perhaps this would have been more impressive to the original audience, except… hi, Kyle and I are just short of old enough to be that audience? And yet, I don’t think we ever felt emotional towards the game for the entire 8-bit era. Some of Square’s earliest attempts were so shallow and technically limited that they went all the way around to the other end and came out comic. But it’s better to explore those other games in their own journals.
The mermaid ghost’s bathysphere leads directly into the dungeon, which is confusing since it implies the dungeon exists mostly… underneath the continent, as though the whole continent were just floating on top of the water, and I can’t tell if that’s intentional or not. Video games have done stranger things in the past. Actually, video games treating continents as land floating on the water is practically tradition! I don’t think this is the last time we’ll be hearing about it from Final Fantasy alone!
The underwater shrine had a fork right at the entrance, with one route leading up and one down. Out of logic but I also some luck, we went upstairs first. That was good, because Kraken is on the lower floors, so it would be easy to miss that you also need to go to the upper floors if you want to beat the game. At the top floor we found a half-ruined city of mermaids that, preposterously, looped on itself, as though we had passed across the entire globe to get from one side of town to the other. Okay, I’m being facetious, but it’s true as far as the software is concerned: the town does loop on itself, you just can’t cross from the extreme west to the extreme east thanks to a gap in the floor. The devs use the gap to imply a much bigger town, but you can easily tell you’re looking at the other half of a looping map if you know what to look for.
Ignoring the quantum implications, we grabbed everything we could from the dying, impoverished town, and the mermaids explained their dilemma: Kraken was poisoning the water,yeah, yeah, I covered this all before. Among our new pile of Stuff Taken From Dying People was the Rosetta Stone we’d need to translate “Lufenian,” the foreign language of that one town on the eastern continent. Since the mermaids were in urgent need of clear water, we immediately abandoned the dungeon and made a break for Lufenia and the other towns to spend our ill-gotten gains. We’re the heroes.
Talking to the Lufenians wasn’t going to be a one-step process, no matter how much we wanted to use the Rosetta Stone like a copy of Lufenian As She Is Spoke. We had to get it translated by a guy in Melmond. He taught us immediately. As in: he studied it, deduced an entire language, and communicated it to us in its entirety in the span of a single conversation. And that is not artistic license: the end of the game insists the game takes place over the course of only “several days.” Considering all the mandatory global travel, I am not exaggerating how little time these lessons must have taken. You know, even Kingdom Hearts, steeped up to its neck in Disney magic, still tacitly admitted that most of Sora and friend’s adventures must have taken months.
Going over to Lufenia, we spoke to the locals and splurged on their wares. I mean, really splurged, I almost broke our budget on a Black spell, Flare, that we almost never used, even though we knew we wouldn’t. Flare is typically the most powerful direct damage spell in the game, so we didn’t want to just leave it on a shelf! We also picked up the White spell Full-Life (“Arise” in later games, the revive from death at full health spell) and picked up some chimes from the Lufenians which were supposed to let us into the desert tower, Mirage Tower. Just planning ahead. Lastly, we learned that five of the Lufenians had gone off to find out the source of all the evil, but ended up turned into bats or something. How the Lufenians knew this, considering the party had been turned into bats and not returned, is better left unquestioned. Since Kyle and I had made a running joke of voicing the bats found throughout the game (“Kee kee!”), this funnier to us than it was supposed to be. Laughing in someone’s face about five warriors they lost to tragedy was probably not ideal behaviour on our part.
Having spent so much time accidentally working on the Air Fiend quest, there was almost nothing left to say about the Kraken quest. Here is, honest-to-god, every single thing I wrote about the trip in the original Marathon journal for FFI. Check out this marvel:
We returned to the underwater ruins and dispatched of Kraken.
You can see why I may have felt the need to rewrite all of this.
Oh, there was some commentary about Kraken being unable to hurt us thanks to our being over-levelled, but that’s all I had to say at the time. The funny thing is, I think I remember this dungeon better than any of the ones past Ice Cavern. It’s just incredibly boring, is all. Mentally, I file this dungeon next to one of Final Fantasy III’s dungeons, the Temple of Time, which is a similarly wet, barren dungeon with a lot of repetitive elements in terms of structure that does nothing to mix up the experience. At the end, Kraken was like a living embodiment of his home: he was a high-defence, high-HP monster, your prototypical tank. This meant he was wet, barren of variety and defined by repetitive elements: attack after attack after attack after attack while we waited for things to dry up. He hardly deserves more than the old, one sentence summary.