While we weren’t able to re-enter Narshe after escaping, an “adventurer school” existed outside the city walls to give us tutorials. We learned a few new features, like the fact that you can now run away in the iOS version by “flicking” a character, some details about this game’s multitudinous status effects, and the fact that Potions taste funny. Vindication! Kyle and I have been making that exact joke since the 90s. We also learned about this game’s new feature: Desperation Attacks. These were the proto-form of the franchise’s now famous Limit Breaks, where taking damage might give you a powerful attack. In VI’s case, Desperation Attacks only work when you’re on very low health, which meant that I didn’t see any throughout the entire game. Kyle saw one – Locke’s, I think – but I was in the bathroom. This is critical Marathon insight you’re getting here.
We headed out into the overworld, which was immediately not covered in snow. I’m serious, the developers didn’t even bother with tundra tiles. In fact, one of the enemies, a rabbit, is pictured perpetually perched on lush vegetation. Were almost immediately in a desert with sweltering heat that distorted the combat background. This is one hell of a geography lesson we’re getting today. Kyle, delighted to have a Thief in the party after spending all of our non-grinding sessions of FFV without, started stealing from nearly everyone he encountered.
In the middle of the desert, we discovered the vaguely steampunk castle of Figaro, a nation curiously far away to the southeast (this certainly isn’t unheard of in real-world castles, but in this case they were cut off from one another by a mountain range!). Locke was recognized at the gates and allowed in, after which we were funnelled by guards to the throne room, where we met King Edgar, the machinist.
This showman-King’s egotistical fellow (complete with dramatic poses), but he welcomed the party, he and Locke nodding to one another at close range as if to communicate a secret signal… or a headbutting contest, I can’t be sure. It has to be said, but even here towards the end of the first great era of 2D, the sprites still aren’t quite filling the role the developers really want them to fill. They wouldn’t really do so until 2D began to revive during the 3D era!
Locke left Terra behind, showing a lot of trust in Edgar, despite the fact that he was apparently an Imperial ally, and as we’d soon learn, a notorious womanizer. Edgar told Terra that, what with her being an Imperial soldier, of course she’d be safe in an Imperial ally’s castle, perhaps not understanding the situation in full. Terra did little to help her position, since she quickly asked Edgar if he was being nice to her because of her abilities, which technically hadn’t even come up to Locke at this point! (Locke doesn’t seem to be aware of the full details of the Narshe attack.) Edgar said he was simply impressed by her beauty, but all he got was Terra’s trademark vacant blink. Terra wondered if a “normal girl” would have felt something at the king’s flirting but Kyle and I felt “no.”
The guards gave us permission to wander, so of course we plopped down in the King’s throne. Woman said Edgar hit on everyone, “no one is safe!” Well that’s not creepy at all. Actually it’s kind of outright rapey. He even hit on a high priestess and she was so mad. This is not reassuring behaviour from someone who is almost certainly going to join our party! From the high priestess we learned that Edgar has a twin brother, yet unnamed, We saw a flashback (god knows whose flashback, considering the priestess wasn’t present) of Edgar telling off his brother for not noticing the old king was dying, and Edgar left to cry, leaving us along with the brother to, urm, name him: Sabin. We learned Sabin had been offered the throne, but after the brothers, wracked with indecision, left the decision to a coin flip, Sabin left the kingdom and disappeared (we were notably not told the result of the coin flip) We also learned Edgar promised to marry a little girl as a joke. Ah… that’s not creepy at all. At all!
One bit of impractical design: you can go beside the castle through a series of side doors, but if you try to go around the walls via front door, you get kicked out to the map!
That wasn’t the last of the gossip (it goes to show just how much more dense FFVI was compared to FFV given how much I have to say… though it also has to do with my taking more comprehensive notes!). It seemed the alliance between the Empire and Figaro might not be as close as it seemed, as the empire has crushed three nations so far and one of the guards expected that they would be next. We also learned what the people of Figaro Castle might do in event of a betrayal: the castle was a moving castle with its own engine. Sadly, we couldn’t get into the engine at this point. “Stop stopping me from going to future dungeons, jerk!” We also met our cross-dimensional friend, Lone Wolf the pickpocket from FFV, but couldn’t free him this time around.
Finally, we finished our tour and returned to Edgar (I imagine naming Sabin was the only mandatory event to advance the plot). Unfortunately for Terra, just because Edgar hadn’t called the Imperials didn’t meant the Imperials weren’t about to call him after losing a valuable asset in his neck of the woods. “Sir Kefka,” the harlequin from Terra’s flashbacks, had just arrived, and was browbeating his entourage and using his trademark laugh sound effect. We had control over Edgar at this point: the king casually taunted the soldiers about their world conquest, and Edgar greeted Kefka as the Imperial court magician. Kefka explained that he was there for Terra, but refused to acknowledge Terra as a soldier (much less a magic-using superweapon in a world without magic), and simply called her a thief instead. Edgar refused to reveal that she was there, even when Kefka threatened the safety of Figaro.
Meanwhile, Terra and Locke were shut away in one of the castle’s towers. There, Locke finally introduced himself, and explained that Edgar was corroborating with the Returners, the resistance group we had heard about earlier, and could be trusted. Safe with that knowledge, she went to bed.
We woke up as Edgar (you know how that’s like, when you go to sleep in one body and wake up in another), and found that Kefka had set the castle on fire in the night. The man doesn’t mince words! We accidentally talked to a nearby guard first, unintentionally triggering the events that followed, missing god knows how much banter in the process. The escape was eventful (sprite animation truly had come a long way since poor, overshooting FFIV), with Edgar leaping from the room of his castle to a trio of chocobos, rescuing Terra and Locke, and running away as Figaro sank into the ground instead of moving laterally like we had suspected!
Unfortunately, Kefka and his men were neither crushed nor trapped in the proceedings. Kefka had two of his men in Magitek armour go after us. During the fight we had Terra use Fire, prompting a shocked conversation from Edgar and Locke. Huh, that’s interesting. What would have happened if we hadn’t cast magic here? It was the focus of the conversation that followed. The soldiers just stood and waited for us to finish jawing, which was nice of them.
We won the fight mostly thanks to Edgar’s help. There’s never been another RPG character quite like Edgar, as far as I can tell. Mechanically speaking, that is (Ed. at least not until Prompto from FFXV, who seems to have been inspired by Edgar several decades late!). King Steampunk uses special Tools in battle, typically to deal group attacks, like his auto crossbow. In the early game, these Tools allow Edgar to dominate, especially considering they’re not all that expensive and don’t use ammunition. But it doesn’t last forever: in the late game, only two of the Tools are borderline viable, much less ideal.
(There’s a glitch in the original Japanese FFVI that let you equip anything to any equipment slot in the right situations, including the use of Edgar’s Drill tool as a perfect helmet to raise your defence to max. Apparently, some of Edgar’s Tools appear in Dissidia 012 as armour as a reference to that!)
With Edgar’s Auto Crossbow, we killed the magitek soldiers easily and ran past Kefka for insult. Edgar told Terra to come talk to the leader of the resistance while reminding her that if the Empire got ahold of her magic, they would use it to destroy the world. Oh, but if we use it, that’s super fine! You can trust us, Terra!
Edgar had us go southeast to the cave that led to South Figaro, the town under his control. Because no one would look for them there. The dungeon – if you could call it that – was a complete bore. I’ve complained about tunnel dungeons in the past, but this one lacked even a boss, and worse yet, we had Edgar’s Machine Crossbow to help us sleep through any potential challenge. There’s a reason for this: you return to this tunnel later in the game, and since the developers knew interesting stuff was going to happen later, they forgot to make interesting stuff happen now (or maybe deliberately made it boring so you’d suspect it would be boring during the second attempt?). About the closest you get is a weird meta-challenge: if you don’t open chests now, they’ll have better things in them when you come back for the second trip, later in the narrative, and better things if you come back even later than that, even though there isn’t a third trip that would draw you back here to notice! On the plus side, that at least lets you rush through the dungeon during this first trip… or it would have, if we had known this ahead of time!
South Figaro was a prosperous town with an odd design focus that had most of its notable and moving parts focused on booze, none of which accomplish anything. Yeah, you’ll be coming back here later, too. One feature in town was a ninja getting plastered at the bar. While in town we also met a rich man who was all-but-openly declaring that he was going to sell the town out to the Empire. The only thing keeping our party from looking like complete idiots was the fact that his daughter didn’t finish saying the name of “General Leo” in front of Edgar, who had presumably heard the name in the past even if the player hadn’t.
While we were in town, we also found the game’s first Relic shop. Relics are another of FFVI’s odd design decisions, sort of a desperate grasp at the complexity of FFV job system. Sadly, Relics are one of the features in VI that arguably throw its difficulty down the toilet, but that problem runs through the game in all sorts of ways, so it’s hard to blame just one subsystem even if this is the loudest. In short, Relics attach some powerful, rule-changing features to characters, sort of like the kind of thing you’d see in a job class in any other Final Fantasy game, mixed with a few lesser status immunity items and the odd new power. South Figaro favoured the status effect category, but there was also a Relic to get the old Knight power to Cover allies hurt in battle. The Relic shop also sold the Sprint Shoes, which let you walk faster on the overworld like the FFV thief, though the Sprint Shoes were far more important in this game as there are a handful of timed missions as we learned to our consequence later in the game. Instead of buying Relics, we spent our money on some new Tools for Edgar, none of which we ever seriously used, but the same would have been true of the Relics!
Following a lead in town, we learned about a small group of martial artists training to the north, including Edgar’s long lost brother, Sabin. An old man at the cabin informed us that Sabin had gone up in the mountains looking for Vargas, Duncan’s son, after Duncan had been killed. Wait, no one said Duncan was dead before now! Did this just happen? Did no one in South Figaro know? We followed Sabin and Vargas up nearby Mt. Kolts. We technically had no reason to go there except that people kept feeding us info about it – in fact you’d think it would make more sense to board a ship in South Figaro to get away from the Imperials – but whatever the plot says! Mt. Kolts was unremarkable as a dungeon (actually we were getting odd FFIV vibes: the Underwater Cavern followed almost immediately by Mt. Hobs?), the only notable detail being a shadow that we followed up the mountain. Logic suggested this shadow belonged to Sabin, and I even wrote “Sabin” in my notes, but at the end of the dungeon we discovered we were actually following Vargas all along. Smooth work on the part of the devs!
Vargas wasn’t impressed to see us, thinking we were in league with Sabin, which wasn’t technically true but… probably would have been if we had met him, so… oh, all right! Vargas sicced his bears on us, and during the fight Sabin appeared to join us. At this point, the game, refusing to break from combat, began cramming in far more plot than I think was reasonable in such a small span of time. I think a more ideal solution might have been to feed us some of these background details back in town, or maybe even on the mountain. The Mountain was already dotted with Marial Artists as minor enemies, so a few errant NPCs (former students of Duncan?) might have served this purpose a lot better than a sardine can of scripted sequence in the middle of battle! Pared down as much as I can, Sabin said Vargas had killed Duncan after learning that Duncan wanted Sabin to be his successor instead of his own son. They fought, the fight ultimately ended when Sabin unleashed his Blitz techniques.
Sabin’s Blitzes are, like Edgar and some of the other new FFVI job classes, almost exclusive to FFVI. I’m not sure what it is about this game that’s left most of its concepts trapped in FFVI despite the RPG revolution that would come just a few years later, but Blitz I can understand (Ed. even though I later learned it does return in FFVIII!). Blitz allows Sabin to use a bunch of button combinations to use advanced techniques. It’s a slow-based system that could only have been born in the age of Street Fighter 2. It’s a relic of the nineties as pure as tie-dye and focus grouped entertainment. On iOS, the game creates a set of arrow buttons for you, to deal with the lack of a D-pad.
Sabin killed Vargas with the Blitz attack, despite the fact that it did only double the damage of a regular attack (not that I’m complaining about its power on a regular day, since it’s incredibly easy to use). After that, the two brothers reunited, Edgar gleefully explaining that now he had a “means of striking back,” aka Terra being treated as an object. I’m starting to doubt this is even one of our in-jokes any more? This guy is just genuine scum.