We began our final dungeon spelunk with Celes’ party, which found itself inside of what had once been the prison in Vector, where Kekfa had been held “prisoner” by the Emperor as part of the peace conference. In his place was the Ultima Buster, a machine incarnation of Ultima Weapon (you could see the gears) that believed it was Ultima itself. If Locke had been in party 2, we would have been able to Steal the Blood Sword from Ultima Buster, which was hilarious given our history with Ultima Weapon in Soul of Rebirth. While Ultima Buster could cast Ultima after a time, he did not live that long. Killing him got us a Save Point and Strago learned Tsunami off him. This isn’t the exclusive Lore I mentioned earlier, but it was very helpful.
Our next delve sent the third stringers into a room that looked like a relic of the Magitek Research Facility. There, we found the Aegis Shield down one of this game’s very few NES-style secret passages. The Third Stringers were jumped by “Inferno,” a Number 128 recolour, with his two claws called “Kelu.” Mog thrashed the main body into utter submission with some surprisingly high stats. Party three then fought a zombie dragon, and were finally cut off by an obstacle. This finally forced us to switch between the parties with regularity, each flipping open doors for the others.
Being as this was the final dungeon, there were a number of notable enemies among the Interdimensional Rift-esque hodge podge of rooms. There were the two remaining Dragons, for starters, and killing them unlocked the Crusader Magicite, the only Magicite in the game that teaches Meltdown, not to forget Meteor at x10 and an MP+50% boost! We also received a tablet inviting us to a GBA-exclusive bonus dungeon, but we weren’t in any hurry to go.
But in my mind, the most memorable enemy in the dungeon was the Vector Lythos, an unremarkable foe except in one regard: its formation. Despite appearing to be only one foe from time to time, the Vector Lythos is actually four enemies stacked on top of one another, something you could only do in a 2D game, and doesn’t honestly make a whole lot of sense! But in a weird way, that’s what made it so memorable! Here’s to your weirdness, FFVI.
Towards the end of the dungeon, we got into an extended puzzle where you could essentially swap parties 2 and 3 if you wanted. Nevertheless, we stuck to our guns, and came to the end of each party’s road: each route blocked by no less than a god or goddess of the Warring Triad. …Well, okay, I’m being a little overdramatic: we didn’t actually line up the three parties all at once. In fact, we fucked up the puzzle in the previous room and had to backtrack Party #3 from glorious deific battle to rudimentary switch-pushing duties, and have no one to blame but ourselves.
We took the Warring Triad in the order we encountered them, which meant we got started with Party #3. This party faced off against the god known as Demon. Somewhat ironically in the D&D tradition, Demon was strong against Holy. Deciding to mix it up a bit, Kyle and I tried to get Mog to use the hilariously named “Impartisan” spear, the best spear in the game, but! It can only be used by someone suffering from the Imp condition. Unfortunately for us Demon died before we could pull it off, which boded well for the party, if not particularly for the challenge level of the game after Kyle’s grinding.
Party 1’s battle put them against Fiend, whose most prominent special ability is to get a powerful buff mid-way through the fight, as well as a special attack and randomized elemental immunity. Unfortunately, as you might have gathered from our Z-list party, our A-list party wasn’t about to be slowed down and the fight barely warranted mention in my notes.
That just left our B-list party, Party #2, who fought Goddess. Goddess’ special attack was “Cloudy Heaven,” which announced that “Even death will not lift this curse.” This special power not only inflicted Doom, but would cause anyone who died in the battle to suffer from Zombie, which could easily wipe out the party. Unfortunately for her, our B-listers killed her not long after the battle began. I realize that we were probably over-levelled thanks to Kyle’s grinding but in this case I don’t feel so bad – most guides on the Internet seem to suggest you kill her quickly without any elaboration, so why not for the Marathon? By defeating her, the party secured the Excalibur.
Finishing the dungeon and hitting the switches caused everyone to arrive in the final room with Kefka. Our favourite clown was now all-powerful, and began to toss party members around. Kefka spent the entire sequence having an existentialist argument against creation, saying that all things had to be destroyed. Everyone declared what they were willing to protect like they were starring in a Thanksgiving TV special. I’m sorry if this scene is meaningful to anyone, and I acknowledge that it represents the near-end of most of these characters’ arcs, but it’s presented in a way that’s as cliché as they come, and we couldn’t help but groan at it.
Kefka seemed to agree with us on this one, saying that the party was like a self-help book, and decided to fire the Light of Judgment willy-nilly about the planet, and rose up on a flaming phallic pillar of some sort to get out of our reach. We couldn’t help but note that his aim with that laser was mostly into the ocean, to quietly move the plot away from what should have been the final extinction of humanity.
At this point, the game gave us twelve numbered slots, but Kyle and I decided to go into this without advice form a walkthrough and had no idea what those slots represented. I believe we deployed the party in the original order from above, however, so you can easily follow that as a guideline. And so, Dancing Mad began: a famous, extended musical suite that spanned Kefka’s multiple guardians.
As it turns out, Kefka’s guardians are infamous for being completely unexplained, by both FFVI itself and by official sources. They’re essentially just a tower of god-like figures that you fight over three phases. The first phase was against a demonic figure called Visage, and its two arms. Next was a quartet of Power, Machine, Magic and, urm, Tiger, who comes across as something of a black sheep. The final phase included a fight against Lady and another godling called Rest, which were arranged in a La Pieta pose, save that Lady lacked any arms. These three phases all went down handily with our ready supply of Ultimas.
Then, at the top of the tower of bosses, was Kefka himself. When we arrived, he promised to destroy hopes and dreams and other abstract concepts, before using Heartless Angel, his signature attack that was borrowed by Sephiroth in FFVII’s western release and was rudely never returned. Heartless Angel is an extremely powerful attack used to drop the entire party’s HP to 1. Unfortunately for Kefka, Kyle recovered swiftly and wiped him off the map. Oh, someone died (Terra?), revealing that if that happens, someone from the next party will take their place, but that was the worst of it. The Final Boss went down in something like two sentences of summary. It was the most humiliating battle for the bad guys since the Light and Dark Emperor in FFII. Suffice to say, Kyle and I made immediate plans to go try out the bonus dungeon.
Official God Tally: Chaos (FFI), Dark Emperor, Light Emperor, Creator (Legends), Ashura (Legends II), Dunatis, Venus, Magnate, Odin, Apollo, Julius / The Mana Tree, Creator (After Years), Dogra, Ashura (Legends III), Chaos (Legends III), Maitreya, Fenrir, Guha, Dahak, Jorgandr, Agron, Ballor, Sol, Xagor, Demon, Fiend, Goddess, Visage, Power, Tiger, Machine, Magic, Lady, Rest, Kefka.
While the final boss wasn’t very remarkable, the ending was extended, absolutely packed with scenes thanks to our recruiting every character in the game. As you might expect from a pile of garbage held together by a magic clown, Kefka’s Tower began to collapse without him. Normally I don’t support the whole “collapsing architecture” trope buuuuuuut this one I understand.
Everyone resolved to run out of the base, but Terra transformed into an Esper, and the party’s Magicite began to disappear now that magic had been destroyed, making it clear that Terra was in serious danger. Still, she used her power to help the party out out, and we were soon looking at a book on a table in unusual close-up art. In the book, we saw items representing each party member, followed by a scene of that party member trying to escape the final dungeon. Ironically, a lot of these scenes involved them barely escaping death with the help of close friends, which inadvertently implies that they wouldn’t have been in a life-threatening situation to begin with if we hadn’t arranged a parade of playable characters to run through this escape sequence, because if the situation had occurred in that alternate universe, their friend wouldn’t have been there to rescue them!
Let’s take a look at some of these scenes. The first featured Cyan, and a scene with him and Edgar where he could not work out how to hit the switches we had already used. Next was Setzer used his coin to predict a fork in the road, but then turned on himself and told them to go the opposite way, saying Darril always told him that when he thought he was right, he was wrong, and he was finally ready to take that to heart.
Edgar and Sabin got a scene together, getting through a door though the factory collapsed on their heads, Sabin catching it. Sabin confessed to Edgar that when he left Figaro all those years ago, he had never intended to run away from his responsibilities, but simply to get stronger. Ironically, I don’t think he necessarily needed to say that, as I get the impression that Edgar already knew.
Let’s see, what else happened. Mog nearly fell off a pit as the dungeon collapsed but Edgar skewered him on a huge mechanical hook to rescue him (look, that’s what I’m seeing, alright?). Umaro, Setzer and Celes came to a locked door that Celes couldn’t bludgeon down, so Umaro bashed through a wall. Wait, hold on. Umaro, I thought I told you to stay in the car!
Next up, Gogo was called on to mimic Celes to work a machine in exact synchronicity, only for Gogo to fall down a pit and not be rescued! You might have expected this to imply that Gogo had perhaps slipped back between worlds to appear in some later Final Fantasy (which they have not yet done), but apparently not. The wiki notes that Gogo is seen briefly later on, so I guess it was just a weird coincidence that Gogo doesn’t seem to make it out of the dungeon!
Gau was next, and his “item” on the book was the diving helm from earlier, the one with seating for four, power doors and AM/FM radio. Gau pointed out a shortcut to the others that involved a lot of falling off ledges. Kyle and I wished we could start jumping off ledges too since a lot of the ones in these games seem to be pretty artificial, but you get used to these things. He then started shoving people off ledges, proving that Julius from FFA got reincarnated after all life on his planet came to a slow creaking halt.
While most of these vignettes were relatively harmless character moments, Locke and Celes actually got some plot progression as Celes dropped Locke’s bandana, which she had been carrying all this time, even after being reunited with Locke (probably because he seems to have found himself a new one). This put her in danger as the floor gave out below her, but Locke promised to hold on to her no matter what, though he had to carry her out when her anime embarrassment caused her to pause.
Next came Terra, who was inexplicably represented in the book by a pair of martini glasses? The significance of this is lost on me. Unfortunately, Maduin’s magicite had begun to fade away (even more tragically, this happened in a room filled with the tubes for Esper batteries that had basically killed him in the first place!). He wished his daughter the best, saying she might survive before he vanished, so long as she’s strongly attached to something or someone.
Next up, we watched as Relm had to help Strago against a treadmill his body started to get out. Around this point, one of us was prompted to remark: “Let me get this straight, some of the party ran off way ahead of the others?” It undercuts these so-called scenes of friendship a little, don’t you think? Relm said she was going to paint Strago to attack him, and was getting upset at him trying to die on her, until he got sentimental himself. I too am deeply moved by threats of domestic violence.
Shadow tried to escape from the others, as we might have expected from him, but had trouble in that Interceptor didn’t want to leave. He wished that that his old partner in thievery might come looking for him later, and Interceptor seemed to turn back to the others.
Returning to the book, we got to Strago, was still behind or something, and he climbed after a mechanical hook with Relm to escape. Kyle remarked: “I really think [the party was] just going to leave some people behind.” It was starting to look like the plan was working, too!
After a brief “And You” from the credits, the game carried on full-time into the ending. The party had reached the airship, and Terra flew ahead of the party still in her Esper form. The last piece of Magicite disintegrated in front of our eyes, but for some reason Terra insisted on flying ahead despite her power being in immediate danger. The others even shouted warnings to her but they apparently didn’t get through to her, I don’t understand. Maybe she was just urgently trying to get to Mobliz, as that’s where we ended up, and saw that the young pregnant woman was having her baby.
Apparently the flight out of the tower was a disaster, since the entire party was unconscious on top of the deck when we next saw them. Thankfully, they had rescued Terra before blacking out, and discovered that she had become fully human. Kyle and I started to wonder what would have possibly happened to the ending if we hadn’t rescued Terra, given how much of the finale was hers, but there was no time for that: the world had been partially restored, the water was blue and the grass green, and it was time for the credits to roll.
Returning to Mobilz, we discovered that the baby had been born, with all the children watching and the father in another room (talk about a crash course in human reproduction). People were rebuilding and regrowing, and Edgar tried to hit on Celes, only for, urm, Relm to hit on him instead. This game makes me uncomfortable. Like, end-to-end. And if there isn’t a more acceptable ending for this game than that, I don’t know what it is!
Except we didn’t stop there! As I said earlier, we went on to give one of the GBA bonus dungeons a try after clearing the main game. This was the Dragon’s Den, home to powered up versions of the Eight Dragons as well as a number of superbosses. Once again, we’d be splitting up into three parties. We used our old arrangement, save that we swapped Sabin into Party 2, Mog into Party 1, and I believe Relm into Party 3, though I can’t be certain about that because… well you’ll see.
The first dragon we came across in the Dragon’s Den was the Ice Dragon, met by Party #1. Here we swiftly learned how strong the bonus dungeon really was, as everyone swiftly died except for Mog, who had a Snow Scarf Kyle had won in the Coliseum that absorbed ice damage, even though I believe he could still be Frozen. The dragon tried to bite him, but Mog is an absolute tank and it just plain didn’t work (it didn’t hurt that the absorbed ice damage kept healing the bite damage!). In short, most of the party was dead and Mog was immobile but invincible. For a long time Kyle and I simply assumed we’d be sitting there until the dragon ran out of MP, but we finally managed to get people on their feet and unfrozen long enough for Locke to kill the dragon. This earned us Setzer’s ultimate weapon, the Final Trump. Great, because we’re such big fans of Setzer.
Our next dragon as behind a lot of switch pushing, but we finally made it there with Party 2. This was the Storm Dragon, who could now use evasion and speed-boosting spells to keep on top of us at all times (thankfully a glitch makes it immune to the evasion-boosting move). Nevertheless, Party 2 persevered, won the Longinus spear for Mog, and we were feeling pretty good about ourselves.
The Earth Dragon fucking annihilated us just a few minutes later, bringing our Final Fantasy VI adventure to its permanent close.
One topic of discussion that makes the rounds in game critic and development circles is the subject of “What video game made you realize that games could be an effective storytelling medium?” The question always surprised me. “Made you realize.” I don’t think I ever needed to be somehow convinced that video gaming could be a storytelling medium as a child, and frankly never quite understood everyone else’s reluctance. I know that I’m the outlier, that I’m the weird one, but it’s actually hard for me to communicate what I think about narrative in games at times because I seem to approach the concept from an entirely different angle than others, and don’t have the common language I’d need to communicate my thoughts?
But even though it’s rare that I understand why others are baffled by the storytelling potential of games, sometimes I get a lock on it. Sometimes I see it with my own eyes, and ironically, I saw it in FFVI. This is ironic because FFVI is one of those games others credit as the game that showed them that game narratives could work, but not for me. While I love FFVI’s many set-piece moments, it all falls apart whenever I try to see how the parts fit together. Sadly, time and time again, I find myself enjoying the sequence itself but not the means by which we arrived there. FFVI is held up by some of the worst writing practices, time and time again. Lack of context, characters held down by magic bonds, diabolus ex machina, etc. Time and time again.
In the end, I just can’t shake the feeling that like certain other games that will show up on this blog, FFVI wants to be enjoyed… but not examined. It’s probably the highest quality example of that sort of paradigm, but I can’t help but feel disappointed, nevertheless. FFVI just serves as a reminder to me that while video games could tell stories, a lot of developers, even very good ones, didn’t know how to adapt to the medium to actually tell them.
As for gameplay, I admit it: I don’t mind an easy game and had a blast with FFVI. I think I would have preferred a touch more challenge so that my decisions felt meaningful rather than steamrolling (FFV remains my favourite in that regard of “fun customizability”) but I’d certainly like to give the game another chance some time in the future, even if I haven’t yet leapt at it like I did FFV.
For our next entry in the Marathon, Kyle and I decided to do something a little different. Actually we made the decision months prior and only caught up to ourselves here. We decided to intermix our Final Fantasy Marathon with the Persona games, starting with Persona 1 on PSP. I’d personally been a fan of the Shin Megami Tensei series for years, along with its sometimes dubiously connected spinoffs, but I couldn’t get Kyle to touch them with a ten-foot tentacle. Luckily, Persona caught his interest, and I hadn’t yet caught up to Persona in my playthrough of the MegaTen games, so it seemed like a great idea to weave it into the Marathon. Playing with Kyle seemed like a good way to catch up and have a little, quick fun outside of our Final Fantasy bubble.
How wrong we were.