The Rift was made up of a random variety of interiors, to allow the level designers to essentially… do whatever. While there’s a lot of variety and can be healthy (as seen in, say, KH1), FFV’s mostly re-uses old elements, and I can’t say it makes for very enticing level design. Especially since they just threw the rest of FFV into a blender, leaving only a few spotlight moments to help the dungeon stand out.
At the entrance, the Demons of the Rift Exdeath had freed showed up to taunt us, but no, please, don’t attack us all at once, that would be rude.
My notes become incredibly fractured at this point, which is unsurprising given the nature of the Rift’s level design, but I can’t blame the game entirely. Kyle and I were also pretty settled into our boss-fighting strategy, meaning details were legitimately sparse to none. After passing through Phantom Village, which appeared to be partially stuck in the Rift as a shadow of its former self, we fought a demon called Calofisteri. She tried to use Reflect to protect herself and overcome our reflects, but too bad for her: Reflect couldn’t cover her from Faris’ summons or Krile’s absurd Rapid Fire crit rate with the Yoichi Bow. “Krile, I love it when you get mad at people.”
Not long after we got into some caves, found our good buddy Omega, and tried to fight him for laughs. We were instantly killed. Instantly. Naturally we moved on with our lives. Not long after, we got a partial explanation for Omega’s existince from a Byblos recolour called Apanda, who explained that Omega and the dragon Shinryu had been imprisoned here and neither was actually affiliated with Exdeath.
The next room I mentioned in notes was a castle dungeon. Prisoners ran around all over the place, where we fought both Azulmagia and Catstrophe, both demons of the rift, though only the latter was mandatory. Catastrophe relied a little too heavily on earth attacks, so was an easy kill with Float. Azulmagia was different: this fellow was a Blue Mage, who knew most of the Blue Magic spells in the game, and could learn the others off of you! Because it was funny, we taught him Self-Destruct so that we would explode himself out of our way. Hilarious. Our reward – besides black comedy – was a save point. A minor boss gave us more trouble than these Demons of the Rift: the Alte Roite enemy became the Juva Aevis after death. This jerk (the first form, that is) was able to eject party members from battle. Thankfully he wasn’t that hard, so after a few misguided attempts to cheese him with Death, we beat him with Lenna and Faris alone.
Inside another cell was a woman who had been “stuck down here a long time,” and smooched Bartz. I’m more worried that that didn’t end in a boss fight. …Who did we just let out? At the time I didn’t recognize it, but this woman actually returns later in the dungeon, revealing herself to actually be the demon Halicarnassus, not that the game makes the connection between the two tiny overworld sprites very clear! No wonder FFVI switched to taller overworld sprites! The FFWiki can’t decide on a pronoun for Halicarnassus, so I’m just going to use “they.” Hali here was fond of using Toad on the party, which was a huge bother, though I don’t record how we overcame it. Next, the demon Twintania confronted us and countered all spell casts with powerful group spells. This was probably the most dangerous of the Demons of the Rift for us, but we pulled out by the skin of our teeth.
Beyond Twintania, we moved into the real centre of the Rift, a crystalline region. Here, we found our old buddy Gilgamesh, living out his banishment. Gilgamesh didn’t recognize us at first, leading to an odd battle that didn’t even change the background music from the overworld! This battle ends automatically after a little while, though players with more patience than us are able to use it to steal the Genji Shield. After the fighting stopped, the party gave him directions out of the Rift and everyone left as friends. We wouldn’t be separated for long – maybe poor Gilgamesh is just really bad with directions?
Kyle went on, and opened a chest only for superboss Shinryu to pop out without the slightest preamble or warning! We were toasted just as fast as against Omega. Poor Kyle was still jarred by Shinryu several rooms later, expressing disbelief in the middle of other random fights. Finally, we reached the last of the Demons of the Rift: Necrophobe. This boss employed a number of destructible Barriers to protect himself, which in turn used the Reflect trick to cast Holy and Flare at us multiple times a turn! This went very poorly for poor Kyle. He was forced to use Phoenix for the first time in the Marathon, and I’d say he barely pulled through before the Barriers finally dropped. He was rescued, so to speak, by Gilgamesh. Always the ham, Gilgamesh made a final speech to each of the party members (giving other, smarter players a chance to rob him of the Genji Armour). Not being familiar with Krile, Gilgamesh gave her a brief memorial about Galuf; he told Faris to fall in love (which she didn’t exactly appreciate); told Lenna to keep caring for animals; and told Bartz he wanted to fight him one more time. Finally, he turned on Necrophobe and self-destructed, killing them both. Hasta la bye-bye, you crazy diamond.
The funny thing about Gilgamesh is that this isn’t his last appearance… or is it? He’s appeared in numerous other games, always implied to be the same person (even in the otherwise all-AU Dissidia), wandering from world to world after being banished in the Rift. The question is: what did we just witness? Did he survive his sacrifice to fight again, or did Gilgamesh’s visits to other games take place before we reunited with him in the Rift (remember, he didn’t remember us!), and this was his real final stand? I suppose that comes down to the individual!
We’re getting up on the final boss now, so I feel I should talk about our final party layout. Unfortunately, I don’t have a perfect record, just what I can glean from our post-Final Boss stats, which are as close as we’re going to get.
Bartz was a Samurai in our post-game folder, though I imagine he was a Freelancer during the actual battle. Unfortunately, the fact that he was Samurai and not Freelancer means I can’t be certain what abilities he had equipped at the time, though I imagine he was using Throw and Black Magic. He had mastered the Monk, Ninja and Black Mage jobs, with five levels of Thief, 4 of Samurai, 2 of Beastmaster and 1 of Blue Mage.
Lenna went into the final battle as a Mime, with Monk, White Mage and Mystic Knight mastered. She also had 2 levels of Blue Mage, 2 of Black and 2 of Dragoon. I know she had Lance and White Magic equipped to her ability slots, though I’m not sure of the remainder – it was probably Spellblade but I can’t be certain.
Krile was also a Samurai in our post-game folder, and so was likely also a Freelancer during the final battle. She (and Galuf, where applicable) had mastered Knight, Time Mage, Ranger, Geomancer and Bard, with 3 levels of Samurai, 3 of Blue Mage and 1 of Berserker sitting in the cheap seats. I believe her abilities were Rapid Shot and Time Magic.
Faris was also a Mime. She had mastered Red Mage, Summoner and Samurai, and was backed up with 3 levels of Blue Mage and 4 of Black. I know for certain that she took Summoning Magic and Dualcast as two of her abilities, and I believe the third was dedicated to Blue Magic, even though we never really had any opportunity to use it! I might be wrong about that last one, though. Kyle was awfully fond of Zeninage…
At the end of the crystalline region, we found Exdeath, who responded to our arrival by… turning back into a tree. I think I know what the developers were going for, but I still feel this doesn’t make a great deal of sense? Exdeath was born from the souls of criminals and monsters imprisoned in a tree, which became the antithesis of the Guardian Tree. But if he was more powerful as a tree along, why didn’t he just stay that way, or at least become one when casting great acts of magic like reuniting the two worlds? Could he not? Even then, he’s been on the united worlds for a while now, he clearly didn’t need the power of the Void just to transform. I’m sure we could manufacture a few explanations but I don’t think any is provided by the game itself.
And even if we could manufacture an explanation, we would be stuck with the classic mockery that Final Fantasy V ends with a boss fight against a tree. Let’s look back: a demonic manifestation of chaos (FFI), the reigning sovereigns of heaven and hell (FFII), the creator of the entire world (FFLI), the living manifestation of darkness itself (FFIII), an unrestrained futuristic war machine from a lost, technologically advanced past (FFLII), a powerful wizard who had absorbed the very life-essence of the world into his frame (FFA), the flesh-incarnate hatred of an alien genocidaire (FFIV), the great Lovecraftian god Azathoth having gained the power of the Christian God (FFLIII), an emperor of evil whose deceptions fooled the entire world right to the final instant (FFMQ)… and a tree.
Being a petty little birchbot, Exdeath decided to use the Void to attack our friends directly before attacking the party and sucking them into the Void as well. They were only able to escape thanks to the ghosts of the Dawn Warriors, and… around there, Kyle and I got bored enough with the proceedings to notice that poor Lenna and Faris haven’t talked a lot lately. That doesn’t seem fair, does it? I think we should be giving the ensemble cast equal lines!
Eh? …What about Exdeath?
The trouble with Exdeath as a character is that he’s just not very interesting to us. He’s mindless destruction doing things for mindless reasons. There’s been no mystery in his actions – hell, in the entire game – since the worlds were merged. I wouldn’t be bothered by that if he was quick about it but this just keeps getting drawn out. If you don’t have anything to say, you probably shouldn’t be pretending to say it. If you think about it, this has been true of every Final Fantasy boss since Chaos. Chaos himself had to explain the time loop, so he had a lot to say compared to the average FFI conversation. But the Dark Emperor, who was little more than Satan at that point in the game and so had nothing to say, got to the fight very quickly! Cloud of Darkness hit us up with virtually no preamble at all, twice! (In fact she said so little that it was arguably a problem in its own right – you don’t want to go too far in the opposite direction!). There was a lot of preamble before the final boss fight in FFIV, but it had to do with the heroes, not the villain, who was a non-character. In fact I may go so far as to say Zemus is my least favourite FF villain to date. In fact, the biggest blabbermouths so far have been penultimate bosses: the bit with the five dragons before Xande, and FFLII’s fight with Apollo, and at least we were in a battle at the time! We know the party is going to fight Exdeath and the game pretending otherwise is a waste of our time. As for the other “dead” people, not only do I not believe for a second that they’ll stay dead, but I only really care about Cid and Mid. The game hasn’t gone out of its way to make me give a damn about everyone else!
The party is returned to the Rift and the final boss battle begins. Exdeath’s first form is a joke, and it’s funny watching the FFWiki try to pretend otherwise, even though it has to say things like, “Exdeath […] can be beaten with a single party member” because it’s factually true. His most dangerous attack is “White Hole,” which will instantly kill or petrify party members, but with Ribbons equipped, White Hole often just wastes the tree’s turn.
Exdeath’s second form appears as the Void begins to take over our bad guy (an idea that was borrowed by TAY, in a manner of speaking, though TAY’s final boss was ultimately trying to resist the corruption). Neo Exdeath is a preposterous totem pole of demonic figures, made up of four parts. While internet advice recommends focusing on parts one at a time, we relied almost entirely on Doublecasted Bahamut from Faris and Mimic’d Bahamuts from Lenna whenever possible. We might not have won without them.
Our greatest challenge here wasn’t so much Neo Exdeath as the Marathon itself. You see: one of the Marathon’s two secondary objectives is to get the best ending. In FFV, this means defeating Neo Exdeath with no one KO’d/dead, because if you beat the final boss with someone KO’d, they’re treated as dead during the ending! We downed nearly every Elixir we had just to keep everyone on their feet, worried that Neo Exdeath would die at any second but apparently too stupid to keep an accurate count of his HP. Things were so frantic that it was almost to our surprise when we won with a full head count!
With Exdeath gone, the Void was unleashed and seemed poised to envelop everything, but we were saved by the remaining Crystal Shards, which left the party to form into new Crystals on the merged world. They went into hiding at the old locations of the Sealed Tablets: the Earth Crystal was formed at the Pyramid of Moore, the Water Crystal at Istory Falls, Fire at the Great Sea Trench’s volcanic underbelly, and (later in the scene) the Wind Crystal was restored to island where we fought Wendigo. I don’t… really agree with that last decision. Most of the new Crystal locations are far away from human civilization (even if the Fire Crystal is near the five dwarves). The Island Shrine, on the other hand, is right in the middle of a major bridge! The OVA sequel to this game implied some serious defences but… putting things where people can get to them is sort of how this all happened in the first place, you know?
Long story short, the party was retrieved from the Void by the Dawn Warriors, though if they had died in the battle, the ones that hadn’t made it would have been left behind.
A year later, Krile wrote a letter to Cid, talking about everything that had happened in the interim. Kyle and I couldn’t shake the impression that she had been around the world in the course of that year but had somehow never found the time to visit Cid… or inform him that they were alive? It seems Faris went back to pirating (without telling Krile – a nice visual gag), Bartz went home with Boco and Koko, and Krile went to leave flowers for Galuf at the Guardian Tree. While she was alone at first, the other party members came to help her through her grief. Apparently, in the bad endings, the other party members are (yawn) revived during this scene for dying before their time. Sure, whatever. Then, everyone rode off on the backs of the once-baby Chocobos, which Kyle happily described as “forced slavery from birth.” D’aww.
Despite impressions, Final Fantasy V was easily my favourite game of the Marathon so far. I loved the free-strategy use of the job system, the balance between the jobs (it’s said you can play with almost any job combination), the clearly delineated late game, and despite a few examples of… weird comedy, found myself incredibly attached to every one of the party members. While it’s certainly not the hardest job system game due to every job’s relative power, it’s not as though it lacks strategy either, and I found it was always fun to play. If the setting hadn’t been quite so choppy in places, I might have appreciated it a little more… but all’s well in the end. FFV is certainly not the narrative high bar for Final Fantasy, even this early in the series, but as a game, it has all the others beat so far, and I bought myself copy as soon as I was able.
Starting with our next update, we’re going to be carrying on the FFV torch with its OVA sequel, Final Fantasy V: Legend of the Crystals, the first made-for-TV product in the Final Fantasy line. In fact, this sequel was the first FFV property to be released in the west, before even the game itself! If you’ve never heard of it or had a chance to watch it, I urge you to come back and give it a close look with us here at the blog, because good news: it’s the dumbest thing in the entire franchise so far. Bear in mind: in FFLII the party called opium “bananas” and dragged a man to court for possessing said bananas, but I promise: this is the dumbest thing in the franchise.
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.