Krile took us back to Bal, the city where she had grown up and where our friend Galuf was no less than king! Galuf’s army was slowly losing the war against Exdeath, but that wasn’t our party’s immediate priority. After exploring the castle, we learned that Krile’s Wind Drake was now dying of exhaustion after being injured at the Big Bridge and then flying across the planet to find us. Which made us feel pretty rotten, let me tell you, considering we could have probably waited at Moogle Village for a week or so without killing any allies in the process. Lenna pointed out that the same herb that saved her Wind Drake could save this one, supposing it existed on this planet. Galuf and Krile couldn’t promise us anything, but directed us to a nearby valley to see if we could find some where the Drakes used to roost.
Given that Exdeath was besieging the castle, we’d have to leave Bal’s gates sealed behind us after we left, and fight our way through the siege lines, but it was no particular problem. On the way to the valley, we entered a village that was allied with Bal, and could easily supply most of the same services, so beyond the fracas at the gates, there was little to miss in Bal from a gameplay perspective. This village was home of the werewolves, presumably the home of that one werewolf who saved us in Karnak. We honoured his memory by not mentioning him in any way.
Inside the village, we met Galuf’s old friend, a werewolf named Kelger who we learned was one of his companions in sealing Exdeath, the four Dawn Warriors. Get it? Because… Dawn leads to the Light? Kelger challenged Bartz to a duel without explaining himself, but after using some fancy martial arts techniques, Bartz was able to use some of his own to defend himself. Bartz explained he knew how to do this thanks to lessons with his father, Kelger declared that that must mean Bartz is the son of Dorgann, another of the Dawn Warriors. I’m not particularly surprised that Bartz has this sort of fated backstory, given that one party member is a king and two are princesses, and it admittedly does fit in with the evidence, but I do feel this is a little artificial.
Oddly enough, the name “Dorgann” was assigned as one of the random names you could get for the Monk job in FFI remakes, despite Dorgann being depicted with a sword here in FFV. Then again, Bartz did learn that werewolf-hitting technique from him… Kelger’s name was assigned to the FFI Thief class, which is more subjective. The last Dawn Warrior ended up assigned to Warrior, more appropriately. You’ll meet him down the page.
After the village, we headed to the valley. I can’t remember who was playing here, but I don’t remember the dungeon very well in any event. It had a memorable encounter in which you could encounter a Golem enemy. It attacks you and then runs away. After seeing it, it was possible to see the Golem under attack by enemy monsters (an odd scenario, as the enemies face away from you in battle to face the Golem!). If you can kill the enemies without the Golem dying in the process, he joins you as a powerful defensive Summon. He was hard to wrangle, since you could not use group spells on the enemies or risk killing the Golem, more than a little bit of bad news for us with our summoner and Blue list full of group spells. We should have used Slow or Stop, but that only occurs to me in hindsight, it took some time for us to pull through with good old fashioned underhanded tactics!
At the end of the dungeon, we had a much more memorable experience. I don’t recall how we got to this point. For some reason, Galuf was a Geomancer during the run. This was a complete gag to us, because we considered the Geomancer utterly useless, and must have put our party member on the job just to fill time, or maybe out of a lack of MP. The Geomancing spirits must have heard us laughing though, because they set out to prove us as wrong as possible. Not only did the class perform admirably during the entire dungeon, but when we got to the end of the dungeon, we found a plant called a Dragon Pod. The Geomancer instantly hit this boss up with the Twister spell, dropping it to single or double digit HP within the first few seconds of the fight. I can’t even talk about the boss fight, because thanks to our Geomancer, we essentially never fought it! The Geomancer proved just as brilliant as long as we kept them in the role! Kyle noted that the game seemed to do this whenever we considered the class, a trend that has so far continued in FFVI!
The Dragon Pod was guarding some of the plant we needed, so we took it back to Bal, snuck in through the moat, and went to the Drake. It was so sick it refused to eat at first, so Lenna ate some of the plant to try to convince the Wyvern, poisoning her yet again. I’m not sure if this is bad writing or an intentional coincidence, but thankfully I don’t have to wonder for long, as we soon learn it’s definitely bad writing as the party stands around fretting about Lenna being poisoned instead of using a damn Antidote. And before I can begin to wonder if Antidotes don’t work that way for some reason, Krile runs in and… uses a damn Antidote. I hate you all.
Now that you have a Wind Drake, it becomes possible to fly around again (oh sure, push the poor sick thing to the limit mere minutes after healing it). Your object: to talk to the last Dawn Warrior, Xezat Surgate, who had marshalled his fleet from the city of Surgate to lay siege to Exdeath’s force field from the sea! What was that? Raid the last Dawn Warrior’s fortress while he’s not there to discourage us? Okey dokey!
In actuality, we didn’t get to Castle Surgate until our next session, but not for lack of trying. Instead, we found the fleet and got on board, like good little computer people. There, Xezat and Galuf said hello, but we were only there overnight before Exdeath launched a counterattack, spearheaded by Gilgamesh and his sometimes companion, Enkidu, named after the Sumerian heroes. This battle is also somewhat famous, though not for the arrival of Enkidu. It owes more of its fame to the somewhat-recurring association between Gilgamesh and the Genji items. You can steal the first of them from him here, and can continue to do so as the game goes on. We never bothered, since as you may recall, we had declared the Thief Job persona non grata and weren’t about to change our minds this late in the game!
Once Gilgamesh has been forced away, Xezat explains his big plan. He obviously can’t puncture the force field with ships alone. Instead, he’s built a submarine (!) and plans to get under the force field via an underwater tunnel (!!) to infiltrate one of Exdeath’s “Barrier Towers.” As Kyle said in chat a few days later: “Such a good plan, so needlessly complicated.”
Xezat came with us on the attack, though we split up upon arrival, Xezat going into the basement while we went to the top, giving us some Whisperweed from FFIV to keep in touch. And, as is our wont, since we had been told to go in one direction, we immediately went in the other. Xezat had only gotten part-way down the stairs at this point, and told us to get a move on, but that didn’t prevent us from seeing the generator he was targeting just a few tiles to the left. He later pretended it took him an hour to get there. We’re on to you, buddy!
I was trying to track something down online for Kyle at this point, trying to figure out what Blue Magic was available, namely a mess of Level spells. Mechanical enemies called Level Tricksters lurked the dungeon, and dumped level spells on us en masse. We really worried that we’d miss one, but we actually grabbed all of them without trouble. It was the monster-in-a-box Red Dragon, with its Level 3 Flare, that really threw us off the track. As a result of all this bookkeeping, I don’t much remember the dungeon… at least not until the boss arrived guarding the antenna of the Barrier Tower. This was something… different.
This boss is one of FFV’s legacy, a lovecraftian terror that should not be. This was Atomos, a being of living Void, known for using the Time Spell Comet (a lower-level version of Meteor), and more importantly, for trying to suck away your dead party members into its mouth, removing them from battle entirely. It really a startling sort of thing to have to fight, though not all cameos of the boss have quite captured the same impact of trying to save your allies from creeping doom, like Atomos’ appearance in FFI, which has nothing more impressive than an instant kill technique.
Fortunately, Atomos has a major weakness: while it’s sucking a dead party member into its mouth, it’s not attacking. We never exploited this deliberately, as some guides suggest, but we didn’t exactly… not use it.
I think it’s interesting how Atomos has become famous despite being technically a minor boss. I can’t help but notice both its design but also the way its signature technique works like a bit of a “reverse Tonberry.” We’ll be meeting the Tonberries later in this very game, but they were also simple, minor enemies that become phenomenally huge in later games, and it’s hard to tell why!
After defeating Atomos, the party blows up the antenna on top of the tower, but this causes an accident in the generator room that traps Xezat in the exploding structure. He resolves himself to his fate, telling the others to flee, but Galuf is not hearing it. The other party members see that Xezat is talking sense, however, as they’re far too far away to help Xezat before the tower collapses. Bartz asks Faris and Lenna to leave on the Wind Drake while he talks to Galuf. At first I was going to accuse him of Cecil Harveying away the women, but after thinking about it, I’ve come to recognize the level of mutual respect the party is showing to one another. All three of the other party members know Galuf has to be stopped, lest he charge off to his own death, and Bartz is simply the first to volunteer. At this point, the others leave knowing it’s the safest way for only one of them to risk their life to stop Galuf (and certainly, one of them should get the Wind Drake into the air), and they respect Bartz to keep their other friend safe. This example might have been a problem if there was more of an ugly, misogynist pattern in the game, but I feel that hasn’t been an issue since the early, isolated, insulting scene with Faris. Since then, we’ve got a party full of mutual respect and care, with largely functional character dynamics for the first time in the series. We’re a long way from “Galuf and Bartz spying on Faris while she sleeps,” which was probably the most disgraceful moment in the series so far.
Xezat is making a final speech through the whisperweed, as Galuf has to be physically restrained from running down the stairs. He’s talking about how “four new warriors have been chosen by the Crystals,” which isn’t technically true, as Galuf isn’t “new” per se. He passes the torch on to the Light Warriors, and is soon killed by an explosion. At this point, Bartz draws the line and cracks Galuf over the head, getting both of them on the Wind Drake. When Galuf recovers, he seems to have made his peace with what happened, but still wants to rendezvous at the sub as a means of fulfilling his last promise to Xezat. Of course, Xezat never comes.
That was technically the end of the session, but the gameplay continued somewhat unofficially after that, as Kyle took advantage of a few online tabletop games he was running at the time to grind out APB in Castle Bal’s basement. The Objet d’Art enemies that lived here had huge APB yields and were vulnerable to Level 5 Death, paying off in spades, and they could evne be killed by Gold Needles. Kyle’s grinding essentially secured us most of the remaining Marathon run, which admittedly took a lot of the challenge out of it, but it was a lot of fun to play around with all those extra job skills… Besides – I say, writing in 2015 during the Persona 1 playthrough – grinding has become somewhat ubiquitous to the Marathon as of late.
As Kyle worked, we discussed our potential end-game party plans, which I dutifully recorded. Here it is: our ambitious and uninformed plan for the end-game, even though we were honestly closer to the middle!
Our plan involved setting every party member to Freelancer in the end, with a certain set of jobs mastered to give them the skills we wanted most. To this end, Bartz was to master the Black Mage job, equipping both the Black Magic Lv 6 and the MP +30% skills from that same job. Not our most ambitious character plan, but bear with me.
Lenna we planned to make our healer tank, as before, mixing the White Mage Lv 6 ability, Spirit Stat, and the the HP +30% skill from Monk, plus she would inherit the Monk’s barehanded abilities. We planned to keep her on Monk until Galuf was ready to jump back to finish off Knight (below), then finish off White Mage, as we imagined the high-level White Mage skills would be critical in the upcoming stages. Once we were ready (as the last White Mage level was for a petty MP +10% we didn’t care for) we would consider hoping back to Monk if urgency demanded.
Faris was next, at least in simplicity. We didn’t even have a solid plan for her. We were going to max Summoner, that was clear, and probably Samurai for the passive Evade, however we had no idea what ability to put in her second slot, as we didn’t really think of Money Toss as endgame material and didn’t care for any other Samurai skills. We didn’t stick to this plan either way, but I think some more magical skills might have been ideal . We didn’t know at the time, but magical Abilities allow you to take in stats from that job even without mastering it (even to jobs that aren’t Freelancer!), so we could have easily attached Faris to some work-in-progress job if we had so pleased.
(Weapon skills are similar, indeed that’s almost their whole point once you’re at the Freelancer phase. Otherwise they only grant the ability to use certain weapons in unorthodox classes, and that was never a serious concern.)
Galuf was to become our most complicated party member, our ability work of art. He was to max Geomancer, as the class had a number of helpful passive abilities and acceptable magic and wasn’t very costly to max, Knight and Ninja for powerful combat stats, while equipping powerful magic skills to make use of the Geomancer’s carry-over magic stat. We were thinking about Time Magic and Blue Magic (we weren’t going to let all our Blue Magic go to waste!) though we made a footnote that the Ninja’s Throw could be equally useful in the right situations.
All-in-all, an ambitious plan, doomed, like all plans, to not survive contact with the enemy. In fact, it wouldn’t even survive contact with Kyle’s grinding…
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.