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?
Gordon joined the party and, hilariously, Leila pretty much immediately took over day-to-day operations of the Resistance even though she and Gordon had barely met. We headed off with Gordon to the coliseum, catching Gordon up to us stat-wise as we went. We had some trouble finding the place. We were using the GBA version’s map, which marks each location with a dot. We discounted the coliseum’s dot because it was so close to mountain-bound Palamecia that we assumed the dots marked two sides of a tunnel!
To Firion and co’s credit, they didn’t seem to enter the tournament intentionally: the Emperor just trapped them in the arena when they tried to sneak through. He then revealed his trump card and our opponent: a Behemoth!
Wait, you mean the guy we killed two dungeons and three bosses ago, when we had worse equipment and had long-since bled out? This is the start of a dungeon, we’re at full stats and – you might not have noticed this if you’re just playing casually, but this is important – traditional JRPGs derive difficulty from attrition: the gradual reduction of your resources including HP, MP and items. At the start of a dungeon, there hasn’t been any! Oh, this is going to be fun. Kyle thrashed the thing no problem, but he was arrested when, duh, the Emperor revealed he wasn’t about to let you just walk out of the pit. We were captured.
We were rescued from prison by Paul the thief (remember Paul the thief? because we didn’t!), who said he was repaying his debt for helping him rescue the people in the mines. We went off raiding the suspiciously monster-free basement, when we were attacked by a “Monster-in-a-box” – an ambush that occurs when you open a chest. The Spectres in the enemy group petrified Firion and Maria, much to our horror. We had forgotten to buy Golden Needles to cure them!
Luckily we found one, solitary Golden Needle buried in the ass-end of our bag and used it on Maria. Our reasoning? Maria’s Esuna was the highest-levelled in the party, but was still only at Level 3. Again, we need Level 5 to cure Petrification. We considered reloading a save but pressed on, spam-training Esuna with Maria and, whenever the situation allowed, Guy. This would have gone better if we had had any idea how magic actually trains in this game. We also properly equipped Gordon, and he did just fine, thank goodness.
Despite the random encounters we met later in the dungeon doing their best to murder us (including more Spectres, ugh), Maria eventually did learn Esuna V and cured Firion just before we rescued the princess. Hilda was trapped in a cage you can apparently open from the outside even without a key, which seems like more than a little design flaw for barred cages. Gordon left our party, presumably for good, to take Hilda to safety. Good thinking, Gordon. Our party doesn’t exactly have a reputation for “safety,” what with the impaling of themselves on spears. With that accomplished, we left the dungeon without ceremony or climax.
Somehow, Gordon and Hilda beat us back to the Fynn area despite us having the only ship! We found that – at last! – they had gathered an army to push the enemy out of Fynn. Which makes one wonder… why now? What have we done that changed the course of this battle? I understand needing the mythril, but we haven’t bolstered their army in any way since. Were they planning to invade not long after the mines and everything else was just a delay? Was Hilda’s father holding back the counterattack? Hilda assured us that she was the real Hilda and… that was it. We just believe she’s the real one, left there unguarded in an unlocked cell. Oh well done, Square.
She and Gordon informed us that our mission was to assassinate the castellan of Fynn while the army distracted the guards with a siege. A siege that takes place with the… gate open? I guess? We just walked in. We met up with Leila inside, and she rejoined us. Inside, we recognized that Castle Fynn had a functional internal layout, and not a dungeon layout like Kashuan. This suggested that if we rushed the dungeon, the Rebellion would take over and we’d be able to explore the rest of the dungeon without wandering monsters crawling up our ass every seven steps, so we decided to do just that. You know, this is the first time FFII’s weird levelling system has played out to its benefit? Because we don’t have to rely on a measured dose of random monsters every few dungeons to boost our XP, it’s possible to skip ahead like this if you please. I’d like to see what would happen if a game turned that into a tactical angle of needing to level versus needing to win – I mean, in a full-sized game, not a portioned game like Half-Mintue Hero or something really weird like Dokapon Kingdom.
Long story short, we punched in and killed the castellan, who was a generic monster named “Gottos.” Or he was a unique NPC that was later turned into a generic monster? Or maybe—look, I don’t know, let’s get this over with: the rebels seized Fynn.
We ignored Hilda for a while to strip her castle of treasure, and to clear out the patrols of Imperial soldiers still hiding in tiny boxes. The 80s were weird. When we finally did get around to talking to “Princess” Hilda, her Majest-highness ordered us to meet up with Minwu to find Ultima in a place called the Tower of Mysidia. She told us we’d have to find the White and Black Masks to get in and directed us to the White in the palace basement, though we needed Paul the thief’s help to find the secret passage leading in.
The basement dungeon was a waste of space, stocked with pathetic monsters nowhere near the level of the occupiers of Fynn. With full, post-game/post-spoilers access to the wiki, I see monsters with powerful drain attacks and status effects, but it just… didn’t bother us as much as the enemies on the surface? What I’m reading here is that I’m supposed to find these monsters daunting, but they simply weren’t. In fact, we stripped to our Leathers and started spam-training Holy, the strongest spell you can buy at that point in the game. We got it up to level 6 or so for our main three, beyond most of our other attack spells (at 5), and would soon be very happy that we had.
Now that we had both masks, we had some confusion about how to go about using them. See, we knew of a statue in a cave at Mysidia depicting a”Goddess of Rods.” We knew the masks would lead us to a rod that would get us to the tower with Ultima, so assumed the rod would have to be used on the statue. Whoops! What we had to use the White Mask on the statue, with no prompting. The reason for this was a magical doppleganger that blocked your path in the nearby cave. Putting the White Mask on the statue in Mysidia would get it to stay still long enough for us to give it the Black Mask, which made it disappear. Well when you put it that way it sounds so obvious!
Kyle tried to get through the next dungeon as quickly as possible, and his efforts (which extended through Mysidia Tower) probably allowed us to get to the final dungeon as quickly as we did. Strangely enough, there was nothing guarding the rod, so we took it, teleported out and we made our way north, where we were promptly swallowed by a Leviathan.
We never got a good look at the Leviathan, just its tunnel-innards (which is closer to what the digestive track actually looks like, I say to chastise every other video game set inside a fish), but we somehow lost Leila in the process of being swallowed. Our party seemed to assume she was dead, but they made this analysis so abruptly that Kyle and I didn’t know what to believe, since Leila dying would be natural but this seemed like a writer’s trick somehow? We pressed on and found that we weren’t alone inside the beast: another party of people had been swallowed as well and had outright set up homes inside the gut. They had been swallowed because they had brought… another… rod with them…? Where did that come from? For that matter, how did Minwu get into this tower in the first place? What’s going on? This is never explained.
Among the party we discovered a surprise: there was a Dragoon in here, unaware his people had been wiped out! Now, fans of later Final Fantasy games know the Dragoons: they’re lance and spear fighters that have the power to Leap into the air and land on enemies the next turn for extra damage. Since special abilities haven’t debuted yet, Ricard was less of a pointed pogo stick and more a plain lancer with stupendous strength (especially for our party, since the game did not want to give us Strength). His defence left something to be desired, and unfortunately our attempts to raise it left him near death so often that monsters kept killing him. It was really quite frustrating.
We killed the giant worm guarding our ship (that’s what SHE said!) and sailed out sailed out despite presumably being underwater at the time. The Leviathan let us be for the rest of the game. I don’t eat things that defy physics, either.
The tower was one of the largest dungeons in the Marathon so far but was relatively straightforward. Oh, it had Fire-, Ice- and Air-themed floors as we went up, but the monsters were the same on each floor thanks to the limitations of the era (they were all Fire-themed, I’d say). Each elemental floor ended with a mage who transformed into a Gigas (Final Fantasy’s preferred word for “giant”) based on that theme, all using the same bloody line of dialogue. We killed the Fire Gigas with Blizzard, the Ice with the fire equipment we had scooped up on the Fire floor, and the Thunder Gigas with Holy. The funny thing about the Thunder Gigas is that he’s a major stumbling block for most players. The average walkthrough writer will recommend you kill him through attrition or the barely-used Scourge spell, which causes Poison-type damage. But us? We just Holy’d him to death, no trouble! I’d recommend it to anyone either willing to go to Mysidia early to buy Holy, or willing to spare the time (say, if you hadn’t powered up Holy or Scourge but decided to start now): grab Holy as early as you can, train it, and not only will you get a good spell, you’ll vault one of this game’s most infamous hurdles.
Better yet, the Thunder Gigas dropped a book of Flare out of pure good luck, and we found another book of Flare later on. We distributed this ultimate Black spell to our two best Black Mages: Maria and Guy. Seeing how well Holy had served us, we had them cast nothing but Flare for the rest of the dungeon in hopes of levelling it.
At the top, we found Minwu lazing about a magically locked door. He said he would throw his power into opening it, which killed him and set him up for the bonus chapter. Tragic. Oh hey, did I mention? While we have to pick up Ultima for the plot to proceed, we don’t actually need it for anything. In fact, it’s hard for it to even be any good because of its weird mechanics, and in the original NES release it was bugged to be nearly useless. Hey Minwu, did you hear that? You just died for nothing! Isn’t that great?
With Ultima we found four spheres that boosted the stats of our party… or so the walkthroughs say. In our case, we only saw Firion’s stats going up. Now, Firion’s poor luck had made him the worst full-time member of the party at this point (being petrified for an entire dungeon was only a drop in the barrel) so I wonder if the spheres were meant to bring your weak stats towards some sort of par, but I’m not sure. Maybe only the party member who examines the spheres gets the stats? Well at least it went to the right person!
We gave Ultima itself to Maria. I already mentioned that Ultima has weird mechanics, and to make matters worse, I misunderstood the walkthroughts that tried to explain how to use it. Here’s the real mechanics: Ultima is powered by the average level of the users’ spells and weapons, including the level of Ultima itself (this leads to the weird situation where the average level might be 12, but Ultima itself could still be level 1 and only cost 1 MP!). Unfortunately, we misread that Ultima was based on the average spell level, not spell and weapon. This was dismal. Maria did have the highest average spell level, but we had been focusing on individual weapons for everyone under our poor understanding of how weapon proficiency functioned. No one in our party would be a good caster for Ultima as a result. Maria had ever used so many as two kind of weapons: her initial bow, now level 2 or 3, and spears, which were around 8. When we get back to work on the next session, we gave Maria a crappy dagger in hopes of catching her weapons up to her spells. Siiiiigh.