With the party aimed towards Narshe, we headed there straight away. Hahaha, no we didn’t, we had an airship! We went in some other damn direction! Actually, Kyle went AP hunting while I tried to catch up on my notes (this game had the most extensive notes of the Marathon Journals to date). Kyle went to Phantom Forest to fight ghosts for 3AP most fights, though we also ran into an invisible Behemoth, an Intangir at “Triangle Island” in the northeast. The Intangir killed us with Meteor in response to our trying to Summon something. Maybe there were other reasons Kyle and I never tried to Summon after a certain point.
Having caught up and levelled a few valuable spells (including Bismark’s Revive on, I believe, Celes), we headed to the Imperial town of Tzen and picked up yet another Esper: Seraph. Seraph’s Magicite had to be purchased off a man for no less than 3000 gil. This was hardly the worst price for this kind of power, but you can actually grab it for a petty 10 gil if you come back later in the game! This, by the way, is why the Marathon rule is phrased “get all party members as soon as they are available,” to keep us from weaseling out of a situation like this! Still, they’re our rules and we can decide where to bend them, so we decided not to pick up two more Espers in Jidoor for sheer cost reasons. It would have taken ages of grinding to collect them! The Auction House had opened in Jidoor and was selling things for tens of thousands of gil, and that just wasn’t an option. Seraph was more than enough, since she taught Cura, Esuna and Raise at such high levels that we felt a little silly for wasting grinding time with Bismark and the like.
(Unfortunately, though perhaps not surprisingly after we picked up a dozen of these things, you can’t find any other sources of Magicite for several dungeons at this point.)
While we were wandering, we also located the Marandan lover of the soldier that was living, wounded, near the Veldt. Unfortunately there was no way to turn this into a quest, nor any way to get back into Vector, as they had tightened security after our attack and placed the Guardian at the town gates. Having run out of ways to stall, we went to Narshe and reunited with Banon. Hey, remember Banon?
Banon requested that Terra go open the gate to the realm of the Espers to make contact with her people, and ask them to join in the fight against the Empire, so that they could attack from the east while the Returners attack from the north. The implication was that the Espers lived beyond the Imperial Watch Post to the east of Vector, though I don’t remember this being explicitly spelled out. Terra agreed to go.
After trying to go to the Esper on the mountaintop, we went back down and found Lone Wolf the pickpocket, having somehow escaped from his Figaro prison. Hey remember Lone Wolf? Loney here was busy picking a locked chest in a Narshe store-house. We chased him back to the Esper where he tried to hold a Moogle hostage, but unfortunately for Lone Wolf this was no common Moogle. The Moogle used magic to free himself and he and Lone Wolf fell off opposite ledges. We only had time to rescue one, and Marathon rules demanded we rescue the Moogle. Why? If you rescue Lone Wolf, you get an item, but if you rescue the Moogle, he joins you, and we have to get characters to join us as soon as possible. There, you get it! Otherwise, our greedy, completionist instincts might have taken over and we’d have grabbed the item, rather than a party member we might not have used!
Our new party member was Mog, one of the Moogle leaders from the defence of Terra at the start of the game. He had learned to talk from Ramuh (arbitrary, but fine), and served the party as a Geomancer of… sorts. Actually, Mog was nominally a Dancer, but Final Fantasy Dancers are typically concerned with status effects (see Calca and Brina from TAY, or the Dancers of FFV), while Mog is more openly about magic that strongly resembles Geomancy, so I’m sticking with “Geomancer.” The fact that he does little dances and bows at the start of every combat doesn’t mean I’m going to muddy the mechanical waters here.
The primary difference between Mog’s Geomancy and the Geomancy of every other game is that Mog doesn’t cast random spells based on the current environment, but rather learns dances from the current environment, at which point he can use that dance anywhere he pleases. He’s like a portable Geomancer! The biggest downside to this is that not only are Mogs spells random outside of which terrain-based dance you select, but he can’t stop dancing after you start. Suffice to say, we never really used him for dances. Mog also loses some of his novelty when you realize that his dances are all retrieved relatively quickly. Novelty or not, Kyle and I remain completionists at heart, and went around tracking down dances for him on the spot. You can gather most of them immediately: the only ones that’s entirely unavailable is the “Snowman Rondo.” This is a little ironic, as you can only learn the dance from the cliffs above Narshe, exactly where you are at the moment… there just aren’t any battles there at the moment, unless you left the Hell Rider alive! Thanks to a mix-up, Kyle and I also missed “Love Serenade,” which can only be learned in a town dungeon, because we forgot that Zozo exists.
Of course, one other dance was also a huge pain to collect. This is “Water Harmony,” which can only be learned from the Lethe or the Serpent Trench, as well as from a new fight from the GBA version. Unfortunately, the new fight goes away forever after you clear it, and believe it or not, both of the other locations are closed forever at a certain point in the game! If you fail to recruit Mog at this early point in the game in the original SNES release, the Dance will be out of your reach forever, which is the real penalty for choosing Lone Wolf over Mog!
To make matters worse: all of the water dungeons I just mentioned are auto dungeons, meaning that you’ll have to repeat the entire dungeon just to get this stinking dance. It just goes to show how deep we are in this completionist pit that we did it all the same, rather than wait for that new battle. We chose to go to the Lethe River via the old Returners hideout, only to find that everyone was still there! Didn’t the empire attack this place? Fuck, it was a fake-out! Banon, you lying piece of shit!
One thing we hadn’t accounted for while heading out to the river was where it would spit us out in the end. We assumed it would be Narshe, but it actually dumped us off in Sabin’s old story path, north of Doma! If we had known this, we might have brought Gau along to meet his father (the party can only be swapped in the airship from this point on), but no dice. And now we were faced by a new problem: were we going to have to repeat the Phantom Forest, Baren Falls and Veldt sequences to get back to our airship?
Thankfully a road had been cleared that allowed us to skip the forest and Baren falls. Unfortunately, South Figaro was still occupied by the Empire when we got back to it, though the game actually gave us some plot on this point by having us shoved in a box on the ship and smuggled through. Great bit of polish. Finally, we headed back through Mt. Kolts (grabbing the cave and cliff dances as we went) and were reunited with the Blackjack, regretting everything.
Kyle and I also did one last sweep for missables, though we only found two: a minor sidequest about the wounded soldier in the Veldt, and an entry in my notes about “getting one last relic” that I apparently didn’t see fit to clarify. And this was one of my better note-taking ventures!
Kyle and I were surprised to learn that no one had any plans on how to get past the Imperial Observation Post, as FFVI typically accounts for these sort of things, but equally surprised when we found it unoccupied. Well that’s not good. I’m not sure how it’s not good, but a whole body of soldiers going off to a different location sure as hell ain’t reassuring.
The cave beyond the Observation Post was full of lava and changing platforms, a gigantic pain. Partially relieving our pain was the Heiji’s Jitte, a missable relic that would allow Setzer to use Gil Toss instead of Slot (one might recognize the Heiji’s Jitte is as another reference to Zenigata Heiji, who inspired Hana of FFLII). This elevated Setzer out of the garbage, but only so far, since you might recall that Kyle and I have been going bankrupt time and time again in this game and hadn’t exactly banked enough cash to make Gil Toss a serious tactic. We then promptly fell into some lava, kicking us back to the start of the maze.
Another critical find in the dungeon was the Ultima Weapon sword in its first real appearance, just sort of lounging around in a random chest, unaware it would go on to become one of Final Fantasies’ headliner weapons. In this game, the Ultima Weapon appears as a sort of lightsabre, which gets longer (and more dangerous) the closer you are to max HP, serving as an end-game weapon so long as you stay at perfect health. Despite the danger in owning a phallic gag like this, the Ultima Weapon’s sheer power was too hard to ignore, especially for Locke, who was otherwise restricted to shitty knives that just couldn’t stack up to the rest of the party, but he could use the Ultima Weapon. As a result, it found a way into most of our party layouts from here to the end of the game.
We headed deeper into the lava caves, as I complained to Kyle that this shouldn’t rightly be the entrance to the Esper world, since Maduin’s flashback had shown a pond in a forest at the opposite end of the gate! We carried on and found a Genji Glove in box, dramatically improving my mood, and handed it off to Sabin instead of his Gauntlet. Next, we found a Tent in a box, directly next to a save point. “How generous,” said one of us. “Very.” “How ominous,” “Very.”
We went into next room, and found the gate to the Esper world, complete with mysterious haze. Terra opened gate only for Kefka to appear, revealing that of course he had removed the guards from the observation post intentionally, in fact Gestahl had arranged for us to get Terra back into the party… though that’s a little hard to believe, considering that time Kefka tried to knock us out of the sky with a crane. What is it about “I have secretly been masterminding everything” plots that seem to attract ruinous plot holes? It’s not just that the “mastermind” plot is so vulnerable to faults to begin with… though it is… it just really does seem to attract some unique stinkers on top of its natural faults!
The party fought Kefka briefly, but since Terra had opened the gate, we were interrupted by the arrival of several Espers in a wind storm, before the gate shut itself. The Espers flew out and we teleported after them, Kefka already ahead of us somehow. Did I mention how many plot holes a spell like Teleport—oh, I did?
We took to the air, only for the Espers to return from Vector and attack us, causing the Blackjack to crash-land in the southeast near Maranda. Unable to leave (and get an important Relic, as you’ll see), we headed up on foot to Vector.
Inside Vector, we found that the Espers had burned the city nearly to the ground after discovering their friends dead. Banon, who had come to back up the Espers with his army, as planned, was in utter shock. Uh, Banon, you’re at war with these people! What did he expect? No civilian deaths? The people of Vector seem to be fine, so that can’t be it. No military deaths? The extent of the damage? Wow, war causes damage, casualties? I’m in the wrong business! While I wish I could say that Banon was just learning the truths of war too late to realize what he was doing, I don’t get that impression. His shock has all the rudiments of a writer that didn’t think though the story. It’s as thought Banon really had expected to conduct war without killing and burning and it was only the Espers that took things “out of hand!” Is it an indictment against weapons of mass destruction? Unfortunately, if that were the case, FFVI’s impressive graphics failed it and Vector is actually in surprisingly good shape and I don’t think the Espers did more damage than catapults or fire might have done in another situation.
What on earth does Banon want? An HP system? I’m not bringing that up at random, because I’ve seen these plot mistakes before and I think I know what’s going on: the game is trying to show the horrors of war as universally awful… while ignoring the fact that the game itself is about combat. It’s the straight road to hypocrisy, and it’s been in dozens of plots before it. The games, films and novels try to claim that the good guy is somehow fighting the war the “right” way and the bad guys are fighting a war the “wrong” way. What’s the difference? That’s the thing… there often isn’t one in plots like this. Especially once you consider that the player has been murdering just as much if not more than the bad guy! As I’ve pointed out journal after journal, developers seem to forget minor enemies exist. Video game heroes kill more people in the first few dungeons than most soldiers who have ever lived in the real world, and developers ignore that and come up with ridiculous pacifist scenes like these. They shun something they otherwise celebrate without realizing that they even celebrate it.
The only building that was largely untouched by the destruction in Vector was the Imperial Ziggurat. Inside was a surreal scene, wherein the devastated Empire trying to put on a show of decorum in its ruin, as though nothing was wrong at all. We were told that Kefka had been arrested for his use of poison against Doma, and Gestahl called us to his throne room to barter for peace, and believe it or not we entered what must have been video gaming’s first and may still be video gaming’s only peace conference.
There were three interactive sections to the conference. Unfortunately, the first was timed, and without Sprint Shoes, we were in deep shit. We had to go about the palace trying to convince the soldiers to support the peace effort. Unfortunately some of them would attack you as well. Each soldier you spoke to without a fight would earn you an invisible, behind-the-scenes “point” towards the success of the negotiation, while each fight would net you 5 points. To help the peace conference become a true success, you could only afford to miss three non-hostile soldiers, and you’d have to complete all the hostile soldiers’ battles. I’ve said before that Kyle and I are completionists at heart, so we felt we just had to get this done right (naturally, we barely or maybe even didn’t use the prizes, but a completionist will tell you that that’s actually fairly common). We did agree that we’d have to get all the political benefits from the conference to achieve the “Get the best ending” Marathon goal, but getting the bonus prizes was just pure greed. It took three attempts, avoiding chests and relying on the quick battle option to pull things off. When Kyle finally succeeded, he was one soldier over the minimum, and was just steps from getting another, too!
(One somewhat counter-intuitve step in this process is that you have to ignore Kefka in prison, otherwise his speechifying will cost you much of the timer! You can hear his speech just after the peace conference. Don’t worry, it’s the same.)
The second section of the conference was a banquet with the Emperor, filled with dialogue options to help sway him towards peace. Of course, we just used a walkthrough after all that trouble with the soldiers, which was disappointing, but it was still a great scene! The third phase involved an arranged fight with the Imperial Guard as a bit of political bravado, and all-in-all the conference was a success. The Emperor declared the war over, but then asked a favour: to take one of his ships and go to Crescent Island, where the Espers had fled after their assault, to prevent them from destroying any other towns. General Leo was called in to lead the mission. The party was not thrilled with this request, though Terra accepted and Locke offered to go with her while the rest stayed behind to “keep an eye” on the Empire.
After the meal, an attendant informed us on the results of the conference: South Figaro would be taken out of occupation immediately. This occurs regardless of your results in the peace conference, while the rest are the rewards of a particularly successful conference in order. Doma Castle would also be unoccupied, even though it was a ruin and I suppose the Emperor was only holding on to it out of political posturing. The Emperor also opened his armoury to us (I believe we visited it right away, though I made no record of it in my notes), and gave us two extra prizes just because he was so impressed by us. This included a Tintinabulum to restore HP by walking, and a Ward Bangle to decrease random encounters. We used neither. We also spoke to Kefka, who just griped, and then headed to the armoury and finally the port, to begin this solo mission that absolutely couldn’t possibly go wrong and… say… carry the game to another arc after the plot is over!