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 – 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.
One guard in town did seem to speak to us via keywords, but denied our every request. From a meta perspective, it was clear this fellow was a Resistance spy: characters that know nothing about a subject are supposed to respond with “?” if you ask about that subject, but he responded to “Wild Rose” with a different negative: “…” Obviously his response to “Wild Rose” would change later in the game, and only a member of the Resistance would know the password. Personal letter to the PSP version: of course the Palamecian soldiers are zombie-demon monsters when a resistance agent can hide among them for months at a time.
After all that research and some walking, we reset to an old save to get our ticket money and bearings back, something we don’t do often in the Marathon. Nevertheless, we got lost again on our way to the town we were supposed to visit, Salamand. The land northwest of Fynn was still stocked with super monsters and so was obviously off-limits, going northeast and then southeast seemed too far, while continuing northeast seemed impassable. It took a while for us to discover that the northeast was actually a geologically impossible spiral shape. We were supposed to head into the loop!
Near the entrance to the spiral, we found a snow-covered town where we met up with Josef, only to discover all his male neighbours had been driven into slave labour by the Empire. Josef was the mayor and had been left behind to run the place, but the Empire took his daughter to ensure he behaves. The prisoners had been taken to the mythril mines at Semitt Falls, which was convenient for us because it meant we could solve both problems in one fell swoop. The mine was located past a lake, truly inconvenient. Hell, it was at the head of a waterfall, they must lose a lot of workers every year. While I suggested we heal up and equip proper equipment for the dungeons, Kyle had the helm in the first dungeon, and insisted on continuing to train (read “bleed all over the floor”) through the entire dungeon. It worked: the dungeon didn’t need full HP, so we probably pulled out ahead because of it. I deferred to his strategy from then on in my own dungeon runs, much to the party’s distress.
The first thing Kyle found in the mine was a large crystal that would have easily been decoration if there was more than one of them, but there was not. Therefore, it was an obvious landmark for later. The rest of the mine consisted of the game torturing Kyle with what the Final Fantasy Wiki calls “Trap Rooms:” an obnoxious design decision where you enter a completely inconspicuous door only to appear in the middle of an empty room with random encounters on nearly every square. I won’t be mentioning them much in the future but they never really go away. Kyle eventually found the prisoners, accompanied by Paul the thief, who had come to steal… “the” mythril? On his own. Yes. Steal the mythril straight from the mine, this is definitely something you can do.
Paul saved us the trouble of escorting the prisoners back to the surface, so Kyle plunged on and, after innumerable rounds of Monty Hall with the trap rooms, we finally found the boss through the only other door in the dungeon that wasn’t a trap room. Artificial difficulty at its finest. The boss – an Imperial Sergeant – wasn’t that much of a pushover but he was still just a first boss and isn’t worth talking about. Behind him, we found a treasure chest containing the mythril. Yes, “the” mythril. All of it. My apologies to Paul. We know it was all of it because stealing it sent the Empire into a panic and diverted the Dark Knight from the Dreadnought. It fit in a box, and then into our pants pockets.
We returned to the Resistance and set to work replacing our Leather equipment with Mythril. However, at some point during our second session, we actually returned to Leather. After all these years it’s hard to remember the exact course of events, but we adopted a strategy called “putting on our Leathers” in an attempt to boost Evasion. In practice, “Leathers” often meant other low-end or even mid-game equipment rather than Leather itself, but the intent was the same. The strategy probably took on its name because we only ever had Leather lying around for guest party members, like Minwu. Why do this? Well, the game boosts your characters’ Evasion stat only if the characters have a high Evasion stat in the first place. I guess you can’t practice moving around if you’re already in full-plate? If you’re taking the picture as a whole: yes, we spent nearly the entire game bleeding onto the floor in cheap Leather or Mythril armour just to boost our stats. And the world should thank us.
You have to compare a system like this to a modern one, like The Elder Scrolls (in general). An Elder Scrolls-esque system might punish the development of your HP and agility skills because you were wearing heavier armour, but it would compensate by increasing your heavy armour skill. You could say that Elder Scrolls fixes many of FFII’s problems in three broad sweeps: being real time (so that skills aren’t only tallied at the end of battle – see FFLII for how that can turn on you), being predictive instead of random, and by having so many skills that no play-style is inherently wrong. FFII only goes half-way: it tries to let you play numerous different builds, but punishes you by only allowing you to train in certain play-styles!
Alongside our new mythril armour, we made the mistake of trying to train Guy on swords, as there was no Mythril Axe to replace his steel one. Without an understanding of how the weapon training system worked, this was an utter disaster. Ultimately, Guy was so terrible with his swords we tried to get him to run around bare-fisted for a while just so we would be training something, and to be frank, his unarmed attacks seemed to hit more often than the fucking axes. The mythril equipment was expensive, unfortunately. In the end, we were lacking a few thousand gil worth of breastplates, which we only picked up near the end of the first session.
Our next mission was to sabotage the Dreadnought before it was completed. Luckily, as previously mentioned, our theft of the mythril had distracted the Dark Knight, leaving Count Borghen in charge instead of the Dark Knight with his supernatural iron fist. We talked to our double-agent contact, who let us past to the construction site via a tunnel. He then walked off into The Void Off Screen, and was never heard from again.
The tunnel wasn’t much of a dungeon, we were through it in a wink (Ed. so fast, in fact, that I missed Kyle picking up a “Pass” that becomes important several quests later!). As a result of this speed, we expected to continue to the Dreadnought itself after getting to the other side, but the game had a surprise for us: the Dark Knight. Given Kyle’s pause of surprise, I think he was thinking the same thing I was: this was going to be a must-lose fight. It seemed like the game’s only other alternative would be to have him be a returning boss, and it would ruin all his build-up to let us thrash him now.
It turned out to be none of the above: the Dark Knight revealed that he had been taking secret trips back to the construction site to make sure the job was completed, and the Dreadnought was already ready to fly and there was nothing we could do. He cautioned us against fighting the Empire and decided to give us time to consider changing sides for our own good.
Oh, so you’re Maria’s brother, then. Don’t get me wrong, I like this story, but… it’s kind of obvious. Sorry, friend.
Borghen and the Dark Knight boarded the Dreadnought and took off, devastating all the remaining towns not yet in Imperial control. I’m kind of confused as to why they need a superweapon at all when they had an army take out Fynn, the world’s only remaining superpower, but given the level of abstraction involved in an 80s RPG, there may be some logistical issue involved that the story didn’t think to cover. I don’t like to give games a pass for their age, but the abstraction is more of a stylistic choice (even if it was chosen to deal with technical limitations) and I want to respect that too.
Kyle and I knew that we’d have to talk to Cid, the inventor of the airship in this universe, whom we had already met, to figure out how to destroy the Dreadnought (if only because we’d need an airship to board an airship). To our chagrin, the game refused to acknowledge our initiative, and insisted on ping-ponging us between Cid and the Resistance for a while. Finally we got Cid to fess that a certain magical fire from Kashuan was used in airships’ engines and could be… overloaded, I guess?… using additional fire. But the fire needed a special torch to carry it (how did the Empire get any?) and was locked away behind Kashuan’s magically sealed gates (how did the Empire get any?).
Hilda’s father told that with Prince Scott dead and Prince Gordon vanished after the Dreadnought attack, the only way to open the gates to Kashuan was hidden away in a cave in the freaking arctic, nowhere near the castle. Logic! I had to check the wiki just to understand these plot developments for this writeup! I swear this is just as scrambled as anything FFI tried to give us about time travel or Crystal Eyes. Minwu, seeing the King was worse than ever, bailed on the party to keep the King comfortable as he approached death, but at least we got to keep his canoe. That’s all that matters.
We met up with Josef again on our way north, and he tried to make up for not helping us rescue his village by joining up with us now. Josef was essentially a Monk, with high unarmed damage, but he had pathetic HP. Oh, we know how to up your HP, Josef. Just hold still while… we just we killed him, didn’t we? Ssomeone get on that.
(And, of course, there was the hideous gameplay loop where I accidentally ordered Josef to strangle himself to death three times in a row because I kept forgetting to change his target. I plead stat training! He did it to himself! You can’t arrest me for this!)
Josef started his membership in the party by showing us where he had stashed his… his snowmobile. Look, it’s a snowmobile, okay? It just is. For some reason, the snowmobile was stashed near the giant crystal in the mythril mines. Because when I’m looking for a garage, I think “in a cave accessible only by water.” Since I’m looking for a key-rack held at the bottom of a cave in the frozen heart of the arctic winds, perhaps this makes perfect sense in this universe.
The monsters in the frozen north were some of the roughest we’ve seen and continued into the cave that held the… bell-key we were looking for for ill-explained reasons. Heading into the dungeon, I noticed a number of oddly designed spots while exploring this dungeon, and since two of them turned out to be actual hotspots on our way out, I’d say I was pretty observant! The dungeon was relatively small and not that interesting, just a cave like any other, if a little wet. We found a cursed sword we didn’t care for, and Guy talked to a room full of… of beavers. Because he was raised by monsters, you see, according to the novelization. Monsters all speak the same language, I guess. And beavers are monsters. Given that they’re surviving in arctic temperatures, perhaps this also makes sense in this universe.
Hey, did you know that several major supporting characters from this game were cut from the game’s novelization, but not the beavers?
At the end of the dungeon, we fought a giant turtle called an Adamantoise, who we killed in a single turn thanks to Josef. The Adamantoise went on to become a recurring Final Fantasy foe and boss, going all the way up to superboss in Final Fantasy Dimensions (FFD) and potentially XV. A single hit.
Following the turtle’s defeat, we plucked the bell from a wall, which caused a secret passage to open so loudly that we assumed we were in our first collapsing dungeon in the Marathon! Oh boy! But no such luck, and maybe that’s best: the sheer volume of items we’d have risked in a collapse like that is kind of silly. On our way out, we ran into Count Borghen and… huh? Why is he even here? HOW is he even here? Consider: we needed the snowmobile to get here, and you can’t land the Airship here later in the game. The Empire couldn’t possibly have landed their city-sized supership outside the cave! I like to think the Dark Knight just sort of shoved him over the edge into a pile of snow.
The fight that followed proved Borghen was designed to be pathetic: he missed his only attack and was throttled to death by Josef’s practiced self-throttlin’ hands in a single blow (Ed. by the way, Final Fantasy Record Keeper also includes a fight against Borghen. He’s STILL terrible). But he had a backup plan: he had planted a trap! Which he had installed no equipment, including a boulder the size of a house.
In one of the spots I marked on our way in, so he must have done it before we even arrived.
At a cave in the middle of the arctic.
On his own.
And he doesn’t even seem interested in the bell so why not just– ARGH! This didn’t even bother me at the time!
Anyway, the boulder crushes Borghen’s corpse, just in case you were worried about him getting back up, but we only escaped thanks to Josef and his auto-asphyxiating superhands. Unfortunately he died in the attempt. See you on the other side, buddy. And I mean that as a twisted sort of compliment, since you’re certainly going to be in the bonus chapter, which is literally set on the other side.
Returning to Josef’s hometown out of a sense of obligation, we discovered that everyone already knew about his death (and the same was true halfway across the world, in the Resistance town; and no, almost none this is written as though we told them first). We also discovered that Josef’s daughter was now being raised by a woman that might have been Josef’s wife but whom we had always addressed as his stalker, because she was constantly mooning at him through his window and writing bad poetry about how she was just too darned womanlike to be useful to her precious Josef. I wish I were kidding.
…Well, have fun with your new mom, kid! Don’t mind if we take this snowmobile, right? Wow, stealing vehicles from ex-party members is awesome! I hope by the end of the SNES era we get to actually unhinge one from a dead friend’s corpse.
Back in town, Hilda told us to pack our bags and head to Kashuan, and that she would hire Cid to meet us at the gates on our way out. We have a Dreadnought to destroy!
That’s where we left off for our first day of play. Despite having spent nearly as much time was we had spent on all of FFI, I didn’t get the impression we’re anywhere near the end of this game. For starters, we’ve only been to about half the map, including the grind that took us to Kashuan. Or at least, a grind that took us to Kashuan. Even in the original entry I couldn’t remember when we made the grind, it may have been when we were lost and looking for Salamand.
So, why is FFII so much slower than FFI? I think it’s worth analyzing. Here were my theories at the time of writing the initial journal:
- Obviously the game is just plain longer, though that’s not the sole factor. Assuming the game doesn’t have a second overworld (Ed. it did not) we’ll probably be half-way done the game after our attempt on the Dreadnought, considering how much land we’ve covered. So assuming a similar play time per notable area, it’ll be twice as long as FFI. But even Final Fantasy I had (poorly conveyed) surprises, so I expect it will be even longer than that. Expect at least two more full-day sessions.
- The game world is much larger than FFI’s, though not as filled with plot walls. The walk between Hilda and Josef’s town is somewhere in the neighbourhood as half-way across FFI’s globe. Given the ping-ponging between Hilda and Cid after the Dreadnought launched, I’d say the devs really want you to use the transit system, but the transit system is too flawed. You can only use a ship if it’s in port because you brought it there, so if you want it to be there if you need it, you need to use it all the time. Next, transit doesn’t allow you to train your stats, which is hard enough as it is. Last, it’s too expensive. Nothing justified paying the price of a new helmet for every one-way trip!
- Constant training means we blow a lot of time in each fight beating on / burning / freezing / buffing one another, instead of fighting the monsters. Obviously that’s going to take up time, but what other choice to do we have? All the training glitches from the Famicom release are gone, we have to work with what the system gives us.
There’s a lot of work to go yet, but that’s for another journal entry. For now, don’t cut yourself unless you’re sure it won’t drop your HP to 0. Good life advice. Slice yourself close to ribbons. You’ll just become more ribbons the next time you do it.