It was at this point that Kyle and I made a critical mistake. Let’s try to put you in our shoes. We arrived at the moon and found it was much smaller than the world below (as you’d expect), but contained of several dungeons, most of them caves but one of them a massive green-crystal structure (there was also a carved face, probably a reference to the face-like pattern on Mars). Now, that was probably all we should have considered: “Oh, a crystal building, let’s go there.” But there was also another cave, bullseyed by a circle of rock. Where to start? Well, we weighed our evidence and picked the latter. Here’s the list:
- We tried to visit each dungeon first to get a grasp on it, but discovered the crystal dungeon couldn’t be reached directly. By our guess, most of the caves nearby served as a dungeon made up of smaller, micro-dungeons, eventually leading to reach the crystal castle. Ease favoured the bulls-eye cave.
- Tropes are also a factor. On one hand: a giant eye-catching castle demands attention. On the other hand, giant eye-catching castles that can only be reached by tunnel tend to be final dungeons. What were the odds we were going to the final dungeon at this point in the game when there was an easier-to-reach cave right over there?
- The bulls-eyed cave was called “Lair of the Father.” The Elder of Mysidia had just insisted to us that Cecil was being called to the moon, and the last time Cecil was “called,” it was by a mysterious voice that called him “son,” and remember that the game triple underlined the fact that he had been called “son.” If we were on the moon to figure out who was calling to Cecil (the characters certainly seem to have forgotten about Golbez), shouldn’t we be going to “the Father”?
On our way to the Cave (our real attempt, not our scouting attempt), we then ran into a fateful random encounter that would send us into the tailspin we spent the rest of the evening fighting to overcome. A bunch of overworld moon-amoebas did a nasty number on us. I wouldn’t say they kicked our asses, but it was far worse than we had seen for a simple new monster across the entire game. We began to worry that we were under-levelled.
Inside the cave, our fears that we were under-levelled were temporarily put aside, no doubt to the surprise of FFIV fans. We first encountered an enemy that, while durable, did not really frighten us at all. What’s odd is that even the FFwiki calls this enemy, Warlocks, “very dangerous,” but no, just sort of bounced off us. What we thought was going on was that we were in a similar situation to the Ice Cave in FFI, where the overworld enemies were stronger than the underworld, because you have to visit the overworld more than once. Ever slowly, we picked up clues that we were really in a bonus dungeon. This idea first hit us when we found the Genji Equipment. These items (introduced in FFII) are usually hard to find, being late but not uppermost-tier items. We kept to our guns and plunged deeper, and put the Genji Equipment on Cecil, out of worry that someone else might leave the party while wearing it! We then ran into a Silver Dragon that proved far more formidable than the Warlock, so much so that it finally changed our minds.
Now you might be wondering why I’m going point-for-point with our state of mind, but I have to stress that we’re about to do some very time consuming things, and I want you to see just how we pointed ourselves in the wrong direction. Now convinced we were in a bonus dungeon, after being convinced that we were under-levelled for normal dungeons, we did not leave but instead took pride at having gotten so far and pressed on. And the bigger they are…
Soon, we ran into an apparently pre-set Behemoth, and things got… less funny. Long story short, we discovered the Behemoth reacts to attacks with counterattacks and magic with magic counterattacks, and its physical reaction was much less dangerous than the magical. Seeing he was predictable (even if we initially didn’t know why), we reasoned that we could beat it so long as we kept using Phoenix Downs. We actually managed to win the fight with a full party (full XP!), though it cost us something like 30 Phoenix Downs. Ah heh. Heh… We pressed even further on, though we didn’t get anything good out of this curiosity: a fight with a Warlock and a fire-dinosaur-skeleton monster nearly destroyed us. We used Edge’s Smoke ninjutsu to escape, and teleported out. Lucky we didn’t get into a fight with another Behemoth: I can’t be certain about these guys, but many pre-set encounters in Final Fantasy have “Can’t run” flags attached to them!
So now you’ve seen our humiliation, in detail. So naturally we headed straight to the crystal palace, right? Wrong. See, while we now realized that the Lair of the Father was a bonus dungeon, our only experience of being on the moon was of being beaten around. Think about it. Rather than convince us we were going the wrong way, the bonus dungeon only served to underline that we were, you guessed it, under-levelled. A few ugly random encounters on the surface did not change that impression (the enemies on the moon are really too strong for this point in the game, maybe because you have to come back here later, but they didn’t want to create another set of enemies?). Without even considering the crystal palace, we returned to the main world to fix our problem, even though it would cost us hours, directly against the aim of the Marathon at the time! Following the advice of a walkthrough, we returned to the underworld for its bonus dungeons.
And maybe it was for the best. Maybe, despite the ease with which we took the enemies in Babil, we were underlevelled? The unorthodox Trap Doors of Sealed Cave make it impossible to tell: the fact that we wanted to bug-out against them had more to do with us simply fighting them wrong than as a factor of level, costing us a fortune in MP that needed to be restored. But it still set my teeth on edge. Quickly beating (or better yet, outright trouncing) games we’ve never played before or haven’t played in years is part of the fun of these Marathons. Now we were turning on that, and if we were going to have to go back and clear bonus dungeons, we were going to have to break some heavy skulls just to feel better about it.
Back to the recap. We decided to head to the underground bonus dungeons to gain some levels, and luckily, we went to the Feymarch tunnel first, which was easier (though see below). This started off very oddly. The two bonus dungeons both had damaging squares in them, like how the older games treated lava. We hadn’t seen these before in this game, and I don’t honestly know what they were supposed to represent even with the redrawn PSP graphics. Acid? One step away from the first damaging square, Rydia said something about “ask[ing] Leviathan for help.” Now I have to stress just how bizarre this line was. Kyle even had us reload a save to see it again. If you saw someone say “let’s go talk to someone for help” one step away from something you’d never seen before (and not at the entrance to the very entrance of the dungeon, when plot is normally conveyed), and it turned out that thing hurt you if you tried to cross it, what would you think the person were talking about? If you answered anything but “the square that hurts you,” congratulations! You’re Square! She was not talking about the damaging tile, it was just idle chatter about the main plot. It doesn’t help that Rydia has never, ever stressed that Leviathan, the sea serpent that had left Yang brainwashed, took Rydia away for ten years from her perspective and left Edward a broken, shaking shell of a human being who does nothing but moan with my complete understanding about the deaths he is unable to prevent, is supposed to be an ally. We thought he was working for Golbez! Okay, that has nothing to do with the tile thing, I just want to stress how bizarre this one throwaway line is, from more than one angle. So yeah, Leviathan has nothing to do with the tile, and he’s the world’s worst good guy this side of Cecil. As for the tile, you can just cast Rosa’s Float spell on the entire party to cross the squares, or just suck it up. Thanks for that.
The path was infested with enemy Summoners, who would re-summon their chosen monster until the cows came home. This made us glad we were Floating, as one of the summoned monsters was the Arachne, which used the Earthquake spell that couldn’t hit us in the air. Because when I think of spiders and scantly clad women merged into a single being, I think “Earthquakes.” We also ran into Mini Satanas, which probably should have been localized as “Mini Satans,” though I’ll admit that that still sounds silly. If you must use “Satan” as a class of demon that can be pluralized (which is reasonable, given its etymology), I think the designers should have gone for “Lesser” instead of “Mini.” These little Imp-recolour pests were brought back for FFII: Soul of Rebirth, where we had first seen them, where they were armed with high-level group status effect spells. Here they only had Confusion, which made such a mess that I don’t know how Kyle kept his cool against them. Let’s just say that Confusion can be very effective when a monster won’t stop casting it. We finally found the Feymarch, where we poked around, walked onto a certain unassuming square and were kicked back to the world map. Thanks for the warning, game.
Luckily, we had found a Rat Tail in the Feymarch before it booted us out. With it, we returned to the cave with the guy looking for “rare tails,” who gave us some Adamantite in exchange for the Rat Tail. We took that to the Dwarf Smith, who reforged Cecil’s original Paladin sword into Excalibur. Armed with that, we sped through the Feymarch and met all of Rydia’s old study-mates. We also came to speak to the Queen, Asura, who challenged us to a battle. Kyle was up against Asura and she was a royal pain. We were torn between strategies: one from a walkthrough suggesting we cast Reflect on Asura so that her attempts to heal herself would heal us, or one of our own suggesting that Rydia just use Titan over and over. A combination won the day, but it was a rough fight. I don’t envy Kyle for having to mastermind it.
Asura joined us as a Summon that randomly casts one of three powerful White spells on the entire party: Curaga, Raise, or Protect. Not reliable, but good if you’re doing poorly all around, as happened more than we would like to admit. She’s the only way in the game to group-cast Raise, so she comes to mind when everything’s been shot to shit, even though you are facing 1/3 odds (supposedly, I think I’ve read somewhere that the Raise face is more common if someone is dead?). We then fought her husband, who despite looking human in the world map, turned out to be Leviathan. We unleashed Lightning attacks against him, which sped things up but probably weren’t necessary, as he was nowhere near as dangerous as his wife. Armed with those summons, we left the Feymarch.
The next dungeon was Sylph Cave, and it was the most obnoxious dungeon in the game for us since the Waterway. Virtually every enemy group had something in it we hated. Malboros: the infamous, durable plant enemy that now has its signature Bad Breath move. This move causes virtually every status effect, meaning that if you don’t have Esuna or a Remedy, you’re in deep shit. Next up: packs of wandering Toads that turn your party into toads. Harmless thanks to almost always being in their own, without genuinely dangerous monsters to take advantage of the toad status effect, but irritating as all hell. Last: these tree monsters that cast Berserk, removing your ability to employ any strategy at all. Argh! Part way through, we had to grind our way through an extended, monster-filled tunnel just to grab a sub-par bow for Rosa and that was the straw that broke our back. (The bow wasn’t even any good: the treasures and bows from Feymarch were better, implying this was supposed to be the easier dungeon!). We invoked our Marathon right to skip ahead. We checked a map for our way out (we were almost there, actually) and reached the end. There, we found Yang, alive, but unconscious. Yeah, I don’t believe that either.
Following a walkthrough’s advice (we just did not care at this point) we went to Yang’s wife, got a frying pan she told us to hit him with, went back through the dungeon and did so. Our reward was not the corpse of the man you should have got by striking someone with a metal pan, but the Sylph summon: a summon that both heals you and harms the enemy, making itself far more useful in general than Asura’s 1/3 chance of doing any healing at all. We then returned the pan for a kitchen knife, which is apparently the best one-use Throwing weapon in the game. We planned to keep it for the final boss, with only an educated hope of Edge still being with us at the time.
During our first overworld side-trip (to get the frying pan), we also visited the soul of the dead king of Baron, as requested. He revealed that he had been reborn as the Odin summon and challenged us. We accepted, only to discover his signature Zantetsuken did over 4000 damage against our party which only had HP in the high 1000s HP (4000 damage could almost be considered lucky, because against monsters Zantetsuken just does instant death!). The only apparent way to dodge Zantetsuken was Kain’s Jump attack (we could have come here earlier, after all), and that was not really an option. That left us with only one choice: exploit Odin’s Thunder weakness to kill him in under four turns. Kyle was stubborn, and ultimately prevailed, which was very impressive. Too bad we probably won’t ever use the Summon in battle (Instant Death? Yeah right), but you never know. We have gotten peeved at minor enemies enough to use Summons before.
Next time up we have no choice but to progress through the tunnels to the crystal shrine/monolith/statue whatever. There’s pretty much nothing left but plot in this game now so our options are limited, unless we want to go back to the Lair of the Father, and we doubt we’ll go there (but we’ll see). Next session should wrap FFIV up, but that’s not the end of it. The FFIV Interlude and After Years remain! We’ll be at this for some time left, I’m afraid.