Returning to the north, we received some bad news almost as soon as we stepped on shore, when we were attacked by a powerful new group of Imperial wandering monsters. It was a great accidental story moment: “Oh, shit, the army is here.” Exploration confirmed it was worse than even that: all the towns opposed to the Empire, except for Fynn, had been outright destroyed. Even the original headquarters of the Rebellion. The people in Fynn were rambling about how Fynn would be next and wouldn’t stand a chance, making you wonder why Fynn hadn’t been attacked first. There’s really no explanation, either, since the doughnut world makes it so Palamecia and Fynn are practically neighbours.
Dinky little thing, innit?
The source of the attack? The Emperor had used his magic to summon a massive tornado. Wow, and Ultima is supposed to be the ultimate magic? (Tornado actually did go on to become an unusual but powerful FF spell.) We followed our walkthroughs and told Paul that we planned to attack the “Cyclone.” To help out, he gave us access to his stash, which included the Blood Sword. Excellent. Stage 1 is complete. We have our super-weapon: a blade that causes more damage to an enemy the more HP they have, devastating bosses. Now for our secret plan: to smuggle it into hell. We’re the heroes.
Look, Donald! Death!
When the action returns, we’re in a strange town stuck in perpetual night, where Donald and Goofy arrive to go looking for Leon. They also look up to see a star going out in the sky, presumably Destiny Islands, and before the cutscene is up, Pluto finds Sora lying unconscious in an alley. Wow, we’re in a hurry to get started, aren’t we? Too bad there will be an entire world full of cutscenes before we assume something resembling normal gameplay-to-story frequency.
Now, Pluto finding Sora is not to imply that Donald and Goofy find Sora. As it happens, they call the dog away without even entering the alley. This scene is home to one of Goofy’s best lines. When asking about the alley, Donald cuts him off, saying “What do you know, you big palooka?” and Goofy, with a tone suggesting Donald just gave him some good advice, says “What do I know?” and follows after.
Since Pluto woke Sora before he ran off, we regain control of our lead as he tries to work out where he is. Luckily for us, we already picked up the name of the place from the title card: “Traverse Town.”
Our murdering a snake-lady disguised as the princess led to the most bizarre scene of the game. Our weapons still stained with the blood of the woman they thought was their monarch, Gordon and some guards burst in and started shouting that the princess was still being held by the Empire. Look, if you knew about the monster, would you at least remark on it? If not… could you arrest us? I don’t want you to arrest us, but I’d appreciate some semblance of realism, some reaction to this series of events.
It seems that the Emperor had a coliseum built near Palamecia itself, and was holding the princess as the “prize” of the tournament. Yeah, this isn’t a trap, let’s rush right in to the weapon- and monster-filled location where they’re holding the political prisoner. For his next low-hanging fruit, the Emperor will hold the Elf Prince hostage in one of the jet-bike stages from Battletoads.
Also, shouldn’t Hilda be addressed as “Queen” by now?
Back at Disney Castle, we get a look around a really wonky library as we see the text of the King’s letter overlayed across the scene. It confirms what you imagined: “the King” is the icon himself, Mickey Mouse, and is (somewhat comically) written to reflect his inflection. But strangely enough, you don’t hear the Mouse’ s legendary voice, even though the scene is shot as though there was supposed to be a voiceover. The reason for this, purportedly, has to do with Disney’s fears of letting Square handle their crown jewel in this first outing, so he was pushed back as much as possible. Rest assured that when he is voiced, he’s voiced by the legendary Wayne Allwine, who voiced the role from 1977 to his death in 2009.
The scene tells us a lot about the plot, and also the arrangements at Disney castle. Mickey writes that he’s noticed several stars going out. A pretty dire, apocalyptic start to our story. As a result, he’s gone off without any warning to investigate. Thankfully, he seems to have a hunch on what to do, and instructs Donald to find Goofy and locate someone with “a ‘key'” that will help them out of this, and to stick with the key no matter what. Mickey also tells Donald to inform Minnie even though Donald was clearly trying to hide this from Minnie in the last scene. If it’s been a while since you watched a Donald Duck cartoon: Donald’s an asshole.
Such a helpful prompt.
When we reached Kashuan with our unexplained bell-key, we discovered the fire was right there, just inside the broken front gate. We hadn’t noticed it during our Kashuan grind, just assuming it was the sort of fire dungeons keep as decoration all the time. The real problem would be finding the torch inside the rest of the ruins. I admit, this does retroactively explain how the empire got to the fire, if not how they carried it. In any event, the locked door was just past the fire, so we unlocked it and discovered Prince Gordon had gotten here before us, but had stopped just inside the gate, terrified of the monsters. Dammit man! Someone’s already died because you went missing! A little girl’s been orphaned and left with an obsessive stranger! And… okay, several of those things are our fault, and probably none of this is helping your cowardice, but my point stands!
After the paopu scene, we the gamers are shunted half-way across forever for a left-field moment I still don’t think I’ve fully absorbed. No, really, it’s not until we fade in on the scene that I remember it takes place at all, much less right at this moment. Cutting away from the sunny colours of Destiny Islands, we appear in the bright white and deep red of a pristine castle, where none other than Donald F. Duck, dressed in wizard robes, is walking around to the tune of the “Mickey Mouse Club March.”
Mr. Duck approaches a giant door, knocks, and then opens a much smaller door built inside. And one of the benefits of forgetting this scene is that that gag makes me laugh every time. Kingdom Hearts mimics a lot of Disney style but its few successful cartoonish sight gags are few and far between – frankly, I’m only fond of this one, a second later one, and one far, far, far away in Kingdom Hearts DDD. That golden age sensibility just doesn’t emerge in Kingdom Hearts as often as I’d like.
What we did next was a bit of an odd note, one not likely to be repeated in the Final Fantasy marathon. We decided to use the game’s fast travel system – yeah, this game has a taxi system of ships and airships – to explore ahead of where we were supposed to be, partially because the airship ticket guy talks too fast and we bought one by accident. We landed in a town that was only one quest ahead of our intent, but we actually stumbled into a special plot point you can only see by going ahead of schedule!
It seems that the Empire was building a massive Dreadnought, an airship built for war (as opposed to the warships in the other Final Fantasy games, which carried heavily equipped level 93 Warriors of Light for famine-relief purposes). The man in charge of the operation was called “the Dark Knight” and no one else in town would speak to us: it’s not clear if they were just terrified of the Knight or if they were actually zombified by some sort of power. Later dialogue suggested that whatever it was, terror or magic, it was making work proceed at a rapid clip.
Sora wakes from the dream exactly where he appeared to wake in the opening cinematic: on a beach on a picturesque island, and once again by his redheaded friend. For real this time. Thankfully, these two exchange names at once. This is great, because we’ve been in control of Sora for fifteen minutes now and still haven’t learned his name. The friend is Kairi, played by Hayden Penetierre, still four years before her breakthrough role in ABC’s Heroes. For the Disney connection, she’s also the voice of Dot in A Bug’s Life, though that wasn’t strictly a Disney production in 2002.
While I feel Penetierre’s performance in KH1 worked for me the first time around, it hasn’t weathered my replays very well. Where Osmet is playing something of an everyboy without much effort, Penetierre seems to be over-playing childishness, despite being younger than Osmet in real life. A lot of KH1’s voice actors make similar and weirder enunciation choices, so this strikes me as an issue with voice direction. All things considered, Sora and Kairi were fine for me as cast members in a 2002 game when standards were lower, but KH1 Kairi seems off to me in the present day, and Sora sometimes skirts closer to bad from his typical average. KH1 can be a hard game to come back to in more than a few ways, but to me, non-Disney voice acting is the problem that comes instantly to mind.
It’s pretty much expected once I start a Final Fantasy II article that I’ll start by saying this is the “black sheep” of the series. But as I tried to write it (this journal is the first of the ones carried over from my old blog, but intro is new), I find I just don’t agree. I wrote a few drafts, trying to explore my issue with the “black sheep” label, before coming to talk to Kyle and finding he felt the same. The internet may feel FFII is a black sheep, but seems that, 6 core games and 5 spinoffs later, FFII doesn’t seem all that out-of-line to the two of us. Yes, its level progression is different, but Kyle gave me the same argument I had in my early drafts: that’s true of every Final Fantasy game. Even the Job System games (III, V, 4HoL, Bravely Default, Dimensions) work differently than one another. They just all happen to be rooted in levels, but that doesn’t mean a Black Mage from FFI levels the same way as Vivi of IX. And the same is true with FFII. Yes, FFII’s successors did go on to become spinoffs (the SaGa games), but only after introducing a whole pile of new mechanics.
To the two of us, FFII just seems like the natural extension of FFI, given the mechanics in use in tabletop and PC RPGs of the era. Maybe that’s the experience with games from that era talking, or maybe it’s… just us! Or it may a matter of nostalgia: fans of later Final Fantasy games who have cut their teeth on later Final Fantasies coming back to FFII with an idea of what Final Fantasy “is.” to Kyle and I, as outsider, Final Fantasy is just a developing series growing up one entries at a time.
There is also the matter of the “black sheep narrative,” the idea that “every” game developer was creating weird #2s, like Zelda or Castlevania. Unfortunately, anything more than a shallow look at game sequels in the 80s will turn up more Mario 2 JPNs than they will Mario 2 USes. FFII hardly seems as experimental as Zelda II, even if it’s not as similar as Dragon Warrior II.
No, FFII’s real crime isn’t that it’s a black sheep. FFII’s real crime is that it doesn’t work. (more…)