At this point, we were allowed to select our own chapter, though the game recommended we go to Rydia’s, the next chapter that was released in the real world. Unfortunately, the chapter itself gives no clue that it’s supposed to be second, and as a matter of fact it goes back in time for a stretch! The game had not given us any clues that it was suddenly going all Pulp Fiction on our asses, and Kyle and I were confused for a while. Here’s what actually happened… as best as we could tell. It would seem that sometime after Asura’s leading questions in the Interlude, she and Leviathan kicked Rydia out of the Feymarch, and she went to live in Mist. However, not long before the start of this game, she went to visit her friends in the Feymarch, only for Leviathan and Asura to kick her out again, using magic this time.
The reason for their haste (if not their previous expulsion as well) soon became evident: the Rydia lookalike had arrived. In turning the Eidolons to stone, she seemed to have interrupted Leviathan’s teleportation spell, and Rydia found herself at the exit of the Feymarch instead of outside. She returned and found her benefactors frozen and, like everyone else in this game, blamed herself for the actions of others, thinking that her presence had something to do with the petrification. There’s a lot of self-blame going on in The After Years.
Rydia resolved to get to the surface and warn her allies, which is essentially the objective of the early and late parts of the chapter. Luckily, Rydia seemed immune to the damaging squares in the Feymarch tunnels (and the Sylph’s Cave). This was a little odd given that damaging squares still existed in the Devil’s Path in Ceodore’s Tale, but we didn’t mind. It was very nice of the designers to do, because the two dungeons in question were virtually impassable at level 1 without the Float spell, and this chapter’s party never got the Float spell. Unfortunately, with the Eidolons drained, Rydia had no summons. Walkthroughs say that, with luck, you could land some of the randomly dropped summons that carried over to this game from the original FFIV, but luck was not with us, and Rydia essentially became a full-time Black Mage.
When she reached the surface, Rydia was upset to find that Luca was not there waiting for her. …Who? Oh, right, the dwarf princess. I remember now. I suppose it’s been a decade and a half, what’s she up to? As Rydia moped, she was attacked by a Zu: a bird monster of no notable strength. Being a good sport, Rydia started to whine that she had no way of beating the Zu, even though Zus are so pathetic that a Thundara probably would have dropped it and scrambled the eggs back at its nest to boot. The Wiki disagrees with me, but if this enemy hadn’t been respecced to make it a midboss, Rydia probably could have killed it by looking at it funny. Get used to these characters giving up: Ceodore and Rydia got rescued a lot during one Marathon session alone. It seems to have less to do with the writers’ lack of confidence in the character’s abilities than the writers’ lazy love of dramatic rescues. My point is, Luca showed up on the Falcon and blasted the Zu with its cannons. Whatever, I don’t even care. Oh, and the dialogue that followed suggested that Luca and Rydia had never arranged to meet here, so what was Rydia going on about at the start of the scene?
It turns out that Princess Luca – SHE HAS A FACE! Darn it, game, don’t surprise us like that! I thought… the… I thought the void face thing was a dwarf’s actual physical… structure? Okay, maybe this is better, especially the way the Dwarfs borders on (non-Euclidean) blackface, but it’s still inconsistent with all the other black-hole dwarves still in existence. It appears our redhead, void-faced princess has grown into a redhead real-flesh woman, and a professional greasemonkey. She’s Cid’s apprentice, in fact, despite her royal duties. I like Luca. As a playable character, Luca is essentially Cid, but far less disappointing (sorry Cid). Maybe it’s got less to do with Luca herself and more to do with Cid’s shitty armament in FFIV, which was my only point of comparison for Cid when I was making my first impressions of Luca. Remember that FFIV had almost no weapons or armour available for poor Cid, but Luca is properly equiped.
Like Cid, Luca has Analyze, but she does not have Cid’s new Lucky Strike technique. Instead, she has a new technique called “Big Throw,” which was essentially her normal attack with the power to work from the back row… not was any ever reason for her to be in the back row in this scenario. Sadly, there was not, as she was the only defensive party member we had at the time. Big Throw’s (and maybe even Luca’s) real selling point was a special side effect Big Throw as an Ability and not an Attack. Since no phase of the moon punishes both Abilities and Attacks, that meant Luca was the only character in the game who could use fight at full strength no matter what was going on with the moon! (We expected similar results from Yang at first, but it turns out all his Monk “abilities” are classified as attacks!)
Joining Luca, we headed to her father’s castle to check up on the layered global situation, and we learned the news was not good. And by “learned” I mean the Red Wings showed up just when we did and carpet bombed the castle. Brings back memories, doesn’t it Rydia? Looks like Baron’s evil again. Good thing the castle is literally made out of tanks these days, as it made it out fine. Unfortunately, Rydia’s lookalike came in person with her hypnotized Eidolons and took the Dark Crystal by force. And wouldn’t you know it! The two Dark Crystals that never actually appeared in the original game aren’t appearing in this game either: Baron already captured them off-screen. Sheesh, the prequel just hands you an excuse for two new dungeons and you do bupkis. That meant the only secure Dark Crystal on the planet was in the Sealed Cave. Luca insisted on going there in person, because this plan worked so well the last time. Rydia eventually agreed, and Luca told her that they would not be going alone.
It turned out Luca’s reinforcements were actually her evil dolls: Calca and Brina. She had apparently reprogrammed them to not be evil and to work on airships with her, and trusted them to back us up in the party. The dolls less than impressive as party members go. They wore poor-quality “costume” armour and could only wield knives, which were all-around awful. The two were based on the Dancer classes of later Final Fantasy games, meaning both were support roles in a party that already consisted of one Black Mage. And with only one meat shield to guard the entire lot! Great, Luca, but couldn’t you have taken at least one generic Dwarf soldier from your dad to round out the party to five?
The dolls in our party, Kyle and I were surprised to find that the game gave us full run of the Underworld instead of constraining our actions like Ceodore’s Tale (or worse, the Interlude). We first went to find the blacksmith who had forged Excalibur, only to learn that he had passed on. Luckily, his apprentice made weapons in exchange for set items upgraded with a special ore you could find hidden throughout the chapter. One of his items, the Dancing Dagger, was perfect for the dolls, so we went for it. This was not entirely by choice, as we actually wanted a certain axe, but we found that we were one ore short. This turned out lucky for us – I guess you can’t sell a good knife short!
We gave the Dagger to Calca (the game had started him in the front ranks and we decided to give it a try), and looked up the ore in a walkthrough to make sure we weren’t going to miss anything by proceeding with the plot. It turned out that these ore nuggets were hidden throughout the underworld, and on learning we had missed on in the Feymarch (on a bookshelf), we backtracked, using the already-cleared dungeon to train Calca and Brina closer to par. Calca’s Dancing Dagger made him actually useful once he had the levels to back it up. We later learned that the Dancing Dagger can be used as an item (instead of as an equipped weapon) to far greater effect at lower levels: probably should have been using it from the start. Meanwhile, we used Brina’s ability, Dance, almost constantly. It would cast random heal and buff spells on the whole party, so through constant use we managed to maintain almost constant high HP. Calca’s ability to give the enemy random status effects was nowhere near as valuable to us, so without the Dancing Dagger we probably would have hated him. As it stood, Calca and Brina just got a hash of creepy doll jokes, because Kyle and I are assholes like that.
(Oh, remember that Dwarf nurse that felt he had to insist he was not a woman? Despite several Dwarfs just having copy and pasted dialogue from FFIV, he had been replaced by a woman (who looked exactly the same, as Dwarfs have no faces) that now insists she’s not a man. I have to admit, that is kind of funny in a meta way, as a commentary of the sexism of the original, if not particularly funny as a joke…)
From the Feymarch, we headed to Sylph Cave to find more ore in hopes of getting Luca’s best axe in the chapter, the Tomahawk (technically, it’s her second-best axe, but the Tomahawk also a rare one-handed weapon, and taking it allowed her to use a shield. I’m not sure if we actually gained much by giving her a shield, but the Tomahawk worked well enough. The Sylphs had been petrified just like the traditional Eidolons, and there was not much more to say about this optional dungeon. Oh well. Side-quests over, time to fight (ugh) Trap Doors again.
Seriously, why did the Interlude just repeat content that was already repeated in the After Years? Luckily, some of the doors in the Sealed Cave were cleared (!), but one that wasn’t was blocking the save point. What a pain. We mostly dealt with the doors via Rydia’s Stop spell (we were probably supposed to use Palom’s Stop spell in the Interlude, now that I think of it), but ran out of MP just before the save point’s fight. Seriously, what a pain. And it goes without saying that, after we got the Crystal, we were attacked by the Demon Wall. Again. Great imagination, Interlude team. Heck, I’ve got words for The After Years’ team here too, because on our way out, Rydia had a flashback to Kain stealing the Crystal and leaving, only for her doppleganger to show up and take it again. Just because you’re hanging a lampshade on it doesn’t mean the lamp is out of the room, Square Enix.
The doppelganger zapped everyone with a healthy share of lightning, damaging Calca and Brina. We picked them up and dragged them to the airship, but Luca felt that she could repair them. In the meantime, we used the ore we had on hand to get the Tomahawk and a new Dancing Dagger for Rydia (having lost Calca’s when he was removed from the party), and then headed to the surface. Heading past Troian territory, we crossed paths with one of the other storylines: Palom’s. He was riding a Black Chocobo with a young woman. Luca was put out by that, as apparently Palom had flirted with her in the past. Unfortunately, with no name or even description to go by, or even the confirmation of a relationship, Kyle and I have taken to calling this new character “Palom’s girlfriend” all the same. Yeah, even we’re doing it. Shipping!
By the way, that Black Chocobo almost certainly confirms that Palom’s story will involve going back to that cesspit of Astos’ with the giant magnet. Fan-fucking-tastic.
We had not gone much further when Calca and Brina revived and attacked us. Just like that. Apparently their “behaviour circuits” had been fried by Rydia’s doppelganger. Luca was… upset, and insisted that Rydia let her deal with them. That’s good and all, but couldn’t she use items to heal you? Because you’re not in very good shape, Luc–No? …okay then.
Having… killed her children, in a manner of speaking, Luca was understandably upset, and slow to react when the Red Wings attacked the Falcon. Luckily, she came to her senses and managed to crash-land next to the volcano-hole leading to the Underworld. Luca was depressed at that point, but Rydia cheered her up with what must have been an awful Cid impression. It really must have been – I don’t have to remind you that Rydia’s interactions with Cid were limited to him asking her to call her “Uncle” and then trying to blow himself to pieces. They have never spoken since! But apparently it worked: Luca was back on her feet. Now all we had to do was tromp into the nearby mine without backup to find some (different) special ore we needed. Oh, and the mine was even properly incorporated into the storyline, having been constructed 7 years after the main game. Very tidy!
OR WAS THAT ALL? Thanks to the internet, we knew that we had now reached the first point where our marathon’s sub-objective came into play: Marathon rules said we had to get all available characters as soon as they become available! If we wanted to get Calca and Brina back in the party again (presumably in later scenarios), we would have to find three special parts inside that dungeon. We were Marathon-obliged to find the things. PROBLEM: two of them were random drops. PROBLEM 2: The monsters that drop them only show during the Waxing Moon, deep in the dungeon, forcing us to plan our tent stops ahead of time. PROBLEM 3: The odds of finding one of the random drops in the mobile/WiiWare version was absurd, one of the worst random drop rates ever. Luckily, the PSP version raised the drop rate. We had no trouble grabbing them, and owe the dev team a lot of thanks for making up for the irritating ideas of their predecessors.
That accomplished, we considered pulling out to buy some more healing items (without Brina, we were very low on health) but decided to give the boss a try. It wiped the floor with us: turns out you have to be VERY careful against this thing. The boss is a giant turtle that charges fire attacks and you have to hit it with one of Rydia’s Blizzard spells while it’s charging or it will unleash the fire in a savage attack. Poking it while it’s charging will also let out a less consequential Flamethrower attack, which is strong enough to discourage even if it’s not as strong as the primary attack. And remember that you can’t stop an action in FFIV after the command has been given! The primary attack was actually so bad that Kyle held Rydia back to attack only while it was charging (I can only assume stuff like this is why the After Years implemented the “swap between readied characters” gameplay element I mentioned at the beginning of the FFIV review). Unfortunately, Kyle poked the turtle at a bad time and cost us Luca’s life (or at least, Luca’s XP) just as Rydia’s Blizzard ended the fight, but since we were at the end of the scenario, it wasn’t so bad.
Leaving (slowly), we got back to the ship, only for Luca to discover she was short on parts, and would have to take Calca and Brina apart to get them. But Rydia saved the day by revealing the parts we found in the dungeon!… which Luca should have been just as aware of as she was. I’m not faulting the game for telling us that we had solved a puzzle pre-emptively (indeed, it’s rare when games do this, even though they always should, especially when there’s no other way to solve them like right here!), but there was no need to milk unnecessary drama from it. But just then, Titan attacked the island under the orders of Rydia’s doppelganger. Of course, Rydia’s oldest Summon wouldn’t even listen to her! Wow, from one family drama to another! Boy, if Titan’s not careful, he’ll bring the volcano down on that nearby town! Not that I imagine the residents care, considering the time a volcano fell on them. Or that other time, when a volcano fell on them. Or that third time, when a volcano fell on them. We briefly fought Titan, but he ran away to the volcano, presumably so he could ensure it fall on it. On the village, I mean.
The fight with Titan went on for a while. He had 30 000 HP, which was worlds above the turtle we had just fought (five times higher, to be precise). Worse, we had arrived at too low a level to cast Rydia’s Bio, which was more or less the only thing he was likely to be weak against. We also weren’t sure what was up with the walkthroughs we were seeing: one said we had to lose (actually referring to how the fight ends – presumably, if we had lost intentionally we would have gotten a game over!). Another said to use Rydia and Luca’s Band attack, which was honestly no stronger than Rydia’s Thundara, and would have lacked the opportunity for Luca to do her own damage alongside the Thundara. So strange, I’m not sure what was going on. Either way, after doing enough damage, Titan used a move that reduced us to 1 HP. Unfortunately, this just left Kyle and I confused. In the past, FFIV has dropped us to 1 HP for plot reasons, but not always. For whatever reason, Kyle and I had just not gotten used to the fact that this is usually just the plot. I imagine if you watched our faces it’s clear we’re about to reach for Hi-Potions or Cure spells the very next turn. It’s silly of us.
In this case, Rydia and Luca we were rescued from it by a Mysterious Man, who Kyle immediately called “Magus” due to his appearance and demeanour. Magus told us we had to book it to the Tower of Babil. Thanks to a cutaway to King Edge earlier in the scenario, we had learned that the Tower had come back (or possibly “returned”? You get the idea) which really begs the question: …when did it leave? Sheesh, I don’t know if I should be blaming the After Years writers, the FFIV writers or one of the localization teams for that gaffe. Apparently, Rydia and Luca agreed to the stranger, and the episode faded to black.