With all three groups now finished their stories, they all met up in Narshe one at a time. Sabin’s group showed up and introduced themselves and they explained about the mass poisoning at Doma. The Narshites took this as a sign not to piss off the Empire by breaking their neutrality. Locke arrived at that moment with Celes in one hand and a terrible sense of timing in the other. With his big mouth, he introduced Celes as an Imperial general before realizing that might not be appreciated! Cyan tried to attack her, and we learned that Celes was responsible for “decimating” the town of Maranda, wherever that is. Locke interceded, but only out of personal standards, saying he’d promised to protect her and he’d never abandon a woman he promised to protect. (“Oh, hey, Terra, you’re fine! Whew. That would have been awkward if you had… whew.”) Edgar asked if Locke still wasn’t over “that,” but neither of them elaborated.
Either out of guilt or in hope of diffusing the tension, Terra introduced herself as an ex-Imperial soldier as well. Edgar made the apparently shocking proclamation that maybe imperial citizens aren’t pure evil. This was hilarious to Kyle and I, as we had been spending meal breaks at the time watching Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, and the way ATLA handled “Not all our opponents are evil” made FFVI look blunt, clumsy and tactless. What a difference a decade or so will make!
The meeting was interrupted when the Empire attacked without any provocation, probably because Kefka was at the fore. The Narshites and heroes prepared to make their stand atop the mountain where the Esper had been moved. Good strategy! Now a remorseless mass-murderer has access to all your citizens, resources and homes, including the mines that provide your way of life and only means of escape! You’ve got the upper hand this time, heroes!
On the way up, there were a few conversations between party members. Edgar told Celes that Locke has a complicated history, and Celes talked to Terra as an old acquaintance, not recognizing Terra had lost her memory. Celes also explained her personal ability to use magic during this conversation, saying that she had magic artificially built into her (like a sort of artificial Ki from FFLII), and Terra asked with surprising rudeness if Celes could feel love. Haha, wow. Terra was actually asking for her own purposes, but I can only tell you that from the perspective of someone writing at the end of the game, as it does not come across here. Celes just walked away from that, and I have to respect her for not slugging Terra on the spot.
Lastly, Cyan threatened Celes some more, which was kind of redundant, but I have a theory as to why they repeated it. These games often have to imply that information known to one party member is conveyed to other party members off-screen. For example, I don’t believe that Cyan never mentioned his wife and child to Sabin on-screen, but Sabin knew about their deaths by the end of the Phantom Train. A perfectly acceptable mode of storytelling, but one with a problem that the game is trying to address with this repetition: this repetition helped show that Cyan and Celes hadn’t made peace off-screen. Funny how that works: when you rely on an unusual narrative technique a little too much, sometimes you have to break the rules just to speak normally!
Despite my criticism a few paragraphs back, Kefka did indeed try to claim the Esper on the spot rather than burn Narshe to the ground. The defence of the Esper consisted of similar mechanics to the Moogle’s defence of Terra at the start of the game: we split everyone (minus Banon) into three parties and set to work deploying them at key choke points. Or in our case: we split everyone into three awful parties and set to work failing to deploy them effectively in the slightest. It wasn’t all mistakes: about the only wise thing we did was to deliberately put Edgar into the only party without a healer (Terra or Celes) because he was still best party member despite having very few grinding opportunities in the rapids. Fair enough, but we made the mistake of fielding him with the two worst possible companions, Gau with almost no Rages and and Cyan The Perpetually Useless, and they dragged him down into the pit. Terra and Sabin fared well enough, though we misunderstood some of Sabin’s Blitz mechanics (we didn’t know that Sabin’s Meteor Strike hit harder when there was only one enemy in play) and so things didn’t play out ideally for them, either. But the worst was Celes and Locke’s party, constantly bleeding and barely alive, and thanks to poor positioning they stood in the path of more enemy groups than the others by degrees. I was still positioning the other parties when the first enemies reached Celes and Locke, and it took forever to get Celes’ party out of harm’s way!
The last mistake we made was to conclude that Kefka’s army had infinite reinforcements, which it did not. Assuming that it did have infinite reinforcements, we charged ahead with Edgar’s party despite the constant attacks, as they were in the best shape despite being terrible. Guarding Kefka was a monster: a Hell Rider – a knight riding nothing short of a Behemoth. The Hell Rider paces back and forth in front of Kefka to cover him. In another of this game’s famous gaffes, you can actually slip past the Hell Rider and he will continue to pace there for the rest of the game, forever. This is actually a smart thing to do since it will help you unlock a certain character ability early if you want to!
We took out the Hell Knight the good old fashioned way and then went after Kefka, who was even more dangerous than his bodyguard, able to cast –ra level spells on single targets and base-level spells on the group. The –ra spells could easily halve the target’s HP or more. We only pulled through the fight by luck of him killing Gau. No, really: when Gau is Raging, you can’t control him. When he was killed, his Rage was broken, and this allowed him to save the day using a strategy we call “the Joe.” Let me explain…
Back in our childhood, Kyle, my brother and I used to play Milton Bradley’s board game Hero Quest. Kyle and my brother were the Heroes, controlling two heroes between them. We gave them some contemporary names, and the Wizard was named “Joe” after a friend. While the Wizard in HQ can be powerful, they don’t have very much to do on the average turn since they, like an FFI mage, can only cast a spell so many times before they run out, and so they, like the FFI crew, end up sleeping at the back of the party doing nothing at all times.
Wanting to give Joe something to fill his time, Kyle assigned him to be the party’s portable medkit. Besides having one of the game’s two healing spells, Joe was assigned the bulk of the potions the party encountered. The logic was that since Joe had nothing better to do until it came time to cast one of his all-important spells, he could be the one to move next to other party members to give them items, unconcerned with any fighting going on. This way the party could keep their emergency supplies and focus on the battle. This was incredibly effective and Joe the Wizard became an even more valuable member of the team as a consequence. The biggest downside with this plan, and a bit of a running joke, was that Joe had a bad habit of rolling 2’s on a 2D6 for his movement, but that’s neither here nor there.
What I’m saying here is that now that Gau was out of his Rage, we didn’t send him back into a Rage, but rather assigned him to permanent item duty! He just stayed at the back, chucking bottles at people whenever they started to bleed out, which was basically all the time. This strategy worked better than any attempt to use Gau for his intended purposes, which says a lot about both Gau’s capabilities and Kyle and my often rushed, often ignorant playstyle. But also the power of the Joe! One of these days I just have to try out the FFV Chemist…
When Kefka fled, Banon and the others went to the peak to see the Esper, who psychically contacted Terra and knocked Locke aside. Just as I started saying “Okay: nobody stand between Terra and the Esper,” the others started to crowd her and got nearly blown off the mountain for their trouble. Terra then approached the Esper and was overcome with light, transforming into a being made of energy. The others said this made her look like an Esper herself. That doesn’t honestly make much sense since the Espers look like all sorts of things, and furthermore these people have never seen an unfrozen Esper to begin with so they probably shouldn’t have said anything at all. Terra then took off into the sky, flying in circles over miles (no really: if the scale can be trusted, Terra was doing laps the size of a national border) before speeding off to the west.
Locke took the longest to recover, probably because he was the idiot who stood between Terra and the Esper directly, but thankfully the others waited until he got up to discuss their plans. In a nice detail, it seemed they didn’t see most of Terra’s escape and had to rely on witnesses to learn where she went – after all, they were nearly knocked off a cliff and killed! Celes had to tell Locke that Terra turned into an Esper just in case he didn’t believe it! The group decided to send a party after her with the help of Figaro Castle’s bizarre tunneling feature. We would form a party of 4 and leave the other 2 characters to guard Narshe. Since we knew these two abandoned party members would level up off-screen through level averaging, we didn’t have to feel guilty assembling our best characters and leaving the others to rot. This is why later games would change up the system a bit.
We picked Edgar, since he was OP, backed him up with Celes as a healer and good frontliner. Next came Sabin for good single-target power, and Locke, because we had resolved to steal some shit for once in a Final Fantasy game, and because Kyle rationalized that he had a role in this plot because of his promise to Terra. That left Gau and Cyan behind, which wasn’t honestly all that surprising, but at least we didn’t do it out of spite… this time. We also bought some upgrades in town, too many High Potions (by which I mean we bought so many that we nearly couldn’t buy new all the tools for Edgar in Figaro as a result) and found the Thief’s Bracer Relic for Locke to improve his odds of stealing.
Heading to Figaro, we got a flashback for Sabin, as he had come home at last. This prompted him to flash back to his father’s death, and we learned that no one seemed to care that his father was dying as a consequence of the man’s age. Brr! Sabin also suspected that the empire had poisoned his father, but no one was buying that either. Edgar finally came to his frustrated brother and offered to flip a coin, and let the winner choose how they should live their lives and who would stay in Figaro with the anxieties of being King. Sabin won the coin toss and chose personal freedom. Reunited in the present, the brothers talked, and went drinking together. Once the party was finally back under our control, we picked up some new Tools for Edgar, a Flash and Drill, and had Figaro tunnel to the west, where we would begin our investigation of Terra’s escape.
In the town of Kohinglen, we learned Terra had gone on to the town of Jidoor after destroying a house in Kohinglen (exactly what Kyle said he would do as an energy monster), but that was no reason not to stop and search the town. We met Shadow and Interceptor in town, and he asked us to leave him alone. Apparently, if we had bothered him again, we could have asked him to join for 3000 gil, but he’d have left after the next dungeon. Marathon rules might have forced us to go for it (we have to get “all parties members as soon as they are available”), so maybe it was better that we didn’t hear his offer! We also learned that Kohinglen was one of Locke’s old haunts, possibly his hometown, and that the residents expected him to visit “Rachel’s” house.
It turned out Rachel was Locke’s lost love, whom he took treasure hunting once to find her what I suppose was a birthday present, but she suffered an awful fall and got Video Game Amnesia. Rachel’s parents kicked Locke out, and he left the town for a life of wandering. Rachel regained his memories of Locke while he was gone (which is just extra unnecessary tragedy) and she and presumably her parents was killed by an imperial attack. Locke then left Rachel to be preserved somehow by a deranged herbalist. Locke bemoaned that he couldn’t help her in flashback, and the herbalist suggested that “that” legendary artifact would be able to revive her, but they didn’t elaborate to the player. To my surprise, even Celes reacted to this scene, implying that between Figaro and Kohinglen, we had somehow brought the best possible party for optional cutscenes!
Rather than head straight to Jidoor, Kyle and I then headed north to investigate a coliseum being constructed. The old man masterminding the construction dreamed of the coliseum as a monument to the “glory of war” and shockingly hadn’t made any progress in this war-torn country because “no one will help me!” Genius is never understood in its own time. Maybe wait for some sort of major social upheaval, buddy.