While we weren’t quite out of places to meander (more on that in a moment), we headed south to Jidoor, home of a famous opera house, although the opera house itself was presently closed. On route, we were attacked by Fossil Dragons, and discovered what we should have realized while we were shopping: that we had equipped Celes with a whip and she couldn’t use Runic without a sword. Unfortunately we were also straight out of cash (remember the High Potion incident), forcing us to live with this unfortunate situation. And so, everything was set so that we would soon get a genuine opportunity to use Runic later down the page, and wouldn’t even be able to do so.
Given that we were out of cash, there wasn’t much shopping we could do in Jidoor, so it was probably best that the local Auction House was also presently closed. Rumours in town told us of a mysterious artifact that could restore the soul that would be located in the town of Vector, the capital of the Empire, making it not exactly an easy thing to retrieve. We also learned that the entire underclass had somehow been booted out of Jidoor and gone to the new town of Zozo, to the north. This struck me as somewhat hard to believe, not just from a logistical and economical perspective, but mainly because the Zozoites aren’t… normal, but let’s go with that.
Actually, there are a few things wrong with Zozo. Directed there after Terra, we found the place to be an urban squalor, and the first “town dungeon” this side of the Legends series, and even the Legends games had never committed to the premise as strongly as this. The Zozoites (how do you pronounce that? “zo-zo-ites?” “zo-zoyts?”) built impossible structures, and behaved in weird, inhuman ways, like walking in an infinite queue, coming in one door and out another but never appearing on either side, or operating shops that refused to cater to customers. Not to mention the fellow that was jumping back and forth between two tall buildings, forever. Also, they never told the truth.
While Zozo was a town dungeon, you’re supposed to search it and ultimately discover a central dungeon in the middle of town made up of two tall towers. We accidentally ended up in the central dungeon first, where we had been told (after decoding the lies) that there was a girl on the top floor. Part-way through the dungeon, Locke stole the Dragoon Boots Relic off of a Harvester enemy, which gave a Dragoon’s Jump command to any character we wanted. We chose Edgar, as he already had the spear and furthermore, we so rarely used him to attack, since we preferred to use his mechanical toys every single turn. We rationalized that now that he was a Dragoon, should we actually want to attack, we reasoned he would have more of an impact.
After a lot of jumping across buildings ourselves, we found a monk (Dadaluma) who served as midboss, and located Terra’s resting place not much further on. Terra was on a bed, and lashed out at us before ping-ponging around the room. We got our explanations from the Esper Ramuh, who appeared from nowhere and explained that he had called Terra here. Seeing as how we were overdue for some exposition, Ramuh decided to provide.
Ramuh explained that Espers and Humans used to live together before the War of the Magi, when Humans infused themselves with the power of Espers to fight against other Espers. He explained that in order to get away from the Humans, the Espers made their own world or possibly dimension to live in and went into hiding. Ramuh explained that he was the only Esper living in the moral world, because he looks enough like a human to pass. He says that one day the Emperor Gestahl and his men found the entrance to the Esper’s hidden land and attacked them, kidnapping several Espers and killing three of them before the gate was sealed.
Ramuh said that Gestahl was using the Magitek Research Facility to forcibly drain power from the kidnapped Espers, but that this was not the ideal way to gain their power (kind of a morbid thing for him to know, poor guy). The ideal way would be to use the power of Magicite, the crystal-like, ovaloid form of a dead Esper, which could communicate power directly to the user, but could only be given voluntarily. To help us out, he gave us the Magicite of the three dead Espers and then sacrificed himself to join us as well (why this is preferable to, say, joining the party, I don’t know). Aside from Ramuh, the three dead Espers were Cait Sith (a frequent FF monster), Siren (from FFV) and Kirin (brand new).
The party decided to follow Ramuh’s lead to go rescue the Espers from the Magitek Research Facility, but that would mean leaving Terra and finding a way past the Empire’s closed ports. Cyan and Gau showed up in the room at just that instant, because obviously we’re going to do another party selection sequence. Cyan even had the gall to say that yes, they should send party members to defend Narshe before we moved on. You just left, asshole!
Party selection this time around was more restricted than last time, as Locke and Celes forced their way into the party. Once again, we would have a maximum of four characters, so of course I just re-established the old party, and ordered the other two to march back to Narshe where they should have been all along. Terra was left entirely unguarded among surreal and probably-not-human, quite-possibly-monsters Zozoites. Great plan, team.
Since we had skipped most of the dungeon on the way up, Kyle and I backtracked to check out the rest of Zozo. We had overlooked a pub (by the way, drunks or corpses are scattered throughout town – we couldn’t decide which) and also a tower with a clock you have to set based on a set of (lying) clues from the Zozoites. We couldn’t find half the clues for whatever reason, and once we had opened a walkthrough to check for their locations, we decided we weren’t in the mood to track them down and simply used the walkthrough to solve the puzzle for us. Behind the clock, we got the Chainsaw for Edgar, a fickle Tool for his arsenal. The Chainsaw has a 25% chance of causing instant death but no damage, so against enemies (like all bosses) that are immune to instant death, the Chainsaw has a 25% chance of wasting Edgar’s turn and getting drunk at the Zozo bar without him. Delightful.
Also in Zozo was a new addition: a ghost who appeared to teach us how to use Magicite. This was appreciated, as we couldn’t make head nor tail of the Magicite system without him. It works as follows.
Despite appearing around the 30% mark of the game, Magicite serves as the game’s only means of learning magic! Aside from Celes and Terra, that is, who can also gain magic FFIV style by levelling up. Most party members can use Magicite, including Celes and later Terra, though two later party members cannot. It’s worth noting that magic also isn’t particularly useful for Gau, who will typically be in a Rage at all times, but he can take advantage of Magicite for other reasons. Magicite must be equipped to a character’s single Magicite slot, after which the Esper will begin “teaching” the character their list of spells at a given rate, based on AP earned after every battle from this point on. After every battle, a character will gain experience towards those spells until they eventually acquire them. For example, Cait Sith teaches the spell Confuse very quickly, at a “x7” rate, the spell Imp also very quickly at x5, and the spell Float rather slowly at x2.
That’s not the only benefit however, and this one Gau can appreciate. Espers also improve a character’s stats when the character levels up traditionally. To stick with Cait Sith, it improves the character’s Magic Power by 1 every time they level up, which frankly isn’t very impressive but we are still early in the game. Although that does shine a light on what’s going to become a Final Fantasy trend in many games to come: counter-intuitively punishing the player for using “bad” level-up strategies they couldn’t have known were bad at game start. For example, in FFVI you’re punished for levelling up before you get good Magicite. Oh, and it also introduces the pattern where you’re supposed to speed run to the mid-game and then begin a tedious grind, which also lives into later Final Fantasy games and I’m not exactly happy about either, but I’m more cheesed about the outright refusal to tell the player how the game works!
Last of all, Espers can be Summoned from their Magicite for a high MP cost. Unfortunately, Kyle and I barely ever used this feature, as the MP cost was just that high. I only have one detailed record of us using the feature in my rather extensive notes for this game and I don’t even remember that. Kyle remembers some repeat use of the Esper Carbuncle that I don’t (I’m concerned he may be thinking of FFV), and there are a few vague notes that mention Summoning blowing up in our faces that I’ll get around to, but that’s about it. It’s not that we forgot the ability to Summon existed, as we often took it into consideration when assigning Magicite in the first place, but it was barely ever used in battle. We were just confident in our own basic combat strategies, and more interesting in character builds than equipping a Summon just in time for the boss. However, as the Espers were de facto Summons, our policy to recruit all Summons as part of our “recruit all party members” objective applied to Magicite as well, so we’d have to do some serious digging.
At first we gave Ramuh to Celes (he taught Thunder, Thundara and for some reason Poison; he gave a Stamina boost on level up), Cait Sith to Edgar, Kirin to Locke (Kirin taught a variety of White Magic, but had no level up bonus) and Siren to Sabin (she taught some garbage status effect spells and also Fire, but more importantly HP+10% on level up). Kyle grinded for a while and mastered all of the Espers on their current masters, excusing Kirin’s ability to teach Cura at 1x. After this, we swapped Cait Sith to Celes for a magic boost, Ramuh to Sabin and Siren to Edgar, while leaving Kirin in place.
Back in Jidoor, we went to the home of the richest man in town and met the Impressario, the director of the Opera House, who temporarily mistook Celes for Maria, his primadonna. He left in a fuss, as he had received bad news: The Wandering Gambler, Setzer, had announced that he would kidnap Maria to be his wife. Setzer was a famous brigand known especially for owning the only Airship on the planet, the Blackjack. Figuring the airship was their only way to the empire, the party decided to arrange a meeting with the brigand in a rather unusual fashion. Locke suggested that Celes pose as Maria during the upcoming show, so that Setzer would kidnap her instead, so that she could capture Setzer and Maria would, you know, not get kidnapped. And also the Impressario could continue to show his opera, as if anyone cared about that. Celes eventually decided to go for it, even though she had no formal singing training experience or anything of the sort. Yeah sure.
Before we actually go to the opera, I’d like to say a few words about the opera hall itself. The hall in many ways embodies my central complaint with FFVI: a serious lack of cohesion. While the hall itself is hardly the most damaging example, I can’t get over the fact that the opera house is several monster infested spaces away from Jidoor instead of being actually inside the town. Where on earth does one find a whole crowd willing to risk their lives against an infinite swarm of man-eating beasts just to see a show?
(Of course, you could see this as Square’s frequent inability to remember that wandering monsters even exist when writing the narrative. For further references, see half the journals in this Marathon. But let’s return to the issue of cohesion.)
Similar lacks of connections exist all over the game. How did Sabin survive being swept across continents in one instance but needed to fit three heads into one diving mask the second? Why does technology oscillate at random between steampunk and medieval (and I really do mean “at random” rather than as hyperbole. There is typically no reasoning behind the changes). The fuck is up with Siegfried? And this opera plan, even though it leads to one of the most famous sequences in gaming history, is contrived enough to be a Loony Toons skit. FFVI feels – and this is only going to get worse after the game’s big twist – like a whole pile of wonderful ideas that no one was able to integrate, like someone was trying to make the world’s greatest quilt, but ended up with the world’s greatest collection cloth squares.
The party set up for their ambush, Ultros showing up when no one was looking to set a trap involving a letter that no one read… wait, how did he even get in here?
The party sat to watch the opera from the balcony at the back of the audience (why are you in the back of the audience when you know Setzer will come to the stage???), and the opera, Maria and Draco, was performed, telling the story of a soldier, Draco, and his estranged love Maria. Locke snuck into the back during the performance, and after Kyle scoured the place for treasure, he went to Celes’ dressing room (and scoured there for treasure) and only talked to Celes after reading the musical score on the table right in front of her. That’s how you do this job.
Apparently Celes was so pretty in her dress that Locke turned bright red, and even announced that he liked her when she asked why he stood up for her. She asked if she was just the replacement for Rachel (honestly probably the most mature and surprising moment in the game for me so far) and Locke only replied that “that ribbon” looked good on her, and advised her to check the score.
Thus began the famous opera scene, where you had to hit the right lines (timed, if I’m not mistaken), to complete Celes’ performance, including a dance with a ghostly Draco. It’s a lovely, unforgettable sequence that comes largely unprompted and has little-to-nothing to do with the game around it, like the most beautiful of all those disorderly cloth squares. I think I know how it was intended to be relevant to the rest of the game (the “little” part of “little-to-do”), but we’ll discuss that scene when it comes. At the end of the sequence, ghost Draco transforms into flowers (who knows how that special effect was supposed to work on stage), and the player must toss a bouquet off the balcony before the orchestra runs out of music… which we failed to do first time through. Failure (at this or later parts of the opera) forces the opera to start over the next day, and four failures gives you a game over!
The opera progressed to a later scene, in which the character of Maria is asked to dance by her unwanted fiancé. As Celes started dancing, Locke finally spotted Ultros’ letter. He decided to warn the Impressario, only to be interrupted by a dramatic fight scene on-stage. With the help of the Impressario, the party realized that Ultros was up in the rafters, and was planning to drop a 4 ton weight on Celes’ head, but it was so heavy it would “take 5 minutes.” That’s not just a joke, it’s an announcement of the timer. It’s so strange to see this game interrupt its big dramatic scene with such a blunt joke but that’s arguably part of what makes this sequence a classic.
Unfortunately, the scaffolding was built like a maze and filled with wandering and pre-set monsters, so we were in trouble. Fun fact: the pre-set rats are infamous for a glitch in the original version where if you ignore them and come back later, they can irreparably send you back in time! But that’s neither here nor there. To make matters even worse, Kyle and I had never bought any Sprint Shoes, the Relic that lets you move faster, but we made a promise to get one the minute we were out of this sequence so the game could never pull this crap again!
We reached the end in spite of the timer, only for Ultros to knock both himself and the party off the platform, forcing Locke to come up with some bullshit plot to cover for his intrusion into the play, which really didn’t work. Then the fight started. Celes, unarmed and still pretending to be Maria, couldn’t really help, so it was up to the rest of the party to do the job. Luckily, we had Ultros surrounded. Unfortunately, he could mass-inflict the new Imp status effect (essentially this game’s version of Toad, ruining your attack and all-but-silencing your Magic) to one of the two flanks, and we only had two Green Cherries on hand to cure it! As a result, I think we have to thank the RNG that we pulled through at all, since a few more successful Imps would have debilitated the party!