Passing over Doma Castle on our attempt to find our remaining party members, we decided to once again show Cyan around the tomb of his family and king. We’re the heroes. And despite our rather diligent effort to cause psychological harm across the entire duration of FFIV and TAY, it only now paid off when we (presumably) pushed a few old skeletons off of some beds and forced Cyan to sleep in their graves. I am only half-joking about this.
When we woke up, we discovered Cyan was still asleep, and encountered three “Dream Stooges” (ugh) looking over him. I wonder what their original Japanese names are meant to mean? They entered Cyan’s mind, and our party impetuously followed after. Once inside Cyan’s dreams (honestly, they were probably inside all along), we found the party divided. Fuck. This was not the kind of circumstance we wanted to be stuck with Gau. Thankfully he wasn’t the party member under our control (though my notes don’t say who was), but he was the one we found second, so that’s at least half the suffering right there.
Most of Cyan’s dreamscape consisted of Escherian landscapes of platforms, stairs and one-way doors, but it was also possible to enter dreams of the real world. These included the Phantom Train and also Terra’s initial assault on Narshe, complete with Magitek Armour, despite Cyan not having been present for that!
At the end of the dungeon, we fought the three Stooges, who borrowed the Delta Attack of the Magus Sisters from FFIV. Likewise, one of their number can revive the other, so I’m surprised they didn’t just re-used the Magus Sisters from the beginning. Unfortunately, if you couldn’t tell from my not knowing who was in the party, my notes are scattered at this point and I can’t say exactly how we engaged the trio.
After clearing the trio, we proceeded into a dream version of Doma Castle, where the demon Wrexsoul was lording over Cyan’s body. Wrexsoul was a much more complicated battle than usual, which mixed well with his trio of minions. Wrexsoul has the power to possess a character, who had to be killed to get him to vacate their body so that we could attack him, and to make matters worse, you don’t know who’s possessed! What a complete asshole! Wrexsoul was accompanied by two essentially invincible minions who continued to attack us while he was gone. The FFWiki notes that these don’t truly exist to be dangerous – rather, they exist so that the game won’t end the battle the moment Wrexsoul possesses someone and the enemy side has been “wiped out.” It’s apparently possible to cheese your way through this fight by killing the minions and ignoring Wrexsoul, but we didn’t take that route. I don’t imagine we would have done it if we had known: after all, Wrexsoul is technically still possessing you when you end the fight this way!
After Wrexsoul was defeated, Cyan made his peace with himself and his family’s death, and we returned to the real world. This victory gave no less than three prizes: all of Cyan’s Bushido techniques were unlocked for free, we got the Masamune sword for him, and we earned the Alexander Magicite. Alexander will be reappearing in later games, so I should probably describe him: he’s a titanic golem that appears to be some kind of living castle. I can see why the devs wanted to bring him back! He taught us the Holy spell, far more powerful than anything else we had at the time, so we passed him around rather freely.
Since Gau was still in our party at this point, we decided to take him to see if his dad had survived the apocalypse, and discovered that he had. The poor man was terrified of his son and was still struggling with his distorted memory, but Gau was happy simply to know that his father was alive. Gau’s father also mentioned (for some reason mid-sentence), that Locke had come to him looking for Gestahl’s treasure, and mentioned the star-shaped mountains again despite giving no real indication where they were. Kyle and I had been flying around looking for these mountains for some time now, but had had no luck finding them!
Running out of leads on our party members, we decided to return to Narshe, where we found Lone Wolf the pickpocket. Lone Wolf said that the town had been picked clean, though some doors were locked up. He said that only a treasure hunter (Locke) could possibly get past the doors (implying that he meant to say “Thief” but someone in the chain of development decided not to allow that). He did, however, mention that Mog was alive and still somewhere in town, so we went looking, first into the mines and then the secret passage, where we found him tucked away. Mog rejoined us, and suggested that “the yeti” would join us too if Mog “ordered” him to. We had no idea what he was talking about, but we teleported back to the airship to put Mog in the party nevertheless. From there, Kyle walked back through the secret passage thinking it was the right way to continue, only to rediscover that it only leads back to Narshe, and we could have gone straight north to begin with! We have got to stop doing that this session!
Inside the mine, we tried to regain our bearings and did not have much luck, walking into walls and shit, before finding our way back to the top. There, in the spot where we had fought Kefka’s army, Mog gained his last Dance here when we fought the third dragon, the Ice Dragon, who was so hard that half the party was nearly wiped out, but was nevertheless taken down by the fire attacks of the party.
At the top of the mountain, we returned yet again to the Esper at the peak, who attacked us this time, being almost invulnerable to physical attacks but very vulnerable to fire. The Esper, called Valigarmanda, didn’t last long before it was finally freed from the ice, revealing itself to be a brightly-coloured bird, who took the World of Ruin to be a sign the War of the Magi was still going on. He then transformed into Magicite even though he… wasn’t… dead? Well if you say so. Valigarmanda taught all three of the traditional Black Magic –ga level spells (Firaga, Blizzaga and Thundaga), though only at x1 rate. Unfortunately, it was the only Esper to teach Blizzaga and Thundaga, so we had to put up with it a lot longer than we would have otherwise wanted.
After finishing the battle, we discovered a cleft on the mountain just nearby, and jumped down to find a new section of the mine. There, we went in search of this “yeti.” We finally found him more or less by accident after a lot of dropping into pits, and found the yeti’s prize possession: the Midgarsomr magicite. But once we took it, Umaro the Yeti appeared and attacked us, quickly undoing himself with the Energize technique to reduce his defence along with buffing others, only to die before he could attack with it. Great plan.
With Mog’s help, Umaro joined the party. Like many of the FFVI party members, Umaro essentially represented a modified FFV class, in this case the Berserker. Unlike that (personally) maligned class, you have some power over customizing Umaro. He technically can’t use Espers, but you can equip certain items to give him special attacks, including a group blizzard attack, and the ability to heft party members at enemies, which probably went on to inspire Bowser’s legendary “Hurly Glove” in Super Mario RPG. That’s all well and good, but we still avoided Umaro like the plague. I’d rather be able to choose Gau’s rage than choose functionally nothing at all.
At this point, we run into an unusually large gap in my notes. At some point between my last mention of Locke and now, Kyle found the star-shaped mountains and we completed the quest there. We also must have completed another (lengthy) quest around the same period, if not earlier. It’s impossible for things to have played out any other way. Where did my notes go? I can only conclude that I was the one playing these sessions and I forgot to take notes after the fact? But I’m 100% positive that Kyle found the star-shaped mountain as I remember him telling me about it when I came back to the room from somewhere else, so…?
Inside the star-shaped mountains (which, if I may complain, are not particularly star-shaped), we found the Phoenix Cave, a magma-filled dungeon where Locke was only a few steps ahead of us. We had to split up into two parties to get through here, which raises the question of how Locke was navigating the place, but I suppose he is a Thief. Technically there was no boss guarding Locke’s long-lost treasure, but the Red Dragon was available to fight, though I seem to remember us having some trouble making our way to it! We were definitely disappointed by the party that had to fight it, which I believe featured Gau, and tried to outright swap the two parties to put a better one in position, though I don’t believe that was actually possible and we failed in any event. Someone correct me if I’m wrong about that.
Once Locke had his treasure, we discovered it was the Phoenix magicite, and he tried to use it to revive Rachel. Unfortunately, Phoenix could only revive her for a short time, as the Magicite was somehow damaged in the process. They spoke, and Rachel tried to get him to give up on his guilt and hook up with Celes (apparently the dead are incredibly perceptive), and passed on, merging her spirit with Phoenix to restore the magicite.
…So is someone important to the party going to die every time we get the Phoenix Summon, or…?
As an Esper, Phoenix was beautiful, teaching not just Raise, not just Arise, but also Reraise, a spell that could be cast pre-emptively to revive a party member after death. It also taught Curaga at a (marginally) faster rate than Lakshmi, and Firaga at triple the rate of Valigarmanda. Even its Summon was fantastic, reviving all KO’d allies, though I imagine you’d have to be somehow lucky and unlucky to coordinate that. The only real downside was that Phoenix provided no level-up bonuses, but as you can imagine it was particularly well loved as part of the party.
With Locke in hand, we returned to Narshe to pick its locks, uncovering the Ragnarok magicite among several others. This was a special magicite: you could use it as a magicite, or could convert it permanantly into the Ragnarok sword. The sword is very good, but unlike SNES players who had to agonize over this decision, it wasn’t a huge worry for us. Starting in the GBA version, FFVI added a key feature that all-but nullifies the decision: you can save your game after beating the final boss. This is important, because it’s possible to Steal the Ragnarok sword off of one of the final bosses’ forms, and that’s exactly what we planned to do. This left us with Ragnarok the magicite, which taught nothing short of Ultima, if at a x1 rate.
The other quest that disappeared from my notes was our retrieval of Strago from the Cult of Kefka. This was easy: he snapped back to his old self as soon as he saw Relm again. But that was just the beginning. We also decided to climb the tower behind him, despite its magic-only restriction. This took some time but we found it generally manageable, even killing the Holy Dragon part-way up the tower. But then… *sigh* but then… we got to the top. Inside, we found a powerful relic, the Soul of Thamassa, which would give a party member the vaunted Dualcast ability. But even that wasn’t enough to save us from the Magic Master, the cultist boss who attacked us on the way down.
The Magic Master had one ability over us and one alone: when you killed it, it would cast Ultima. Oh, there was this-and-that about the Magic Master changing its weaknesses, Heine-style, but that wasn’t a big worry. Ultima, however, would almost certainly kill us even at full health, even with Kyle’s grinding, costing us a time-consuming and tedious climb up the tower. We had missed an important Esper that’s typically used to survive this sort of thing (and hadn’t yet learned Re-Raise from Phoenix, though we were trying). To make matters worse, while I am missing my notes for this section, I do have our party listing: Strago, who hadn’t been used since well before the end of the world; Locke, similar; Relm, with no abilities and was being held up entirely by her amazing Magus Rod; and Setzer, who was also spectacularly armed and otherwise spectacularly useless. We were fucked.
Nevertheless, there was an alternate strategy you can use to survive Ultima: to drain Magic Master’s 50k MP just a few point at a time using Osmose or Rasp, and by waiting it out as it casts magic. Once it runs out of MP, it will die on its own, with no Ultima. This took forever, but we were stubborn as a team and let it happen, turn after exhausting turn. I had to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the fight! Obviously we can’t blame the game for our choice of strategy, but we were absolutely furious at the game for putting this almost certain instant kill trap at the end of such an extended dungeon. Between anger and boredom, maybe it’s no surprise that I didn’t take adequate notes on this section even after I passed the controls back to Kyle!
My notes pick up briefly here to mention that we finally tracked down Sabin’s master, Duncan, to a cross of trees near Narshe, where he taught Sabin his top-level Blitz for free. Unfortunately, my notes are just as inadequate here as before, with just one sentence remaining before the end of our play session, despite Kyle being in control. This probably implied that it was late in the night and I was very tired and angry after the Magic Master, because this one sentence is supposed to cover an entire dungeon’s worth of play.
This last dungeon brought an end to Strago’s storyline, in an under-ambitious sort of way. In his younger days, Strago had tried to hunt the monster “Hidon” with a friend of his. We assumed this made Hidon a sort of “big game trophy” type animal, but we would soon find that Hidon is a hideious monster of organs and bones, not exactly the sort of thing you’d want to hang on your mantelpiece. Receiving word from his friend that Hidon was back, we decided to grant Strago his wish by going to hunt the thing, even though the apocalypse had happened and this wasn’t exactly the time.
Hidon was lurking on an island called Ebot’s Rock. Inside it was pitch dark, making it a boring maze for most of its length, though it was punctuated by one bizarre occupant: a talking chest that demanded we cram Coral into its mouth en-masse. After bypassing that odd little obstacle, we eventually tracked down Hidon… and accidentally killed it. You see, as it happens, there’s no real prize for killing Hidon: the prize is the Lore it might cast, Grand Delta, which is one of Strago’s best. Thankfully, it’s not too much trouble to find Hidon again, as for some reason it… isn’t dead, and can be found over and over again in Ebot’s Rock. This takes some of the wind out of Strago’s accomplishment. I once found a source on the internet suggesting that maybe the small monsters accompanying Hidon were intended to transform into a new Hidon (the SNES translation calls them “Hidonites”) but I’ve lost track of the source and can’t back that up at the moment. One way or another, Kyle did a second run of the dungeon, securing Grand Delta and finally, finally letting us sleep off the headache we had lingering from the Magic Master. Good riddance.