Final Fantasy VI – Doom

ffvi-2016-06-07-21h25m46s163Speaking of characters that make my skin crawl: Setzer, the man who forces himself on women by physically kidnapping them and then buying them things until they succumb to Stockholm Syndrome, informs us that the Imperials are heading to the Sealed Gate. Kyle added: “You can just call it ‘the gate’ now, I don’t think it’s sealed.” It was worse than he joked: as we approached, the continent split away. Gestahl and Kefka had found the Warring Triad and were commanding their magic. Also, there was Kefka laughing maniacally right beside the Emperor. How does Gestahl not realize he’s about to be killed?

The Warring Triad appeared as three stone statues, placed facing one another so their power would be cancelled out. Unfortunately, this meant that moving them would unleash their power and probably destroy the world. To get us there, the game gave us a new option to fly up to the Floating Continent once we were ready, calling to mind the Ronka Ruins segment of FFV. Kyle and I had planned to go in with a party of Terra and Edgar, our headliners, and also Celes and Cyan, who were both behind on Magicite progress. You might be wondering why we were using Cyan despite our earlier rejection of him, but it’s simple: he’s still better than Gau and Sketch-equipped Relm. In fact at times during the middle game, we outright liked him! As a result, we kept him and others around for those times the game was going to split us into multiple parties again. Unfortunately, the game would only allow us to bring three people with us despite the high-priority nature of this mission, so we left Cyan behind.

ffvi-2016-06-07-21h26m59s883The party leaders even ordered the others below deck and just let them stay there when the Imperial Air Force attacked alongside Ultros and his buddy Typhon. I’m still not entirely sure why this party member limit was applied to this sequence. Yes, the limit is relevant later, but not now, and the game even lets you choose your party both times! The best I can guess is that they just balanced the segment in a weird way!

The fight against the Imperial Air Force and Ultros, besides making this look even more like the Ronka Ruins segment from FFV with a mix of the attack on Xezat’s Fleet from the same game, didn’t leave much of a mark on us. My notes don’t even mention the additional boss from this segment! Things went even faster once it occurred to us to give Celes a Thunder Blade to take down all these machines.

ffvi-2016-06-07-21h27m12s952The big boss of the Imperial Air Force was called… urm… “Air Force.” It was a giant flying machine with a castle on its back and a cartoon face on its propeller. While it was made up of multiple parts, I don’t believe they were much of a problem for us. That said, I would like to give the entire Imperial Air Force the prestigious Cagnazzo Award for Best Use of Identical Elemental Weaknesses Across an Entire Plot Segment. Your efforts to deflate player tension are always appreciated.

The Floating Continent itself was far more memorable than the battle with the air force, made up of organic materials that pulsed and wriggled, though like a lot of things in FFVI, I’m not sure why. I mean… wasn’t this supposed to be a mountain range not long ago? Eh, what the hell, I’ll take it. I haven’t had some good Geigerian environments in ages, and I’m sure in no rush to play Dark Seed. Our party (we simply reformed the same party as before), jumped down and found Shadow lying wounded not far from their starting location, presumably some consequence of his working for the Empire as a mercenary, though even that seems a little thin and is only a guess. As I’ve been saying, FFVI doesn’t like providing adequate explanations for its details, but in some cases it doesn’t even bother! Shadow decided to join up with us for the time being, so Kyle and I grumbled a little and finally handed over a Magicite. Our priority at this point in the game was to pass the Shiva Magicite from person to person in hopes that they would learn Osmose and deal with an MP shortage we were frightened of at the time, so I believe we gave him that.

ffvi-2016-06-07-21h28m59s903The enemies on the Floating Continent were especially impressive, including Ninjas (often an endgame Final Fantasy foe), Behemoths and Dragons, not to forget demonic-looking foes like Misfits and Apocrypha. Indeed, I believe the Giegerian environment, the final showdown with Ultros, and these end-game-looking foes are designed to trick the player into thinking this is the endgame, the big showdown with both Kefka and Gestahl in the sight of the gods, before they can destroy the world! Unfortunately, Square had shot themselves in the foot in our opinion. Not only are we still dealing with the issue I joked about earlier – Strago and Relm just joined the party inside of an hour before – but I’ve yet to play the RPG that looks at the final dungeon and says “You only get to bring an 80% party load for no significant plot reasons, and we’ll be filling one of the slots with a character you barely know.” To make matters worse, the aesthetic calls to mind the similar, body-horror-esque aesthetic of FFV’s fake-out final dungeon: Exdeath’s Fortress! They slammed the door in their own face!

The journey through the continent was rough, yet another part of Square’s fake ending plans. I really do have to respect their efforts, even if they did hang a banner over the affair saying “Not Actually the Ending.” One of our most triumphant moments was recorded in my notes in all caps: “POISON DID SOMETHING. KILLED A DRAGON EVEN.” The story is even more impressive than my all-caps summation! At least one of the party members had been kicked out of the party by Snort, Edgar had been Frozen by the Dragon’s Freezing Dust, and we were saved at the last second by the Poison aftereffect of what I believe to have been a Bio spell. For people like Kyle and I, who have an aversion to status effects in general and have thought of Poison as either a joke or an archenemy (considering some serious problems with it in FFI and early FFII that got left out of the Journal), this was amazing.

ffvi-2016-06-07-21h30m04s245Ultimately, we discovered the Blackjack following along under the Floating Continent, and decided to board it again. Kyle and I didn’t realize that going to the Airship would mean being forced to restart the Floating Continent from the start, but I think we might have taken it even if we had known. For starters, we were doing terribly, and for seconds, we had been flogging ourselves since the start of the Air Force battle for forgetting a few sidequests that we still wanted to pursue. Shadow abandoned us when we left the Continent, and we let him go to do a few side trips on the ground.

The first thing we did was to backtrack to pick up a few Lores. To our surprise, “a few” turned out to be just one: the complicated “Traveller” Lore from an enemy from nearly the start of the game. This curious spell did damage based on the number of steps you’ve taken in the game, though I’m not sure how on earth that’s calculated in the iOS’ relatively free movement system!

We also visited a few locations, such as Doma Castle, which we had not been able to visit during the whole “let’s trick the good guys into letting us kill the Espers” fiasco. Even though we brought Cyan, there were no cutscenes or even much of value in the castle, excusing a few generic items, the Elixir hidden in every town (always on a clock), and a single Relic. In hopes of provoking a nightmare, we even went to sleep in a town of dead people, but even that didn’t wrench a cutscene from our stolid Samurai. We’re bad people.

ffvi-2016-06-07-21h30m49s698That done, we returned to the continent, reunited with Shadow and got back to our previous location. At this point, something happened that I don’t particularly remember is recorded in my notes not just once but twice, so it must have happened (it was my word against my word, so I was forced to side with myself). It seems that when we returned to the Floating Continent, we swapped someone (I believe it was Edgar) for Strago so that he could learn the Level 4 Flare Lore from the Apocrypha enemies, perhaps out of zeal to make up for our inability to get Level 3 Flare in FFV. This weakened the party considerably, since Strago was well behind in terms of Magicite training.

At the foot of the hill where the Emperor and Kefka were standing, we were challenged by a surprise opponent: none less than Ultima Weapon itself (the monster, not the sword), in its debut appearance. Unfortunately for Ultima, it was not yet a superboss like it would be in most of its forthcoming appearances, so while it did put up a solid fight as part of this whole “Pretending it’s the endgame” illusion, Kyle and I killed it in a solid if unremarkable battle. Sorry, Ulty, but nothing is ever going to stand up to the Blood Sword juicer incident.

ffvi-2016-06-07-21h31m18s323Shadow left at this point, unwilling to attack the Emperor out of shame for working for the empire (although in reality, it was so that Shadow’s next scene could play out the same way even if you hadn’t invited him into the party at all. Clever, right?). That left the rest of the party to climb the stairs to see Gestahl, Kefka and the Warring Triad. The scene that followed had a great deal to do with Celes, which made me wonder what might have happened if we had left her behind. I looked it up and it seems she simply arrives on the scene regardless. I’m not sure how I feel about this. to be more consistent, Celes should have been forced into the party at setup like at other points in the game. I admit, I was never very satisfied with the game forcing party members into your party to begin with, but it still seems more natural than this alternative. On the other hand, I wonder if they should have just forced party members into the relevant cutscenes in other locations. Going with just one of the two systems doesn’t seem ideal, but at the same time neither does this scene’s irregularity!

The scene starts with Gestahl pinning the party in place with magic, that old GM’s hack to make cutscenes play out without bothering with pesky nuances like “players.” He leaves Celes alone, however. Celes requests Gestahl stop what he’s doing before the weapons pop out. Gestahl instead replies by telling her to have children with Kefka and repopulate the earth. That is… that is a sign the conversation is doomed to failure. After the squirming feeling in your gut passes, Kefka demands Celes kill the rest of the party, but she stabs Kefka instead. Kefka becomes furious and accelerates his plan: he shoves himself into the middle of the Warring Triad, at the junction of their power.

ffvi-2016-06-07-21h31m54s996Gestahl warns Kefka against this, saying it might very well destroy the world by reviving the Triad, but Kefka isn’t listening. Gestahl then tries casting magic on Kefka, but all his spells fizzle out, including the spell Meltdown, which strikes me as an odd choice for the developers to use during this scene. This is the spell’s debut to the franchise (it won’t be playable until later in the game), and so the player has no way of knowing what sort of spell it is! Maybe if the animations had played just like the fight with Tellah and Golbez, before fizzling out? Kefka explained that the Warring Triad was sucking up all of Gestahl’s magic. Wait, hold on. Kefka’s explanation is fine on its own, but Kefka was immune to the Esper’s magic before and shouldn’t need this additional detail! Oh forget it, I’m so tired of that previous scene. Kefka commanded the Triad to kill Gestahl. At first they didn’t seem to be listening to him, but they did the job, even if it wasn’t particularly clear why. Celes continued to stand around, including when Kefka got out of his safe triangle to push Gestahl off a cliff.

Kefka then began pushing the Warring Triad out of their precious deadlock, although to be pedantic he pushed one of the statues so that it and its flow of god-fighting power was facing another of the gods instead of nothing. I think Kefka’s lucky the second statue didn’t explode in his face. These gods do hate each other, right? Celes finally woke up into action only to be knocked aside, and the party had to be rescued by Shadow, who pushed the statues back towards one another. Wait, hold on, I could understand Kefka being able to push the statues because he was imbued with their energy, but Shadow? These things must weigh tonnes from the stone alone, nevermind the gods inside like some kind of deific tootsie roll pop! But apparently anyone could push them at any time? This is so strange. This isn’t a minor complaint: the paperweight gods essentially save the party’s lives as Shadow pushes one and this distracts Kefka from his imprisonment spell. They could have written Shadow as throwing a blade in Kefka’s shoulder and then entering a hopeless duel to hold him off as long as possible, but no. Instead, the developers made the statues light as a balloon and chose to make the climactic scene a shoving match!

Oh, and the party ignores Shadow and is shoved away by magical power that completely ignores Shadow and Kefka, another hackneyed old trick. Shit in FFVI happens because the script says so.

ffvi-2016-06-07-21h32m39s697The party flees, starting up a Metroid-esque escape sequence from the collapsing base. While we did have the Sprint Shoes this time around, we only just made it to the end. As anyone who knows the game knows, at the end of the course you have to stop and wait for Shadow to come back even as the second tick by and your blood pressure rises to industrial levels. Unfortunately, if you make it to the end in the very last seconds, after Shadow’s usual return time, he never comes, and we chose to get a game over rather than lose him. After all, we have a Marathon rule about this sort of thing.

This forced Kyle to backtrack and locate Level 4 Flare again, to beat Ultima Weapon again, and to watch the cutscenes again. After that, we still had to deal with a boss that tries to cut you off from escaping, but thanks to our replay we were ready for it and its Fire weakness. This boss is Nelapa (or Nerapa), and if you know it’s coming, it’s screwed, Doom spell or not.

While the party did escape the Floating Continent, they couldn’t escape what followed. There was a massive movement of the terrain below as the RPG cataclysm to end all RPG cataclysms began. At one point the earth split, dropped someone in and then slammed back together like a petty giant. Then somehow the Blackjack split as well, which Kyle addressed as: “Earthquakes in the air??”

ffvi-2016-06-07-21h33m40s321And so the world came to an end, one of the most famous moments in all gaming. The bad guy finally wins, and all it took was a writer’s fiat to make Kefka invincible and all powerful for no reason on Thamasa, utter genre blindness on the part of Gestahl, Banon, and the entire player party during the Thamasa sequence, plot manacles being tied to the party during the Floating Continent sequence but not applied at any later point in the game, godly statues with less internal weight than this glass of water I have with me now, and a repelling shield that only affects the characters that could inconvenience the plot and not those who couldn’t. It’s like someone took those cloth squares from before and carefully arranged them in quilt shape, all set up around some down or cotton stuffing, and then bound them in a bundle with thick hemp rope instead of doing any intricate sewing. And yet, in spite of all those complaints, I still have to say Final Fantasy has seen a lot of narrative maturation! Hasn’t it, Final Fantasy 4?

But I keep making that quilt analogy for a reason, and that’s because the individual square are really quite lovely, or terrifying as the situation demands. The sequence to follow is maybe my favourite in the whole game, despite a major criticism in the middle. Where many a story-teller would take the average citizen’s reaction to a villain destroying the world as a given, FFVI goes to the care and trouble of showing just how it impacts the people on the ground, and how it slowly eats away at them both physically and on the inside. It’s wonderful and miserable all at once, and it doesn’t even necessarily stop here, as we’ll be exploring similar themes in a less intimate manner for the rest of the game. It’s just a shame we only got here by authorial fiat.

Video review Matthewmatosis had this to say about Ocarina of Time:

“In most action-adventure style games that revolve around saving the world, you’re given either some idyllic place that needs protection or a post-apocalyptic world where the struggle of the people compels you to try to help them. Either of these scenarios can only be so effective because you’re left wondering about what it is we’re trying to prevent, or what exactly it is we’re trying to restore. As soon as you walk into Hyrule Town seven years on, Ocarina of Time has answered both of these questions. You have an immediate comparison in your mind of what Hyrule should look like, and what it does look like now.”

ffvi-2016-06-07-21h33m14s531This is interesting to me, because games that do get this information across, OoT or FFVI, are widely praised. But it makes me wonder. When Matthew puts his cards on the table like this, it makes it seem like the issue isn’t so much that these games are good at doing something unusual, but more that everyone else is bad at doing something that should be commonplace? While I don’t want to take away from this moment in FFVI as I think it’s easily the best part of the game and one of the most iconic moments in gaming, but now I can’t help but consider another level of gaming…

Prev: Final Fantasy VI – The Automatic Power of Treachery
Next: Final Fantasy VI – Professor of Ichthyology

Screenshots in this Journal come from Ironsharp’s longplay of the original SNES release of “Final Fantasy III,” available from World of Longplays (YouTube).

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