We pick up Final Fantasy IV where we left off: Kyle and I flying to places we are not supposed to be. And boy did it show, with us dying over… and over… and over…
Perhaps I should step back.
Our escapades began when we began flying to the south, where we discovered a town full of people that used the Mini’d sprites to convey that they were descendants of fantasy dwarves, not that we had seen any fantasy dwarves. This Mini sprite was much larger than the Mini’d characters of FFIII, which were like ants. These ones look more like children – in fact maybe a little too much, as the 16-bit Final Fantasies have very strict models for adults and children, and these look like the children except in how they lack necks. It didn’t really come across that these folks were supposed to be adults. The original game doesn’t seem to have done this trick with the Mini-sprites, so maybe it was a little better off for doing so. This “strict models” thing would come back to bite the plot of FFV as well, just you wait.
We bought some iron armour for Cid in that town, not that it had a lasting tenure. We then discovered a continent with a giant tower sprouting from a hole in the middle of the island. We couldn’t get in there, but we did find a nearby castle. Inside the castle we found all sorts of good stuff, like 10 000 gil in one box, and Elixirs, and holy crap what the hell was that?
It turns out this castle is infested with Monsters-in-a-Box (and unlike in FFII, you don’t get the treasure until you beat them, so you can’t use it against them). High-level monsters. Monsters that kept wiping us out. And when we did beat them, we had often lost party members in the attempt, costing us whole level-ups worth of XP. Determined, we kept resetting and going back. Our longest fight was against some Mad Ogres who did not return much XP, gil or treasure. We spent the entire fight using Stop. We never use Stop!
In between one of our attempts, we discovered the town of Mythril on an archipelago south of Yang’s home city. There they sold excellent mythril goods, as opposed to the second-tier crap that mythril’s turned out to be in every other game so far. So good, in fact, that we couldn’t buy Cecil the body armour at the time, much less get Cid copies. Luckily, the ruined castle had given us a good Sleep-causing sword for Cecil, as well as buckets of cash, so when we finally finished up there, we returned to Mythril to pick up some of its goods.
That accomplished, we finally headed to the northwest, where we were supposed to go, and like the north of Final Fantasy I the northwest was covered in airship-blocking trees. There we found the town of Troia, a matriarchal city, ruled by the “Epopts.” And I… don’t want to talk about Troia. FFIV’s got an approach to its towns that’s still very much 8-bit. Rather than flesh most of them out into being real people, each town gets a convenient, instantly-understood gimmick, and basically everyone in town talks about it if they’re not talking about the plot. Fabul is full of Monks. Everyone in town talks about how they’re monks, or training to be monks, or married to or working for monks. Earlier in the post, we met the people who were all descended from Dwarves, who couldn’t shut up about them being descended from Dwarves (and also couldn’t shut up about their town’s only puzzle, which coincidentally has to do with them being descended from Dwarves). While I think this is definitely the inferior way to build a fictional setting and culture, it has its place, even if it does lead to caricature – you know, like the way Star Trek’s Klingons manage to say the word “honour” every three lines of dialogue? I guess what I’m saying is that Troia isn’t actually a matriarchal city… but that Troia’s gimmick is that its a matriarchal city. And after a while, it starts to feel archaic. And just a little icky. Thankfully not worse than “icky,” but still… icky.
The thing about Troia’s gimmick is that it’s treated as something kitchy and novel, rather than something practical. And I don’t just mean by the developers. Troia is treated as being kitchy and novel… by the Troians. It’s as though you had gone to the Gnome Village in FFIII, where many lines of dialogue were about height differences and short jokes, except in Troia: women, amirite? Is the government made of women? Yes, and they’re so female and peace-loving that their own soldiers will comment that they can’t win a war. Is the doctor a woman? (Woman doctors??) She is, but don’t worry! She has a dedicated male nurse standing around to tell you she’s the doctor, just in case you’re confused! Is the woman dressed as an exotic dancer supposed to be a soldier? Yes, she is! That’s her armour! It’s not even a Red Sonja-inspired chainmail bikini. She might as well be at the beach, and that’s her armour! (Yes, there were so few women sprites in FFIV – and god forbid they make more than one new one, the one for the Epopts – that they re-used exotic dancers as “soldiers.” Dancer did become a Final Fantasy class starting in FFV, but that wasn’t the intent here. They seem to be… rogues of some sort? )
And the fun doesn’t stop in Troia! Later in the game, you meet a gender indeterminate Dwarf who continues the “women doctors” joke by telling you “I’m not a nurse. I’m a man.” Wow. Wow. Even The After Years, which generally tucked FFIV’s issues under a rug and improved Troia dramatically by treating it as a functional nation instead of a gimmick town, had to openly comment on that line by introducing a Dwarf man who was a nurse. That new Dwarf nurse exists for no other reason but to stand in opposition to the original FFIV!
(Troia also has a strip club (no, really) but I can’t comment on it as Kyle and I failed to notice it existed in both in FFIV and in TAY. And it’s not just that we didn’t buy the expensive 10 000 gil member’s pass, but because we may have never even entered the pub the housed it! I’m not sure how it happened, it’s just a strike to our RPG pride.)
On its own, Troia isn’t even near the worst example of misogyny in video games, it’s just… surreal. It also feels incredibly dated, what with its kitch and giggles approach to the idea of women in power feeling like a western-hemisphere parody from the 1960s. That said, though there’s a little more to the picture of how FFIV treats women, including later… incidents in this game.
As you continue to explore town (both the town and the castle), I begin to question… why was Golbez unable to take this Crystal himself? Yes, even if you forget about the text implying that women can’t fight (hurr hurr), there were actually more soldiers here than we saw in Fabul or Damcyan (even if you assume every corpse in Damcyan represents a soldier)… but there were far more in Baron and nothing unusual implying the Troian defences were somehow special. But it turned out there was more to the story than we suspected: when we spoke to the Troian leaders, the Epopts, they told us that the Crystal had already been stolen by “the Dark Elf.”
Astos! This will not stand. We’ve played entire Mega Man games just because they included a single new Robot Master. We don’t let an enemy get away from us, Astos!
We also found Edward in town, and discovered that he was the only one who made it out of the Leviathan attack with realistic injuries. He gave us some “Whisperweed,” a plant that he claims will helps sound carry over far distances. Doc, check him for head trauma.
On advice in the town, we eventually found a Chocobo Forest with our Sight spell (I take back what I said about the map earlier: if it’s going to show us hidden stuff, I’m all for it) and grabbed a Black Chocobo, which could fly and land in forests, letting us reach the Dark Elf’s hideout. Against advice in town, we kept our metal equipment. It seemed Astos had a super-magnet (yes, really), but someone in town told us that it would only “slow down” people with metal equipment, so we assumed that would only mean the Slow status effect. You’d think by now we’d have learned not to take this game as-written, because as soon as we got in a fight, we immediately lost. Wearing metal in this dungeon doesn’t “slow you down,” it makes you incapable of movement, mechanically dead.
We returned to town and bought leathers, most embarrassing of which was replacing Cecil’s sword with a bow and (not enough) arrows. Against my advice, Kyle did not drop off the metal equipment with a Fat Chocobo (a sort of storage site), which without a doubt saved our lives. Why we could carry it around in our bags without being affected by the magnet, I can’t explain.
The Dark Elf’s cave was the longest dungeon in the game so far, which is really a dick move when you’ve forced the player to arm down (though we didn’t end up spending as much time there as the Waterway, thanks to a clear one-way layout). We finally found not-Astos inside a duplicate Crystal chamber, and I should note that he did not sound like the original Astos. The history of this is far more complicated than I could have imagined when I originally posted this, so here’s the edited, accurate order of events: Astos spoke in plain English in FFI NES, then an unusual voice in FFIV SNES, than a different unusual voice in FFI GBA, then in plain English in FFIV PSP and DS!)
The Dark Elf pounded us with unfair spells probably intended to end the fight automatically (though in our defence, we probably could have made it back to our feet if the fight had continued). We were saved by Edward, who somehow knew we were dying and played a song against fey creatures like elves, which carried improbably through the Whisperweed. This took out the magnet’s magic, and so we re-equipped and attacked the Elf (who, despite the game’s saying he was weak against metal to excuse the magnet, was not weak against metal at all. Look, are we even supposed to trust the game? I feel like I’m back on Dezoris in Phantasy Star!). To compensate, the Elf transformed into a Dark Dragon, which was close to challenging but… not quite. With him dead, we retrieved the Earth Crystal and teleported and chocobo’d out.
I pointed out to Kyle how odd it was that if we hypothetically never returned to Troia, Kain would probably never find us! Just saying. But we did. Our party thanked Edward for his help, especially Tellah, who tried to apologize for being such a dick to Edward, and said that his Anna was lucky to have him. By the way, I think it’s odd how much drama these two get compared to Cid and the Twins. Just saying. When talking to the Epopts, Kain showed up and told us to get in the skies.
Once we were with Kain, he escorted our ship to the Tower of Zot for our hostage exchange: an area that, weirdly enough, is not actually on the map. Some have proposed based on later evidence that the tower is somehow in the skies, though I’m personally of the opinion that it’s one of the three towers sticking out from the hole in the ground a few continents over: you seem to only encounter two of the other towers later in the game, or at least that was my impression. It’s hard to say, because 2D versions of the game give it the same tileset as the other towers, but the 3D versions give it a unique tileset!
It was about this point in the game that Yang’s magic defence (hey, remember Yang?) became an issue. That is to say: it became a point of open and constant ridicule between Kyle and me. Despite having more HP than the other party members, Yang was taking almost double the magical damage, despite wearing close to the best magical defence we could provide. In one of those conversations that wouldn’t be nice if the characters were people but are perfectly fine because they are tools in a video game, we decided that while Tellah was in his eleventh hour this close to Golbez, we proooobably wouldn’t mind of Yang went out the door with him.
Because of Yang’s low defence and Tellah’s restricted MP pool, the walk through the tower was less than pleasant. Cid also earned our ire, as he was useless in virtually every category, to the point where he was so boring that I almost forgot to mention that we hated him in this writeup. He spent most of his time in the tower close to death. Unlike Yang and Tellah, he started to improve after Kyle found him a Gaia Hammer up the tower. All the same, surely it was time for at least one of these three to retire for a short break, if not permanently.
Just before the end of the Tower, we ran into three minions of Barbariccia, the Archfiend of Wind. Surely Golbez intended to screw us out of this hostage exchange, but apparently that wasn’t enough: he had to try to do it twice. Heck, three times if you count all these wandering monsters as “one” attempt. These three minions, the Magus Sisters, used a strategy involving Reflecting spells off of themselves into us. They did this because Reflected spells can’t be Reflected back, should you use Reflect with Tellah. The fight proved a little complicated as one of the sisters was able to resurrect the others, but we never found out which one (it was the second) as we actually managed to kill all three of them in the exact same turn!
That done, we “Nina”‘d Tellah. Ahhh, Nina-ing. I should explain. When I was playing through Breath of Fire III for the PSX years ago, I ran short of cash in the last town when trying to buy equipment for my chosen party. To get a few extra dollars, I decided to strip all the equipment from my unused party members, starting at random with Princess Nina of Windia. This proved to be enough money all on its own, but then we got a mean idea. We were joking about how the game was letting us mistreat our supposed allies, and so decided to hawk her weapon as well. What made the whole situation classic was that Breath of Fire III doesn’t let you go without a weapon, so I shouldn’t have been able to sell it without swapping it out for another weapon, and I hadn’t used Nina in so long that I didn’t have any other weapons… but it just so happened that I had a Pointed Stick to give her instead. That’s how “Nina-ing” entered our gamer vocabulary. Nina-ing is when you can financially liquidate a supposed friend with no gameplay punishment. We took all Tellah’s equipment and flipped him off while doing it.
Inside the next room, we found Golbez and Kain sure enough. And sure enough, he screwed us after we gave him the Crystal. Yeah, smooth Cecil. And sure enough again, Tellah went after Golbez alone. Don’t help him, guys.
Tellah drained his MP using Bio and –aga level spells, and Kyle made the observation that Golbez was weaker to Thunder than the other spells. Thanks, cinematic, that’s very helpful! Then Tellah unleashed the Meteor, which decimated Golbez at 9999 damage. The fight ended to show Kain and Golbez thrown to different parts of the room, but still intact. This is the first fight in a series where, despite a victory, our opponent remains alive and is about to get away. Really, the disintegrating animation that plays during combat was a bit of mistake on Square’s part if they wanted to convey that everyone involved was just bruised a little.
Tellah collapsed and soon died, but Golbez got back up, albeit not in the best condition. He called to Kain, but got no response. We presumed this was because the man was unconscious, but Golbez claimed his “spell over [Kain]” had been broken. Huh. So there was a spell. That… kind of ruins the drama, don’t you think? I feel like the whole plot between Cecil and Kain just lost a lot of its substance because the tension was at least partially artificial. Golbez then attacked Cecil and escaped.
When Cecil got back on his feet, he conferred with Kain, who was gushing with apologies. With some encouragement, Kain pointed us toward Rosa in the back. Cecil freed her, both of them just escaping the sudden falling blade trap above (kudos to Square for its sudden appearance, “What the hell, man?” to Kain for not giving a warning in this version). Kain then started to confess that he didn’t want to resist his magic because apparently he was in love with Rosa, which we had picked up even though it was only in hints. Okay, that partially restores the plot in my eyes, but I still don’t think mind control really makes for compelling drama despite FFIV’s insistence. Rosa, Cecil and Cid seem to care even less than we did, which just deflates this all over again.
On our way out (*cough*cast Teleport*cough*) the party was interrupted by Barbariccia (cast Teleport!) who fought them. The battle included a form that made Barbariccia immune to all but Dragoon Jump attacks. Convenient, that. Barbariccia was harder than Cagnazzo in that we weren’t armed to the teeth with her elemental weaknesses, but was still not very hard. Kyle had it on the head: the Fiends of FFI had controlled and devastated four corners of the world, right? (Well… they devastated one, made a mild mess of two others, did nothing to the fourth, but you know what I mean.) True, FFI’s Fiends were not much harder than these Archfiends, but at least they had dignity. These four are just Golbez’s errand runners! Every one of the Archfiends has proven more powerful after their deaths than before, a trend Barbariccia continued by trying to bring down the tower (cast Teleport you ninnys!). The party escaped by hanging on to Rosa, who… cast Teleport.
By the way, Barbaricca “collapsing” the Tower is why some people believe the tower was in the clouds. But applying logic to stuff like this has poor returns. Remember, the Fiend of Water struck back from the grave by collapsing stone walls on you? And I can’t help but remember Agrabah in Kingdom Hearts, which has had a collapse three times in the series so far, but has only barely destroyed one thing in the process, so if the tower was still standing as per my theory… Iiiii wouldn’t be surprised.