With that all behind us, we then decided to cave and find out what Doga and Unei wanted, since that was a sidequest too and I guess would give us job points. Or rather… we thought it was a sidequest. We probably should have realized it wasn’t, simply because no one had given us orders to go to the Ancient’s Maze in the first place, and FFIII always tells you where to go. This was an old RPG, but not that old. Square had learned their lesson after the communicative disaster that was FFI, and wasn’t going to leave us to our own devices in the game. But they made a new error. What Doga and Unei had simply failed to explain was that they didn’t just have the key to Eureka, they also had the key to the Crystal Tower, something you’d think they should have tried to tell us!
We did some Airship swapping to get in the Nautilus, and returned to Doga’s, where he greeted us telepathically and opened a portal to lead to the new dungeon. The dungeon, Doga’s Grotto, was essentially a spiral into a black pit that ended at an earthen altar with Doga and Unei. They had finished whatever preparations they needed but said that to complete the key to Eureka (and also Crystal Tower, which they still refused to mention) but now they said they would need to impart all their energy to the keys… by dying. Wait, wasn’t Xande the only one who was mortal? Doga and Unei explained that after they died, they would be bound to the mortal plain as ghosts, whatever the nuances were of that.
Luneth and the others refused to kill the two Archmages, which forced the pair to transform into monsters (…for some reason…) and to attack us to forcibly change our minds. Doga came first, in the form of this hideous mass of organs! He thrashed me on my attempt. I figured grinding would be required, but Kyle pulled stubbornly through yet again and managed to beat each mage. Doga was fond of group spells, which was why I felt grinding would be required, but after Kyle got past him, Unei was no trouble. She took on an unremarkable bestial form and simply buffed to limited effect. Sorry, you two.
We headed out, forgetting to inform the Moogles of their employer’s untimely pseudodeath, and headed back to the Ancient’s Maze to make for the Crystal Tower. The Maze proved to be… not very maze-like! Unsurprisingly, this was another consequence of the 3D remake, which had drastically simplified many of the dungeon layouts. Not that I mind losing a maze… Kyle later noted that the maze included an enemy that spawned other, minor enemies, which proved useful for grinding between sessions. There was a brief patch of overworld between the Maze and the Tower, the last opportunity to save for the rest of the game.
Once inside the tower, we found the two locked doors: one a literal door leading onward in the northwest, and the other a teleporter in the centre, leading to the Forbidden Land, Eureka. Still trying to train our new job levels, Kyle and I agreed to go to Eureka and grab any of the forbidden weapons relevant for our classes, despite our earlier dismissal of the place. We should have realized this wouldn’t be as easy as it sounded.
This time I am disappointed by the changes made between versions. In the remake, Eureka is just a cave. In the original, it has a unique, cool-looking tileset. The game also doesn’t carry over the old layout, which looked like a series of sealed rooms with secret passages, and not, again, “just some cave.” It doesn’t feel “sealed” at all!
The mini-bosses guarding the chests were surprisingly deadly for mini-bosses, including a Kunoichi that guarded the best Ninja weapon for Luneth, who killed us multiple times; and a Scylla that I feel we almost lucked through after our original strategy failed catastrophically. What did we do? Kyle had to remind me what we did: we used Reflect to get through Scylla, unfortunately Reflect only lasts for one turn in this game. But then, half the party dropped dead… which made it easier to cover the party with Reflects! It was a beautiful mess. It helped that, by this point in the game, we were employing a strategy from the internet meant for Vikings like Ingus. It works like this: you give your Viking double shields, no weapons at all. This prevents them from attacking, but they could use Taunt and soak up damage, which is what the Viking class is for, after all! Scylla rewards you with the Elder Staff in both versions, and the Ninja and Sage jobs in the original, which seems like a bit too many prizes in one place?
Somehow, we made our way to the end of the dungeon, where a few shops and an additional, hidden shop fulfilled… well, honestly, very few of our needs. They stocked top-tier summons (Odin, Leviathan and Bahamut, in case we wanted copies), top tier equipment we already had, and only a few copies we really needed, and a healing spring. From there, we returned to the surface.
We gave the Crystal Tower a single attempt before wrapping up for the day. We weaved in and out of the halls, grabbing or ignoring Elixir chests sort of at random, and swearing at little monsters called Kum Kums that were fragile as glass but could cast high level group spells if allowed to live. This happened embarrassingly often, what with our Mages and Viking being so very slow to act.
At the top of the Tower, we found a cursed mirror, and when we looked into it, Xande informed us telepathically that we had been placed under the curse of the “five wyrms,” which froze us in place. Not that any “wyrms” actually showed up in this verison. To counteract the wyrms, Doga and Unei needed to gather five of our “loved ones” to hold them off. Their choices were incredibly subjective. Princess Sarah held off one for Ingus, Desch (apparently still alive) for Refia, Prince Aldus held off one for Arc, Cid for Luneth and… the oldest of the Four Men of Amur for them all? Those guys who helped us get some sewer shoes? Don’t three of our party members have foster parents that are being left out of this arrangement, and Ingus a King that’s quite fond of him? Nobody? No volunteers?
With the curse broken, we were able to move on (and not backward; we were past the Point of No Return as it’s called, which was irritating given how much of the game was left to go). Just past the mirrors, we fought with Xande himself, and promptly failed. Pretty… decisively, too. We broke off the session at that point.
But while my part in the story comes to a stall here, it doesn’t quite end the gameplay. Kyle, finding the spare time here and there, popped in to game to grind a few times, pushing us up to higher and higher levels by picking at the denizens of the Maze, Eureka and the Tower, even toppling a rare, boss-level Dragon random encounter at one point (though not earning the rare Onion Equipment for the Onion Knight class that the dragons can drop). As it stands, our party is as follows: Luneth, Level 65 (Ninja 63); Arc, Level 61 (Summoner 50); Refia Level 65 (Devout 48); Ingus Level 61 (Viking 81). Here you can see the real limiting factor of some advanced jobs in terms of Job Level gain, while the gap in actual levels between Arc/Ingus and Luneth/Refia can be explained in just how many times the two lower party members have outright died on us, especially in boss fights. And that’s the setup we’ll be using to charge against Xande and all we already know happens beyond. Almost done at last.
We picked up FFIII during our next session and headed right through the Tower, much like we had done before but now helped along by Kyle’s grinding. At the top, we came up to Xande, who did his darndest, but like the Four Fiends of FFI, could only last a few turns against our now-overpowered selves, coming close a threat only once or twice due to this game’s wholly random nature. Not that we realized we were overpowered yet. No, we had been spoiled that there were five bosses left to go, so we were all business.
With Xande’s death, the Darkness he had gathered during his tenure as Big Bad Guy coalesced and personified, becoming the Cloud of Darkness, FFIII’s true final boss. She fought us and wiped us out with a single attack, but not to worry, because Doga and Unei sacrificed what was left of their ghost energy or something to revive us. Fortunately, the Cloud had retreated by then. Unfortunately, after a short conference with their gathered loved ones, the party charged after her, instead of going somewhere they could save.
The World of Darkness (not to be confused with the name given to surface world earlier in the game) was barely the size of an average FFIII dungeon, despite the fact that it seemed to represent an entire alternate dimension? It consisted of a cross shape, with teleporters to four separate sections we could take in any turn, made up of platforms of crystalized and gaseous Dark. In each corner, we found a Ribbon accessory guarded by a clone of Xande. While we only really wanted a ribbon for poor, underequipped Arc, we followed advice from a walkthrough that advised us give one for everyone. This was because the Cloud in the remake had the infamous Malboro technique, Bad Breath, which would inflict a bevy of status effects if used on us. They probably gave it to her just to retroactively justify the ribbons, which aren’t that useful in the original!
At the end of each dungeon section was one of the World of Darkness’ own elemental Crystals. Each of these Dark Crystals was guarded by one of those bosses we were so scared of, but each encounter quickly proved that they were little more than hot air and several tens of thousands of HP (filled with “666” references in the HP, Gold and XP counts). These enemies had absurd HP compared to previous bosses, but their remaining stats just didn’t stack up. I don’t think it was even our level: they were just meat shield pushovers just meant to wear us down before the final battle with the Cloud of Darkness. Each boss did have a trick up their sleeve, but we overcame each with such ease that finally convinced us that we were OP’d.
Echidna was the first guardian we encountered, who was able to cast Death as its gimmick. This was the one we were most afraid of, but we lucked out without the spell ever triggering. Cerberus had three attacks a turn, not that any did any sort of damage. The Twin-Headed Dragon used group spells, but Kyle’s grinding had eliminated any power that might have had in days gone past. Lastly, Ahriman tried the same stunt as the Dragon, and lost just as decisively.
After clearing each boss, one of the Warriors of Darkness from the war against the Ancients appeared from the Crystal, each dressed in ludicrous stag beetle armour like sentai superheros. The Warriors of Dark lectured us on the balance between Dark and Light. They explain that the Cloud of Darkness rose up to consume the world after Light gained power in the last war as well, which seems kind of… why? Why wasn’t there a Cloud of Light? I’m just sort of confused on the details here. They say they managed to stop the Cloud of Darkness, but they also note that the Cloud will always come back even after we defeat it here. The best we can hope is that the end of the world won’t come today. They… repeated themselves a lot, it got fairly tedious.
After defeating the guardians, we went after the Cloud of Darkness at last. During this sequence, for some reason someone said that the Dark Crystals had been “destroyed,” which wasn’t true at all! Either way, the Warriors of Darkness showed up, repeated themselves about the nature of light and darkness again, and then threw themselves at the Cloud, instantly disintegrating. Well, that sure was a display of martial prowess, I can see how you beat her last time.
Luckily, our Beetleborg friends had destroyed the Cloud’s ability to kill us instantly, so we were able to engage her in the final fight. This was a giant pain – which I suppose is more than I could say for every other final boss we’ve covered so far in the journals! To our surprise, the Cloud of Darkness was a multi-target boss, making her more tactically complex than even the final bosses of IV and TAY! She had two “tentacles” alongside her: one that was immune to physical attacks and could cast Haste and bite us, and one that was immune to magic and could use Garuda’s Lightning attack. The real threat was the Cloud’s powered-down Particle Beam attack. If it hit in the same turn as the second Tentacle’s Lightning, our low magic defence party members, Luneth and Ingus, would drop dead. Luckily the game held off on using Particle Beam, seemingly by design, so we were always able to scrape together a few rounds of desparate healing. Thank goodness, because dying here would have cost us an hour and a half of effort.
At last, Luneth hacked off the damn second Tentacle. We then focused our efforts on the Cloud herself, leaving the first Tentacle to Arc’s Summons, which were able to kill it in fair time. Luckily, the Cloud had no desperation attacks now that the Tentacles were dead, so we were able to defeat her and save the world. There. Four games in and I finally got to describe an interesting boss fight.
Our party took everyone home, starting with the Old Man of Amur, and then Alus, then won major points in our favour by taking the Nautilus the rest of the way instead of relying on the turtle-speed of the Invincible (indeed, it’s pretty much impossible to swap the Nautilus for the Invincible anywhere but Saronia’s continent, so that’s extra credit to the developers because it’s technically correct!). We then dropped off Cid, and were shocked when Desch decided to return to his estranged girlfriend in Cid’s hometown. Cid even tried to challenge Desch to a contest of public affection, it was… kind of awkward.
Our poorly developed lead characters got a few more moments of development on the way home. Princess Sara had to strong-arm Ingus into realizing she wanted to date him (twit), Refia talked about how she was going to apply her effort back into being a blacksmith, Arc tried to convince the people of his hometown that he “helped” saved the world, and apparently hadn’t learned public speaking along the way. And as our lead hero and representative of the players themselves, Luneth… learned nothing at all.
The game closed with one last lecture about Hope, and how we should never give up Hope, when times turn darkest and horrible monsters are invading the world and corrupting the elemental crystals. You feel that? That tingly feeling in your heart? That, my dearest ones, is the budding feeling of real world applications. Clearly.
Our final playtime: 37 hours rounded to the dot!
Since FFIII is finally at its end, next time we’ll be looking at the second SaGa game, Final Fantasy Legend II. And since I still couldn’t find a source willing to provide me with screenshots, we’re going to get a little assistance from a good old fashioned friend: a Game Genie.