I’m going to put this bluntly: at the time of writing, Soul of Rebirth was the roughest part of our entire Marathon so far, and also the most dull. It started with the longest grind of the Marathon as well, almost as long as it took us to clear the final dungeon of the main game. This is where we discovered that the mirrored Jade Passage actually does have different enemies on other floors, meaning the impossible enemies dropped on our heads when we controlled only Minwu and Scott were just the 2004 developers being jackasses. It wasn’t a happy way to start the day.
We eventually sent an expedition to the secret waterfall shop, which was also in this mirrored dungeon. There, we bought Berserk for Josef, Flare for Scott and didn’t buy Haste, but we later wished we had (although we more wished we had bought more Ethers so we could have used all the spells more freely). Meanwhile, we trained Minwu in multiple weapons to boost his Ultima. Unlike Maria’s, this actually did help, but don’t mistake that for me saying Ultima was powerful, more that we were at a complete loss for other decent spells.
The final dungeon was equally frustrating. It once again came down largely to luck with enemy encounters, since some enemies would give us a fair fight, others no fight at all, and others still would wipe us out in one turn. Chaos Riders? We were dead. Weird blob things with eyes? Probably dead. Black Dragons? Well, the Blood Sword could work its magic on those but not without the dragon taking big chunks out of us first. Twin-Headed Fire Ogres that cast blizzard for some reason? With those, we could settle the party in for a night’s rest and woke up without having gone below half HP. It was totally inconsistent.
Our surviving graces were unfair were Berserk, Ultima from time to time (though not as often as we would have liked, since we often needed Minwu for emergency healing) and the Blood Sword, which we gave to Scott so Ricard could use his proficiency in Spears from the main game. Thank everything for the Blood Sword. We might very well have given up without it. Against normal enemies, it only did around 300 damage, same as Berserker Ricard. But the difference between having only one competent character (Berserker Ricard) and two (Berserker Ricard and Blood Sword Scott) is miraculous.
Finally, we found the chests guarded by bosses just like in the main game, and we invoked the Marathon right to Blood Sword the bosses into smears on opposite sides of the same room. The bosses, for the split seconds they were alive, included a pre-set Black Dragon, a Steel Giant golem, a Beelzebub recolour called Beelzebub Soul, an Astaroth recolour named Lucifer, and a Tiamat recolour named Yamatano Orochi. Getting the ultimate weapons inside those chests proved to be the game’s breaking point. These boxes contained the party’s Ultimate Weapons, the only weapons in the game (though see my notes below about the PSP version) that could only be equipped by only one character. Scott’s Wild Rose sword was the best, as it could cast Berzerk XVI on all party members. This spell had rising light effects and resulted in such a thunderous power boost that we called it “going Super Saiyan.” We had Scott dual-wield it with the Blood Sword. The other Ultimate weapons weren’t quite as game-breaking but more than pulled their weight, especially Ricard’s Wyvern Spear. Josef, the monk, gets an accessory instead.
The power boost from these items brings up several questions. Until we found the items, we were under-levelled, but we went from under-powered to over-powered in just two item grabs This is because the ultimate weapons raise your stats to max, but my issue is the gap, not their power. Couldn’t there have been some kind of intermediary weapons, sold in shops or found on chests in the tunnel, or on lower floors? The power jump was downright stupid. To make matters worse: the Blood Sword wasn’t really responsible. The issue was the Black Dragon. The Black Dragon was for some reason both a chest boss and a wandering monster. We defeated a Black Dragon at least once without the Blood Sword, as we still hadn’t tuned to the idea of using the Blood Sword in every fight. That means we could have gotten one of the Ultimate Weapons without the help of the Blood Sword in different circumstances, and the game would have cracked down the middle! Hell, if we had been properly levelled, would we have jumped from trouncing the monsters to disintegrating things with our mind?
So what’s the deal? First, the main game walkthroughs tell us to go into the endgame dungeons at a much lower strength than we actually were, only for us to get knocked about by Malboros. But then then we kill the final boss in three/four turns! Then the walkthroughs say to head into the Soul of Rebirth dungeon with stats in the 40s, and we do only for us to get knocked around by everything, until we get a weapon and everything becomes easy as pie! I can’t help but feel that for some reason, our experience wasn’t representative. While I still don’t know about the Malboros, this Soul of Rebirth trouble could have been fixed by the devs with more weapons or with proper monster groups. Stupid. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the game being easy, mind. It’s relaxing and sometimes hilarious. The real issue is that FFII couldn’t decide what it wanted to be.
(I suppose you could say FFII was just trying to be a more playable version of a game infamous for its faults, but it’s gotten so tangled that maybe it would be better off with some more substantial fixes than just jimmying the numbers and assembling random enemy groups for Soul of Rebirth?)
Finally we made it to the last floor, where we healed up and faced our opponent: the Emperor again. He explained that when he died in the Cyclone, he actually split between Heaven and Hell, and we’re currently in Heaven, not Hell (specifically, he drops a number of names from the Talmud: the passage was “Raqia,” the castle, “Arubboth”). This “Light Emperor” claims to have brought our party back to life so that he could apologize for killing us. He says if we forgive him, he’d be happy to house us in paradise. That’s fair and all, if you ignore the fact that his Heaven is infested with wandering monsters that are apparently fallen angels (yeah, he just tells us that, straight-up), and he brought us back to life in a cave, on the opposite side of all of them. Remember that part? The part that just took us hours and hours? But video games divorce their story from game elements all the time, especially when the game elements are as stupid as this. So let’s ignore it.
Fortunately, our party’s loved ones came in a vision to provide the larger picture: despite all the time we spent grinding with this party, Firion and friends were just now attacking the Dark Emperor. The best part of this was Firion using Ultima XVI in-battle and it still absolutely sucked! Clearly both Emperors would have to be defeated together, and this one was just trying to pull one over on us so that both Emperors would somehow survive. We fought him and destroyed him in two turns, thanks to Scott’s two magical swords. Yeah. Two. Less than the other party. The ending was dull, just a retread of the original, with ghosts, followed by the exact same pre-rendered cinematics. Boooooring.
Once again, there is the matter of the bonus dungeons in the Anniversary re-release. In this game, the bonus dungeons are four fractured parts of the same over-dungeon, the Arcane Labyrinth, and it is possible to reach all of its parts as soon as you have the canoe. Going to the Arcane Labyrinth that early in the game is actually viable, because (some, all?) the enemies inside the dungeon adapt their stats to your stats, all the way up to the bosses, but mind your step while you’re still on the overworld.
Unlike the FFI Soul of Chaos, these bonus dungeons actually have a story, and like most Marathon runs I try to avoid the story before going in. This usually involves me skimming the gameplay details as well, and this is no exception, and sometimes this leads to spoilers. As a result, I’ve accidentally learned the finale of the Arcane Labyrinth, but not the main body. In the finale, you come to a man named Deumion and face his pet demon, Phrekyos. Prekyos also has stats based on your progress through the game, and if you defeat him, Deumion will reward you with one party member’s Ultimate Weapon, based on… something… you did in the Labyrinth. There is one weapon per character, and even the Guest characters can get one. The Ultimates of the four characters that go to Soul of Rebirth are not quite as powerful as the ones found in Soul of Rebirth, though Josef gets an actual weapon to go alongside his Soul of Rebirth ultimate accessory, so if you’re willing to do this dungeon really, really early, it can help him out double for him.
The biggest trouble is that if you get an Ultimate, you have to do the entire dungeon over again, all four parts. The floors change somehow, I understand that much, but it still sounds super-tedious, especially if you don’t yet have the airship. It is also possible to use a special process to gain a super-spell from Deumion by battling him as a superboss, but neither prize really seems worth it so it’s mostly for bragging rights: one spell kills everyone but the caster, who is left on 1 HP, and the other restores everyone in the fight to full health, enemies included. You can only get one, but I’m not racing off my chair to get either. I hear that if you kill Deumion, Phrekyos will stick around to hand out Ultimate Weapons, but there won’t be much left in the game worth doing with them at that point.
Yes, that’s a choppy way to end the entire FFII Journal, but at the time the original Journal was written, it ran flush with the FFIV journal as we had started FFIV right after II, and I needed to get on with things. However, because a lot has changed in the Marathon since those early days, the next game I’m going to cover in the Journals is the next game released chronologically with the “Final Fantasy” label… even if it was never a Final Fantasy game to begin with: The Final Fantasy Legend.