After a lot of panicking and confusion, it occurred to me to go to Cid in hopes that he might have a hint on where to go next. This wasn’t exactly ingenuity so much as comedy: going to talk to Cid had become something of an inside joke that just kept being correct, and yet again, he was exactly who we were supposed to talk to if we wanted to advance the plot. Cid might as well be the only thing driving the plot at this point. By the way, Cid’s reaction to news that his ship sank was “So? We can just build a new one!” With what materials? In what time frame? Anyway, he and Mid announced that despite the fact that they had been spending all their time buried in old books, they somehow managed to pick up a piece of contemporary news: the location of King Tycoon. He had apparently been seen headed to the Desert of Shifting Sands, a place so inhospitable that of course there were witnesses standing around to see him go by! Unfortunately, the desert could not be passed under normal circumstances, but Cid had a plan.
He led us to the desert, where he and Mid goaded a giant Sand Worm to appear. This boss was apparently capable of casting the HP-halving spell Gravity, as well as inflicting the Sap status, a status that wreaked hell on us during Session 3. It also popped out of multiple holes in the ground. All-in-all, it would have been pretty unfortunate to fight him fair and square, so luckily we didn’t have to, thanks to the Dhorne Chimera’s Aqua Breath. Aqua Breath does quadruple damage to desert enemies and killed the worm in, no joking, a single hit. Marathon prerogative indeed! Cid and Mid helped us use the monster’s body as a gory bridge to cross the first patches of sifting sand, a strategy I’ve proposed multiple times only for everyone to balk. C’mon video games, the monster corpses are just begging to be used as architectural foundation! Does no one remember So-Cho impaling himself on nuclear rods four times in a row when there was a hundred monster corpses in our wake that could have filled the role just as easily?
So off our party went, across the desert on a dead worm and a prayer that there would be no more dead ends (goodness knows the game wouldn’t let us throw down any more bodies). During this whole walk, we essentially did nothing but cast Aqua Breath on the poor, poor monsters. The spell broke the entire dungeon, except a “puzzle” of sorts where we had to work out that a certain ledge could be hopped over (another strike against the remake’s blurry art, I’m afraid). Sometimes you just get to coast in the Marathon, what can I say? Though oddly, we saw no sign of the pyramid clearly visible in the desert on the world map. Decorative doodad or sign of future plot? (Ed. You can find it, though you can’t enter it. You have to go out of your way to see it, though!)
At the end of the desert and past another crop of Dhorne Chimera territory, we found the Town of Ruin, a town that Cid had told us existed even though he admitted there was no way anyone could know it existed. Well done writers. Well done.
In the Town of Ruin or the ruin of the town or whatever was going on here, we saw Lenna’s dad flitting in and out of buildings, and chased him around town before he goaded us to one building in particular. There, he dropped the floor out under us, leading us into an underground ruin. This was the ruin the people of Jachol had said was near their town… despite it being underground, proving once and for all that NPCs are simply omniscient. Heading down through the ruins, we were found a teleporter that sent us all the way to the “similar” ruins under Crescent Isle, and the teleporter behind us malfunctioned and was destroyed, trapping us inside. And it really did feel trapped, a small claustrophobic dungeon with an obvious dead end blocked off by a puzzle that was not immediately obvious.
The puzzle was actually pretty goofy: you follow a series of hidden, written clues, which ultimately lead you to the final switch: right back where you started. We headed through the door we had just unlocked, and found a hangar inside the ruins, housing both the Fire-Powered Ship and a proper airship just beside it! Luckily for us, and unluckily for anyone trying to suspend their disbelief, Mid and Cid popped out of the latter, explaining that they arrived via our abandoned Black Chocobo and just… fell through some random hole in the ground that never gets brought up again (there were cutaways explaining this, but it’s so arbitrary…). With their help, we were able to open a sea-bound platform from the hangar, letting us take off into the skies. Well, at least, letting us try, as a giant crayfish called a Cray Claw tried to hitch a ride, but we quickly beat it and dropped off the back. We could fly! And to celebrate our flight, it was time to go to the ruins so we could head straight back underground!
But the game was having none of our backwards logic. When we arrived at the lost village, the entire thing… well, got up, shook itself off, sprouted several heavy laser cannons and took off into the sky higher than we could fly. I’ve never been so thoroughly rejected by a building! We returned to the sea platform and Cid and Mid in the ruins, which is something we’re going to be doing too often during the course of this game – the place may as well be our secret clubhouse for all we had to keep coming back to it. Our favourite grandpa-grandson inventor team then demonstrated their research skills to explain the obvious: that the Earth Crystal was in that great grumpy hulk, well past the No Solicitors sign. Wow, I’m used to video games handing you just the right contrived tool to solve a puzzle, not handing you a tool that’s only half-adequate. What now?
Thankfully, they had also come up with a solution: Adamantite! Yes, it turns out the previous games’ sword-making metal was being wasted on use as a legendary weapon when it could have been a shitty battery all along! Actually, Mid explains that the plan isn’t to use adamantite as a battery, but to “reinforce” the ship with it. You know. To make it heavier. Also, they clearly end up using it like a battery, so I can only assume the writers or localizers realized that engines do not work that way partially through the process, and came up with a worse solution.
But where to find the stuff? Thankfully, Galuf’s restored memory came into play, and he remembered that the meteor teleporter he used to get here was powered by an adamantite battery. All we’d have to do is pick it up, and surely nothing would interrupt us along the whoops an Adamantoise.
By the way, my notes for this session were woefully inadequate, but they inform me that around this time Galuf, who was carrying a Heal Staff, got confused and started whacking himself in the head with it. Being hit when confused breaks confusion, so that was good, but Heal Staves in this game don’t cast healing spells (like in other games) but instead heal whoever they strike, so Galuf was essentially beating himself to peak physical fitness. Sorry, Galuf, Firion already tried to popularize flogging as exercise and it didn’t work out!
This was also about this point that it really began to sink in just how many darn vehicles there are in this game. With free reign over the map, we just kept running into out-of-date vehicles lying around on the map like derelicts. Just sit back and we’ll take a check: Boco the Chocobo (no longer available as a vehicle), Faris’ ship (sunk), Hiryu the Wind Drake from Tycoon (now stranded in a part of the map that can’t even reach Tycoon), the Fire-Powered Ship (now in drydock), the Black Chocobo (still available in case we need to land in some trees), and the Airship, now with new high-flying capabilities. That’s six. Final Fantasy III and IV each had 5, and this game is actually going to add 1 to 4 more depending on what you want to count! Shit, who wants to retire from hero work and start a small, mixed armed force?
After humiliating our favourite Blizzard-target, the Adamantoise, for the n-th time, we returned to Cid for the n-th time and he upgraded the ship, giving us the power to attack the Ruins at whenever we pleased. And “attack” the Ruins we did, as the hulk immediately started gunning for us, forcing us to tear down two banks of cannonade and two of missiles, as we restarted a few times to collect the Blue spell Missile from the latter. The futuristic firearms were no pushovers, but got worse when they were followed up by an actual boss, the Soul Cannon. This fight was a huge bother, largely because the Cannon was accompanied by smaller Launchers that could cause Old, a status effect whose primary strength was that we didn’t notice it was in play, because it uses a barely visible white glowing outline to show you if someone is affected by it. The real intent of Old is that it slowly reduces your strength for as long as it is in play, meaning we were drained dry and trying to fight the cannon with arthritis.
Once inside the Ronka Ruins (using the hole we blew in the wall when we destroyed the cannon) we found that the Ronkans were apparently still around, in that they sent human guards and mages after us. Clearly not out to negotiate, we had to navigate several invisible paths to get to the far side. The place was a serious, traditioanl paper maze, and we had long seen our destination before we were able to reach it. The dungeon went on so long that, in a rare showing for the two of us, we gave up on finding every possible chest and made a bee-line to the finish. There was also an incident with a rare monster called Ghidra that we tied to milk to get Level 4 Graviga before giving up and killing its undead ass with a Phoenix Down (we got the spell from another source later on, if I’m not mistaken).
At the end of the maze, in a situation probably meant to be reminiscent of the Wind Shrine, we found King Tycoon standing in front of a large bird-lizard creature this time. Lenna and Faris addressed him, Faris even calling him “Papa”, but he did not react to Faris. This was probably supposed to be a clue that something was up. Tycoon ordered us to attack the monster. This boss, the Archeoavis, caved easily, though it had some interesting coding tricks going on behind the scenes. The idea behind the boss was that it changes its weaknesses during the fight, but based on its HP rather than by using an ability (like Hein in FFIII). To pull this off, the game secretly had three separate Arceoavises, and silently replaced one with another after the first two “died.” A later boss in the game with the same gimmick also has multiple “lives.” The problem was… we didn’t notice this mechanic in the slightest. We just weren’t relying that heavily on elemental attacks!
There was more to it than even that. For whatever reason, after the Archeoavis died on-screen, and got back up to be fought again. What an odd way to run a fight: two off-screen deaths and replacements, followed by one on-screen? Tycoon said something about this revival being “the true power of the Crystals” but after killing this now-magic-immune boss, it just plain didn’t get up again, making his revival little more than an odd bump in the road.
The King pushed past into the Crystal Chamber and we followed, where of course we discovered that the King was actually being possessed by Exdeath to bring about his own revival, though it’s not sure when that began or how (he seemed remorseful after he tricked us into that pit back in the ruined village, so probably after that). He tried to storm the Earth Crystal, only for us to be saved by the most random thing of all: the inevitable fourth meteor came crashing straight into the Ronka Ruins in mid-air. Frankly, I thought that would have been impressive enough, but the game had to go and spoil it by having Krile, Galuf’s granddaughter from the flashbacks, to just walk in the door like this was all somehow planned. I have to cut ahead to explain why this is “ruining,” but long story short: these meteors are never explained, how Galuf and his people have been using or launching them is never explained, and with so many blank spots, unknowns and the way they couldn’t even coordinate their own landing to help one another, the idea that someone could peg one straight into a flying fortress and walk out, guns blazing like a paratrooper is laughable, and is never even touched on in the text.
Krile immediately knocks aside the King with a spell, practically blowing him across the room. Kyle later complained that this spell was never explained and certainly never taught to you or bought in Krile’s hometown, but a look at the PSX version has her identifying it as simply Thunder, raising the question of why our party didn’t do something to stop him. By the way, if you’re going to raise the possibility that the designers didn’t want someone in our party to use a spell they didn’t have (considering this is a job system game), note that the game will have a party member cast a spell later down the plot anyway. Either way, King Tycoon woke up, and immediately recognized his estranged daughter, Faris.
But Krile’s last-minute rescue is ruined when the Earth Crystal just… breaks on its own. I felt the need to confirm this, and the FFWiki provides: there is no reason for this to have happened. The best guess I can make that pollution really was a thing, but no more explanation is given for this than was for the meteors. Exdeath was revived in a storm of thunder. The dark Warlock made an immediate personal appearance, showing off his light blue heavy armour, which is a very important detail because if it wasn’t light blue he’d just be Golbez. And repeating the exact same villain over the course of two games would be silly. Hahaha. No! This one laughs maniacally from time to time. Golbez never did that. That I can recall. Totally different.
…We have this inside joke during the Marathon about Golbez shouting his name a lot. It uh… didn’t go away here.
To show off, Exdeath decides to use the job shards of the Earth Crystal on us as pointy projectile weapons, and leaves while the second the deathtrap is in motion. Guess there were no boss monsters in the neighbourhood, that’s the traditional Final Fantasy villain way of running away! Seeing how poorly things have gone, King Tycoon invited the shards to take their “stolen energy from him” and they shredded the poor man, and then went inert. We celebrated his death by absorbing the strength of his murderers into our personal identity, with promotions all around!
(The actual sequence was shot with tenderness and sincerity that didn’t let the promotions overwhelm the scene, but you know where my interests lie.)
Without the Earth Crystal, the Ruins were going to go down, apparently in flames. You know, eventually. Take your time. Nothing in this franchise just… falls, does it? The Dreadnought and Tornado fortress in FFII, arguably the Tower of Zot from FFIV, now this. We sauntered out and retreated by airship where Galuf told Bartz in private that he remembered everything and gave us the short version, most of which we’ve already heard: he’s from another world, so is Exdeath, Galuf and some buddies trapped Exdeath in the Crystals, and we know the rest. Exdeath has now retreated to that original world, and Galuf and Krile need to get back pronto. The game crammed in one last environmentalist message (no really, the very last) and then had Galuf nearly knife-fighting the environmental plot off the brim of the airship by taking the blame for Exdeath being there in the first place, as though the environmentalism plot was just a waste of time. Which kind of implies someone on the writing staff knew how nonsense the Captain Planet angle was to begin with.
Screenshots in this Journal come from Tarosan’s longplay of the RPGe translation of FFV on the Super Famicom, available from World of Longplays (YouTube). GBA screenshots also come from World of Longplays (YouTube), by Valis77.