Ignoring Desch’s prompt to go to the Dwarfs in the northwest, I instead sailed around the northeast and east, where I had seen a town exposed to the sea during my chocobo trip. It turned out this is the town of Gysahl, for which a chocobo-related item, the Gysahl Green, is named. The Greens have appeared in plenty of the games to come, and I bought a few so I could use them to bribe special Fat Chocobos into holding my excess junk when FFIII’s limited inventory became a burden. The people of Gysahl also sold Magic Keys (in case you found a locked door but didn’t have a thief to unlock them) as well as Level 4 spells, all of which were downright awful.
Next, still ignoring the Dwarfs, I instead went back to Desch’s girlfriend, because I had another plan to put into action in the area. Refia told her that Desch was sure to come back someday, which was totally irresponsible. Of course, because Refia seems to be deluding herself that Desch is still alive, so her behaviour was at least consistent. No, the girl did not get off her bed. Yes, it still looks stupid. While I was in town, I stocked up on status effect restoring items, as my relatively uneventful second run in the Tower of Owen still involved being infected with more status effects than you can shake a Malboro at. They paid off very quickly, especially the Gold Needles that cure Petrify.
Still ignoring the plot, I went back to Dragon’s Peak. While this was partially to find if I had missed any chests (nothing worthwhile), it was also to do another grind… but not a grind for XP. In the DS version, the Rust Birds at Dragon’s Peak are actually a natural source for Phoenix Downs. They occasionally drop some on death, and you can steal them as well. I swapped two of my party members temporarily to Thief and began to pluck the things. Seeing how much Job XP everyone was getting, I swapped the Thieves later on so that my temporary Thieves could grab XP in their original roles. Once I had 10 Phoenix Downs again, I reverted everyone and headed out.
The Dwarfs to the northwest were strange creatures with faces like black void. It’s a design that stuck with the series into FFIV and looks really strange. The dwarfs were the guardians of the Fire Crystal, but all they were yapping about was the theft of one of two “Ice Horns.” At first I wondered if these were related to the Water Fang, but it turned out that these were the musical kind of horns. We asked around, and learned that the Ice Horn had been stolen by “that rogue, Gutsco.” The other one had since been put behind a magical barrier. The Dwarfs implored us to go after Gutsco, who had slipped away through an underwater lake. The Dwarfs apparently can’t swim, so urged us Humans, with our “aquatic abilities,” to go after him. But it turns out we can’t swim either and I needed to Toad the party again. Fantastic. Thankfully, you can turn everyone back on the other side yet again.
The next dungeon was infested with Petrifying monsters, but was honestly kind of dull. At the end I found Gutsco, and wow, I have to show you a screenshot. Look at this guy. Here on the left you can see Gutsco from the Famicom version, and here he is in the DS version. Yeah! They put him in the exact same awkward pose! And you know what? I honestly respect their tenacity and respect for the source material, even if it’s just in this instance. But he looks so stupid at the exact same time.
Appearance aside, Gutsco was tough, but I handled him well enough. I may have gotten lucky in that he only used his Mini spell once. But once he had “died,” my party started to be followed by the world’s most obvious moving shadow (using the guest party member pathfinding code, clever of the programmers). I had to repeat the dungeon in reverse, which was a pain but I was at least healed after the boss fight. Of course, once I returned to the horns’ altar, Gutsco revealed himself and made off with both of them. He said something about the horns being the seal for the Fire Crystal, and now he was off to find the thing itself.
In an odd bit of worldbuilding (since it never came up again), the Dwarfs informed us that the cave that held the Fire Crystal used to be a tower before the earthquake knocked it down or made it disappear or something. Why add that sort of detail when the tower never shows?
The Dwarfs also offered us some Ice armour that I ultimately did not buy, as it didn’t say it was strong against Fire. It turns out it was… I’m not sure why I doubted. The Fire dungeon was not all that bad anyways. It was probably supposed to be harder because it was practically flooded to the brim with magma / damaging squares, but that would only be trouble in the smaller HP numbers of the Famicom game, not the larger numbers of this remake. I found an Ice Sword for Arc and pressed into the basement.
At the bottom of the volcano, I found Gutsco leeching power from the Fire Crystal. He said our being there was keeping him from getting all the power for some reason (I supposed because we were the Warriors of Light), and he attacked us. …Which is to say, the game had to tell us that he attacked us, because he changed form during the transition to battle into some kind of amphibian-like dragon called “Salamander,” and the chain of events wouldn’t have been clear without the text box. I guess this is a taste of my own medicine from FFLI / the future? Salamander was a pain, especially his fire breath, which I thought would turn the tide against me, but I pulled through out of pure luck. I can take no credit for this.
The Fire Crystal thanked us and gave us our new set of jobs, most of them terrible. There was the Geomancer, which casts random, no-MP spells based on the locale, forcing you to hope you’re not fighting a monster strong against the element-theme in which it dwells, ie: most monsters ever (the Geomancer was not in this set in the original game – it replaces the Thief). Next: the Ranger, only good with bows, costing you money with every shot but doing solid damage from the protection of the back rank. Next: the Knight, which had a few defensive abilities but was mostly notable in its ability to wear up-to-date-armour. I upgraded Arc from Warrior to Knight right away.
Last of the Fire Crystal classes was the Scholar, with the power to cast Libra (a spell that tells you the enemy’s HP, strengths and weaknesses) every turn and with high reliability, the power to cast a few cheap spells, and in the DS version they also have the power use items for quadruple their usual force. These powers come at the consequence of having virtually no equipment and being otherwise terrible in every way. Imagine my irritation when a person from that bandit-raided down stumbled into the Dwarf city, saying how only a Scholar could save them from the leader of the Bandits. I swapped Ingus, still a Monk, over to that awful Job, reasoning that it would leave me with only one ill-armoured party member, rather than two.
No sooner had I set foot in the raided town from before when the Bandits paralyzed us with magic and captured us (the ole “The Player has no say in their capture” trick, which was probably old even when FFIII used it, if not soon after). They took us to “Castle Hein,” which turned out to be that stupid walking tree! I suppose that makes sense, since we are in the same region, but first it’s a tree, next it’s some arboreal castle, and it didn’t look like a tree to begin with…
It turned out our local villain, Hein, had kidnapped all the nice folks from that empty castle I found on the way to the Tower of Owen. You know, the one with the locked doors that I, uh, ransacked at some point earlier in the game. Our fellow prisoners asked the party to do away with Hein, one of them even recommending I find the King’s sword to do it with (which turned out to be awesome and I’m glad he never requested it back). One of my fellow prisoners was actually a spy that attacked us; beating him may or may not have opened the nearby cage door. Through there, we found the only way out was to (sigh) Mini ourselves again. Thankfully, we were able to grow back to normal size with our now-ample supply of Mallet items, though I worried for a time as to whether or not we’d need to shrink down again…
At the top of the tree we found Hein, who it turned out was a skeleton. Hein was able to change his elemental weakness while remaining mostly immune to everything else we threw at him, excepting the King’s super-powered Royal Sword. This is why we’d need a Scholar. Unfortunately, I had made a mistake. Somewhere in the process of all I was doing, I had changed Luneth to a Black Mage, reasoning that Refia was doing just fine as a White Mage armed with elemental staves, and that we didn’t need any additional White Magic. Unfortunately, I forgot to replace his white magic Cura spell with Fira, and so he didn’t have a powerful Fire Spell. Guess which element Hein decided to sit on for near-around ten turns? Thankfully, he was more or less incapable of hurting me and Arc would have lopped off his head eventually, no matter how poorly the rest of the fight was going. Hein eventually swapped to Ice and Ingus used an Antarctic Wind to rip the HP straight out of his bones. The Living Tree returned to its forest and gifted us with the Wind Fang.
Returning to the town we had saved, I found… nothing. Wow this game sure is consistent at giving you jack all if you don’t go to the exact right location. I took the party instead to the no-longer empty castle we had saved (how they had gotten there without a ship, I can’t imagine). There, the King gave us a “Wheel of Time” that he told us to take to Cid, as it would help him rebuild the Airship. Cid installed the thing in our standard, nautical ship, turning it into an awesome transforming vehicle that could go ship-to-airship as we pleased, though it could only land in water.
Cid then told us a story. It turns out that he and our four characters actually aren’t from the Floating Continent, but the “Land of Darkness,” below. He said he was taking people on a routine trip when the world became flooded with Darkness, and he only crash-landed on the Floating Continent out of luck. The four playable characters were apparently the only other survivors. Cid wanted to see what had happened to the world below, but decided to stay with his wife, wishing us well. Taking our ship, we left the continent for this Land of Darkness.