Final Fantasy VI – The Long Route

ffvi-2016-04-27-07h23m12s036So, Sabin. Sabin had taken quite a trip since tumbling into the rapids. He was now all the way on another continent, off to the east! I don’t think that’s remotely possible (or at least, not remotely survivable!), but here we are all the same.

Sabin recovers not far from a hermit’s cabin at the northernmost end of the eastern continent. Being the only sign of civilization for some distance, it seems to have attracted three entirely unrelated elements to the same cramped location. First off: the hermit himself, who was unfortunately going senile and mistook Sabin for a repairman. Second: an armoured travelling merchant, a good warning that this wasn’t exactly friendly territory.

Last and most importantly was a somewhat familiar face: the drunken ninja and his dog from earlier. This gentleman, now sober, introduced himself as “Shadow” and the dog as “Interceptor,” and offered to join us on the way south, though he cautioned he wasn’t going to stay forever. This was very true: Shadow actually has random odds of outright leaving the party after every fight on the overworld. This is the classic definition of a dick move, and from a design perspective I don’t agree with it in the slightest. Let me put it this way: Kyle and I were never ditched by Shadow and I still feel we got an accurate assessment of his personality. I feel there was no reason to throw in chances that he might abandon you in buttfuck nowhere in between dungeons with no easy way to retrieve him just to emphasize that he’s a self-interested loner.

ffvi-2016-04-27-07h24m05s112In terms of gameplay, Shadow was like every other Ninja we’ve seen since FFIII: he’s fast, he can Throw, and like the FFV Ninja he has scrolls to Throw instead of Edge’s Ninjutsu. Like in FFIII and V, he can’t Steal (that’s Locke’s job). The only thing that makes Edge unusual as a Final Fantasy Ninja is the presence of Interceptor, who will randomly… ahem… intercept blows meant for Shadow, or counterattack his attackers with some incredible damage. One curious thing about Interceptor is that, internally, he’s not actually a class feature for Shadow so much as a hidden status effect of all things, and in the original release it was possible to pass him around and even lose him permanently with an infamous glitch!

Heading out into the wild, we fought our way through what appeared to be a wandering Skeksis from The Dark Crystal, and found our way to an Imperial camp parked just outside the city of Doma. The kind-hearted Imperial general, Leo, was commanding the siege, but was having trouble overcoming the defenders as he tried to protect his soldiers in the process. As we watched, a group of Imperials launched a Looney Tunes attack with clearly no chance of success as they tried to jump over the walls into pratfalls (either that or they’re ramming the walls with their heads), but the Domese practically surrendered. It’s okay you guys, I too am terrified by Daffy Duck-style antics.

ffvi-2016-04-27-07h24m57s542Luckily, the defenders were enheartened by their hero, Cyan Garamonde, a warrior from a “foreign land” that… does not actually exist in the game. Square has a running problem with that sort of thing, don’t they? Legend II was probably the worst, with its “let’s go explore the rest of the world even though we explored the entire world” ending, but how about FFIV’s “Dark Knight from another land, highly implied to be a reference to be Leon from FFII, even though that is physically impossible?” Word of advice to 1990’s Square: if you want to imply there’s a larger world outside of the world that we see, stop setting your games on globes.

Also, I want to point out that Cyan’s portrait are, in all versions, has no pupils. They’re just… not there.

Despite being a Samurai, Cyan carries over almost no capabilities from the FFV class, except for his preference for katana, which was a debilitating weapon choice since it usually left him behind the weapon curve. We saw just how little had carried over from FFV as he attacked the besieging army, demonstrating his infamous special ability, Bushido. Bushido was cartoonishly useless in the game’s original releases, in fact it continued to be pathetic all the way through the GBA release. One of the most obvious advantages of the iOS version over the GBA is that it finally fixed one of Bushido’s most egregious problems and raised Cyan from complete and utter garbage to just sort of normal garbage thanks to the fact that Bushido wasn’t improved, just fixed.

ffvi-2016-04-27-07h25m23s229Bushido works as follows. Cyan unlocks numerous Bushido techniques as he goes up level. FFVI has party members join you at a proximate level to the party’s average (it also re-averages levels when people re-join you, much to the disappointment of min-maxers), so Cyan is likely to have a handful of Bushido techniques when he first appears. When you select the command, a progress bar appears below the numbers 1-9 plus 0. The progress bar begins to fill, highlighting the numbers above it as it moves past them.

And then you wait.

And wait.

And wait some more.

Once the bar has finally reached the number you were waiting for, you hit the button and Cyan will launch whichever useless special attack corresponds to that number. In the meantime everyone else’s ATB bars have filled to max and the monsters have continued to attack while you were staring at a small patch of the GUI, unable to turn away unless you want to abandon the Bushido attack entirely. The iOS’ fix was obvious in hindsight: you select Cyan’s attack ahead of time and he will fill the bar to that point on his own as you go about your regular business. Unfortunately, as I’ve said, most of the Bushdio techniques stink, and almost none of them justify the wait time, so I’m sure you’re thrilled to get this asshole in the party. In the end, the best thing Cyan ever did was to be a pretty handy Samurai in Final Fantasy Record Keeper, where 5-star ranked Samurai are few and far between, or at least they were at the time of writing.

ffvi-2016-04-27-07h26m14s593Cyan’s counterattack broke off the Imperial offensive, and we finally regained control of Sabin and Shadow. Back in the camp, we deliberately kicked a box to fight a one-time Doberman enemy (we had been looking at a “Missable” page for the game at the time), then fought a guard for fun only to discover they had magiteck armour that wasn’t visible outside of combat! Well, shit. Luckily he wasn’t that hard to kill.

Heading south, South, we saw General Leo turn down the idea of making a full-out attack in hopes of reducing casualties.  Unfortunately, he was called away by the Emperor via carrier pigeon and Kefka took over, loudly announcing his plan to poison the Domese with a poison that would “kill anyone it touched.” As we’ve seen in FFII and the city of Deist, poisoning is basically Final Fantasy’s go-to dog kicking activity for its villains. Shadow and Sabin jumped out to attack Kefka to prevent him from dumping the poison in Doma’s water supply, but he kept getting away (also we sort of walked off to investigate other things, fighting a monster-in-a-box instead of the mass murderer. You know how it is). A Imperial guard even stopped us from leaving in hopes that we would stop the poison, but when Kefka ran past him, he and his buddies had no problem intercepting us!

Kefka unfortunately got away from us and turned the river, erm, purple. I’m pretty sure that’s how poison works. In Doma, people suddenly began to drop dead… even though they weren’t contacting the poison, which is how Kefka said it would work. Apparently it’s airborne now, like… a gas? This is simply contrived, and the game itself is inviting the criticism!  It got worse when 1) only Cyan and another guard on the top tower survived even though no one else did, with no distinction made between them and the others and 2) They were fine even when they got down. Sadly, Cyan discovered that the King was dying and Cyan’s own wife and son had already tragically passed, which was a genuinely effective scene, which says a lot considering the damage being done to the rest of the sequence. Cyan was so grieved he ran off without opening a nearby chest! I have never known such pain.

ffvi-2016-04-27-07h27m01s948Cyan burst into the camp killing people left and right. Sabin and Shadow joined up with him (you could try to intercept Cyan before he reached the enemies and he’d knock you aside, a very nice touch). Kyle commented that this must be really weird for Shadow, who probably just signed up to get through the camp, with no intention of getting involved in personal drama. Nevertheless, our duo helped Cyan out and calmed him down enough to realize he had to flee the camp or be overrun by the Imperials, taking three suits of Magitek armour to escape, which were somehow better than those possessed by the enemies! The party left the Magitek behind because… well, indirectly because their next destination was a forest, but directly I can only conclude they’re idiots. No, no. Discard your vehicle so that the Imperial vehicles miles from the forest so that they can chase you down on foot, I have no objections to this at all.

Of course, no one was actually chasing us in the game, so we walked allllllll the way back to the travelling soldier-merchant to buy potions. Then we headed into the forest to find our way through. Frankly, we were lucky Shadow didn’t bail on us multiple times.

The forest itself was a brief dungeon, which was an unusual amount of restraint considering it had an entirely unique dungeon palette! We even came across a pretty recovery spring, which we’re lucky hadn’t been indirectly poisoned. Deeper into the forest, we found the real dungeon, and one of FFVI’s most memorable sequences.

ffvi-2016-04-27-07h28m22s504We came through the woods, and discovered a train platform complete with steam locomotive just waiting for us! Cyan was surprised, saying: “Doma’s railways had been destroyed in the fighting.” Doma’s pardon me? I have at least three problems with this statement, and that may only be because I’m so flustered that I can’t remember the fourth or fifth. 1) While this game world is certainly advanced enough to have trains, we essentially don’t see any at any other point in the game, certainly not in feudal Doma. 2) Doma is entirely isolated from all civilization and would have no reason to build a railroad to anywhere. 3) As the de facto leader of the Doman army, wouldn’t you have been a tactical priority to memorize the railway map, and note a railway stop in the middle of a haunted forest? Just asking, you can say no, that’s fine.

Deciding to look for survivors, the party entered the train, even though Cyan seemed panicked. Inside, we found things in good repair, only for Cyan to announce that this must be the Phantom Train, which carries spirits into the afterworld. Unfortunately, this little revelation came too late for us to stop the train from actually leaving. The faceless conductor suggested that we could possibly stop the train from the engineer’s compartment, but what a thing to say! “Oh don’t worry, all you need to do is stop the natural cycle of life and death.” I feel like we’re being subtly mocked.

ffvi-2016-04-27-07h28m52s782We thankfully weren’t the only ones who wanted to explore the train. A ghost joined us (there are actually two, each of a different level, and I’m not sure which one Kyle and I recruited), who could attack or “possess” enemies to instantly kill them… though this will cost you the ghost, permanently! Luckily it always worked… and I do mean always. While you can’t normally take the ghost out of the train, people with Game Genies and determined glitchers have managed to bring the ghost to the final boss, and sure enough our spectral friend can end the game just as easily as possessing any minor enemy!

The train was full of undead enemies, which made Sabin’s Holy-aligned Aura Cannon Blitz especially helpful. Unfortunately, Kyle and I didn’t know we had it at the start! Remember what I was just saying about level averaging?  Aura Cannon is learned essentially at the start of Sabin’s career, and Kyle and I already had it when he joined the party, but we had forgotten to check if he had any more Blitzes when he had first joined us! We had essentially just assumed he only had Raging Fist, the Blitz he used against Vargas, and any other Blitzes he had learned since! Thankfully, we checked part-way through the dungeon, and felt pretty damn foolish. We’re ten games into this Marathon, and it’s clear we’re just as qualified as ever.

Not all the ghosts in the train were helpful. They began to form creepy crowds to surround us, forcing the party to jump across some roofs and even detached a train car. And yet, just a few rooms later, some other ghosts served us dinner for a full heal. I guess death really does take all kinds!

ffvi-2016-04-27-07h30m10s382One of the most infamous encounters in the train is the baffling fight with Siegfried. During the dungeon, you encounter another living human being, whom you thrash and send on his way. This same character appears multiple times in the game, all at different strength levels and in one instance claiming there’s an imposter of himself running around. It’s all very confounding and comes to absolutely nothing whatsoever. Some have suggested this is remnants of an old plotline concerning one of the final party members to join up (more on that towards the end of the Journal), but no matter the reason, it’s a sign of very, very poor editing on the part of the developers. The original Woolsey localization differentiated between two of the Siegfrieds by calling this one “Ziegfried,” but this neither explains other plot holes nor addresses the fact that this character doesn’t serve a purpose. He reminds me of Lone Wolf from FFV, except with even more setup for the same lack of returns.

When we finally reached the front of the train, our Ghost friend left us, and it was finally time for one of the hallmark moments of the Final Fantasy franchise: Sabin, Cyan and Shadow battle the train itself. They appear on the left instead of the right, constantly on the run from an undead locomotive. It’s spectacular and bonkers. This fight is infamous for two reasons, and Kyle and I had to try the one. The first is the fact that, as an undead being, the train can be killed with a Phoenix Down. We didn’t do that. What we did do is to use Sabin’s Meteor Strike Blitz to suplex the train. This legendary oversight was dutifully replicated in the iOS version, because no one would take this out. It’s amazing. It’s not even a bad strategy!

ffvi-2016-04-27-07h31m03s969The dungeon ended with the train coming to a cooperative stop at another station in the haunted forest. You can’t help but wonder if it would have gotten there of its own accord even if we hadn’t wrestled it to the ground. There, we saw what in hindsight had been inevitable: the mass boarding of the recently dead at Doma, including Cyan’s wife and son. After that tragic moment has passed, the party returned to the woods.

While Kyle and I were getting over the previous scene, we got to complaining about our party’s plan. Sabin is trying to reunite with the rest of the Returners to talk to that frozen Esper, right? Then it has to be said: Narshe is nowhere along this route. I know it’s the “only route” in the video game sense, but it’s like planning to get from Madrid to New York by walking to the Cape of Good Hope! Furthermore, we had been through two dungeons with no inn or party healer to help us out, and we were about to hit a third.

ffvi-2016-04-27-07h31m39s147That third “dungeon” was the Baren Falls [sic]. Shadow leaves the party here if you managed to keep him, and Sabin and Cyan get the brilliant idea to just jump the hell off the falls, and they end up fighting numerous monster groups as they go, including a boss, Rhizopas. This is preposterous and wonderful, just like the train suplex, and given the number of fights, these falls must reach up into the atmosphere. This was the first section of a Final Fantasy game I had ever seen as a kid, and it was just as strange then, out of context, as it is now, in-context. I guess I can understand Shadow’s leaving the party.  I don’t think “jump the fuck off a waterfall” would have appealed to me, either! The party was knocked unconscious at the bottom of the falls, which is pretty generous considering their orbital drop should have turned them into raspberry jam.

The duo was woken from their drowning stupor by a boy in monster skins, who immediately ran away after seeing them alive. With no sign of them, the party was left to face “the Veldt,” a wide stretch of land populated exclusively with random monster groups encountered during earlier parts of the game! We found the town to the east (thank goodness – the Veldt was huge and we might have been there forever), and learned that this town was so out of the way that the people weren’t  even sure there was a war going on. Yup, definitely on route to Narshe! Nevertheless, we found an Imperial soldier (an impressee, rather) from the Imperial town of Maranda who had been injured. He was receiving letters from his beloved back home via carrier pigeon.

While in town, we bought in the neighbourhood of fifty potions (Kyle’s got something of a Potion-centric playstyle) and spoke to a man who told us of an underground current that could carry us all the way from the Veldt to the original continent. If only the diving helmet hadn’t been stolen! “If only the diving helmet hadn’t been stolen.” What a video game thing to say! Especially in how there’s only one helmet for the whole party!

ffvi-2016-04-27-07h32m06s949Following a lead from a man in town, we decided to track down the boy in the animal skins. The man advised we throw the kid some Dried Meat from the shop, so we went into the Veldt and fought enemies until he showed. The boy introduced himself as Gau, and told us he had lived in the Veldt all his life, but was willing to join us in exchange for the meat. He also implied that he was the son of the hermit to the north, but as there was no way back up the Falls, that plot point would have to wait.

Gau had a weird system where he could “Leap” onto enemies on the Veldt, and only the Veldt, to learn a special ability called a “Rage” associated with that enemy, though he would temporarily leave the party to do so. These Rages were attached to nearly every enemy in the game and allowed Gau to start acting like that enemy in combat (or in some cases, even better!). But oh, let’s not forget the cost of tedium earning the Rages in the first place. This process was clearly intended to discourage the average player from using more than a handful of Rages – though frankly, I think that just discourages the use of Gau, and sure enough Kyle and I treated the kid like he was radioactive for most of the playthrough. Unfortunately he was our only option for a third party member at the moment, so we grinded him for a few levels and Rages in spite of our standards.

ffvi-2016-04-27-07h32m42s817The out-of-game reason the game had forced us to pick up Gau was because he was hiding a “treasure” that he offered to share with us, if we went to its hiding place in the crescent-shaped mountain to the south. Inside a mountain cave, Gau revealed his treasure, which was of course the diving helmet. We also found the opening of the Serpent’s Trench, which served as the final event of Sabin’s side-story, we had to traverse it and its monsters in a similar fashion to the rapids from before (moving automatically but choosing which branches of the path to navigate). While this section might have been impressive on the SNES with its use of Mode 7 rotation effects, it was just the end of a long slog for Kyle and I here in the 2010s. After the trench, we appeared in South Figaro and had to board a ship to get to Narshe. We were more than eager to reunite the party and get on with the plot at this point, and when Sabin’s story was finally wrapped up, we weren’t exactly tearing up to see it go.

Prev: Final Fantasy VI – Don’t Split the Party
Next: Final Fantasy VI – A Frosty Final Stand


Screenshots in this Journal come from Ironsharp’s longplay of the original SNES release of “Final Fantasy III,” available from World of Longplays (YouTube).

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