Final Fantasy IV: The After Years – Monk C’s Glorious Rise to Power

Yang’s Tale
tay-2015-09-23-12h11m44s214Yang’s Tale began with King Yang of Fabul beating the everloving crap out of three of his pupils. And holy shit, Yang’s new ‘stache could floss the teeth of God. Yang also has a new move called Cover Counter. This move was not unlike the Counter ability of Monks in later games (that is to say, originally FFV, but I’ve already seen it in FFIII DS), except Yang gets to pick which party member he’d like to cover instead of simply targeting himself like in most Final Fantasy games with Counter. If that person is attacked, Yang would strike at the enemy for extra damage.

After the young Monks thanked their king for letting them collect the last of their teeth, Princess Ursula burst in and demanded training, for what appeared to be the umpteenth time. This little story arc was a bit odd: not only was it oddly phrased, as though the issue was about Yang not training her personally when it was supposed to be that Yang wouldn’t let her train at all, but Ursula clearly has been trained, or at least been self-trained, making me wonder exactly how this series of events played out. Yang refused, because as you may recall from the Interlude, he’s just as willing to toss women aside as Cecil. Personally, I don’t blame Yang: that Ursula made it to 16 with Cecil as her godfather is remarkable. If Yang lets her out into the sunlight before she becomes an adult, her accumulated years of jinx are likely to burst her into flames on the spot.

tay-2015-09-23-13h41m09s976We putzed around town for a while, learning that it’s the lifelong goal of many of the monks to go to that mountain where monks keep getting slaughtered. You dream that dream, my friends! We came to learn that the mountain was a sacred site for the monks, which explains a lot, but it was funny how quickly everyone reverted to “it’s a deathtrap” when they discovered that Ursula ran away from home to go there. Oh, and word reached Yang about Evil Cecil collecting the Crystals, but Yang didn’t believe it because Cecil is his BFF. Yang decided not to play the shitty father stock plot, and declared that that his daughter was not only more important that international matters, but was so important he was going to go personally. To help out, he gathered a pair of trusted warriors to go with him: Monk A and Monk B! Our joy was boundless. The best party members ever were back under our control! Even better, Kyle and I were delighted to find that all of our Monks were armed with good elemental Claws instead of silly status-effect claws (though we had A and B exchange claws so they would both have both Fire and Blizzard on hand – Yang had Fire and Lightning).

We took off toward the mountain, and I have to mention for the third time that this walk looks like it should take a week of time to complete. Now, I recognize that canon is canon within its own bounds, no matter how silly. Since the game acts like this walk only takes an hour or two, then that must be the case, no matter how contradictory! But I’m still allowed to make fun of it, because if the game wants to accidentally imply that this planet is no bigger than a major city, I’m going to make fun of it. The walk was simple, even the fighting, as we mostly had the entire party Kick everything blindly and were barely touched as a result.

tay-2015-09-23-13h42m10s296We crossed the mountain, and were just a few stone steps south of the place where we had fought the Mom and Dad Bomb when we found Ursula. There, she point-for-point repeated Yang’s introduction from the first game, which was just tacky. We joined her to fight another Mom Bomb, and at this point I have to assume the things are just native to the region, because come on. Checking a guide, we discovered that Yang and Ursula have no Bands at this point in the game due to their estrangement. Ursula did, however, have Kick and also a move called Chakra (from FFV) that would let her heal herself or others about as much as a single-target Cura. This was good because no matter how much she had shown off in the cut scene, she was technically Level 1. Worse, once Ursula did gain some levels, her stat line came out like Ceodore’s: high agility but comparably low everything else. I guess that’s just a property of being a teenager on the Blue Planet.

The Bombs mopped up, Ursula revealed that she had not come out here out of simple rebellion or even to prove herself, but to see the crash site of a falling star that had been mentioned a few times in Fabul. Actually, the falling star was more than mentioned in Fabul: despite most of the lines implying that it happened just the day before, someone in town was willing to fully outline its ecology to us by telling us what Lunar Phase summoned the worst monsters. You couldn’t have put that NPC at the crater, could you designers?  He just had to be at the other side of the continent and a mountain range?


Ursula using one of the marked jump points.

The Crater itself blocked the road to Damcyan, and had a unique sprite palette, which was extra-nice after all the retreads from the original game (so had the mines Rydia and Luca visited, for that matter). But that did not go very far for gameplay. The Crater had a number of marked “jump points” Yang and his party of Monks could use to somersault up, down and across the mountain, but it was an oddball system. We weren’t told which way we would be jumping when we stepped on them, see, and some half-blocked major paths, forcing us to do gymnastics to walk just a little to the right. Along the way we found some metal knuckles that made Yang’s “claw-claw” attack a funny-sounding “claw-thump” instead, but they performed well enough, given the dearth of elemental foes in the region.

We finally got to the bottom, where we found a gravestone that marked the grave of several unnamed Monks. Well, that’s certainly odd. Kyle and I presumed this had been done by a villain as a tasteless joke at Yang’s expense (i.e., it was their grave! Scaaaary!), but that did not seem to be the case… leaving me with no explanation for it at all. Who put it here, seriously? (Ed. That would come with time, thankfully.) Suddenly, Yang was visited by a vision from the Sylphs (I’m glad they still call one another, long-distance friendships can be so hard), apparently moments before the Sylphs were petrified. They warned him that their attackers would be going after the Crystals next, so I guess the message was a bit… delayed. Finally taking the threat of Baron seriously, Yang ordered the company out.

tay-2015-09-23-14h01m13s250We left the mountains, assuming the Tale would end once we returned to Fabul and perhaps fought some boss. In fact, we were so certain (heck, even Challengingway was at Fabul, and had been there from the beginning!), that we arranged for the Moon cycle to give us Attack Up for the encounter, since that would benefit Monks the most. Along the way, we spotted the Red Wings en route to the castle, and somehow beat them there. On foot. Run like the fucking wind, Yang.

The second Siege of Fabul began, and ran much like the original (including Yang tossing aside the womenfolk – and once again into the Crystal Chamber, which he should realize isn’t a safe place at all!). Thankfully, Square Enix incorporated a number of the simple sprite animations I figured would have improved the scene in the original, and they do! But they were only applied to certain segments of the sequence, making others look worse by comparison. Joining us for these segments was Monk C! Hey Monk C! Monk C has brown skin, which is how you know he is a individual, distinct from the two Monks with whom he is statistically identical. We thrashed the invaders, even more than we had in the original story, but sure enough they made it to the Crystal Chambers… off-screen. This silly gimmick was meant to introduce Kain (“Kain”) to us by having him walk in to the Crystal Chamber after defeating Yang.  Noooo! What did you do to Monks A through C, you monster!!

tay-2015-09-23-14h03m09s102Yang came back in and fought Kain with his daughter, and to our surprise we… won? Kain even went through his player-character sprite cycle of Healthy -> Weakened -> Collapse, FFMQ style (the 3D version does the same!). Now it seems that the game’s supposed to make you feel upset and confused that Kain is evil again, but that’s not how I felt. No, instead I felt incredibly cathartic about beating up not only a guy who’s betrayed us like three times, and moreover a boss both of us thought would be an automatic loss.

And then the game did the Best Possible Thing. It was so awesome, it even made me forgive evil Kain’s entire pointless evil speech after doing it, where he declared that he was doing everything of his own free will! Because that’s what people say when they’re not trying to make the person they’re impersonating look bad. Happens all the time! What did he do? He used his Jump technique to vault the party, steal the Crystal, and Jumped back out. It. Was. Hilarious, and full credit to the developers for that.  And frankly? It most rational thing that anyone in any of FFIV could have done. If you have absurd powers like super jumping, don’t use it to fight random battles! Just… jump over!

tay-2015-09-23-14h04m49s179With that, Yang’s formerly inexhaustible trust in Cecil has been exhausted, and he seems well and ready to replace it with his foot to Cecil’s throat. He readied a ship and agreed to take Ursula with him.  At that point, Kyle and I cut off for the day, but through the magic of these years-old archives, we can pick up immediately on the other side!  At the time, we assumed Yang’s tale had to be almost done.  As I’ve said, Challengingway was in Fabul, implying that there were mere minutes or even seconds left to go.  Yup, we made the same mistake twice.  We figured there would be a boss fight with Leviathan, since the doppelganger controls him and we were just about to follow the same route as the original Fabul ship from FFIV, and this game is nothing if not full of copy/pastes.

But it turned out we were wrong on several levels: the captain of the ship even took a different route to avoid being spotted. Nevertheless, they were quickly attacked by an aquatic monster group, which was no trouble. Along the way, we came up alongside a ship from Damcyan, carrying Edward and a woman we had never seen before. Edward and Yang shouted greetings to one another, and we learned that Edward had picked up on Baron’s weird behaviour as well (“picked up on” was Edward’s nuance: as you’ll see in his chapter, Edward is working more from suspicion than example. In an artificial way of preserving this, Yang doesn’t mention the whole “siege” thing). Unfortunately, the damage from the monster attack kicked in, and the Fabul ship fell behind – Edward, in a display of unity, sailed the fuck away from us as fast as he could.

tay-2015-09-23-14h05m58s498The ship’s captain told us that the ship’s fuel tank had been punctured by the monsters, giving Kyle and I one of those trademark moments of FFIV lunacy to start our day: because the ship is clearly a sailing ship with no engine whatsoever. Hell, Fabul is built around the Crystal of Wind! Goodness’ sake. The captain was able to turn the ship back to the nearest shore: one of the empty islands in the Adamant Isles chain (and wow, that was a roundabout route). Despite the island being clearly empty, everyone talked about there being a forest there, and Yang and the captain concluded that palm oil, if some could be found, could be refined into a poor-quality fuel. Yang left on his own, but later that night, Ursula went after him, Monks A-C going with her.

The dungeon that followed was a unique experience, so you might be surprised to learn that it was constructed out of the least unique sprite palette possible: the one used for towns, without any buildings. The game effectively disguised this using a “misty-evening”-esque grey filter, similar to one used to make Norfest Forest look unique in 1995’s Terranigma. Throughout this dungeon, we cut back and forth between Ursula and Yang’s party’s every time we left a room (the game would punt Ursula back to the back row every time we did this, even though she was stronger than the generic monks and we wanted her in front). In between each cut, we got flashbacks to Ursula’s childhood, presumably from both of their point of view. These flashbacks also explained a peculiarity of the Interlude.  Remember when Yang disappeared from the party when we we arrived in Fabul, only to rejoin seconds later?  It seems that TAY had previous established that Yang was seen training some monks when Ursula was born, so the Interlude had to make a few adjustments to make sure that remained true. I guess someone at the Interlude did play The After Years, they just chose to be redundant of their own free wills. The rest of the flashbacks tried to established that Yang feels that Ursula does not understand what it means to be monk under his high standards (as he doesn’t want her to be hurt, so both are at fault), due especially to her focus on gaining strength above all else.

tay-2015-09-23-14h07m30s733While I remember this dungeon fondly for its character focus, the dungeon itself became irritating to navigate after it started to branch and left us exclusively with Ursula’s party (which was the better party to be with: I’d rather have a healer with me any time than not, even if it’s through unusual means like Chakra). We finally found our way to the palm trees, where Ursula’s party was attacked by a souped-up Adamantoise: a monster we should be familiar with by now, but if you’re not, it was the boss guarding Kashuan’s bell in FFII, and a recoloured Adamantoise guarded the Wind Crystal in FFIII. Adamantoise were regular monsters in FFIV, but something was up with this one, as no one could hurt it. Ursula was again sent to the back row, and the invicible turtle plot-crippled our favourite monks. This prompted Ursula to flash back to a lesson Yang gave his monks about hitting something where it’s weakest, rather than hitting something as hard as possible. Realizing the truth of this, Ursula gained the Tenketsu skill, which would allow her to hit weak points. It’s really hard to tell what the skill does outside of this one fight, even though we tried. For the time being, the skill made the turtle vulnerable to the other Monks, and Yang arrived. With the help of the skill, we were able to use Yang and Ursula’s first Band attack, and cleared out the turtle.

tay-2015-09-23-14h08m58s847Yang congratulated Ursula, not on applying his lessons, oddly enough, but on standing up to defend the best characters ever, Monks A through C, which anyone should be applauded for. Deciding that Ursula was finally appreciating the Monk’s path, Yang offered to take her in as his disciple, prompting her to call him “Master” instead of “Father.” With that, the game forced us to trudge back to the ship on our own. There, the captain and Ursula refined the oil, and it worked so well that the writers seem to have forgotten that they started this nonsense off by saying it would be a terrible fuel. But the party had not gone far when Yang (and Ursula, I believe) sensed something strange, and Yang showed some genre awareness and foresight by asking the crew to lash themselves to the deck before Leviathan rose up to attack them…

Yang’s Tale rounded off to a two hour playtime.

Prev: Final Fantasy IV: The After Years – Kill Your Darlings
Next: Final Fantasy IV: The After Years – The Brat’s Tale

Screenshots in this Journal come from Valis77’s longplay of the 3D version of FFIV:TAY on the PC, available from World of Longplays (YouTube).

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