The mountain range that included Mt. Rocks wasn’t that far from the desert, so we set off, abandoning our car at the door. Bye, friend Chocobo! Mt. Rocks was essentially a giant dungeon. I’m sure the developers saw the place as a number of smaller caves connected by overworld, but your path is so streamlined that the entire mountain range might as well have been a single dungeon. It was so railroaded that I’m not sure where “Mt. Rocks” begins and the mountain range ends. Several guides online suggested that only the last cave was “Mt. Rocks” proper, but others went the other way, so I guess it’s up to the player.
After beating Axel it’s a short walk to the end of the game. Along the way, the game gives you a handy door that will accept any map card (a 1+ door) just two rooms away from the final, so that you can easily install a save point, Moogle Room, whatever you want. The door to the final room is already open when you get there, which is awfully generous. At last, you step into the final chamber decorated with some lovely flower motifs (though I highly prefer the ones in the GBA – the remake looks like a wall of ivy with a trelesse, but it’s not working for me), backed by a great, white door.
In the GBA version, Marluxia is glad you’ve killed Axel, but says that he figures it’s not so much Sora who’s responsible for killing Axel as the Keyblade. This is a good line, and even raises a few questions about whether or not he’s right. We have seen that Sora is the Keyblade’s preferred wielder, and that the strength of his heart is the reason for that, but it does raise the question of how much of Sora’s strength is the Keyblade, and how much of it is the strength of his associations and heart, leading to him having the Keyblade.
Marluxia starts musing about using Sora to conquer the Organization, and in the GBA, Sora reminds us that he’s a teenager from the early naughties by shouting “Get real!” Marluxia then presents his trump card: he’ll just have Naminé erase all of Sora’s memories. That’s… not a bad plan, actually, presuming he can still force her to do what he wants. Since he probably can’t, his plan is scuttled, but I appreciate that he recognizes how dangerous it would be to actually fight Sora.
Learning we were in the town of “Menos” (the Freshmaker), we bought ourselves a Wind Spear, because we could just not pass up the chance to be a Dragoon. Spears are nice precision tools in this game, having a thinner hit box than usual, which isn’t best for combat but is probably worth buying just for the sake of upcoming puzzles. They also make up for their thin hit box by having a good long range, long enough to attack past the Scorpions in the nearby area. Too bad the game never hands you one for free. The rest of Menos was a faucet of leads, chief of which was news that there’s a special harp in the town of Jadd to the north, and Amanda’s brother – newly introduced – might be associated with it.
After a quick foray into the nearby desert, we turned back and tracked down a Chocobo egg we had heard about in Menos, and after a quick walk we found it at the end of an optional path. Naturally, it hatched right in front of us and Chocobo imprinted on us, because that is the only thing baby birds ever do in stories like this, and it joined us as a partner. The Chocobo couldn’t attack, though if you used its ASK, it would let you ride it so that you would become invulnerable like any other Chocobo in the series. Not bad for a newborn. Oddly enough, recruiting the Chocobo is optional, despite some events that will follow…
There’s no setup cutscene for Floor 13. You can talk to Donald and Goofy as NPCs if you want to, like on every other floor, but that’s it. The door is wide open, so there’s no need to even use a card to open it. These breaks in tradition are all signs that the game is finally coming to an end. On the other side of the door there is no memory-world: only the bare walls of Castle Oblivion.
The Thirteenth Floor lacks all level design nuance. All nuance whatsoever. It’s just a one-way horseshoe loop with a tail and the gold rooms sticking off of it at odd angles, creating the longest tunnel in the game. And yes, even though we’re now inside the physical structure of Castle Oblivion itself, we’re still making the rooms out of memory cards. I suppose I could come up with a headcanon as to why this is happening (the Castle is simply consuming his memories but doing nothing with them?), but nothing has ever satisfied. I can’t see it as anything but a design artifice. Likewise: why the hell are Donald and Goofy still trapped on Friend cards?
I should probably talk about level ups before we get much further. Sumo gains XP for each kill as normal for an RPG, and with each level up, you’re able to upgrade one of our four stats, with would give smaller upgrades to two related stats. This looked like it was going to get complicated, but early on we discovered that if we alternated between Power and Wisdom, we would have balanced stats, and since we needed that early on, we stuck to it, and saw no reason to stop as we got towards the end of the game! In short, Power does the hitting, Wisdom upgrades your MP and magic attack strength, Stamina influenced your defence and HP, and Will works the Will bar. The Will Bar is a bar at the bottom of the screen that filled at a rate based on your Will stat, but would empty if you attacked. It’s useless until it’s filled, but once filled, it would upgrade your next attack to a special one: axes can be thrown, swords spin like a blender if you used the wide swing, or would cause Sumo to dash back and forth like a prototype for Kingdom Heart’s Sonic Blade if you use a stab.
This “wait and attack” mechanic became a central in later Mana games, but unfortunately in this game the will bar never upgrades except in terms of speed. This means the only way the devs could upgrade the will bar was to start it off so slow that it takes nearly a full minute to fill. It doesn’t really become viable until the late game. The levelling system in Sword of Mana was much more complicated, getting into some real tangles with a one-way class upgrade system, I’m sort of glad we didn’t have to put up with it.
H-hey, I was thinking! Maybe, y-you know, before we go, we should… bone up on a few advanced combat techniques! NO PARTICULAR REASON OF COURSE. Nothing to be concerned about. Just… good solid advice to have on hand, f-for a rainy day!
I’ve actually played Sword of Mana’s opening few hours three times: once as the Boy, once as the Girl, and once again as the Boy because I screwed up my character build and felt I should start over. And you know? Every time I got to this point in the plot I felt: “This feels wrong. It feels out-of-step with the rest of the game.” That I could sense how weird this segment was without playing the rest of the game says a lot about this episode. First impression sets you off on the wrong foot: Sumo and Fuji discover a manor in the deep woods that’s operated like a hotel, and they choose to stay there, even though it’s not on the route to Wendel, not near a road, looks completely uninviting in Sword of Mana (like a haunted house), and is clearly suspicious in either game. And it’s not just suspicious on a plot level or an aesthetic level: on a meta level as well. During this entire stretch of game you come to no towns – in fact, the shop that sold you the axe is the closest thing to civilization this side of the rock cave – so this “town substitute” stinks of meddling. The game wants you to sleep here and no RPG has ever wanted you to go to sleep with good intentions.
Furthermore, the whole plot felt like something… familiar. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was until I played through the original FFA with Kyle, but this segment feels like a filler episode of an anime waiting for the manga to catch up. Yes, even though the plot has barely begun. We’ll talk more about this game and “episodes” down the line. For now…
Back up in crystal ball room, Axel and Naminé are alone. It seems Axel has been watching the debacle with Sora and the others through the crystal ball, and he tells Naminé that she’s all Sora has left. “If you won’t stop this, who will?” When Naminé starts to protest, Axel suddenly says: “By the way, Naminé. I don’t see Marluxia around. Do you?”
Naminé doesn’t understand at first, but with a little more goading, she realizes Axel is letting her go, and flees the room while Axel deliberately keeps his back turned, whispering: “Make it count.” As soon as she’s left, Axel has a brief monologue, which was changed between versions, which is too bad because a lot of people have said it’s one of their favourites. Here’s the original:
“Hm hmm… Ha ha haaa! Now this should be good. All the actors are in place. Now, Sora! Naminé! Riku! Marluxia! Larxene! It’s about time you gave me one hell of a show!”
In Re:CoM he’s more subdued:
“Now THIS should be interesting. Try and make it enjoyable, Sora. It’s the least you can do for me, you know.”
You do have to wonder what he means.
Despite all the innovation, all the sales, and even its surprising endurance to competition, the most fascinating thing about the Game Boy to me is its lifespan, because it makes the Game Boy one of the only multi-generational pieces of game hardware. Take a look at the Castlevania Game Boy games for a moment, and you can see their influences change as the console generations change alongside them. Game Boy continued to produce 8-bit style products until the 8-bit consoles had essentially finished dying, and you can often tell which are which by seeing them in motion. But soon, 16-bit games on consoles (and the death of an alternative) would create a demand for higher quality portables: Metroid 2 and Super Mario Land 2 would soon show portable games could stand on their own, and Link’s Awakening would show they could live outside the shadows of their originals.
By 1998 at the end of the Game Boy’s life, Pokemon would humiliate earlier Game Boy RPGs like Final Fantasy Legend 1-3, in terms of graphics, functionality, and more. The FFL games (or at least the first two) hold together today in many ways thanks to their unusual gameplay and quasi-mythic story, but also because RPGs have little changed since the release of the original Final Fantasy 1. That is, after all, FFI’s strongest claim to fame: a Street Fighter II level of genre standardization, sanding down the edges of Dragon Warrior for global consumption. In that way, there’s a lot more in common between FFX and FFLI than there is between other ten year gaps. But today we’re going to look at a top-down action-adventure game from mid-1991, and action-adventure games wouldn’t standardize for half a year yet.
No, Final Fantasy Adventure would have to stand alone.
Today’s entry opens up with Vexen take 2. I am this… I am this close to talking about the danger of CoM’s endgame bosses, but no. I will trust in the cleansing power of Fire. That said, Vexen is much more dangerous than he was at the end of the previous floor. Vexen now has the Air Pirate Enemy Card, which will make his Item cards (Elixirs) unbreakable for the next three reloads, and remember that using an Elixir doesn’t count as a reload! He also has his own Enemy Card, which triggers Auto-Life. This ability will restore his life somewhat if he dies, like an upgraded Second Chance. Just to rub salt in it, he’s gained nearly ten high-value attack cards over his initial set. He also has new Sleights. Firaga, don’t fail me now! If all else fails, advice from later in the retrospective could help you carry through.
Beating Vexen gets you his Enemy Card, which does all of the above, plus makes you immune to Ice but weak against Fire. It sadly won’t be of much use to you since you just defeated the game’s biggest ice boss, but it probably discouraged the use of Ice in multiplayer matches back in the day.