I think if we had gone back to Reuben’s house, Dad from FFLII would have told us that the Fire Crystal was responsible for the earthquakes, but we really didn’t bother. I mean, isn’t that obvious? Instead, we headed straight for the volcano and set to work. Scaling the volcano was a dungeon on its own, with an ash cloud ringing the place at two levels, obscuring the monsters. We had been warned about the cloud, and were told that a gas mask that would reveal the monsters was housed somewhere on the hill. We assumed that, like the Mirror, the Gas Mask would be at the bottom, but our memory was really failing us there, because it was actually at the very top, just down an alternate path. Yeah, you have to deal with invisible enemies most of the climb, I have to give them that! We made sure to get the Mask (counting it as part of our objective to get 100% equipment collection). It made another ludicrous sucking sound before showing the monsters, but at least that sound effect makes a little sense in this case. I mean, at least it has something to do with the air, right?
While finding the Gas Mask took up most of our time, we made a more important find right at the start of the dungeon, through an obvious tunnel: the Wizard spell White, aka Holy. Like many incarnations of Holy, White was a group spell. If you don’t remember how group spells work in this game (damage is divided across all targets but can also be focused on just one), we’ll remind you with how we dealt with the Medusa boss guarding the caldera. Since she was the only target of the group spell, she took full damage, and was very nearly vaporized by the spell with every cast, as though the devs didn’t realize just how effective the spell would be against a single-target. This was probably for the best, because Medusa had powerful damage-and-status-effect spells. She also had a unusual damaged sprite that made her look more dangerous than her base sprite, but her second damaged sprite was a little less threatening, since it had her bald of her snakes.
The inside of the volcano was a distinct dungeon entitled Lava Basin, home of healing phoenix chickens and lullaby ninjas, like the kind that live in the ice caves of old New Zealand. When I first came to Lava Basin as a kid, the place was a nightmare maze, but now I knew how to go through it… well, vaguely: head west, tuck through the correct caves (good luck on this part) and hopscotch the some lava rocks to find the Moon Helm, which gives Ben resistance to Fire at last. The Fire attacks in this dungeon were just that everywhere, and Ben was in deep trouble without the Moon Helm, so good riddance. As it happens, his Fire resistance is actually better than Reuben’s, thanks to magic defence. While my notes don’t make explicit reference to it, I believe we deliberately saved and reset the game at the entrance to Lava Basin to get Reuben’s Fire resistance back from the glitch, and even though his resistance was weaker, we did not regret it.
From the Moon Helm we began to weave through the dungeon, which wrapped around itself horizontally (you can imagine it going around the inside of the mountain in a circle). We ran into a few Jinn recolours here called “Iflytes,” just like the boss in FFA. Did Square’s backup localization teams not realize that “Ifrit” is not just a real word with a real spelling, but that the rest of the company was using the proper spelling in almost all their other products? The wraparound dungeon was a real mess to navigate, with one-way drop offs that were almost all bad ideas, you barely need to jump in this dungeon. Also, it was dotted with these random shining piles of gold crap, what even is that? You could say it was gold bars but not really, no! After a while, I found a switch by accident that opened a set of large double-doors leading to the boss, but finding the way to the doors was the real trouble.
Past the double doors and a few more games of hot-hopscotch, we found the local fiend: the Dualhead Hydra, who has wings for no good reason. We made the mistake of going into the fight without using a Seed beforehand, and things only got worse from there. We lost this fight multiple times, but like the Legends games (and weirdly enough, FFXIII) you can restart the fight at the end, meaning we did so multiple times… always resetting to our original state with no magic. It took us a while to wise up to the fact that we had saved just in front of the boss like good little players, and could easily reset the game, load and use the damn seeds without being attacked in the process. I don’t know what it says about us that it took so long for us to remember. The Hydra made good use of status effects, with a paralysation and a poison breath that each made a mess of us, and Fire breath besides, all of which did high damage even with Fire resistance.
This is when Reuben really began to show his age, especially thanks to his low magic resistance (it’s always magic resistance with the fighters, isn’t it? It seems that so long as casters have MP that’s up to par, they’re going to stay useful no matter what, but like Cid Pollendina before him, Reuben slips on magic and then pratfalls). But believe it or not, our friend with the Morning Star single-handedly saved the day. All it took was a brainwave to remind us of something we knew in the past and had since forgotten, something we should have been doing this entire game: using the Life spell on allies who weren’t dead. This powerful spell, which cost the same as Cure thanks to this game’s bullshit magic system, not only heals the target to full, but restores status effects, so with its help and a little luck we pulled through with almost no further trouble. Really, Life should have been a Wizard-level spell. Oh well, our gain.
The Fire Crystal returned, we got the next coin for Focus Tower, the whole lot. Things might have been even easier if we had realized Ben’s copy of the Life spell was in Lava Dome as well. After a third humiliated walk back to a dungeon we had already past, and Kyle and I were finally ready to leave Fireburg. And hey, Reuben hasn’t left us yet, like everyone else did, just because we killed a boss! What a guy. What a great, useless son of a bitch.
Before we left, however, there was the usual post-Boss Battlefield to deal with for fun, this one stocked with recent boss recolours: Iflytes and Sthenos recolours of Medusa. The trick to this Battlefield was that the monsters always, always, always got an Unexpected Attack on Ben and Reuben. Hey team, maybe consider bracing for it after the first nine times? I figure the ambushes must be rigged to happen automatically, considering we outpaced both of the actual bosses and recolours are always weaker, but if you know different, feel free to enlighten me. The ambushes make the place particularly deadly, so naturally there isn’t a worthwhile prize inside in the end.
South of the Battlefield you can also find a path that connects you to Aquaria, in case the Gemini Tile wasn’t enough. It is kind of strange how the story never forces you to walk between Aquaria and Fireburg from this point on, considering there are two paths that let you do so, but you can’t fault convenience.
We headed back through Focus Tower, and in another clever bit, we got a Donut Secret-style plateau into the final dungeon itself. No, really! Down a staircase, you discover a chest containing the Aero spell, in a walled-off section of the first floor of the final dungeon. The chest is even guarded by a troop from inside the final dungeon, which you had best take seriously, though there’s a chance they’ll be junk considering the special way the final dungeon treats its monsters. Bear with us and you’ll see what I mean when we come to the end of the game. And yes, if you’re paying attention: the first floor of the final dungeon is below Focus Tower, but because you probably don’t realize it is the final dungeon, that fact might haze right past you when it comes time to actually face the dungeon. It’s a great section. Aero itself is easy to ignore but a lot of enemies in the next section are weak against it, despite it ostensibly being the Air quadrant. Stepping back into the Tower, we left through the proper exit and found ourselves at the foot of a large rope bridge over a great black void. True to the way this game zooms, the bridge was only one tile wide on the world map but about the size of a major thoroughfare once you had entered the zone attached to it.
As Kyle and I entered the bridge, we were attacked by a Mummy, who Reuben challenged to single combat only to get knocked through a hole in the freeway we were standing on. Pathetic, dude, you can’t take one monster? I remember my first time through this game, I didn’t realize Reuben was still with me this scene because everyone else had left at the end of their storylines! You’ve got to make a better impression, my man!
Anyways, we fought the Mummy solo, and were immediately petrified and lost the game. …Shut up, Reuben.
Ben climbed down a ladder from the bridge to check on his partner, and found Reuben with a broken leg and no ladder. Luckily, Tristam appeared to be our replacement, levelled up and ready to go, so we left Reuben to the vultures. And no, we don’t get any reason for Tristam being there. I can get that he likes Ben by now but he has no reason to be in Windia in the first place, not even “treasure.” Tristam and Ben went from the bridge east to Alive Forest. Alive Forest got that name because, yes, it was semi-sentient (why they stored a Giant’s Axe there for us to take, I can’t imagine), and soon we were talking to the King Tree, whom our characters pissed off in dialogue, or at least I think that was the idea. Objectively, the King was probably more pissed at me and Kyle, who were busy clearcutting the sentient woods, for funsies. There was no way through the forest without the King’s help, so Tristam suggested we go talk to Kaeli about it, since she can talk to trees. How he knows this is questionable. I guess Ben kept trying to guilt trip him the whole way through Bone Dungeon.
Ben figured Kaeli would be in Aquaria by now, and we found her there, sleeping in Phoebe’s bed. Phoebe watched her sleep, and waited for us to leave. Phoebes, there’s a gentleman in FFV I’d like you to meet! Eager to get back to her voyeurism, Phoebe sent us off to Spencer, who had given up on digging, saying he now needed help from Otto in Windia, town #4, if he was ever going to rescue Captain Mac. So the giant death-pit to nowhere… wasn’t a good idea? Spencer then noticed and took a liking to Tristam, since they’re both good at endangering the lives of others for no good reason, and locked hands like the cast of The Wizard of Oz and pranced off to find some ancient armour together, almost immediately, without so much as a word to Ben. Well, Tristam did turn back and do his one good deed for the game, handing over the Dragon Claw he had picked up from Fuschious Rex’s lair. This was the best of the Claw weapons, capable of causing Petrification, and who else cares what else because holy shit this weapon can cause Petrification with every attack! That’s instant death with no MP or EXP wasted! Oh, and it works like a low-rent hookshot on the overworld, the kind that only work on specific targets like FFA’s chain whips, so that’s pretty cool too.
And yeah, that’s the entirety of Tristam’s second team-up with you: you go to Alive Forest, a dungeon that’s mostly skippable, and then he’s gone. Some people have suggested he was supposed to stay longer (he has armour strong against instant death, and enemies with instant death appear very soon but didn’t appear at all during his tenure) but he never joins again. The next few sections of the game still have eraser marks all over them, so if you do a close reading I’m sure you could find a few spots that could have supported a little more Tristam. It’s hard to argue that our upcoming forest excursion was meant for anyone but Kaeli, of course, but perhaps Tristam was supposed to join up after that?
Phoebe showed up after he grandfather had abandoned a man to die so that he could look for a lost metal suit, and the very first thing impatient people are known to do, which is set off high explosive in incredibly fragile earthwork under a populated area. I’m not kidding, that is both her actions and the best I can glean of her motivations. This somehow collapsed the Spencer’s tunnel without (yes, I don’t believe it either!) collapsing four hundred tonnes of earth, water and town on top of Ben and her own head, killing them both. Phoebe, there’s a deranged suicide-diving Cid in FFIV that I’d like you to meet. And this is why we too, here in the real world, do not dig hundred-foot tunnels to beached ships on the sides of cliffs. I hope we’ve all learned something.
Phoebe fled, as one does in situations like this, leaving us with Kaeli, who joined us without much conversation whatsoever. She had the same Giant’s Axe as us, which looks kind of silly in the status bar to be perfectly honest. We headed back to Alive Forest, where the King Tree asked us to “whack” the monsters inside him in exchange for letting us across. Whack. Inside our proto-Deku Tree was a mix of vertical puzzles: wall climbing, one-way pits and the like, as well as apparently small tunnels that turned out to be large mushroom-filled subsections of the dungeon that had to be navigated all their own. And did I mention those subsections were mazes? Fantastic. One of these fungal tunnels blocked access to the Meteor Wizard spell, just to drag things out. Also, there were some faces on the walls whose mouths could be opened with the sword, which really wasn’t instinctive at all. Am I picking their damn noses?
The last room in the dungeon was one of the longest in the game thanks to its sub-sections. The room contained a pyramid of platforms, dotted with subsection-tunnels, dotted with magic-reflecting black Oozes and instant death Doom Powder casting Skuldiers. At the top of the pyramid was Gidrah, who despite being named after King Ghidora from the Godzilla series was a chimera who lost heads one by one in his damaged sprites, youch. The lion head even roars in defiance after it’s left behind, it’s actually pretty hardcore! Not that that cost him any attacks or anthying.
After we beat Gidrah, we actually spotted some nearby enemies spontaneously exploding, which saves us a lot of whacking when you think about it. Isn’t it nice how no matter what you came to a location to do, killing the boss always solves all your problems? Exterminating everyone? Kill the boss. Private investigation? Epic swordfight. I’m starting to feel like these RPGs wouldn’t let me buy groceries without at least one count of murder before I hit the checkout line. Done whacking, we headed to the top of the tree, who carried us south to the other end of the forest.