At port, Leo revealed that “another Imperial General and a man I hired in town” would be joining the expedition. Kyle and I sat there guessing and were promptly rewarded: he was referring to Celes (of course) and Shadow (nailed it). Shadow was happy to announce that he worked for the Empire, but not to kill us (“…I think,” Kyle added). Celes, however, was awkward and fled the scene, not saying a word. Taking a rest at the inn while Leo made preparations, Locke went out to find Celes and did so not far from the inn, but she still refused to speak to him as he tried to “still be friends” despite his “moment” of distrust. Sure Locke. “Moment.”
We rejoined Leo and were soon at sea, and later that night, Leo commented on how Terra had emotions now in comparison to her days under Kefka’s slave crown. He wanted to apologize for letting her suffer under Kefka even though he knew her full situation. Said Kyle regarding Leo: “He’s going to die, isn’t he?” Terra had a question for Leo, one you might remember appeared earlier in the game: she asked allowed if she could possibly love someone. Come to think of it… and it may be that I’m just forgetting something… I’m not sure why this came to interest her so much? It’s clearly been on her mind but it’s never been clear what initially prompted this? Leo couldn’t be certain, but felt that she could experience love. This is a lovely and tender conversation like nothing we’ve seen outside of FFLII and FFA. Yup, Leo’s doomed.
As Leo left, Shadow appeared. Shadow admitted that he had eavesdropped and cryptically said that some people willingly bury their own emotions, and that Terra should remember that. As Shadow looked serenely out to sea, Locke appeared and began vomiting over the edge. Shadow just walked away. Same, buddy.
Come morning, the boat had arrived at Crescent Island. This island had been available to us ever since we had allied with Setzer, but for whatever reason we had forgotten to go there. Leo put Locke, Terra and Shadow together and would be personally operating with Celes. I understand Celes perhaps can’t be fully trusted by the Empire right now, but you’d think Leo would want to monitor the two former enemies rather than the one traitor? Actually, Kyle and I didn’t quite treat that as a criticism so much as proof that the Empire has probably hired Shadow to kill us if we try to do anything funny. Food for thought.
Before they could leave, Celes stopped Locke from going out, as she was now hoping to talk, but he just shunned her and walked away, the idiot. Terra paused, started to go towards Celes, before Celes fled once again. Wow, these people. You can see what I meant earlier when I said that some of these initially arbitrary plots (Locke distrusting Celes for all of five critical seconds) can lead to believable scenarios in their own right, even if I’m upset at the seed.
After outfitting Shadow with all the new good stuff, we went to the town of Thamasa at the east end of the continent, where we bought Earth-absorbing Gaia Gear for much of the party, and also finally snapped up some Sprint Shoes. The innkeeper was overcharging strangers 1500 gil a night, but we had already gotten some rest before heading out on the ship, so that wasn’t an immediate problem. Instead, we started our investigation, finding a little kid blocking a large house that was definitely not suspicious at all. The town elder denied any rumour of magic on his island, and we learned there had been rumours about magic users lingering there for years, something we probably should have been told about on the way in.
About this point, I got a bad idea in my head and went wandering the island for a while looking for wandering Espers FFV-style. Naturally this didn’t work at all, and I returned to Thamasa and stumbled across an event I had missed. There we saw kid practising the Fire spell on a bush, and later found a lady about to cast Cure on her daughter’s minor injury. Did anyone warn these people about us at all? Finally we found the real plot trigger: a house we had accidentally skipped outright. Here we found a man named Strago and his granddaughter Relm. These two were the worst liars of all, namely Relm, who remarks: “Do they have magic too?” Strago orders her to go to her room, only for Interceptor to follow her in, as he’s taken a shine to the little girl. Much to Shadow’s disappointment, of course!
Strago tries a few weak excuses for his granddaughter’s statement. Our characters decided not to press the issue and to continue investigating, but Kyle and I were flat out of leads. We finally had to rely on the iOS version’s new hint feature (a feature that mostly exists to remind you of your objective if you come back to the game after a long period, but can do this too) to tell us we were supposed to go back to the overpriced inn, which was without explanation charging only 1 GP. I don’t think we can be blamed for that mix-up, honestly. Kyle spoke for me: “[A free inn] is possible trouble, but dropping to 1 GP from 1500 gets me shaking.” While the price drop was obviously there to encourage you to stay for the night, we never did get an in-universe explanation for the price change. Ah, Kyle’s Law.
Naturally, something happened in the middle of the night: namely, Strago came in barking “Relm… she’s…! […] She was on fire… and then it caught the neighbor’s house on fire…” Wow, that’s a hell of a way to start a story! Strago admits he’s probably distressed and confused at this point, which is fair because his story doesn’t match up with the actual events at all. The party follows him out, except for Shadow, who selfishly stays inside until he realizes Interceptor is gone, though he doesn’t rejoin the party immediately.
Outside, we found the formerly guarded house on fire, a very realistic looking fire, especially in comparison to the shitty Castle Eblan fire in TAY (which I’ll remind you is a much newer game! Albeit one that was first released on cell phones). Strago tries to put it out with magic even though the mayor protests that that’s forbidden, but the whole town gives up on that and tries to start casting preventative spells together. Unfortunately it’s just not working: the Mayor admits that Fire Rods were stored in the house and they’re probably fuelling the flames. Good explanation on the part of the devs!
Finally the party decides to go in themselves, with Strago joining the force. Strago is a Blue Mage, though the game calls his skill “Lores” instead of Blue Magic. And it’s not a Woolseyism! The name really is different in Japanese as well as English! This is more than a little silly because there isn’t anything separating Lores from the Blue Magic of any other game, except for the fact that FFVI provides one of the shortest lists of Blue Magic in Final Fantasy history.
One curious thing about Strago is that he’s functionally the only character in the Super Famicom and SNES release that needs to be concerned about the Blind status effect, since he must be able to see to learn Lores, unlike in past games. Why doesn’t anyone else need to care? That’s because of the Evasion Bug I mentioned briefly in the first entry: Evasion doesn’t work in the original FFVI (Magic Evasion was accidentally used for both physical and magical attacks), so blindness, which is just a boost to Physical Evasion behind the scenes, is completely ineffective in the original versions of the game. And since Blindness is ineffective, the Blindness-preventing Silver Spectacles are ineffective unless you use them on Strago. Of course, they weren’t called “Silver Spectacles” in the original, they were called Goggles, which means that… *sigh*… the goggles do nothing.
With the walls aflame and the wandering monsters almost all fire-aligned (Bombs and the like), Strago’s pre-learned Aqua Breath ability was a lifesaver. We found an Ice Rod in the dungeon (Kyle: “How ironic!”) and later a Fire Rod (“Hahahaha!”). The dungeon went on and on around us, far larger than any house in this game had right to be. The boss at the end of the mansion was the Flame Eater, a sentient fireball that spawned Bomb-type enemies for Strago to take out with Aqua Breath as we cast Blizzaras at the boss itself. The party then located Relm just beyond the Flame Eater, who was cowering with Interceptor. Unfortunately, the entire party, and Relm to boot, was knocked out by an explosion, with only Interceptor keeping on his feet. Luckily, his barks alerted Shadow to our location. As one of us put it at the time: “And then Shadow rescued his dog, and incidentally some other people.”
Once the party had recovered, they put Strago to the task about his magic. He admitted that the people of Thamasa were descendants of the Magi from the War of the same name, and had been largely hunted down by an inquisition that followed the war. Shadow leaves mid-discussion and no one notices.
Strago heard how our party wanted to find the Espers before the Empire, and decided that was probably for the best. He told us that the Espers were probably going to be up in the mountains, which was sacred to them for some reason. Strago then joined the party full-time. Relm also offered to join, but Strago shut her down on the spot. On their way out, the party caught up to Shadow, but only by accident. He formally left the party, saying he was going to hunt down the Espers before us. Good grief Shadow, we gave you Seraph so you could catch up to the others and this is how you repay us? Strago, you take it.
That was where we left off for the day. The first thing we did in the next session was to load up a list of Strago’s Lores so we could keep on top of that for as long as it mattered. That in hand, we made our way to the mountains Strago had pointed us toward in the last entry. There was a cave in the mountains that wasn’t there earlier. To be honest, this surprised me! RPGs just don’t modify the world map if they can help it, even a game from the SNES era! Inside the dungeon, we found a fought a fight where an enemy using the rare ability Snort to kick Terra and Strago from the fight automatically, forcing Locke to do all the work himself!
After going through a false loop (cute, game, real cute), we caught sight of Relm pursuing us from behind. Unlike Leon in FFLII, this wasn’t a brief cutscene that repeatedly interrupted the game. Relm actually appeared live on the map and ran away when we tried to chase her! It was very well done.
Towards the end of the dungeon, we located a shrine that held statues of The Warring Triad Kefka had mentioned earlier. Strago explained that the Triad were three gods who had created the power of magic and also the Espers. Strago said this must be a holy place of the Espers he knew of from legend. Checking inscriptions on the statues, we learned of 1) the dawn of magic, how three gods descending from heaven who began to war, and how the mortals caught in their fighting becoming Espers, slaves of the gods. 2) The gods realized their fighting was pointless and sealed themselves away, and returned the Espers’ free will. Before they went to sleep, they told the Espers that they must never be woken. 3) These particular statues were made in reverence to the gods in hopes their power would never be stirred, as a warning to future generations about the gods.
At that point, Ultros showed up, because of course he did. Landing on the party’s heads, he knocked them out and went to steal the statues to “get some respect from Siegfried.” Again, this mention of Siegfried never amounts to anything. The fight against Ultros began with the regular battle theme, warning us that something was up. Our squid friend began to inch forward, as Locke stole a White Cape from him. After a while, Relm appeared and announced her presence. She tried to strike up a conversation with Ultros, asking if she could draw him. He refused. She then, uh, threatened to jump off a ledge, and Terra started scolding Ultros for teasing her, and he agreed to be drawn. “What a tutorial,” Kyle said, just… stunned. Relm drew Ultros and summoned a magical copy of the boss to attack the original, her special power. This didn’t do very much damage, but it gave Ultros the willies, and he bolted.
Relm was, in practice, a Beastmaster. Her special ability was a more limited form of the FFV Beastmaster’s Capture ability, in that it summoned a copy of an enemy to be used against that same enemy on the spot rather than stored for later like the FFV Beastmaster. Funny how that happened: Relm is a more restricted version of the Beastmaster, but Mog is a more dynamic Geomancer? On a related note still, I have issues with Relm that match my issues with the FFIII Geomancer: because she can only use Sketch to gain the power of an opponent who is present, they’re usually going to be strong against their own powers! The problem was bad enough to discourage us from using the kid. This put us in the shoes of players of the original SNES release, who also avoided Relm… but in their case that was because of the out-of-control “Sketch Bug” that could destroy your save file if you used her abilities in an unlucky way!
Like Setzer (and others), Relm also had a Relic later in the game that would give her another special ability: the Beastmaster’s Control, which worked exactly as before. Since we had good memories of Control, this elevated Relm somewhat in our eyes, but she never really got out of the bottom tier.
Past “The Joy of Painting with Ultros,” we found a series of trapdoors that dropped onto a bridge maze below. Kyle took the east=most, which lead to a door – certainly promising – but then he took a side path where the party jumped off a one-way ledge (by accident at first) and led us back to the start. This caused us to sit back and consider our options more carefully. There were actually three separate exits and we’d have to take them to work them out. The middle door led to another cave. Mandrakes attacked us there, where Relm sketched one, Leeching it, and it Leeched her back for the exact same damage. It’s like a gross conversation! Unfortunately, we found the Espers down the cave as well, meaning we lost any chance to further explore the dungeon.
Locke told Strago and Relm to flee but they were cut off by the other Espers. None of the Espers spoke at first, until one named Yura approached. Terra and Yura had what I can only guess was some sort of psychic exchange, and Yura felt Terra’s power. Strago took the opportunity to talk and conclude that these were all young Espers who had been pulled out through the sealed door after it had been open, and they had since lost control of their powers. Yura took over the conversation and said they wanted to revenge the Espers that had been turned to Magicite (eeeugh, about that). Locke, being an idiot, passed on the words of the Empire that the Empire wanted peace, and Yura agreed to come, but at least I’m not going to insult him since he doesn’t know enough about the Empire to know any better. I will, however, blame Locke. Enthusiastically.
Our party and the Espers returned to General Leo in town, and Leo actually made a public apology for the Espers for the abuse of their fellows. Celes and Locke even made their peace, Celes kissing Locke on the cheek. Well I’m glad they could patch things up without actually talking about them. I guess this is the end of the game! That sounds right. Games typically end after introducing a new party member and doing a tutorial for their mechanics, right?
Of course, it all went wrong. Kefka appeared with a trio of magitek armour and began to attack the city, apparently under the Emperor’s orders. He murdered Yura and the other delegates and took their magicite, and then ordered the village to be burned and even fired on General Leo when Leo objected. Leo recovered, and we gained control of him directly! And since we’re rational people, we went straight to the inn for a nap as the town was being burned down. We also made the mistake of fighting one of the armours, which turned out to be none other than the Guardian from Vector. We couldn’t scratch the thing, and it killed us instantly.
Unfortunately, our death and game over kicked us back to our save point in the cave, but at least that meant that we were able to explore the maze properly now. We found a Tabby Suit and Chocobo Suit for Relm (yes, Relm wears animal pyjamas as armour – maybe a reference to Krile’s Berserker suits from FFV), gave her the White Cape, and began looking for a Venobennu enemy on the outside of the mountains, as it could teach Strago the powerful healing Lore, White Wind. After that, we hustled through the plot until we were reunited with General Leo. Kyle commented that Leo’s his attack skill was one of the highest we had seen in this game, and it was more than that. Leo also had the all-power Master’s Scroll Relic, which allowed him to attack four times in a turn!
By the way, did I mention how Kefka’s rampage took place alongside his jaunty comedy clown theme in the background? A modern game might have at least given it a darker remix for this particular scene, and I think it would have helped. Kefka’s harlequin threat is an interesting tonal experiment most of the time, but I find it just didn’t work for me in this scene the way it had at other points in the game. He’s even knocked over by one of his magitek armours in a pratfall, and I found it more weird and unfunny than unsettling. And I mean like a… tangible unfunniness rather than a general lack of humour.
With no other way to halt the attack on Thamasa, we had Leo engage Kefka (and in another musical gaffe in my opinion, they played the normal fight music?). Leo seemed to kill Kefka, but then the game got… weird. Kefka’s… ghost?… called out to Emperor Gestahl, who appeared to announce that he had deceived him to get the Magicite. But of course, “Gestahl” was actually the real Kekfa, who was still alive. He announced that both Gestahl and the other Kefka had been illusions, and he knocked Leo over and murdered him, saying he’d tell the Emperor he had killed a traitor.
After this, Kekfa’s rampage was interrupted by an explosion of magic coming from the Sealed Gate half the world away, which must have been one hell of a blast, destroying both the door and the cave around it. Many if not all the remaining Espers came out to avenge their fellows. After they arrived, Kefka used some sort of spell to disable the Esper’s powers, disintegrating his own magitek armours in the process, and began to take down the Espers, declaring that the Empire was his now. After defeating the Espers, he said that all he needed now was something behind the Sealed Gate.
While this scene was effective my first time through, hindsight has made me question it in more than a few ways. In fact it wasn’t even long-term hindsight: my notes include several jots complaining about this scene not long after it occurred. A few trips into fan communities since seeing the game suggests that there’s no explanation given for how on earth Kefka is actually slaughtering the Espers like this, or at least nothing that doesn’t break the game’s narrative in other aspects. What is this spell? Where did it come from? Why doesn’t he use it again in numerous incidents where it would be valuable? If he had it earlier, why didn’t he use it then? The scene reminds of those cliché scenes where a good character has a personal revelation and then suddenly be able to defeat the bad guys single-handed: there’s no connection between the revelation and the defeat, but the revelation is nevertheless silently credited with the victory. Here, Kefka and the Empire’s betrayal is being silently credited for their defeat of the Espers. They win because there was a plot twist – not because the plot twist had anything to do with the situation, mind, but because it simply exists. The plot proceeds not because of actual developments, but because of tropes.
(You can see now in hindsight why I blamed authorial problems for the destruction of Vector being ‘bad.” The developers of FFVI say something is happening, and so it is so. It’s a rampant problem. In Vector’s case, the author was telling us what we were supposed to be feeling without explaining why we should be feeling it!)
For some reason Kefka didn’t murder the party as they lie on the ground, either deliberately or with his massive spell – yet another instance of authorial fiat. Despite the emergency, the party wasted time building a giant tomb to General Leo, who, I’m going to point out, most of them didn’t know. We have Celes and one heart-to-heart with Terra. At the funeral, Terra talked about how she wanted Leo “to teach me so much more.” At which point Kyle said: “Because Locke can’t!” Boom!
Also, Interceptor arrived on the scene heavily wounded, and the party just… assumed Shadow was dead. Nice people. Very nice. Build a cairn for someone none of you knew who’s dead, but can’t waste a few minutes looking for someone you don’t know who may yet be saved.
Finally, Setzer’s airship had been repaired and came to Thamasa to find us, to announce way way way way way way too late that it was all a trap, and that the rest of the party had barely escaped from Vector alive. Edgar had learned they were screwed while “exchanging pleasantries” with the tea lady, and Sabin did my job for me by pointing out that, yeah, sex. Somehow the only reaction to Strago being a descendant of the Magi was a single question mark over Edgar’s head. Following this, Strago actually suggested Relm stay behind in a decimated town. Everyone’s so delightful today. Relm and Sabin got in a fight and they ultimately accepted her after she threatened to start painting people. Also, apparently Relm was 10, and Edgar clearly wanted to hit on her, but said he’d hold off until she was 18.
…I don’t need to write a Troia-sized paragraph about this, right? Even in the mid-90s this should have been too much. Oh, and in the Japanese version, the line is demonstrably worse. This character makes my skin crawl and he has since he first appeared. I don’t even like to think about Edgar as a person, just a block of mechanics I put up with to win the game.