Back in a party with Reuben and his beautiful chiselled face (tinted yellow-green), Kyle and I walked an utterly pointless walk all the way to Fireburg and then all the way back to Windia. The funny thing is, Reuben’s dad can’t even pretend he has anything important to say. He and the writer know this whole section only exists to pretend the four quadrants are interconnected, so Arion doesn’t waste any more of your time. Walk forward, walk back, that’s a wrap!
Long and content-free story short, Otto extends the Rainbow Bridge to an exposed section of Spencer’s Cave, and Reubin blows up the Cave without so much as questioning the details, like making sure the ceiling would collapse properly, and that he and Ben wouldn’t die in the collapse. Of course it worked, turning Windia back into Aquaria 2. Mac’s ship got caught up in the flood and steered into the Ship Dock on its own. Unfortunately, we still need the Mobius tablet to reach the port. The game doesn’t say as much, but the Tablet is actually right here, in Spencer’s cave, past one last grenade puzzle where we had to come down through a secret northern tunnel to open the passage to the Crest. This section oddly resembles a Piece of Heart segment in Link’s Awakening, just outside Animal Village, but it’s so obscure I can’t really claim this game was ripping Zelda off, which is such a relief after the last journal.
Back in Windia, we told Kaeli about our progress and she gave us her dad’s cap so he would know we were with her. I’m not really sure why the devs felt this step was necessary. I can’t help but imagine that the game originally had you waltzing over to Foresta to get this Cap from Kaeli’s mom, but some saint on the dev team put their foot down.
Before heading to the shipyard, we used the Mobius tablet to go from Kaidge Temple to Light Temple, which was a cave on an island to the southwest, but this was a dead end (after the next dungeon you can come here for a final chat with the old man on the cloud, but we never did that). The real path to the Ship Dock was through a house in Windia. This lead us to the ship itself, which was another example of this game’s weird zoom system. Remember the boulder the size of the moon that didn’t really block a path? Well this ship was one tile wide at the world map level, was still one tile wide at town level (the Ship Dock), implying it was really, really small, but was a full dungeon at tight zoom, stocked with monsters from Pazuzu’s Tower.
(On a related note, I’m not sure how the ship got to the Dock if it was stocked with monsters, but maybe they got on board at port?)
This is actually one of the weirdest dungeons in Final Fantasy, because it’s actually a psyche-out. Mac’s Ship is a full dungeon, yes, complete with Dragon Claw hookshot points, monsters crowding the prow and a whole series of lower decks, but if you explore the lower decks, you just end up looping back to the main deck again. The punchline is that the exit is on the main deck and you can go almost straight to it from the get go. The trick is that you have to push a barrel out of your way even though the barrels are usually unmovable (that bit’s unfair) then climb a mast (using the Dragon Claw – which makes sense but tripped us up for some reason) to climb across the rigging to another mast. The rigging is simplistic but actually just looks like the devs were messing around with the SNES’s sprite layering features, so I really have to credit them here for using it as part of the level. The game actually does hint at this secret route by base of both masts, and it’s so cheeky that I just have to forgive it for the barrel trick. I think the ideal solution would have been to include a senseless but obvious barrel-pushing puzzle under-decks to make you think “…oh! Maybe some other barrels can be pushed!” but this is still okay.
The final room of the dungeon contained both Mac and the Gaia Armour, and I wonder… why not put the Armour somewhere else in the dungeon, and make the dungeon less pointless? I guess they were worried there’d be no way to re-enter this dungeon once you gain control of the ship? Except in the finished version of the game, you can go back into the empty dungeon! Were they just trying to be convenient?
We talked to Mac, and had barely whipped out his hat when Kaeli walked in on her own! And without the Mobius tablet, I might add. Daughter and father talked for a moment before Reuben’s leg gracefully collapsed to interrupt any serious drama. The leg was probably overcome by the feeling that Kaeli would finally bench its owner, like she deserved to do. Ben set Reuben to bed in Windia and he stayed there to game’s end, as one does after they run around through dungeons, mountain- and tower-climbing without regard to a major injury. But it wasn’t time for Kaeli to rejoin the party! Spencer and Tristam showed up instead, on a break from their adventures to tell us that… Tristam wasn’t going to join either! No, actually, Phoebe was waiting for Ben at the inn. Phoebe joined back up immediately, so the devs really could have sent her to us directly. We headed back to Mac, who finally told us the drastic news that the game had been building up all this time: the news that had him running away from his family like Satan spat on the back of his neck. Urm, I mean, that had him going to, ur… heroically… you know what? No. He was running the fuck away. I can’t even make up a joke defence.
Mac explained that there was more to the prophecy than was actually told, which spoke of a leader to the Vile Four, named “The Dark King.” That’s your bad news? Even as a kid (okay, I wasn’t that young, but “even on my first time through,”) this was so cliché that I just glazed over. Mac: of course there’s a final boss after Pazuzu! I know it needed to be explained but the game acts like we’re supposed to be surprised by this! Mac explains the Dark King will be atop Focus Tower, so it’s time to borrow Mac’s ship and sail to that cave Reuben fell into a while back.
After resetting the game to correct Phoebe’s elemental resistances, we returned to the ship, Kyle commenting that neither of these Ben nor Phoebe should have had any sailing experience and that Mac seems to have no crew. Oh well, it never stopped the party in FFI or III! Hell, the party in FFLI managed to wrangle a floating rock to sail the seven seas, so sailing is apparently just that easy! Reaching the cave, we learned this final dungeon, the “spine” of Focus Tower, was called Doom Castle. Cool architectural concept, lazy name. I’m kind of shocked that the name “Doom Castle” was never used again. I mean, this is a franchise dozens of games, a lot of them generic or social games, and there are even a few true kids’ games like the Chocobo series that never picked this low-hanging fruit. There are even games where dungeons don’t really matter that much, like My Life as a King, and only Mystic Quest went with “Doom Castle.” Well, if that’s where we are, best get to the heart of it!
Doom Castle’s first floor was based on Bone Dungeon. Firstly: it was a giant pit of treadmill sand. You had to walk around to the back and then carefully make your way from point to point to avoid being washed down to the bottom. Secondly: the enemy groups were weird mixes of genuine Bone Dungeon monsters, completely unchanged, and some common Doom Castle enemies, including exploding ninjas, like the ones that nest in the majestic Yukon hot springs. Fighting these monsters showed us that Phoebe’s base attack, was pretty weak compared to Ben’s Excalibur, though her magic was still stronger overall. Ben only really had the edge on her in magic thanks to the Meteor and Flare books, as Phoebe only had White, but damn was her magic high since she was doing nearly as much damage with White as Ben was with Flare!
At the end of the path, Ben and Phoebe had an ugly surprise waiting for them. Yes, it was time for an unexplained phenomenon drawn straight from the lazy game designer’s textbooks: final dungeon boss refights. Flamerus Rex was back as a normal, bone-coloured dino called Skullerus Rex, and while I can’t make any jokes about his colouring, he does come off as way less threatening this way. Maybe I owe ole Bubble Gum an apology. This poor wight came off even worse thanks to our best friend, Marathon Prerogative. For some reason or another, possibly because he’s a recolour of the first boss, or possibly because he already looks like a fossil, but Skullerus Rex is weak to the Dragon Claw’s petrification. It took a few hits for the status effect to kick in, but then the fifth major boss in the game died instantly.
Past Skullerus Rex, we climbed up the stairs into that walled off section Focus Tower we had seen earlier, and finally gained access to the fourth, green, “Item” door. Inside, we found Doom Castle proper: a series of stairs running up the middle of the tower. Each set of staircases flanked a door that led to a sublevel of the Castle, and the stairs were blocked off until you’ve cleared the sublevel. The second level borrowed from Ice Pyramid, with those familiar statue-switches all over, some of which were not all that useful. The place was a maze full of thin paths, so there was a lot of wandering around in circles. We started to use Phoebe’s White spell to kill ninjas on this level (well, ninjas and dusty old Ice Pyramid monsters that we could have pinched to death), since we had enough Seeds to plant an orchard and no reason not to use magic as though it would never run out. By the fourth section, Phoebe and Ben were both flinging Wizard magic at rank-and-file enemies, ending every random fight in the Castle in a single turn. Marathon Prerogative, worms.
The boss at the end of the second maze was Stone Golem, and the devs kept his resistences in the right place this time, meaning not only was he immune to Petrification, but being stone, he was strong against Fire where Ice Golem was weak. Unfortunately for Ben, this game was designed by the team behind FFLIII, and that meant Flare was actually a Fire spell for once! Meteor was also out, forcing Ben to cast White alongside Phoebe, and that really put Ben out of his class. Luckily Stone Golem couldn’t keep up the offence, so this was just a battle of attrition, honestly reminiscent of Kraken in FFI. Also, since Stoney was a recolour, he melted just like Ice Golem, which is pretty darn weird no matter how you look at it. Do you know how hot rock has to get to melt? Are you sure he wasn’t weak against Fire? Oh, who am I kidding, we hopped across magma in this game, the devs have no idea how hot melted rock can be.
The Lava Basin section of Doom Castle was a jumping maze. The segmented paths made it a lot harder to tell which paths linked up to where, but ultimately it wasn’t that much of a fuss. The maze lead to “Dualhead Wyvern,” and ohhh, now the wings make sense! But why design the third bosses’ sprite based on the recolour? The Ice Golem’s sprite ignoring the recolour makes far more sense, and it looks ridiculous!
The fourth section of the Castle was a strange over-under maze with no resemblance to Pazuzu’s Tower except the sprite palette. The idea was that you entered on one maze path, but after descending some stairs, you could under that same path, with different exits depending on where the tunnels exit and the lower path criss-crosses the upper. It was a good idea for a maze, but don’t get me wrong: I’m glad it was confined to one room rather than a full dungeon.
The boss of this section was recoloured Pazuzu, called “Zuh.” FFWiki suggests Zuh’s name is supposed to be the same as the “Zu,” that boss I said killed Izayoi in TAY, remember? The funny thing is, the Zu is a basic, random enemy in every game except TAY. How did it become a penultimate boss here in MQ? (In later Final Fantasy entries, our archenemy Garuda becomes a Zu recolour. As it happens, one of those Garuda-Zus is a boss, but not a Zu itself). In fact, Zuh isn’t just a penultimate boss: some players feel Zuh is the hardest boss in the game, without really being “hard.” I don’t see it myself. Yes, Zuh has DoomDance, an instant kill attack, and that killed us a few times, but Ben had Life at this point so it was hard for him to instant-kill the entire party so long as we stayed on top of the situation. Perhaps if Zuh still had Psychshield like Pazuzu, things would have been harder, but for some reason Zuh’s Psychshield doesn’t work half the time. Instead of setting up a magic-repelling shield like Pazuzu, he sometimes… smacks you with it, for 1 point of damage. I don’t know why. I have a guess? My guess is that the game is screwing up and grabbing a “default” attack by mistake, and that default causes 1 point of damage. I’ve certainly seen stranger glitches, but if this is a glitch, I just don’t understand how it got past testing when it’s unavoidable!