The leftover magic water was only enough to restore Aquaria’s cure herbs (which was nice because we had chewed through our supply of Potions like we were on a Red Bull stampede). There was no alternative for Ben and Phoebe at that point, and we had to go do what we should have done in the first place: gone after the Water Crystal to the north. In between Aquaria and the Crystal was Falls Basin, a quick speed bump of an map almost as small as Level Forest.
The place was populated by Lamias that turned into little bitty snakes when you attacked them (which is how we got our cute before the internet). The dungeon itself was built around a single, extended puzzle: to move pillars around at ground level so that they could serve as jumping platforms from above. This isn’t quite as easy as it seems, partially because of the 2/3rds perspective, but mostly because you need to clue in to re-using pillars to beat the dungeon. Even this game can be clever from time to time. Too bad the game will never really be this clever again, and we’ll only see these mobile jump platforms once more in the entire game. At least they know not to overplay their hand?
The boss was a giant Snow Crab who parked himself next to a Heal spellbook. Somehow we got Strike First on him despite waltzing past him to get the book and then waltzing back, parking right in his face, healing and only then launching our attack. The fight almost wouldn’t be worth talking about (he was weak against Ben’s axe, which tends to speed things up), but Kyle would kill me if I didn’t mention the Crab kept giving us Full Nelsons. Seriously? And also used Tornado. What? And just as we were making jokes about tornado crabs, he killed Phoebe! Sorry Phoebes, no XP for you! Oh, wait. Guests don’t get XP in this game. Well, hope you’re enjoying the faceplant!!
I guess she was enjoying the faceplant because she woke up after the fight simply gleeful to blow up the wall behind the Snow Crab with her personal stash of Jumbo Bombs. So you were carrying heavy plate, a fur cape, battle claws, a longbow, a quiver of arrows, and Jumbo Bombs? I think our blonde friend here is actually Link. Phoebe gives Ben the Jumbo Bombs for free, one-upping Tristam in the friend department. While I’m irritated she didn’t tell us she had these bombs earlier, and confused about her having exactly as many as us so that they could replace ours, I’m just baffled and amused by this aspect of her personality. And no, this isn’t the only time she does something like this with explosives. Everyone needs a hobby. A highly professional Red Mage / Barbarian / uncontrollable demolitions expert? Dissidia candidate, please!
Like most upgrades to Ben’s inventory, the Jumbo Bombs actually replaces the old Explosives weapon entirely, which takes some player agency out of the picture but really is just replicating what you’d be doing on your own (now, to make this system viable, the Claw weapons all had to inflict the same status effects as the weaker ones. That’s silly).
By the way, once you rescue the Water Crystal, the Aquarian quarter of the map is going to melt. An unfortunate consequence of Falls Basin’s frozen décor is that you can’t return to it once it’s melted, potentially costing you the Heal Spell! Make sure to grab it!
Between Falls Basin and the Ice Pyramid that housed the Water Crystal was another Battlefield, featuring “Desert Hags,” aka “the FFLIII dev team still doesn’t want to use the term ‘Sahuagin’ and I can’t blame them.” Yes, it’s a Water Hag recolour (remember the Water Hags from FFIII?)… except Water Hags haven’t shown up in this game yet and only show up later, so which one is the recolour? After a lexical debate with the Desert Hags, with axes, we hit up the Pyramid proper (with axes). There, we found two statues built into alcoves in the wall, and Ben got an idea on how to interact with the blue statue but then… didn’t say how to do so. Back in the day this baffled me, not just because it’s poorly written but because you have to use your sword to hit the switch, even though you’ve had the sword since the start of the game and it’s shown no sign that it’s a useful tool for any out-of-combat task. While we’re on the subject, swords aren’t very useful weapons besides! Nothing in the game is weak against swords and swords never gain any special powers. Unless your sword is your very best, bleeding edge weapon, it might as well be left in the sheath!
Hitting the switch with our ten-foot pole substitute opened the front doors, but the dungeon beyond seemed empty. This meshed with an Aquarian warning that the monsters were invisible, so Kyle and I went looking for a way to make them reappear.
The Crystal dungeons in this game are actually quite large (certainly compared to others in the game so far, but I’d still say they’re larger than the average FF dungeon as well) perhaps to make up for the fact that the other dungeons are so small. Unfortunately this dungeon was also open-ended, so it’s really easy to miss the magic mirror that lets you see enemies unless you know where to look! It’s very easy to go through the entire dungeon without finding it! Luckily – even though I had forgotten the entire rest of the dungeon – I did remember that the mirror lay to the extreme southeast of the first floor. We only ran into a few enemies blocking our way to the prize. We picked it up, it made a preposterous sucking sound (or possibly the sound of an RC car’s engine?), and caused all the invisible enemies to appear. The game cheats a bit here by making sure you’ve killed all the enemies that would have been on screen when you pick up the mirror, so they don’t have to animate them appearing from nowhere. Very sly.
Having forgotten most of the dungeon over the years, I was surprised to find just how complicated it really was. It’s maze-like, but since this game has no random encounters, it was allowed to get even twistier than you’d normally see in an RPG dungeon. The fact that the mazes spanned multiple floors made it even more complicated. Or maybe I’m just pissed that we walked into so many dead end branches. It got worse in how Phoebe started to run low on arrows. I was kicking myself for that, because I had proposed we go in and out of Libra Shrine to restock on arrows before we went to the Pyramid in the first place, but had changed my mind. Luckily, just as we were going to empty her quiver, we started to find reloads until she was nearly full again.
After a lot of muddling around, we started to find things in the dungeon that weren’t, uh, walls. For example: by dropping down to a lower level, we were able to retrieve the Noble Armour (strong against Water/Ice!) from a phalanx of enemy units guarding both it and the secret passage back out. We headed further up until we finally reached a point where we had to blow up the floor itself with a Jumbo Bomb and drop down multiple floors, Tower of Hera-style, to a secret basement, where we landed in the middle of a massive enemy ambush. Of course, we here use “ambush” to mean “large troop of enemies that can’t engage us, but were at least surrounding us. That’s as good as it’s going to get.” Mixed in with the ambush was a chest containing the Knight Sword, and how nice of our attackers to let us collect it! This finally brought Swords back into play as something other than long sticks for hitting buttons, however temporarily.
Walking away from the ambush (great enthusiasm, guys), we met up with the second of the Vile Four overlooking the scene. This was the Ice Golem (once again, the European art of the guy is pretty epic), who said he enjoyed our little game and disappeared. This appearance was pretty pointless overall, since we meet up with him again almost two rooms later. We climbed up some stairs past a room we had used before and into the Ice Golem’s proper lair. Fighting a giant popsicle is never all that complicated when you have heat magic and concussive explosives, so the Golem wasn’t that much of a problem. I say this even though our magical reserves were low (the game has only dropped a few rare magic-restoring Seeds at this point) and Phoebe lacked Water Resistance… even though she was supposed to have it. See, Mystic Quest has a significant glitch, the kind of unfortunate glitch that only got worse years later when the way we play games began to change. MQ writes your partner’s data into the “active partner” slot when they join your party, but it forgets to adjust their elemental strengths and weaknesses. It only sets your active partner’s strengths and weaknesses when the game loads. As a result, since we had never loaded the game prior to this (and anyone playing with save states would never load the game), Kaeli, Tristam and Phoebe had all technically been without elemental weaknesses this whole time! We knew about the glitch, but it had slipped our mind to reset to get Blizzard resistance for Phoebe in an ice dungeon!
Despite our oversight, we killed the Ice Golem in our first attempt, the Water Crystal was restored, and the ice outside the pyramid melted though the Pyramid itself remained. In a lovely display of friendship, Phoebe left us on the spot to find her grandpa, without providing us directions to actually get in there except to vaguely imply that her grandpa was somehow under her house? By the time you reach Aquaria, she’s actually hanging out in her house, as though she wasn’t interested in visiting with gramps after all. Sheesh, I can see you wanting to get away from Ben, but how bad could Grandpa be?
It turns out the only way under Phoebe’s house is to walk into the water and literally crawl under the building, as though it were on stilts, or as though Spencer’s secret tunnel was really just the entrance to the municipal sewer. Then again, “Municipal sewer” might be too substantial a term. Once you enter the secret passage it becomes clear that Spencer and Phoebe’s house is built on a fingernail of foundation ringing a half-mile dead-drop! We travelled down an extra-long vertical drop of cliffsides, bridges and waterfalls, which would have looked lovely if we weren’t so afraid the whole of Aquaria would come caving in on our heads any minute now. At the base of the world’s dumbest plunge, we found Spencer. While he didn’t explain the tunnel at the time, he would later learn that he was digging this deathtrap in an attempt to reach Kaeli’s dad Captain Mac, who had been out researching the Knight and the prophecy about the Knight when “the lake dried up.” Mac was now stranded in the quadrant to the south, against the Aquarian plateau. Clearly a massive industrial-scale solo digging operation was the only sane means of rescue.
Spencer got pretty excited to hear that Ben was the Knight, and started babbling that “the shield has found its owner!” Spencer shoved the “Venus Key” into our hands, instructing us to fetch the Knight’s destined shield from the Focus Tower. Ah yes, the Venus Shield. A shield so potent, so filled with destiny, that we’ll have replaced it before the end of the game. Spencer explained Mac found the shield while researching the prophecy, which as you’ll later see, actually explains the Venus Shield being second-best shield in an off-handed sort of way, but first things first. Spencer also mentioned earthquakes occurring in the next town, Fireburg, because this game has no tactful way of connecting its segmented plot.
We weren’t in a rush to get to Fireberg after talking to Spencer. The conversation had unlocked a branch path in northwestern Aquaria, where we cleared a Battlefield for the long-awaited Exit spell, which would allow us to teleport out of dungeons instead of walking. Also on the path was the Wintry Temple, which was useless to us: the whole temple was simply a doughnut path to nowhere, ringing a chamber that could only be accessed with a Gemini transportation tile. And that must make the cave doubly useless for Ben, because he shouldn’t be able see the Gemini tile from the damn sky!
At the end of the Aquaria side-path, we found another entrance to Focus Tower. There, the Old Man appeared for one of his many fractured cameos. He told us that Captain Mac rushed away from his home and off on his sailing journey thanks to terrible news, but had refused to explain what he meant by that. Though, to be honest, once you learn what his awful news was, you’re going to wonder why Mac didn’t tell anyone before leaving. Was he… was he running away? Cloudman then told us to seek out “Reuben” in Fireberg, because that’s his job here: vague hinting and directing you to party members.
Heading further in to the Tower, we found the Venus Shield (which prevents Paralyzation) in one of Final Fantasy’s only locked chests. We wondered why on earth the developers bothered to lock it, since you can’t reach this room without talking to Spencer in the first place and, again, this is hardly the best shield in the game. We also got the Blizzard spell from another chest, making this a pretty profitable side-trip… though it turned out not to be a side trip after all. True, the door to Fireburg is back on the main path through Focus Tower, next to the door to Aquaria, but you have to come to this north-eastern section to set up a pillar for a jumping puzzle ala Falls Basin!
As we were admiring our new equipment for the sake of my notes, we discovered that the Venus Shield was actually the second-level shield in the game. This means we had missed a first-level shield much earlier in the game. This was problematic, because we had actually set a 100% equipment and spells objective for MQ. Being practical folk, we decided to fetch Reuben and some upcoming weapon upgrades before backtracking. Because we wanted to get this over with, we skipped Fireburg’s Battlefields for the time being and headed straight to town. Those poor monsters. They have no idea what’s about to hit them.