Luckily, Ultros ran off after the fight, only for the infamous Setzer to make his appearance. Setzer kidnapped Celes, the Impressario bluffing that this too was part of the opera. Celes, after putting on a modicum of a performance, snuck the others onboard… urm… somehow. Can they fly? Setzer caught on fast, so the party quickly made an offer to him for his services: cash and more cash. Setzer agreed to talk. If you’ve been paying attention to previous Journals, you know that Kyle and I didn’t talk and went exploring instead, touring the Blackjack and its… well… its casino. The Blackjack served as an FFIII/FFLIII-style mobile base, including an item shop, pseudo-inn, and a even a crewmember that offered to unequip the entire collective party, which is a lot faster than manually having every member join, unequip, and then leave. Good insight on the part of the devs!
(Kyle and I spotted this at the time, but we didn’t get an explanation until months later: if you first use the unequip feature I just described right now, you’ll get a free Boomerang from nowhere. In actuality, this comes from one of the Moogles from the beginning of the game – the only one that, for whatever reason, hasn’t been replaced by a full-time party member at this point, even though all the others have!)
Going back to Setzer, he mentioned the Blackjack worked primarily as a casino, but the casino business had been bad since the Empire had made their march. The party restated their cases, but Setzer wasn’t interested. Instead, he said that he wanted Celes to marry him (or rather, in the original Japanese, he wanted Celes to become his mistress of a sort – I’m afraid I’m not aware of the actual Japanese term, nor am I particularly interested in looking it up). To Locke’s surprise, she made a counteroffer. She’d flip a coin: heads he’d join them without further cost, tails she’d marry him. She used one of Edgar’s coins… which turned out to be double-headed. Sabin realized as he watched this that this was the coin Edgar had flipped that gave him his freedom, years ago, and that Edgar must have given him his freedom voluntarily to help him out of a hard situation. Setzer caught on to Celes’ trick, but was so impressed by her cheating that he agreed to help without further complaint. You’re a curious skeezeball, Skeezeball. They then flew straight through a storm cloud, as you do, and came up to the Empire from the, uh, the north. The southern continent from the north, which became the south on approach. Damn video game doughnut planets.
The entire southern continent was entirely under Imperial control, making any landing a risk. At the occupied town of Albrook, we learned the empire was forcing local business to give them bribes to operate (you’d think it would be more effective to use local resources to directly feed and house your hungry armies and fuel your war machine, rather than through indirect bribes like a mob organization hiding out from the law, but far be it from me to tell you how to run your evil empire). We also learned about the Ultima Weapons: both a powerful sword and the monster we were familiar with from FFII and TAY. While in town, we finally bought a new sword for Celes. We also found the Priest’s Miter, a hat that would increase max MP by 1/8th, which we bought for the entire party, essentially bankrupting ourselves yet again.
Heading east, we found ourselves at an Imperial Observation Post that seemed to be guarding a bridge that led literally to nowhere (directly into a set of mountains?). Kyle and I presumed they were guarding some sort of cave. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get through the guards, though they were fairly eager to drop Tents on us every time we murdered some of them. Great stealth, team! We actually stuck around to grab a few Tents deliberately, as the Figaro brothers could easily annihilate the guards with a single use of Edgar’s Flash Tool and Sabin’s Rising Phoenix Blitz
From there we went west to Vector, the Imperial Capital, accidentally missing the town of Maranda in the southwest and Tzen to the north. Vector appeared as a ziggurat on the world map, though in actuality it was a ziggurat surrounded by a town. Impressively, the original game used Mode 7 effects to see the ziggurat as a vertical object in the distance, an effect that was dutifully recreated in the GBA FFII, IV as well. But oddly enough, when we approached in-game, Vector was just a single-tile town! This game has multi-tile towns, so why not the big enemy stronghold?
Inside, we found all sorts of trouble, as one might expect when visiting the capital of an enemy nation in wartime (at least… when the developers remember enemy nations have populations in the first place). For example, there was an innkeeper who would rob us if we took his “free” offer. More importantly, there was a woman who asked if we were loyal to the empire and when we said “no” jumped us with… urm… start-of-game enemies? And after we beat them, she said she was a rebel and offered to heal us? After murdering her friends? Also, nearby we found a kid who had been enhanced by this world’s Cid in the Magitek Research Facility to have a shitty cure spell (1 HP). Why a kid? I still don’t know. You’d think they have an army of volunteer soldiers or at least adults to experiment on for what is essentially a weapons program, but sure, start performing unnecessary surgery on children, go ahead.
Unfortunately for us, we entered the dungeon before discovering a corner of town packed with important rumours. While this was ultimately our fault as we just didn’t realize we had missed it, I would like to just put out a general caution here to all games to not hide important plot details in optional parts of hostile areas. No one wants to risk life, limb and resources to talk to Shmuck #83 and his critical line of dialogue: “10TH ENEMY HAS THE BOMB,” or to weave through off-duty guards in a pub to find an NPC and be rewarded with Standard Pub Dialogue #4: “Oh, I have a headache.” And since no one wants to do those things, they’re going to accidentally miss any critical dialogue in the process! Chests work in these sorts of situations – chests scream “reward” – but people? Not so much.
We backtracked to that corner of town, and learned two important bits of plot. First: we learned that soldiers had been given magitek enhancements, though someone else confirmed General Leo had not. Another NPC told us that Kefka was the first ever attempt at creating a Magitek Knight, and that the process had not yet been perfected at the time, making Kefka very powerful but also Hollywood Insane. That was all the important information we could use. If we had gone further, an unbeatable Imperial robot, “Guardian,” would have stopped us from proceeding further into Vector. For once in the Marathon we resisted the urge to lose an unwinnable fight just for the hell of it, and returned to the business at hand.
We got into the Magitek Research Facility with the help of one of the local rebels, who pretended to be drunk to distract the guards. The dungeon was full of treadmills and secret passages in pipes, reminiscent of but not quite as confusing as the ruins in FFV. One interesting encounter in the area was the first appearance of Onion Knights outside of Japan, though they appear as enemies here.
After going deep enough into the dungeon, we found Kefka gleefully tossing around Ifrit and Shiva, who had been drained of most of their energy and were to be disposed of. He then had a literal bwa-ha-ha cackling moment as he exposited his plan to use the power of the Espers to waken the “Warring Triad,” whatever those are. We let Kefka go so that we could go after the Espers and… okay, no, I admit it, that’s a lie. We let Kefka and the Espers go so we could gather some chests, then we went after the Espers.
Ifrit fought us at the bottom of the garbage pit until Shiva recovered enough to recognize us as having Ramuh’s power, and the two Espers stood down and agreed to give up their power when they died, which happened moments later. (Since only Shiva’s magicite was blocking the way out of the pit, it’s actually possible to miss and lose Ifrit’s for good if you’re being real sloppy!) Ifrit naturally taught Fire and Fira (he was also the game’s only source of Drain) and boosted Strength, while Shiva taught Cure, Blizzard, Blizzara and some magic-draining and stealing spells, in exchange for having no stat-ups at all.
After a save, we went deeper into the dungeon and found an experiment, “Number 024,” a human looking creature (robot? cyborg?), who borrowed the ability to change its elemental strengths and weaknesses from Hein from FFIII. Lacking a Scholar, we were forced to rely on Siren’s Libra spell to keep abreast of the changes, though we always backed this up with a few weak exploratory spells to see how they would go, which in hindsight made our use of Libra redundant. Kyle also tried to use Runic to control the fight, only for 024 to never cast any spells. So I guess we beat the fight with only three party members, since Celes spent the whole battle holding her sword up like an antenna?
With the Experiment dead, we found the room where they were draining the Espers, and the party concluded that Celes must have been powered by drained Esper energy as well (actually they seemed to imply that she was powered by a whole drained Esper, but that doesn’t make sense given the number of infusions going around). Conveniently, if tragically (though I have to say, the former undercut the latter), the Espers were also moments from death, and they all gave up the ghost to help us as Magicite.
Just then, this world’s Cid showed up dressed like a banana. He was the man in charge of the magical extraction process, and had some sort of pre-existing, vaguely parental relationship with Celes. Of course, at the moment his priority was the crystalized Espers, which were still in the energy-draining tubes. He noted the Magicite had an extreme power output, but the Magicite broke out of their cylinders to spite him and came to us instead, though I don’t believe we weren’t able to equip them for a considerable amount of time. I’ll talk about them later, though the point I choose may be somewhat arbitrary as I never made a precise note of when we regained control of the equipment menu.
Our first interruption came when Kefka arrived. He began to talk, even addressing the Magicite as “Magicite” even though no one had mentioned the name. Playing off of a rumour mentioned by Cid, Kefka playacted that Celes was a double agent still working for the empire in hopes of turning the party against each other. Locke immediately believed this lie backwards and forwards, even though Celes showed no sign of working for Kefka whatsoever and Locke has no reason to believe Kefka over her. You know, this is hardly the worst game I’ve ever seen for this problem, but things are just… happening in this game, you know? The writing doesn’t go to the proper lengths to justify every event or bring them together, like the quilt analogy I mentioned earlier. Kefka knows about Magicite but has no plans to turn other Espers into Magicite. Locke believes Celes is a traitor because someone else said so, full stop. Things are happening because the script says so. Thankfully this specific kind of plot hole doesn’t overwhelm the product like a certain… other game that’s on this blog, if only because they aren’t quite as common and tend to lead to believable scenarios in their own right, but even in FFVI, I find myself getting tired of it!
Kefka ordered his Magitek Armoured assistants to rush the party, and Celes was knocked into a pit, but behind the armours. She got up and used her magic to Teleport Kefka and his thugs away, along with her. The party then began to act like she was dead, which was fucking stupid, especially after Kefka turns up fine moments later. Hell Celes, you couldn’t at least teleport him out of town?
Have I mentioned how many plot holes are introduced by a spell like Teleport? It’s a lot.
The damage Celes had done was going to make the generator explode, so Cid showed us out. He added that Celes, who was like a daughter to him, had shown him the error of his ways, and he would talk to the Emperor about all this. Yeah, good luck with that, man. He then put us on a tram car out of the facility (here, at least, was a set of rails like Cyan implied during Sabin’s chapter! Though it’s still not a proper passenger railway…). Here, we were chased by mono-wheel enemies called Magna Roaders that weren’t worth a sneeze. More dangerous was a boss called “Number 128” which had multiple parts and absorbed our Blizzard attacks, much to our consternation as we actually Summoned Shiva to attack him, the only recorded instance I have of us using a Summon at all in the game (though it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suspect that we used Ifrit after she failed).
At the end of the battle, we were chased out of town by more Magitek robots and ran into Setzer, who had come looking for us. He took us into the airship, but Kefka was ready and attacked us with two industrial cranes. I have to respect his determination and his resourcefulness! The most dangerous part of this battle was the fact that we were surrounded, and almost as bad as that was the fact that each Crane had a different elemental absorption power and we didn’t work out which was which for whatever reason. Kyle handled himself superbly and there wasn’t much of a mess. We flew off, asking Setzer to go to Zozo, and we filled him in on what had happened.
One important footnote to this fight is that Setzer himself joins the party to fend off the attack, and he stays with you from that point on. Setzer is the prototype for the Final Fantasy Gambler class, arguably the first time a character-focused game added a job to later job-based games rather than the other way around (though the origin of FFIV’s Paladin and Dark Knight are a little fuzzy). Setzer had average-favouring-weak stats overall, but what really got him kicked off our good lists was his terrible special ability: Slot. Slot caused an completely random effect, and there was never going to be an instance where we’d rather have taken full randomization over anyone else – even Gau’s Rages were somewhat under our control, and at least one other randomization-focused character from later in the game was somewhat predictable. Thankfully, there would soon be a way to change Setzer’s ability, but for the time being, he may as well have been Final Fantasy III DS in human form.
We returned with our Magicite to Zozo, where Cyan and Gau were waiting again for no reason, Locke presented the Magicite to Terra and one Magicite in particular began to glow. Terra than woke up, and said that she remembered her past: namely that she had been born and briefly raised in the Esper world, not the human one.
A flashback followed, wherein we controlled the Esper Maduin back when he was still in the Esper World. Presumably Maduin was the one that was now a piece of glowing Magicite in the present day. Maduin had Terra’s hair and was obviously her father, and back in the past, he was the first one on the scene when a woman named Madeline appeared by the gate to the Human World. Maduin took Madelin into the Esper World in spite of complaints from the others. Maduin and Madeline (wait, wait, I just got that rhyme) were clearly attracted to one another, but were cautioned by old stories that Espers and humans can’t live together. As a result, Madeline went to leave the next morning. However, Maduin went after her, and after they had a romantic dancing-in-the-sky sort of moment in the rift between worlds, Madeline chose to stay, and they soon had a daughter, Terra.
Some years later, Gestahl and his troops arrived, and goodness knows how they found the place. The Esper’s elder was forced to close the barrier between worlds, but this drew all the humans (namely Gestahl’s troops, but also Madeline) out the gate as if through a vacuum, which was quite a bit more comical than I feel they developers intended. (Actually, Madeline for some reason took Terra and ran, as though driven towards the door by magic, while the other humans were drawn as if by a wind. What’s the story behind this?) Maduin went after Madeline her even though it would mean being locked out of their home, but he wasn’t prepared for what he’d find on the other side of the gate. Gestahl kidnapped Terra as his only consolation for losing the other Espers. He also Tellah-slapped Madeline so hard she might be dead! Slapping people isn’t funny anymore, is it Porom? I like how Final Fantasy has so far gradually come to terms with its past dick moves, but I think it’s funny how many of those offences come from IV.
Present-day Terra woke from her flashback/retelling in her human form (as opposed to her energy form) and said that she could control the transformation now, to a point. This was reflected in gameplay with the Trance ability. Trance’s mechanics aren’t nearly transparent enough for my liking, but a look online will explain that Terra can enter Trance after she’s accumulated enough AP from enemies, and for a duration that is also based on AP received from enemies, up to an unlisted max of 255. While transformed, she deals doubled magical damage and takes half magic damage to boot. Kyle and I just kept Trance around as a boss-killer, so the AP-based mechanics weren’t a serious concern of ours, excusing moments where we suspected that one boss would be followed up quickly by another.
Now that she was awake, Terra showed a sudden interest in Narshe, presumably in relation to the frozen Esper. “How are things at Narshe?” Man I dunno, those two jackasses are supposed to be watching it! The party agreed to reunite at Narshe to get back to their original task of talking to the frozen Esper, though I have to say that the idea of getting help from a single Esper is a lot less appealing now that we’ve collected no less than twelve Espers in the form of Magicite. I presume the hope is that the frozen one will stay alive!
This would be a good time to take a look at our new crystalline allies. First up was Maduin himself, whom I believe we assigned to Terra out of sentiment. He boosted magic and taught all three core -ra level spells at a medium rate and was much appreciated for frankly the rest of the game, as we passed him from party member to party member. Also present was Unicorn, who finally conveyed Cura at a descent rate alongside Esuna (take that, Green Cherry shortage!). Catoblepas taught our friendly neighbourhood Bio spell, for use when the enemy has no weaknesses, and I’ve already mentioned Carbuncle, who not only taught Reflect, Teleport and our beloved Haste spell, but continued to cast Reflect on the entire party when Summoned. Just as exciting was the new whale Esper, Bismark, who taught Raise; while less exciting was Phantom, whose spells were highly situational and was really only interesting to us for his MP+10% bonus. We thought his ability to mass-cast Vanish when Summoned would have been interesting, but we never bothered with the spell in any of its forms.