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!
Gordon was useless at helping us navigate the castle he had apparently grown up in, but was willing to join the party as our least useful member yet. Part of this had to do with our initial refusal to give him any equipment for fear of losing it, but we discovered how useful it could be to give him better stuff about the time his tenure was over. Better, the game started pouring on the cash after Kashuan, so it never became a problem again. The trip through Kashuan was unremarkable, except for Gordon’s unenthusiastic attempts to stab himself in the face with his spear despite our earnest goading.
The boss – an early late-game enemy called a Red Soul – proved pretty much invulnerable to our attacks, but after its first few rounds it ran out of MP and had almost no way to hurt us. The Soul’s high defence and low attack made it probably the dullest boss fight in the Marathon so far: the equivalent of two trained fighters flicking pinches of sand at one another until one of them keels over unconscious. In Ironsharp’s longplay, this fight against a midboss lasts six minutes! I suppose it goes to show how long fights are nowadays but this is like a midboss in today’s games taking twenty!
We took the torch it was guarding, and collected the magic flame (did I mention that no one in the Rebellion had properly explained that the torch was inside the keep and just kept talking as though we were going inside to find the flame itself? We actually had to walk out and then go back inside to work out what we had done wrong). Now, if you’ll recall, once we had the torch, the Princess was to come along with Cid’s airship so we could catch the Dreadnought. Why she, an irreplaceable political figure and valuable prisoner, had to do this personally did not become clear until the Empire plucked the older-model airship straight out of the sky before it could get to us. Ohhhh, a Star Wars reference! Well that’s a perfect excuse for endangering yourself, Hilda! Your people thank you.
We rushed home with the help of an odd easter egg: a forest nearby housed an ostrich-like bird called a Chocobo, soon to become a series regular. This was the only chocobo in the game, and could be used to run around the world with no fear of random encounters, though we’d lose it once we got off. Our contacts in the Resistance told us that the Empire had constructed a supply base for the Dreadnought north of Fynn… and south of their own capital. This is because, like the world of FFI, the world wraps North/South as well as East/West, thanks to the programmers not thinking this through. As a result, we have something resembling a doughnut world, though… don’t think too hard about it because that analogy doesn’t hold. I was in charge of the trip north, but due to the sheer amount of time I spent a) trying to find a shortcut and b) training, I passed back to Kyle by the time we actually reached the ship. Along the way, we retrieved a Berserk spell book from a group of imperial mages, which eventually became one of our most valuable spells. Big surprise for two guys who went into these games expecting never to buff or debuff at all (Admit it: it’s kind of useless in a lot of the later games).
The Dreadnought was waiting for us in drydock, and Kyle went in and rescued the Princess and Cid, who headed to retrieve Cid’s ship. Unfortunately, my training en route had drained all our MP, under the assumption that “supply base” would have supplies, or an inn! This became a problem when we discovered that the rescue had also alerted the Dark Knight to our intrusion. As a result, he had blocked the door and, somehow, also blocked Teleportation spells. Very strangely, if we spoke to him, the Dark Knight acted as though we were Imperial Soldiers, even though he should have recognized us from our encounter at the construction site, even if he wasn’t Maria’s brother.
The only way to ensure that we could survive was a tactical, meta retreat: to reload an earlier save (just after the rescue), even though that meant undoing a crop of Kyle’s stat-ups. This allowed us to take on the rest of the dungeon intact, before we had bled (ourselves) out. And for the first time since the start of the game: we equipped quality equipment. As you can imagine, this went pretty damn well for us. After we had blown the engine with the torch, the Dark Knight more or less confirmed himself as Leon when Maria recognized his voice. Firion, like an award-winning douchebag, told her to shut the hell up about it. Wow.
We were finally in an exploding dungeon, and Firion acted like he was in this giant rush, but he really wasn’t. Okay, yeah: the whole Dreadnought was erupting after we placed the “Sunfire,” but like with Astos, context, even accidental context caused by writing mistake, is everything. After Firion’s verbal backhand, we watched him and his party walk – not run, walk – through pretty much every room in the Dreadnought but the last. If they couldn’t have sped up character movement, why didn’t they cut out the intermediary rooms? We were forced to watch the party saunter through every room but the last, and that probably because they didn’t want to redesign one without enemy soldiers in it! It’s like Kyle said at the time: they could have just shown them leave the engine room, and show up on the map. That would have been “running” to me. Not every single room. That’s “taking the scenic tour.”
Our escape route took us to the captured airship, and Cid flew us back home. I was giving the dev flak a minute ago, but they do a good thing here by having Cid pass a very small island in the ocean in hopes that you notice it and might consider going back to it in the future. It was even added to the map at this point in the GBA version, so that you definitely wouldn’t miss it.
Back with the Rebellion, we arrived just in time for the worst: the King was succumbing to his injury. He spoke to Gordon, saying he’s proud of how much he had grown (well if you want to call a self-mutilated HP boost “growth”…) and put him in charge of the Rebellion, because… fuck women, apparently? There is a reason for the writers to not want Hilda in charge at this exact moment, so it’s more hackneyed writing than sexism, but that doesn’t make it any less hackneyed. Just to explain how out-of-character this is: after the need for the writer fiat has passed, Hilda pretty much takes over the Rebellion top-to-bottom, leaving Gordon to just sit around bemoaning how dangerous your newest mission is going to be.
The King then went to Minwu and told him to start working out how to find “the ultimate magic”, Ultima – a term any Final Fantasy gamer will be familiar with, introduced here. Last of all, the King sent Firion and pals on a pretty darn pointless mission: to go to the land of Deist, where the Dragoons and their Wyverns had once lived, to see if any of them survived the Empire’s initial attacks. This is even though no one had heard from them since the attacks, implying that there’s a pretty high chance of WHY THE HELL ARE WE DOING THIS?
Gordon, now in charge, however briefly, told us to book it to the nearby port town and find a ship to Deist, while Hilda just stood in her bedroom, blocking the door and giggling. This despite a story-long history of professionalism. The standing-in-the-doorway thing was even more confusing. I mean, okay, let’s be adults about this. It’s immediately obvious that she’s either under mind control or a double sent by the Empire. That’s why the writers had to put Gordon in charge of the Rebellion, even though they did it like a square peg in a round hole and a mallet. But why was she just standing in the doorway? I assumed at the time that there was something hidden in the back of the room that FFII didn’t want us to see, like say the real Hilda, or a chest. Or the corpse of a guard who found out the truth, gruesome as that would be. But the room turned out to be perfectly clean! Maybe a scripting limitation of the Famicom version could only handle a later cutscene if you stood in front of her?
In the port town, it was fairly obvious who we were supposed to talk to, as there was a new, unique sprite standing by the entrance. Firion told our new friend that we were bound for Deist, and she said what a coincidence, SHE’S going to Deist! Maria stepped up to give her fearless leader a warning that I can only imagine sounded like “Uh, no? She’s obviously a pirate?” But Firion wasn’t listening. Kyle, who used a Tarzan impression to imitate Guy’s monster-trained English, said “Guy think Firion think too much with penis.” We really had no idea how apt that would prove.
Naturally the woman had her crew attack us the moment we were out to sea (a reference to the fight with Bikke in FFI), but they never really had a chance. Instead of arresting or killing her, Firion decided to impress the crew to the Rebellion. You know, the violent British navy kind of “impress.” The captain identified herself as Leila, and for some reason she got behind this idea of joining the Rebellion – with gusto, joining the party as well as offering her ship. Like Gordon, Leila’s starting stats don’t really correspond to a modern FF job class. She’s a dual-wielding Rogue type… but also a Black Mage. Not that it mattered with our party. With our party you’re going to bleed like the victim of a vampire attack and you will like it.
Naturally, with our orders being to go to Deist, Kyle and I had no intention of going to Deist for any reason whatsoever. We have a ship now, and unlike the one in FFI it can land on any coast! It was time to go everywhere else! We first went to the island cave we had passed with Cid, and found it populated by masked men and women who talked about a special mask they were guarding deeper in the cave. We grabbed the mask from its rhino guardians without any trouble, because we’re sort of unscrupulous like that. Technically we would have been prompted to do this dungeon later, but since it also could have been done now, everything but the boss was levelled appropriately – no trouble. The mask was more properly called the “Black Mask.”
Level appropriateness could not be said of the southwestern part of the mainland, which was home to the town of Mysidia. We initially tried to go for the dungeon marked on the map, as the island dungeon had us figuring we were tough enough to at least try out the local dungeon monsters. Unfortunately for us, it turned out the local overworld monsters were already over our heads. We diverted to the town, only to be attacked by a boss-sized monster called a Behemoth. The Behemoth is a standard boss or superboss in the series, originating in the very first piece of concept art for the first game, despite not appearing in the first game. We realized the threat at once and treated the Behemoth as a wandering boss fight, which was a good idea. Since we entered the battle bleeding in leathers, I went through was probably the longest fight we’d had to date, if not the hardest. Yeah, we weren’t supposed to be there yet. But that just meant the shops would be sweet.
The interesting thing about Final Fantasy II is that while I refer to the major landmasses as “continents,” the truth of the matter is that, with the exception of three islands and one particular dungeon, you can walk and canoe to every location in the game. If you can survive the monsters, that is. A quick levelling guide actually suggests you can walk to Mysidia very early on (just after getting the canoe with Minwu!), but given the Behemoth, I’m not sure I can recommend that. The gear is worth the walk if you can make it. Mysidia was a town of mages, so sold all but four of the spells that are sold in the game, as well as top-tier armour and weapons. The weapons were a real godsend, since Firion had fallen behind in terms of weapons for some time, and Mysidia had swords for him to try out.
The Mysidians made it clear we weren’t supposed to be there yet by telling us things in the context of the late game. Most irritating of this was the assumption that we had the White Mask already, and so they only gave us directions to the Black! Also present was a library with information on most of our keywords, which was too little, too late to explain Kashuan’s bizarre bell-key.
We finally got off our keisters and went to Deist. Sure enough, everyone was dead, except a mother and her son, who were guarding a sick wyvern: together, they were the only survivors of the Empire’s poisoning of the wyverns and final attack on Deist. They told us to head to a nearby cavern to find a pendant that would let us talk to the wyvern and Kyle luckily took the right turn to do so, because if he hadn’t, we would have gone all the way to the bottom and found nothing. There were no clues that the pendant was supposed to be near the entrance! The wyvern gave us the last healthy wyvern egg in existence and told us to dump it in a breeding pool at the bottom of the cavern. It died after Kyle tried to talk to it again, which left him all guilty about that… lethal second conversation? There wasn’t really much to say about the trip to the basement, it was a straightforward dungeon, though the Chimera at the end of the dungeon were a real problem.
At the end, the party dropped the egg into the slime pool with a plop. Then, they just sort of stood there. It was as if they were just as aware as Kyle and I that they had just gone on a core game quest that involved going across half the planet just to drop a ball in some mucous. They didn’t even offer the mother and son a ride to somewhere with food.
When we returned home, Gordon lamented the deaths of the Dragoons, which I point out because he’s about to stop reacting to everything we do, no matter how drastic. He then asked us to check on Hilda, as he’d finally noticed she was acting strangely. Firion decided to investigate. “Investigate.” Waggle your eyebrows a little. There, you get it.
I’m not pulling that out of nowhere. Fake Hilda decided to seduce Firion, and like an idiot he agreed to talk to her in private despite how obviously strange she was acting. He was drawn in by an effect that I think was supposed to represent the monster’s Charm IX spell, except it looked nothing alike. In the original, he actually gets in her bed, which is about as sexual as I imagine Final Fantasy will ever get for the rest of the franchise. The remake backed away from that in a funny way that left the scene functionally identical. Firion still moves into the same position he did in the Famicom version, but because the bed is being drawn in 3/4s perspective instead of bird’s eye, he now appears to be standing at the foot of the bed, instead of lying on the lower half. Surprising the difference a few pixels make.
“Hilda” transformed into a boss called the Lahmia Queen, but luckily the natural enemy of the snake-woman is the pirate, and Leila broke in, followed by the others. Leila even implies she was spying through the door, as she knows the monster is a snake before breaking in. Spying on your teammate’s sex lives: it’s for their own good.
As the battle began, we were treated to the major boss theme for the first time in the game (ironically titled “Battle A” with the minor boss theme as “Battle B”). The Lahmia Queen really deserved the new music. She thrashed us like more or less no other in the course of the marathon so far, thanks to her status effect causing spells. Now, we’re not fools about status effects. We had been training Esuna, the spell that clears semi-permanent status effects. This was important, because Esuna is the only way to cure the Stone (petrification) effect, but you have to get Esuna to level 5. The trouble was, we had never bothered with Basuna, the spell that clears temporary status effects, reasoning that they never do so much harm that we couldn’t overcome them. The Lahmia Queen proved us very wrong (though we never met anyone quite as disruptive after her). She confused the party en masse and caused Sleep until the party was pretty much unconscious all the time. We were finally saved by Guy the Great. Guy no like pretty snake women. Guy is mature and sexually responsible. Unlike certain people that will remain unnamed, Guy knows when to keep it in his pants.