Porom’s Tale. Nominally.
Remember when I said Edge’s Tale started much earlier than the others? Well, this one goes way back, all the way to the ending of FFIV, with Palom being dragged away from boasting to little Leonora. In the meeting with the Elder, Palom tells him that since he and Porom just helped save the world and all, maybe they’re above basic training, and the Elder says that one day he’ll let them off into the world to expand their training. We then cut ahead a number of years to the first of those trips, which Palom has conspired to send he and his sister to the desert town, Kaipo, where Cecil took Rydia at the start of FFIV, as it’s the town Tellah lived in at the end of his life. En route, we learn from Porom that Tellah and the Mysidian elder used to travel the world for decades before they settled down, Tellah even longer. She implies that being a Sage is a title given by thankful people as you help them in their everyday lives, which her brother mostly ignores. The two stop off at Tellah and his daughter Anna’s graves in town to pay their respects.
Kyle and I made a mistake here in assuming that this flashback would be self-contained, but we were wrong. Apparently, Porom and Palom keep their levels, possessions and gil untouched over the years between this scenario, the next scenario and the third (the one set in the present day), despite everyone else losing things like levels between FFIV and TAY. As a result, when Palom announced that he wanted to train at the Underground Waterway, we bit our tongues and went at once, without bothering to grind for cash. Heck, Kyle skipped a lot of the chests. This was a mistake, but at the same time…
Holy crap, this place. Holy crap, this place. I can’t begin to say. I can’t possibly put it into words. Over the months, I occasionally look back at old write-ups, and when I get to the write-up about the Underground Waterway in the original FFIV, I started to wonder how much hyperbole actually factored into my complaints about it. I must have exaggerated my dislike for the dungeon, right? But friends? Not. One. Word. Going back into this dungeon only underlined my worst fears. In fact, I think imagining that my original writeup was hyperbole made it worse when this dungeon came back to smack me in the face. This place is awful. It is overdesigned, overstocked, overcomplicated, busy, confusing mess! I had forgot to mention the door that leads out another door that faces the same way, like an elevator. I had forgotten all the tiny things, everything that makes this place horrible. I don’t say it much in these write-ups, because Final Fantasy IV (though less The After Years by far) has a story that I simply couldn’t stand and so that’s what I felt the need to comment on, but I actually like Final Fantasy IV’s gameplay. But it’s not perfect, and many of the things that are bad about this system is compounded together in this one dungeon. If you wanted my guess, I’d say Square Enix was trying to show off everything the 1991 game could do in this dungeon, early on, to get people talking about it as soon as possible, and made it the cluttered mess out of it is that the player just isn’t equipped (statistically) to take in the original game, never mind the subjective confusion of poor mapping.
This dungeon does everything so wrong that even knowing what to do didn’t help relieve the pain. All that mattered was that we actually had MP this time, which made an absurd difference (remember me complaining about it with Rydia and Tellah), but while we weren’t as easily subject to Tiny Mages’ attempts to Osmose and Stun us on top of the undead threats, and it was still an awful time. This is the worst dungeon in Final Fantasy IV. It’s the worst dungeon in the FF Marathon to date. Will be trumped one day? Probably. I can’t think of anything out of hand while editing this ahead of time (the fact that I’m not familiar with most of the later games is a major contributing factor), but while it has set the bar very high, I won’t doubt that some 20 odd games in the future have a good chance to contain something even worse. Still, I used to come away from these Marathon sessions wanting to start my own solo game of Final Fantasy IV, but you know what? This dungeon quashed that desire this time around. Maybe next time the desire will return, but for now it’s ran screaming into the dark specifically to avoid this place. This is the second dungeon in FFIV and the first that doesn’t railroad you, and so is the worst first impression that FFIV could have possibly made, and it’s no better here in the middle of TAY.
Just to balance out for the “having MP” thing, The After Years replaced the simple boss of the original with a more complicated redesign, just to stick a sliver under our fingernails. Where the original dungeon’s Octomammoth was a single target that fell apart over time (another example of Square Enix showing off), incarnation of Octomammoth one was multi-target, and by the time Kyle had Twincast on it (now a Band), it failed in that the thing just grew its limbs back. This fight actually went on for ages as a result of poor tactical mistakes, all of which would have been minor if the boss didn’t get something like five turns for every one of ours. Finally we killed the thing’s body with Fira, but what a pain to end this up. Welp! At least we don’t have to go there again!
Porom caught on to the fact that Palom had only come to the Waterway and the nearby town in the first place to fight the Octomammoth, all because Tellah had had trouble with it (a plot point from the original that explained why he wanted Cecil to go with him), and not for any reason related to Tellah’s life and passions. Palom was just trying to prove he was superior. She scolded her brother for it, but he didn’t seem to take much in.
Cut ahead a number of years. The twins are now teens, using their adult sprites, and had contacted Cid to go visit Rydia, who at this point in the story was visiting or living in Mist. But Palom was nowhere to be found. Getting aboard the Falcon (what happened to the Enterprise, anyways?), Porom discovered her brother, who must have taken the Devil’s Road to meet up with Cid in Baron. Despite this impulsive behaviour, Palom seemed to have begun his descent into malaise as his attempts to become a Sage fail more and more over time.
No sooner had the group arrived in Mist when Palom asked Rydia to take him into the Feymarch to study there, instead. She agreed to take him through the tunnel at the very least, but Cid first took us to the Dwarfs, where me met up with Luca. Palom was not eager to make this pit stop, as… well, we’re not really sure. It’s related to Luca, but the game’s only telling us half the story for the time being. It’s clear Luca has a crush on Palom, and based on her comment in Rydia’s story, he might have returned it, but right now he seems to be avoiding her at all costs so I can only assume things went… poorly in the past. Luca is not yet Cid’s apprentice, but was interested enough in what was going on to come with us to the Feymarch. Kyle and I were incredibly put out, as the party of three mages the game had given us in spite of being with Cid looked like MP-reliant trouble. As a side note, this trip involved a great gag where Luca goes to talk to Palom and everyone on the ship turns to eavesdrop on them. But once we landed, Luca stayed behind, leaving us with nothing but spellcasters. So frustrating.
We got to the entrance to the Feymarch, where Rydia went in and presumably got kicked out by Leviathan and Asura as shown earlier, making us wonder once again at the horribly conveyed timeline going on in her backstory (unrelated to our confusion, but since Rydia could still summon at this point, why didn’t she just summon and ask them?). Luckily we could Teleport back out with Porom’s help, and we discovered that Luca had agreed to be Cid’s apprentice. The flashback then abruptly came to an end.
Actually Porom’s Tale
(aka the section where we talk about Porom doing things herself and not just things her brother was doing while she was nearby)
Porom’s Tale proper begins with a scene with the Elder, as the Lunar Whale rises from the water of its own accord and flies away. This is the event the entire chapter is named after (“Porom’s Tale: The Vanished Lunar Whale”). Porom will not even address it. When I originally wrote that into the first draft, I almost didn’t believe myself, so I went to check a walkthrough. How many times does it mention the Lunar Whale in Porom’s Chapter? It doesn’t.
Back to business that’s actually relevant, Porom and the Elder explain why Palom was sent to Troia, in a manner designed not to spoil the surprise should you have come to this story first. The Elder also starts to imply that he wants Porom to take over as the leader of Mysidia after he dies, but tries to underline the passivity she’s been displaying so far so that she can address it, but it never comes to anything. (Ed: Indeed I’m getting ahead of myself but one of TAY’s biggest narrative problems is that it introduces a huge number of natural character developments for the cast of FFIV and the new characters of TAY, most of which I believe whole-heartedly as a natural development of their characters, but TAY resolves very few of them. Maybe it was a poor attempt at sequel baiting? I’m afraid to say that based on the available evidence, a lot of people just go home at the end of TAY to lives of tepid misery. I suppose that’s life sometimes, but it’s also clearly a narrative accident and I’m not going to let the game get away with it.)
We pick up with Porom again just moments after speaking to “Lapin” (Tsukinowa) in the scene from in Edge’s Tale. Porom attended the important meeting and we learn its full contents. The Elder is concerned that Baron has been overrun, and wants to “call on the Dragoon.” This is an interesting aspect of The After Years: the characters that saved the day at the end of the canonical FFIV (Cecil, Rosa, Edge, Rydia, and Kain) are considered very, very powerful men and women, who could change the outcome of world events to the point where their counsellors let them step off their thrones to intervene directly. On the other hand, the characters that weren’t in the canonical final party (the twins, Cid) are somewhat by the wayside. Nevertheless, Porom is held in very high regard for things she’s done since, and asks to head the mission. The Elder assigns a White and Black Mage to go with her, and Kyle and I liked to pretend that they were the same ones that helped Ceodore, now able to level up (from 15 to a max of Level 20, apparently).
We headed to Mount Ordeals and it’s not really worth talking about. We burned some zombies, we learned the power of FFIV arrows when you have infinite ammunition, and finally went to the secret room where Cecil became a paladin, only to find that it had been destroyed. There, Cecil’s father spoke to Porom, telling her that he was also “a father to all who use magic” and that his connection to the world, but not his spirit, was fading. He told Porom to find his sons, and that they both trust her. Both of them, really? Including the one that’s literally never met her?
On the way back across the bridge, where Scarmiglione attacked Cecil, the party was back-attacked by some undead that I think we could have handled easily despite the party throwing their arms up in surrender at once (ugh, stop doing that!). Luckily (sure, whatever) we were rescued by Kain. “Kain.” Sure you are.
Despite our theories, “Kain” acted a lot like the real Kain, down to not knowing a thing about Porom (they would have only met in passing in the canonical story, which was the way we played through FFIV as well), but he changed his mind from not wanting to help Baron and Mysidia to wanting to do so on a dime, which would have been suspicious even if we were certain he was Kain! He was also Level 25, 4 levels above Porom and 5 over the generic mages. It’s possible that we were under-levelled (but doing just fine, thanks) but Kyle and I were convinced that Kain was a temporary party member and so it would make sense that he was a bit stronger than us (ala FFLII, and later FFLIII). True: we had just spent an unhealthy amount of time with weak, generic mages, so we wouldn’t know what a realistic fighter stat line looked like in a lineup, but Kain’s seemed a bit too high and led us to our “Guest Character” conclusion.
Part way down the mountain, we hit the scene that had capped Palom’s Tale, with Porom hearing him cry out “Noooooo!” after the doppelganger like Darth Vader. We hurried back to Mysidia, which was under attack, and rescued everyone individually, Super Mario RPG-style, which was pretty fun. A Steel Golem blocked the way to the elder, and the Elder himself had been accosted by a Flying Eye recolour. Despite the monsters controlling both entrances to the building (perhaps the flier had just then toppled the elder, but still), no one had stolen the Crystal, though everyone thought that was their objective. Realizing the monsters had come through the Devil’s Path, the Mysidians assumed that Baron had fallen, as unlike the people of Fabul and (as we’ll see) Damcyan, they don’t have the intel to know that Cecil is still in charge. Kain resolves to go off to Baron himself, but spends some time musing on the Crystal, and yeah, sure, leave the guy that stole two of the Crystals in FFIV with yours unattended, sure.
No sooner than Porom had stepped outside than the doppelganger appeared. The Elder rose from his sick bed to confront her, and we ended up in another fruitless fight. This doppelganger was using Ramuh, so we prepared the Elder’s Reflect spells even though they certainly wouldn’t work. Heck, the elder used Teleport to kick Porom out of the fight. Suffice to say, Reflect did not save him as the fight ended to circumvent our defences and kill him in a cutscene out of battle (though if it had been a fair fight, I think Reflect would have worked. Just something to keep in mind for later tactics).
Moments later, Porom was standing just next to his broken body, which would have been tragic if not for the fact that, uh… if she was only teleported half a foot, why wasn’t she hit? Would it have been so hard for her to be just a few squares away? The doppelganger was going to kill Porom as well, but Kain arrived, having taken the Water Crystal. He offered it to the doppelganger, if she agreed to give him an audience with Cecil, whom Kain openly admitted he was planning to kill. Despite the fact that the doppelganger could probably kill him easily, I guess spiteful business arrangements are an activity an advanced being like it finally understands, so it agreed…
This was our shortest chapter yet at 1h 40m.