Trigger Warning: Suicide.
The post-apocalyptic world we now found ourselves in was known as “the World of Ruin,” in contrast to the “World of Balance” from before. The skies and seas were now red. “It’s blood,” Kyle said about the ocean, utterly nonchalant. We zoomed in at a small, desert island in one corner of the map, where we learned that Cid had rescued Celes. He still had his banana costume, of course, let’s not take this apocalypse too far. Celes woke up, and Cid announced she had been in a coma for an entire year. Cid said he awoke to find the two of them there on the deserted island. The other survivors on the island had all committed suicide over time. Cid was not sure who else from the cast was alive.
Based on their previous relationship, Celes asked Cid if she could call him granddad, and he agreed. Unfortunately, Cid had fallen ill with a bad cough, implying that he might die not long after, just like Cid Pollendra in FFIV. And I mean that: at the time we were put out by Cid’s condition, even though we barely knew him, but in hindsight the Many Comedy Deaths of Cid Pollendra has undercut any impact a dying Cid might have for me in later games. Cid Previa’s death and violent exhumation in Legend of the Crystals got close, but was undercut by the fact that it was in Legend of the Crystals. And let’s not forget Cid Haze, he of the “could you cross the entire planet from your world-saving efforts to kill vermin in my basement?” Cid has become the boy who cried wolf to me, and I can only hope that impression leaves me before later games come along.
Celes tried to ward off the inevitable by getting food for her grandfather, but as you can imagine there isn’t much on a deserted island. She had to resort to catching fish on the shore, but she had no tools. This struck me as surprising in the narrative. I certainly understand the gameplay not adding a fishing mini-game, but surely the survivors must have built a fishing pole from their surviving resources by now! Then again, perhaps not. These weren’t your everyday fish. They were highly cooperative apocalypse fish you can catch with your hands. This bodes so well for Destiny Islands. Kyle tried to cook the fish but Celes wasn’t going for that nonsense.
Little did Kyle and I know, but this sequence was actually being governed by hidden mechanics (we assumed it was simply scripted). With speed, luck and an actual attempt to keep Cid alive instead of just stuffing fish into his face assuming the script was going to catch up, the kindly old gentleman might actually survive the sequence, and if we had known he could, we would have done so. Unfortunately we did not, and he did not. If it’s worth anything, we take full responsibility for our stupid actions.
The actual mechanics go something like this: Cid’s health ticks down in real time. You try to improve it by catching fish at the shore and feeding him the good ones. The biggest trouble with this is that you have to reset the fish available to catch by talking to him, a mechanic not explained in-game as it would be a total immersion breaker, but once you’re aware of it, it’s supposed to be fairly easy to pull off. Oh, but soemthing to bear in mind: for some reason, the worst fish for Cid in all versions is “Fish” and not “Rotten Fish.” In fact, “Fish” is four times worse than “Rotten Fish.” I think someone swapped a variable!
You have to wonder exactly what span of time is passing as you do this. Is it simulating several days (which raises questions about the entire rest of the game), or is Celes literally cramming three or four raw fish down his throat in the span of a few minutes? Maybe it’s not the illness that kills him!
If you save Cid, there’s a brief scene where he shows you a way off the island and then never adds anything to the game again. The whole thing feels like an afterthought and it’s not hard to wonder if he was never supposed to survive at all. As it was: Kyle and I messed up, and saw the more involved failure scene instead.
After Cid passed on, Celes found herself alone in the entire empty world. The game emphasizes this very well, and Celes began to fall into a breakdown. She went to the northern cliffs, where so many had committed suicide in the past. There, she found a dead bird, and the game set the scene with musical cues back to the opera, not to forget the fact that both scenes took place from a great height. Yet while I can see the connections, but I don’t think I could eke very much out of it. The opera and Celes’ current situation have so little in common with one another that I initially tried to write a paragraph claiming the game was trying to create a contrast, only to realize that contrast doesn’t improve anything in any way, nor would any similarities if there had been more of them. Celes’ scene here stands as one of the strongest scenes in gaming in sheer emotional response, and any attempt – mine or the developers’ – to pin symbolism on it like a ninth grade English essay is only going to cheapen it in my eyes.
Overcome by grief, Celes finally gives in and jumps from the cliff, intending to kill herself.
But the ocean wouldn’t have her, and she washed back up on the shore and slowly recovered. There, a bird found her, and she discovered it had a wound bound with Locke’s bandana. This inspired Celes, and she returned to Cid’s home, where she found a letter that had dropped from Cid’s body in her absence. This letter pointed her toward a secret chamber with a raft, which she used to put the island behind her and return to the mainland.
Celes knew she could easily die in the voyage, but fate favoured her and she found herself (somehow carrying all the magicite and equipment, TAY-style) in what remained of Albrook, south of Vector. Or rather, what had once been Vector. The place was now home to a massive tower of garbage that Kefka was using as his throne. The people of Albrook surmised that Kefka was “probably a god now” thanks to the power of the Triad. He was enforcing his will across the will using something called “the Light of Judgment” that he used to kill those that defied him, though it’s not as though we got a demonstration.
Oddly enough, the people of Albrook also wanted to discuss the two Ultima Weapons, which was very strange. If we had missed the Ultima Weapon-weapon, it would now be inaccessible in the World of Ruin, and of course the Ultima Weapon-monster was old news because we had killed it as mandatory boss! Someone else mentioned that ancient monsters had been unsealed: Humbaba and Deathgaze alongside “the eight dragons.” We also heard rumours of Sabin in the nearby region, who may have gone north to the town of Tzen.
Heading north, Kyle and I encountered a very strange wandering monster called the Killer Mantis. You wouldn’t know it by looking at it, but the Killer Mantis has the strongest strength stat in the entire game, even more than the final boss. I’m not sure what odd combination of math and game design led to this odd decision, but they sure as hell were a pain to run into.
Heading to Tzen, we heard from someone in Tzen that the Serpent’s Trench was somehow above ground now and that a cult had set up a tower there. But our attempts to do any further interviews were interrupted by the sound of a house collapsing. The Tzenites fell into a panic, and we found Sabin holding up the building (from… the… window?) and he told us that a kid was inside. We went inside and began to rob the place instead of helping anyone as a timer clocked down. We’re the heroes. Unfortunately for us, karma snuck up behind us with a mean left hook, as Celes got petrified by an enemy’s counterattack and the whole sequence came to an immediate end with a Game Over. Shit. On the next attempt, we equipped a Relic to prevent petrification. Of course, we continued to rob the place.
Retrieving the child, we bailed from the house and got Sabin back in the party, promising to find the others. Now that the townsfolk were talkative, they blamed Kefka for the collapse, but one of them, gesturing from one corner, gave us all but exact directions across the Serpent’s Trench to Nikeah, where we were told we could find ships to help us navigate the post-apocalyptic environment. We also learned the town of Mobliz (the town near the Veldt) had been wiped out by Kefka’s Light of Judgement.
After travelling down the wrong peninsula in our attempt to cross the Serpent’s Trench. Boy, it’s a good thing we have omniscient knowledge of world geography with our map or finding the right path might have been a chore! From there, we headed east toward an isolated town, which turned out to be the ruins of Mobliz. Searching town, we learned that the children of Mobliz had survived thanks to their parents and perhaps the underground bunker they were living in. They were now being babysat by Terra. There were at least two teens to look after the others once we inevitably took Terra way, but things didn’t look good for the town.
After a flashback to the destruction of the town, Terra told us that she wasn’t willing to fight any longer, and that she wanted to fight less and less the longer she stayed with the children. “I feel I’m on the verge of something important,” she said. “Aw,” Kyle said, “you’re gaining feelings!” Our party of two left Terra alone, meaning she had no one to help her when the monstrous Humbaba arrived. Terra fought the monster, but despite Kyle and my best efforts, she lost, and had to be rescued by the return of Celes and Sabin. After a long fight, Humbaba fled. Thankfully, we had not gone unrewarded, since one of the kids had found the Fenrir magicite on the ground after Humbaba had fled (Fenrir provided a good MP boost of +30% and finally taught the Teleport spell). After the attack, you can imagine that Terra was determined to stay with the children, and we had to leave without her.
Further travel took us to another tower that dotted the landscape, where we discovered the “Cult of Kefka,” who paced in a circle, chanting. They were worrying enough on their own, but more worrying still was the fact that Strago was among the cultists, and didn’t even acknowledge our presence! While the tower itself was accessible, we were warned that you could not use physical attacks while climbing, only magic. We certainly weren’t going to attempt that with only two party members, and probably not until the end of the game, so we hurried off on our way without Strago or any of the tower’s treasures.
Returning to the business at hand, Kyle and I continued our way to Nikeah, where we encountered Edgar disguised as a bandit leader named “Gerard.” “Gerard” and his Crimson Bandits were bound to South Figaro, so Celes snuck on board a ship after them and cornered Edgar at a later point. He refused to acknowledge us, even in private (the game never explained why. Perhaps he was just especially cautious?) though he seemed to come very close. A good deal of eavesdropping told us that the Crimson Bandits were headed to Figaro Castle, which had become trapped underground after the apocalypse, though they knew a way in through a tunnel to the dungeons. While we were in South Figaro, we also heard a rumour that Sabin’s master, Duncan, may be alive after all, but we could find no sign of him.
Following the Crimson Bandits into the cave, we had another of the game’s superfluous encounters with Siegfried, followed by Kyle and I getting lost as we tried to find the exit, which was hidden at the end of of a tunnel in the bottom side of a passage. Generally RPGs will mark these sorts of doors a little more panache than this, but I think I can excuse one bad door in a game of this size, even if we were pissed off and essentially backtracked through the entire dungeon trying to find the thing.
Inside the castle, the game went out of its way to describe the stale air, which only had Kyle and me wondering how we hadn’t run out of air. As Edgar ran off without us, we found the Royal Crown of Figaro, which we gave to Sabin because fuck Edgar right now. Inside the castle, we found tentacles on the engine (addressed with a bored “of course” from our engineer friend in disguise). Edgar sent the thieves further on and acknowledged Celes and Sabin as having been stalking him. He explained he was trying to save Figaro Castle, and that would require fixing the engines. We teamed up to attack the tentacles together, which had a variety of elemental absorptions to discourage the player form using group attacks.
After the battle, we hid from the thieves, and they assumed that Gerard had bit it. They had taken the treasure (why was it in the engine room to begin with?) except for a sword we found hidden. Going up, we reunited with Figaro’s chief engineer (wait, why do these people still have air?) and asked him to resurface the castle, only for us to order him to rebury it so we could move on to the other side of the mountain range.
Once on the other side of the mountains we arrived at Locke’s hometown, and were able to track down Setzer, and Celes was able to talk him back into the party with little more than an inspiring speech. Well that was awfully convenient compared to the rest of you! The way things were going I was expecting to find Mog at the end of a twelve-stage sidequest and Gau actively on fire. In fact, we found all sorts of rumours about our other lost party members. Cyan had been spotted near Maranda, Locke had gone looking for his dead girlfriend’s resurrection cure somewhere other than Vector (it’s not as though Vector was an option any longer, was it?) and last of all, a stranger was looking for a weapon called the Ichigeki in the completed Coliseum to the north. This was presumably Shadow, as not only is he the only person I can imagine have such a shitty sense of post-apocalyptic priorities, but he’s also the only Japanese-coded character in this narrative, and the Ichigeki was clearly a Japanese-style weapon, and frankly this series is so class-locked that I can’t imagine them mixing things up beyond that.
Just because we had Setzer didn’t mean we had an airship: the Blackjack had been destroyed by the apocalypse. Setzer led us off to the tomb of a friend of his, Darril, without explaining why we were going, making Kyle and I wonder why the party was following him along. Inside the tomb, we found a blank tombstone and our party was apparently overwhelmed with the desire to write something on it, only to announce they had no ideas what to write. Yes, this is how tombs work. Definitely. We began to scour the place looking for a good inscription.
Darril’s Tomb was rather involved compared to some of the other dungeons we’ve had lately (the road to the Figaro engine core was the same length as a typical dungeon, but because it shifted setting mid-way through, it didn’t honestly give us that impression at the time, feeling instead like two back-to-back mini-dungeons). While we were there, we found a box full of Crystal Mail that us the achievement for opening 80% of the chests, and since we were destined to never open all the boxes to begin with and had no doubt missed a few, this was a good sign that we were near the end of the game! Our first Malboros were here, as well. While we fought them, we did a lot of Esper work on Setzer, since he had been on our C-list during the World of Balance and was far behind in terms of Magicite.
After riding around on a turtle’s back (as you do), we located four tombstones with odd inscriptions: ERAU, QSSI, DLRO and WEHT. While I’m not opposed to word puzzles normally, Kyle and I were bored at the time and might have easily skipped this puzzle if Kyle hadn’t taken a fortuitous bathroom break, leaving me with nothing better to do than solve the puzzle. I discovered that if you put the words into the order above, they spell “THE WORLD IS SQUARE” in reverse. Get it? The tomb spoke to us, saying the Growth Egg was hidden on the third floor basement, an item that Kyle recognized as an EXP booster from our errant time on the wikis. Of course, this meant that the entire puzzle had been optional and we missed the main route somehow, which meant this had happened twice in one Marathon play session!
After some Water Temple-esque water level puzzles you’d hope to never see in a game made after 1998 (even though you occasionally do), Kyle and I remembered a staircase we had forgotten and fought a recolour of the snail from the start of the game as a monster-in-a-box. This Anger Whelk died almost on the spot, earning us the fantastic Dragon Claws for Sabin in exchange. The Dragon Claws’ +66 Strength Point upgrade (!!) had less to do with the quality of the Dragon Claws and more to do with the fact that the Burning Fists he was using were ages out of date, despite being the immediate previous model. Don’t look at me, someone ask Square Enix!
Finally, we discovered Darill’s resting place, a draped structure with some inexplicably well-preserved flowers, where we were attacked by a Dullahan, which in FFVI is a bone chariot surrounded by spectral flames. It’s quite the visual, though not really a Dullahan, is it? The Dullahan is an Irish fairy that is, most prominently, a headless horseman, not a skeletal charioteer! (By the way, Final Fantasy actually uses a headless horsewoman as a recurring monster.) The Dullahan charioteer was no joke, opening the fight with the unusual spell “Level ? Holy.” This highly unusual spell deals damage to Holy based on our current gil count, and unfortunately it did hit several members of the party. The Dullahan followed up with other powerful spells, which prompted one of us to remark that, after two boring dungeons, “This guy’s here to play!”
After the boss was destroyed, Setzer finally decided to tell us why we were there. He told us that Darill was a rival of his who flew another airship, the Falcon, another of this game’s many Star Wars references. Unfortunately, she died after pulling an Icarus by trying to break a high-flying record. Setzer was apparently so distraught he not only buried her with her airship, but reconstructed it in its entirety, underground. Let’s throw in the fact that she seemed to have crashed into the water and this gets even sillier. I guess people do rather odd, contrived and narratively convenient things when a loved one dies?
On the surface, we once again saw the bird that had previously had Locke’s bandana tied to its leg, apparently the only bird still alive on the entire planet. Celes asked Setzer to follow the bird to Jidoor, and we ignored her and went back to the Tomb to find the Growth Egg. Actually, you can go wherever you want at this point, and can even outright attempt to beat the game, though this can be complicated with your party so short-handed!