Sabin joined us and we went east to the Returner’s base. There we caught up with the leader, Banon, who was something of a evangelist-preacher type, and not very kind to Terra. He also treated her as an object, namely an embodiment of the idea of “magic,” comparing her to some alternate universe Pandora’s Box myth. He listed five of the Deadly Sins in the process, skipping sloth (often skipped due to its inherently religious nuances – it was never supposed to mean simple laziness) and also lust. Really, GBA localization team? You’re going to censor the word “lust,” but allow the man who sexually harasses his staff and teammates on a regular basis to carry on not only unimpeded but unaccounted for in your list of Deadly Sins?
Nevertheless, Banon realized the importance of Terra in the global scheme despite the risks, and asked her to consider helping them out. He even lets you walk away if you feel like it, just to show you’re not a prisoner, but you can’t go anywhere you haven’t been already. Kyle and I got bored and agreed to his deal after one fake-out, which turned out to be a mistake. Because we agreed early, Banon gave us a Gauntlet, a Relic that duplicates the FFV Knight ability Double Handed. Not bad! Unfortunately, if we had kept up our refusal, he would have given us the absurdly powerful Genji Glove relic, which allows you to dual-wield and dramatically increase your damage output (the wiki says damage from each blow is reduced by 25% to keep it from being a complete curb-stomp, but I’m not clear on what stage in the process that reduction is applied – and it barely reduces the Glove’s power either way!).
Now that Terra was in on the plan, Banon held a council. Here, he outlined an important bit of history: the War of the Magi. It seems the reason magic is gone from this world is because people abused it to all hell in the deep past with the help of the “Espers.” They also created their own kind of magitek, though those were all the details we got at the time. People were shocked by the fact that Banon was bringing this up, as though the legends were irrelevant, which is… so stupid. He’s talking about something they’ve all seen with their own eyes! Wouldn’t you believe the story of Red Riding Hood if you lived in a world with talking wolves? Banon wanted his own magitek to fight against the empire, even though this risked starting a new War of the Magi. He hoped to get Terra to Narshe to talk to the Esper in the crystal a second time, with the end-game of making an alliance with the Esper.
Just then a guard showed up to say the empire had taken South Figaro (ya don’t say) and were coming to the base, at which point he collapsed or died on the spot. He’s a generic NPC, it’s hard to care which, you understand. Locke volunteered to go hobble the Imperial activities in South Figaro while the remaining party teamed up with Banon to escape via the river. Waving goodbye to Locke, we got on a raft that began to auto-scroll us through a maze of sorts, with only limited control over our direction. There was a tricky caveat to this section: Banon had joined the party as a guest, and if he died, we would get a non-standard game over! Thankfully, he was armed with a superpowered version of Rosa’s Pray ability that kept the party more-or-less invincible… at least until the boss came.
Time for a new famous face: Ultros the octopus (his name is sometimes translated as “Orthos,” which is something that hasn’t been ironed out by the years like other series inconsistencies – TAY used Orthos, for example). Ultros played straight to the tentacle porn clichés by being yet another giant pervert in this damned game. It’s getting more than a little tiring and we’re only getting started. Ultros was weak against Fire, though this wasn’t necessarily to your benefit. You see: FFVI likes showing off its AI programming by having enemies respond to specific attacks or circumstances with specific reactions. Ultros, for example, responded to his weakness with ink attacks that Blinded the party, which could have been a big problem in other situations. You can see how this reaction system is a positive addition to gameplay 99 times out of 100. Unfortunately for this particular instance… Terra was using Magic, Edgar was using a group attack Tool, Banon was using Pray, and I’m reasonably certain that Sabin wasn’t able to miss with his Blitzes either, meaning Blindness was outright inconsequential! When the fight was finished, Sabin jumped into the rapids after Ultros, but jumped too high, and to our surprise that became a major plot point, as it outright divided him from the rest of the party!
So now we come to one of FFVI’s most memorable moments: since the game had split the party, we were given a character select screen to follow one of the three possible paths: to continue with the majority of the party (Terra, Edgar and Banon), to follow Locke in South Figaro, or to rejoin with Sabin as he washes up god knows where. The last thing we did during our first FFVI session was to pick Locke, so that was where we picked up the game during our second session.
South Figaro was under an Imperial occupation, with soldiers and magitek armour patrolling the town. Locke rationalized that he needed a merchant’s disguise to slip around town, specifically needed to get past a kid who was guarding a staircase that circumvented a big mech. Locke found a merchant to recognized and attacked him, which was a clever developer excuse for the game to start a combat just so we could use the in-combat “Steal” command to take the merchant’s Plumed Hat… and his clothes too. The merchant then ran off, or rather collapsed to the ground. The nearby shopkeep, who had watched the whole thing, continued to sell us stuff in spite. Nice guy!
Heading through town, we learned that the green dressed guards were low ranking. This was setting up our next clothing theft, but why would we want to steal low-ranking clothing compared to all the high-ranking guards nearby? Maybe Locke worried the officers would be more familiar to the troops? Hard to say in the end. Having stolen a uniform with a little effort, we fooled a guard and entered another area, where we learned from it that Kefka was about to invade Narshe, giving Terra and the others only a short timeline to reach the Esper in the mines – even though they didn’t know it! We also learned that a certain “famous lady general” had turned traitor and was locked up somewhere in town. An interesting lead which almost felt like a sidequest to me for some reason, but wasn’t. Our movement was so restricted by our costume swaps that it was hard to keep up an illusion of freedom. It was a little too obvious that this traitorous general was only going to become relevant at the game’s leisure, be that sooner or later. But hey, guess when?
There was one last clothing swap left to go at this point, and this one had been obvious since our first trip to South Figaro. A certain old man in town was waiting for a delivery of cider from the bar, so Locke grabbed a delivery uniform and went to the client. He told Locke that there was a secret passage to the north end of the town, but we’d need to tell his grandson the password, and the old man couldn’t remember the password. As far as we could tell, the only way past the grandson was guesswork – specifically, selecting the right item from a list of three, which is a little silly given that Locke has no idea where to start and shouldn’t have had any correct options in his multiple choice list! Guessing “Rosebud” actually got us thrashed and dumped back at the start of town with our plain clothes. After stealing another merchant costume (and a rare Main Gauche that we chose not to use), we returned to guess the password. “Failure” didn’t work either. It turned out the password was “Courage,” which led us into the rich man’s home from earlier. Mr. Sellout was now lamenting his fate, but once again his daughter was a lot more helpful to us than anyone else in town. She told us to wind the clock to open the secret passage, though even her clumsy cover-up about it being a nursery rhyme. Also, where was the mother? Did the rich man sell her too?
The music was dead in the basement, allowing the player to listen for the drafts and find the secret passage! Of course, we had already found during our first visit to Figaro, though I’ll hardly complain about FFVI providing alternate clues! In the basement, after a useless prompt to change clothes (your chosen costume changes two upcoming lines of dialogue, the soldier costume prompting a Star Wars joke), we finally found the imprisoned general that had been mentioned earlier. In the original versions, she being beaten by the guards in this scene, but in the GBA release and later she was simply being questioned. Apparently this was done to help the game get a lower rating in Japan, among other post-9/11 factors. This was Celes, a magitek knight “forged by the Empire,” whatever that means. It seemed she had turned traitor after learning that Kefka planned to poison the city of Doma, and as a consequence was due to be executed tomorrow. After this brief introduction, Celes collapsed from her not-beating. Stunning editing work. Locke got in past the sleeping, remaining guard, and rescued Celes, who was barely able to walk from her horrendous non-abuse. Of course she would be fine as soon as we were out. Celes stole a clock key off the guard to open a secret passage, and we left to use the key for our escape.
Celes was level 11, just ahead of Locke. Wow, a general at level 11! What a change from FFIV’s level 10 captains! Her special ability was called Runic, which allowed her to absorb the next spell cast by enemy or ally using her sword, and only certain swords worked. If the ability succeeds, she nullifies the spell and absorbs as much MP as the cost of the spell (double if she’s weak to the element in question, half if she resists). Yes, this even applies to friendly magic. That’s great in theory, but in play we found it too complicated to use, and Kyle and I never successfully employed it outside the upcoming tutorial. We considered it from time to time, but it never actually played out! Being a Magitek Knight (still waiting on the game to explain what that means), Celes had Blizzard and Cure as well. She was also unequipped, forcing us to dig into our inexplicable, quantum shared inventory for scraps. Luckily some Iron Armour was nearby to re-equip her.
The secret passage formed a mini-dungeon that wasn’t that easy on us. After finding a shield and Great Sword for Celes, we promptly, uh… got lost. We were really starting to miss FFV’s Thief ability to spot secret passages. Still, we reached the end without tearing our hair out. On the way out, Celes asked why Locke why he was helping and he unhelpfully said she reminded him of someone. Having left the dungeon, they headed west to the tunnel that led to Figaro Castle. Or the former site of Figaro Castle, in any event.
One interesting detail about the South Figaro infiltration section is the presence of an interesting glitch – in fact, it’s the one I mentioned earlier with the Moogles. In the SNES version, all you have to do is walk “into” a certain guard using a very simple trick, at which point Locke can simply leave town! The side effects of this are nested: not only is Celes never added to the game properly, allowing you to bring her Moogle into the party instead, but you can come back later in the game and have Locke beat up the merchant again, since he’s never removed, essentially giving Locke the merchant costume for the remainder of the game!
The tunnel dungeon was much the same as before (since we had opened the chests the first time around and so weren’t able to get their upgraded forms), except for a rumbling noise that followed us through the cave. At the exit, we discovered this sound was coming from an imperial tunnelling vehicle! It lobbed spells at us, but unfortunately for its daunting appearance, it was essentially just a Runic tutorial in disguise, so the poor thing didn’t stand much of a chance.
This battle ends Locke’s scenario and returns you to the scenario selection screen. Now, normally, I’d continue my Journal coverage into the next scenario that Kyle and I actually chose to play second, but as it happens we picked Sabin’s, was disproportionately larger than the other two. To keep from having this post be really small or really large, I’m going to jump ahead to the scenario we played third and last, Terra’s, just to pad out the word count for this entry.
Terra’s scenario reunites you with Terra, Locke, Edgar and Banon in the rapids. Indeed, we were exactly where we had left off after the battle with Ultros, and had to finish navigating the maze of the rapids before the plot would proceed! Thankfully, they arrived directly in front of Narshe, which proves that, perverted octopuses aside, they had a pretty solid escape plan!
Naturally, the Returners couldn’t waltz in through the front door, and snuck in back through the caves from earlier. However, this meant going through a new section of the mines, where we encountered a sadistic maze with “light sprites,” that would lead us through the proper route. This was supposedly for… guard training? Why? Why. No, why? Fireballs in mazes have nothing to do with guard training, and with Narshe’s guards at level 1, it clearly wasn’t working no matter how you approach it!
We carried on until we met the old man’s house from before, and learned his name was Arvis. He said we should convince the Narshites to help us, and that… ended the scenario. That was the whole thing.
…That barely padded this entry at all!