Inside Dime Tower, we met up with Marcie (Marshall in the US version of Sword of Mana, but not other regions). Marcie was Bowow’s former assistant robot from 50 years ago that he had used to research Dime Tower, and then forgot. She joined us as our first partner in ages: she could fire lasers at our enemies and recover our MP, immediately and to full, just by ASKing her. That’s stupendous!
But… wait, hold on. Fifty years ago? I thought this was a tower built by the Vandolean Empire – why would they want it studied when they constructed it within living memory? Or… was the war more than 50 years ago and Bowow was studying them after the war, and it collapsed into the sand soon after? Did Fuji’s mother have her kid that late in life? Alternately, the war may have been in the deep past, and Fuji’s mom was more of her ancestor than her mother, but that wouldn’t explain Julius. To make matters worse, the game can’t back up its own cruft. There are tablets inside the tower that Marcie could translate (I assume – it used her all-caps text). They had been placed there by the Vandole and clearly ran up to the end of their empire. There’s simply no way to back up Marcie’s story… or the shitty timeline of this game in general. Sword of Mana tosses this mess by making Marcie a Vandolean warbot.
The tablets in the Tower did not much elucidate the plot, except to confirm that Julius was indeed the Emperor’s son (thank you), confirming that he was left behind the Mana Tree’s waterfall as a baby at the fall of the empire. All-in-all, the tablets just repeated stuff we’ve already heard, making we wonder why they were there to begin with. One was even contradictory, telling us that the Tree of Mana drew its power from nature, despite people throughout the game telling us that nature drew its power from the Tree. Perhaps it’s both? The trouble I have with this is that it’s really too late to start mixing up your mythology, and it’s not played out like a big twist.
So Kyle climbed. And climbed. This was a tall dungeon, and even though we were on all-walkthrough mode at this point, it didn’t seem to get any shorter. Actually, I should say that we weren’t so tired by the game, as is often the case, as we were tired of backtracking and dungeons, which had become utterly joyless arenas for monster fighting. What few puzzles were in Dime Tower involved another frozen enemies puzzle that Kyle nailed involving a lot of pits, and… that was about it. For such a huge dungeon, only that one puzzle was memorable, and my notes didn’t even care to mention it!
At the top of the tower, Marcie and Sumo were cut off by Garuda, the giant bird that had brought the Mana Pendant to Glaive in the first place. Unfortunately, Garuda couldn’t live up to his reputation from FFIII when Marcie could recover our MP in a heartbeat. That let us Cure our HP even faster than when Fuji was with us, and we were pretty much invincible. Unfortunately, as a result of the battle, Dime Tower began to collapse, and would soon fall over. There was a bridge to a nearby cliff-side at the apex, but it had already snapped in two. Marcie offered to throw Sumo over the gap, which she did, promising to jump (Secret of Mana: “rocket”) after him, but this promise as a lie. She was not actually being capable of jumping/rocketing to begin with and choosing to sleep with Dime Tower now that she could no longer research it as she had been built to do. Sumo watched our last new partner fall away into the sands, along with the Tower.
You will notice we did not fix Excalibur.
Regaining control of Sumo, we headed west and found ourselves at… Glaive? You’re kidding. I mean, I guess it makes sense that we fell from Glaive and landed somewhere near Glaive (even if we fell from the wrong side of the mountain) but how do people actually get up here on a normal day? Only by Airship? How did they construct the place? At least the connection between Glaive and Vandole is clear now, but sheesh! Heading over to the waterfall, we were carried up at mach speeds into the Mana Shrine. Inside, we fought no less than three dragon bosses (Secret of Mana is similarly obsessed with dragons). The first two fights were similar – in fact, in terms of AI, one was just a mirror pattern of the other, with boosted stats. The game called the first dragon a Green Dragon, the second slightly darker grey dragon was called a Red, but magically, the GBC’s automatic colouring of GB games does colour the second red, which isn’t the first time I’ve seen it do that correctly. I’ve never understood how it’s pulling it off – I guess designers just used one grey for Green and one for Red often enough that it looks correct often enough to fool you into thinking it was intentional?
Between these dragons, we fought through a series of teleporters that interconnected this pseudo-Grecian shrine, battling FFIII Ninjas (one of whom dropped some stellar Samurai armour) flying heads (good Samurai helmet) and running desperately short on Keys, which we had not stocked up on before Dime Tower. Whoops. And I do mean short: we relied on a walkthrough very heavily to make sure we did not run out and, thanks to a lack of lucky drops, pulled out a victory by the skin of our teeth with 0 keys remaining. This was even closer than it sounds, firstly because the walkthrough fouled up at one point and led us in the wrong direction, and second because of one last snowman puzzle. There was actually two such puzzles: the one that didn’t hurt our keys involved remote controlling the Ice spell to hit a target already placed on a switch, and that was actually kind of neat. But the second involved placing a snowman’d enemy (the only enemy in the room, mind), on one of a dozen switches bordering the room. Once again, your weight wouldn’t count, and once again, you can’t pull the snowman if you get the wall wrong, meaning there’s a three-in-four chance that you’ll be forced to backtrack through the dungeon. So far back, in fact, that if the locked door nearby resets, you’d lose another key that we couldn’t afford to lose. Luckily, we did not get locked out, but shit was it close. I’m not positive what causes doors to relock, but at the time I felt moving as far away as we did would have done it.
At the end of the dungeon, we fought a reskin of the Hydra from the Cave of Marsh, this one called a Zombie Dragon. Kyle joked that the previous two dragons became this one, which very well might have been, while I pointed out that because the Hydra still looks like it’s submerged in water that isn’t there, it’s mostly neck, and so looks like the neck-and-skull Zombie Dragons of Castlevania, yet another reference. This dragon was the biggest pain of the trio, doing heavy damage whenever we accidentally touched it, which was more often than we probably want to admit.
Just past the Zombie Dragon, at last, we were at the Mana Shrine proper. We looked around this Eden-like place for a while until we met the ghost of Fuji’s mom, who restored the Sword of Mana for us. Thank you for Excalibur, Lady standing next to a small Lake, your cultural references have not gone amiss. From there, we fought through some elephant enemies (that might have dropped the Aegis shield if we could have been arsed. It might have helped against the Final Boss, but it’s hard to see where. After all, we used a shield on every forthcoming attack that seemed blockable, and our weaker shield seemed to work fine!). Past the elephants, we found the Tree itself.
Of course Julius had taken the tree’s power by now. All he had to do was touch the thing and he had a six-dungeon head start on Sumo, not to forget the time we spent passed out, spent running around the globe, spent backtracking through some of those dungeons after getting the Rusty Sword, and spent fighting Lich. If you think about it, so far every Final Fantasy game has had at least one villain who’s done far worse damage to the good guys and civilinas in far less time with far less power at their disposal. Even Astos in FF1 qualifies for putting the Elf Prince to sleep, and he defined the lowest possible bar. You’re a failure, Julius.
So Julius fought us, first as himself, using his magic to duplicate himself. These duplicates gave EXP, so the first time I fought him I actually levelled and got fully healed, but I needed to poach some elephants to make that work, and it didn’t occur to me to do it again. Otherwise this form was unremarkable. The second form was a bit more of a piss: he could fire projectiles and dart up and down, sometimes at nothing (always a fun time because it gave me a half dozen free swings) but usually in your direction, certainly the hardest of the three forms though not the worst boss we’ve fought in the game.
After killing Julius (you keep telling yourselves that), Fuji and Sumo tried to leave, only for Julius to come back as some sort of ghost. This form could appear at random, sometimes on top of our heads. We learned to stand at the bottom of the arena to avoid this more often than not. He would then fire some shots our shield could easily block. There were some situations where he appeared so far away from us that he was barely attacking us at all, which left him open for multiple attacks. Embarrassing behaviour in a final boss. Sure, Julius could hit hard, but Fuji’s healing made the fight even easier than I’ve been making it sound, even if I did die here once. There’s not much I can say to defend Julius: he had a good plan, but he never executed it and he did not even go out with much of a bang. See you later, you big weirdo.
Time for wrap-up plot. As a result of the battle, Julius taking the Mana Tree’s power, or possibly Julius taking its power and then being killed, the Mana Tree… ah… blew up. Great job, team. The Tree’s spirit spoke to us, saying it needed a new “gemma,” which it explained meant the Tree’s bud. As we had already worked out at the start of the Tree’s speech, the Tree was Fuji’s mother. It extrapolated on what it had said earlier about her family being the “seeds” of the Mana Tree. The Gemma Knights were meant to be the protectors of Fuji’s mother, who had been previous gemma, and they did such a good job she lasted all of… sixteen? Seventeen years? The whole world dies if the Mana Tree dies, guys, you could have set up a new generation of Knights instead of wallowing away in huts and shrines until there are only two of you.
Wait. Three of you! I forgot Hasim. Hasiiiim! Noooo!
So this means Fuji is the last gemma, and everyone is screwed, because it’s too late for her to have a kid of her own. If she chooses not to become the last Mana Tree (her mother offers her the choice) everyone dies, and if she does become the Mana Tree, when she dies, the game makes it perfectly clear that everyone is screwed. Or… does it? Despite having previously said that the Mana Tree and Nature were perfectly entwined, and having repeated it as late as Dime Tower, the game suddenly forgot the whole thing and just says that once Fuji dies, “the peace” will end. The peace ended just fine on its own with the Mana Tree perfectly intact! If we’re being honest with the story, we have to focus on the Tree creating or purifying the water that fills the land. When Fuji dies, the land will run out of good water. This isn’t some “fall of a mythical age” story like LotR, no matter what the game itself thinks: everyone is going to straight-up die!
Also, this confirms that the Mana games don’t exist on the same timeline since the Tree in Secret of Mana isn’t Fuji, unless Sword of Mana retconned things to make them match up. I almost wish they would, because that would have been a cute reference.
So of course Fuji says goodbye to Sumo, and she transforms into the Mana Tree, which I’m sure would have been more emotional in Sword of Mana when you spent most of the game with her. But here, I have only a limited connection. In fact, I’m thinking about this game’s rotten timeline one last time. So Fuji can’t have any more gemma children, right? That’s the implication here. She can’t grow a seed and a human baby will come out, right? That means Fuji had to have been born while her mother was still human. If Fuji’s mother became the Mana Tree after the war with Vandole, that means the war ended at most as long ago as Fuji is old, and she’s clearly in her teens. This makes all the mess about Dime Tower, Marcie and the rest even more convoluted and nonsensical than before. Vandole was wiped out around fifteen years ago, not fifty. Though on the other hand, this means Julius is just as old as Fuji (and probably Sumo), or even younger than her, which is unusual for a Final Fantasy villain. They’re usually older folks against the younger generation. The only exception I can think of is Kuja from FFIX, though bear in mind how little I know about later games as I write this (FFIX included). That will come.
The ending showed Sumo meeting some old friends. About the only notable thing here was Chocobot getting a boyfriend/girlfriend, and I suppose you could also read this second Chocobo as being “your” Chocobo from earlier in the game. Who even knows at this point. And that’s a wrap!
Official Deicide Tally: Chaos (FFI), Dark Emperor, Light Emperor, Creator (Legends), Ashura (Legends II), Dunatis, Venus, Magnate, Odin, Apollo, Julius / The Mana Tree.
Considering this game came out after only one traditional Zelda game, and on the Game Boy no less, it’s pretty much fantastic. But like every First Person Shooter released in 1998 that was humiliated by Half-Life, Link to the Past destroys this game. FFA might have been considered innovative for a few short months, but there’s just nothing left after LttP changed the genre with innovations so fundamental that we now consider them mandatory. FFA was trying to build on Zelda’s foundations, but in LttP’s shadow, it just looks like a poor copy. Even in comparison with the original LoZ, FFA doesn’t always keep up. This is because FFA fails where LoZ failed, often failing even harder thanks to system limitations, and it fails in new areas besides. And where it does innovate, it still stumbles. Its weapon system is dashed by the collision detection and perpetual menu-diving, and everything that wasn’t humiliated by LttP ends up looking ancient next to Secret of Mana and Seiken Densetsu 3, which is probably for the best.
About the only area I can outright compliment FFA is the story, which isn’t quite up to the delightfully mythical levels of FFLI and LII, but stands alongside FFLIII, at least. Also, the coliseum escape sequence at the start of FFA is one of portable gaming’s early great moments. Really, FFA’s faults aren’t that deep. This is no FFIII situation here. I don’t even feel as put out by the game as I did in the final hours of FFLI and II. Just sort of unenthused. FFA’s problems are just elements that have been outdone by the present. It’s a game I can appreciate as someone who grew up loving Link’s Awakening and the Gameboy, and I don’t think I could ever recommend it in its present form to a modern gamer. For the record: Sword of Mana comes recommended without any reservations, though the game is a bit short.
One last compliment has to go to an odd quirk in the game: there is only one true recoloured enemy in this entire game (the Red and Green Dragon bosses, in case it slipped your mind). How often can you say that about modern RPGs? Hell, about a lot of modern genres? There are technically two redraws, but even that’s not as bad as it looks. Yes, there’s the Zombie Dragon, which was a redrawn Hydra, but the other is just FFIII’s Magus, which was just FFIII’s redraw of the FFI Black Mage, and so it was only partially FFA’s fault for including them both! Those exceptions aside, the game really did keep up variety for its entire length, reusing older enemies for their item drops or just for variety’s sake, but never forcing you to fight a Dire Duck Soldier or a Shadow Slime. And that’s a credit I can’t give virtually any other game on the market. Kudos, Final Fantasy Adventure. You leave with some dignity after all.
Just like its Final Fantasy Legend cousins, FFA doesn’t keep an internal timer, so we don’t know our final playtime.