In preparation to entering the upcoming dungeon, the Nepto Temple, I switched Luneth to Red Mage and Refia to Black, as I’d need their extra spell power when we were all in a Mini state. That left me with only one physical fighter in hopes they might act as minature meat shield. After a few turns of combat to get my new spellcasters them into their roles (as required by the remake), I returned to the temple in Mini’d form and began to press through. Credit to the remake for making the inside of the wall actually look like the inside of a wall, though the remake’s “straight to the right” dungeon wasn’t quite as engaging as the Famicom version.
At first the dungeon wasn’t so bad, but I eventually came across monsters called Blood Worms that could survive an attack spell and could kill or nearly kill even my meat shield in a single bite. One of them killed Ingus in such an over-the-top OHKO and I decided that if that was how the game was going to play it, I really would use a Phoenix Down! I reached the boss on that run: the boss turned out to be a typical giant rat that had stolen the eye because it was shiny. I hit it with all my high-powered spells in desperate hope that it wouldn’t surprise long enough to do extra damage. Despite, Luneth died and I used a second Phoenix Down. Luckily, the fight healed me when it ended, so I made it back through Blood Worm territory alive.
Replacing the eye calmed the serpent (the “Nepto Dragon”), and also provoked the spirit of the Nepto Temple into talking to us. It said that earthquake had sunk the Water Crystal into the waves. It then rewarded us with a “Fang” item that the game refused to explain. Armed with that, I headed back out, but I worried I’d get into trouble in the wild or maybe even with the Vikings. As such, I used my last level 2 white spell to un-Mini Ingus, who I transformed into a Monk under the reasoning that he would be able to fight unarmed. Unfortunately, a Monk’s unarmed fighting ability is tied to his job level in this game (which makes Monk weapons useful for once!), and so Ingus was terrible at unarmed fighting. I gave him some claws, but they’re really terrible weapons, just meant to be a placeholder. Luckily, nothing untoward happened on my walk back. I got permission from the Vikings to take their ship and finally un-Mini’d the party, which was a spectacular relief. You really have no idea.
I decided more changes were in order. Luneth stayed as a Red Mage, and Ingus a Monk, but Arc had spent his entire career as a mage, and having read guides at this point, I now knew that that would adversely affect his HP, as I described above. I decided to let him take over the role of Thief, and he quickly grew into the party’s prime damage dealer, though the party might have been better off with a Warrior as a meat shield. Ed: Unfortunately, it turned out I was mistaken about an important detail. You see, all the starter classes except for the Monk actually have identical Vitality! The real diversification only begins after you’ve gained additional jobs. So I wasn’t really helping Arc out at all with this shift!
Last of all, I surrendered and played to cliches by making Refia a White Mage. This was not my original plan, but I knew someone would have to start gaining healer job levels (singe mage job levels increase their spellcasting powers). In hindsight, Luneth would have filled the role better while Refia could have kept in her role as DPS, but what’s done was done. To be frank, an upcoming issue would have been better solved if I had kept someone as a Black Mage. For the time being, Refia had to use magic rods as items to cast spells, so I suppose she filled a mixed role one way or another.
I first tried to do what Kyle and I always do when we earn a new vehicle: going where I’m not supposed to go. I started by trying to return Desch to his girlfriend, but she didn’t want him. In fact, in what seems like a step back in quality, the scripter didn’t even have her get out of bed after claiming she was over her depression now. A lot of this game’s scripting feels like a step back from FFII, in little tiny ways that have nothing to do with storytelling style. It’s strange, but if the DS porting team had little reason to insert these flaws, so they must have been original.
I hung around near Cid’s hometown to fight low-level monsters to get my newly assigned characters into their new skins, and then sailed northwest, where a random sea monster killed Ingus with a single Blizzard. Keep that in mind.
Deciding the overworld monsters were a little too strong for me, I decided to stop meandering in hopes of finding weapon upgrades. The town I found to the southwest had no shops, but did have a few chests, but the only item that really helped was a Kempo Gi, a piece of Monk armour. The townspeople said most of their stuff had been taken by bandits from the west, so I went after them, only to find an odd, ugly blob of pixels floating about the desert. At the time, I thought it was some sort of sand cloud, or dust devil, but no, it was supposed to be a walking tree. I told you the graphics in the DS version are awful, but this time, it looked like a blob in the iOS/PC version as well! Interacting with it produced no results. If I had been a little more thorough in my exploration, I might have found a forest to the northwest where some fairies would explain that a bad guy had taken their big tree, but I don’t think that would have told me that this was that tree!
(Unfortunately, since we’re stuck with Famicom screenshots, I couldn’t get a screenshot of the mess, my truest disappointment.)
I went further and found a town and Chocobo Forest. For scouting purposes, I took a chocobo about the world, and discovered that the “world” we were on was actually flying in mid-air, with nothing but open sky beyond the border! When I returned to the village, a boy actually rewarded me for running around the world, as he had… apparently asked! Thanks kid, I just did it for fun! He gave me some Gnomish Bread, an item that casts the Sight spell, which gives you your map in FFIII and IV, because apparently no one in those worlds understand cartography. The DS remake already has a map on the bottom screen, so Sight only puts cities and dungeons on it. Even more pointless! For what it was worth: most of the towns were inaccessible, tucked behind mountains, so the Sight spell would at least inform you that there’s presently-inaccessible content.
The people of the town said they were descendants of “The Ancients” who had once lived in a great society of the Light. That lasted until they were brought low by the Crystals, who summoned the Dark Warriors, not the Light Warriors, to stop them for upsetting the balance. This is a first for the series, and a fairly interesting plot concept with a lot of potential. The people of the village told us that the tower to the north, the Tower of Owen, had something to do with their society, or at least the fall of their society. I’m a little fuzzy on that particular line, for which I apologize, because it sure sounds important, don’t it?
I took my ship back to the northwest, intentionally ignoring a whirlpool blocking access to the outer seas. I get the impression the pool is just a decorative, blocked gate, but will have to test it just in case it sucks us down to the Water Crystal or something, since the Water Crystal had “sunk beneath the waves.” By exploring, I found an uninhabited castle filled with treasures (many hidden past locked doors. I checked a walkthrough after some confusion and learned that if I put a Thief in the leading slot, they can pick the locks! Funny that the game never mentioned this, though this arguably explains why the original game held off on the Thief class). Lastly, I found an inhabited cave filled with oracles. One of the oracles hinted that the Fire Crystal could be found with the Dwarfs on an island to the northwest, in the outer sea, past the whirlpool. Another said that Desch would “meet his fate” in the Tower of Owen, and gave us the Toad Spell. I gave it to Refia, then grabbed another for Luneth – enough to Toad the whole party. When Kyle and I got here (and the Mini spell earlier), we grabbed five copies total, just to sell!
The Tower of Owen was unpleasant. You had to use Toad to get in, but could immediately leave the transformation after the fact. As I went, a voice continued to taunt me, at one point alerting me to a hidden switch puzzle (which, I swear, activates when you interact with an empty square in the remake, instead of with a gear on the wall as in the Famicom). Once inside, I found that I could easily stomp any monster group in the tower, without fail, but at the top… the boss. This was Medusa, who claimed to have come from someone named “Xande,” before beginning a battle. And she stomped all over me. It was a complete reversal of the previous monsters, and had nothing to do with her ability to petrify the party, which actually never happened. No, she just used Blizzard and killed Ingus in a single shot, well and above his max health. I never recovered from that. She soon double-tapped Luneth and Arc, because bosses in the DS FFIII get two, three or even four attacks a turn.
I’m not sure how to proceed from here, beyond checking the whirlpool. How do you beat a boss that can kill you instantly? Grinding, I guess. Grinding was my only real option. I figured I might change Arc to a Warrior as mentioned before. Refia also had enough level 2 White spells to Toad the entire party now (or rather, she will once I gain back the levels I lost when I died), so perhaps I could take Luneth off of Red Mage to make him a Black Mage and help wipe Medusa with level 3 –ra spells. In an odd way, this has been the most costly Total Party Kill in the marathon so far, because it was the first time in the Marathon where I couldn’t save near the end of a dungeon. Sadly, I’m sure worse is coming.
I started my second attempt on the Tower of Owen by putting my money where my mouth was and outfitting Arc as a Warrior instead of a Thief. I then grinded only briefly before getting bored thanks to external factors, and decided to give the tower another shot, not really expecting much. This time the fight went flawlessly, in a large part due to Medusa never using Blizzard at all. I should have had my suspicions from the beginning, but we’ll get back to this. Hold on tight, folks. It’s going to look smooth for a bit, but this is going to get ugly before I’m done.
With Medusa dead, Desch immediately regained his memory and announced himself as one of the Ancients, who was supposed to guard this tower before he somehow became an amnesiac. He explained the tower we keeping the whole “Floating Continent” afloat, and he had to repair its roaring-hot core. And with that, he… jumped into it. It’s not clear how that helped, to be honest. He also somehow returned us to our boat and cleared up the whirlpool nearby. Refia, who had become attached to him, was pretty upset, at least for the twenty seconds where the game allowed the new DS plot to peak through the original.