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.
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 of The Plan 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.
(The Blood Sword was probably not intended to be a super-weapon, since there were two of them in the original, but once the devs realized how strong it could be during remakes, they deleted the other from the basement dungeon of Fynn and locked this one away in this time-sensitive vault.)
How to actually deal with the Cyclone? Well, Hilda had a plan but we had no idea what she was getting at. Here we see the value of proper grammar. After some real drilling, she told us that the people of Fynn used to call for help from Deist by holding “the pendant” in front of a mirror upstairs. “The pendant?” What “the pendant?” The statement is phrased exactly like several other in the game where the character introduces one topic and then expects you to ask them about it. But “pendant” wasn’t a keyword! I don’t know what she means. So why won’t she let me ask about it?
See, what Hilda’s referring to is the pendant we picked up in the Deist cave. This is an unfortunate mistake that could only have been made by a writer writing from the players’ perspective. True, to us the pendant is “the” pendant,” just like the Ocarina of Time is “the ocarina,” but when Hilda says “the pendant,” it sounds like she’s talking about a pendant that belongs to her, while our pendant was “one of many pendants that belonged to the people of Deist.” I’m not trying to be a pedant: we legitimately did not know what she was talking about. Here’s the line: “We used to raise the pendant in front of the mirror.” At best, it sounds like she’s talking about a pendant hidden in Fynn, and so that’s what we did: we searched the castle again from top to bottom, looking for secret passages! I’ve never has so much trouble because of a definite article!
It’s hard to believe it in retrospect, but we actually did work out what she meant without turning to a walkthrough. This is because FFII augments its keyword system by letting you present items to characters, and we went to our inventory to thumb random items in her face in hopes it would illuminate things. Does she respond to the pendant? She must have. I wrote this entry months after the fact, and I don’t remember what she said. It may have been a generic line responding to the pendant from earlier in the game, but since she had a unique response at all clued us in to the pendant’s importance. We probably should have clued in earlier but we turned our brains off out of boredom somewhere in the middle of canvasing Fynn Castle for a second time.
Also, it turns out that Leila was alive and had apparently swam all the way there across the entire fucking hemisphere of ocean. Man, I miss her. She’s come a long way from the day she failed to stab us in the back and Kyle thought she was a traitor for her entire first tenure. Arrrr. Sadly, she never rejoined the party again, she was just alive for the sake of it, and that’s kind of pathetic as stories go, as much as I like her. (Indeed, the Famicom game doesn’t even pretend that she died, just saying that she went missing.)
We waved the pendant in front of the mirror and the wyvern we had hatched in the caves came to us. It had apparently grown to adult size? I say this partially because it was the same size as the dead wyvern, but since that could be sprite reuse in this early game, we can’t be treat that as fact. No, the real reason I knew this was suspicious was because the wyvern could carry all four of us, and the game had gone to lengths to tell us that grown wyverns could carry four people! I love when stories dig their own plot holes.
We attacked the Cyclone (we didn’t have a choice – the wyvern isn’t a vehicle in the same sense as the ship, it simply brought us straight to the Cyclone) and discovered the Emperor had actually ridden along with the cyclone inside of a giant fortress concealed in the eye of the storm. Oh. Okay then. We searched the fortress for a while, as pretty much all of its treasures were worth the trouble, though you have to wonder who packs this kind of stuff on the warpath and doesn’t give it to their captains and generals. One treasure that stands out was a bad one was a single-use tornado-summoning flute that we had to fight a dragon to win, sheesh. Kyle pointed out that we happen to be in a tornado so a flute that could summon a tornado would be Pretty Darn Cool, but all the evidence I can find online says that the flute is just an overprotected one-use attack item.
Before challenging the Emperor, we accidentally spoiled ourselves on the games’ most important plot point in an effort to determine when the next party member would die so that we could use them to smuggle the Blood Sword into hell. We would have been happy to learn “not now” but that wasn’t to be. Sigh. Oh well. Back to the present. The Emperor tried to attack us with his bodyguards. When that failed he said something to the effect of “Well, you pulled that off, but will you be able to survive… this?” and then attacked us with the exact same group of bodyguards! These aren’t even extra-strong enemies, they were normal enemies from the dungeon!
The final battle with the Emperor involved a pathetic Wood Golem that kept our melee attackers off of the big man for a while thanks to FFII’s enemy rank system. The rank system prevents melee attacks from attacking more than two columns deep into an enemy group, but our whole party except for Ricard can lob spells with the best of them and we sent them all at his imperial heiny. The Emperor didn’t last long. True, the bodyguards and Golem did die before the Emperor, but that’s more a testament to Ricard’s stratospheric attack. We killed the Emperor without much trouble, and somehow we still had time for speeches before the giant castle came crashing to the ground.
Everyone (except Guy and Ricard, it seems) celebrated with a little pixel ball back at Fynn before a dying guard broke in and said that the “Dark Knight Leon” had declared himself Emperor. The Dark Knight was Maria’s brother? You don’t say!!
Firion and pals decided this was personal business. With Hilda and Gordon, they began to plan how to break into Palamecia, which is so mountain-locked that I’m not even sure it has a door for the locals to use. We talked to Paul, and found that he was now (not before, only now) harbouring a mortally wounded Cid. Cid had escaped the Cyclone only to die here, but not before “lending” us his airship. I already told you this is how we earn vehicles, don’t look at me like that. We took the thing to Palamecia, which was an painfully precise landing: you have to land directly on the tower, but only after the remake’s map shifts around in a “cool” animation that makes things completely impractical. It’s such a bizarre problem that I don’t feel I’m describing it right: the map “tilts” away from the camera, Mode 7-style, as the airship lands and you have position yourself to land on top of the castle at the end of the tilt, not before.
For the capital of a world-conquering Empire (no matter how many demons were involved), Palamecia Castle wasn’t a very threatening dungeon. Inside, we fought a shadow of the Emperor guarding a chest as well as this army of clones of Gottos, which must have been terrible for the real Gottos’ morale. “You don’t think I’m going to fail, do you sir?” “What? Noooooo. Nooo. Well, maybe. Give me more blood.”
We tracked down Leon, where we gave Ricard the Blood Sword with all the gravity of funeral rites. Yes, this was his time. The moment Leon stepped off the throne to confront us with an evil speech, the old Emperor’s demonic spirit sat in his place, and damn, that’s a pretty cool entrance. The Emperor declared that he had had gained supreme power while in Hell, presumably by toppling the devil himself (no, really, that’s the plot in the novelization: the Emperor has deposed Satan). He no longer cared about the Empire (though his soldiers still littered the globe, making this the only point where the PSP’s version of “demonic soldiers” actually makes sense), and he raised the castle of Satan from Paradise Lost, Pandaemonium, from the depths of Hell, demolishing his old castle.
Ricard stayed behind to distract the Emperor and help us escape and… why? Just why? It doesn’t make any sense. It’s not like the Emperor’s protected somehow! We could and should kill him right now! I suppose the building might be falling down, but then the game goes to the trouble of showing some sort of flame attack coming at us, and then acts as though those were the reason we had to leave. And it’s not like the flames are something we’re going to quest to get a protection against. We go to the final dungeon to battle the Emperor almost immediately after this and they never show up again! Damn it, Ricard, why won’t you let us Chrono Trigger our way through the final boss? We’re dramatically over-levelled!
But Ricard gets his “heroic” death, and the rest of us, including Leon, escape on the Wyvern. Somehow, the airship gets out of the collapsing castle as well, falling through a plot hole to the safety of the ground. We haven’t seen the Wyvern since this incident, by the way. We returned to the airship and retrieved Excalibur from the mother in Deist, who thanked us for letting her talk to Ricard before he died, something we had done earlier in the playthrough. It’s not clear if the “letting her talk to Ricard” part was mandatory for getting Excalibur, as no walkthrough mentions it and it was just something we did by accident, because we were greedy and tried to get the sword early. It would be just like an 80s game to say “Thanks for letting me talk to Ricard” when that never actually happened. I’m almost upset we missed the chance to see something like that happen?
With Ricard dead, we asked Hilda permission to let us take Leon with us, as he sees the Emperor’s spirit as a mutual enemy. She agreed and our starting party was finally reunited. Our mission? Storm the Jade Passage, a secret tunnel that leads straight to hell via a crack in the ground east of Mysdia. We are stronger than ever and – oh, holy crap, Leon, your stats are almost all terrible. Sheesh, your evasion is outright 0. You tried to be our final boss? Look, here’s a shield and leathers, you’re on remedial training, buddy. We’ve got overlevelled standards to keep up here, you know.