While I was well prepared to move on with the plot, Kyle was reading the guide around this point and spotted one last bonus location on the main map. Unfortunately, by sheer coincidence, I found the first of the four seals at just that time, and accidentally dumped two of our party members off there as part of the plot. More on what happens to them later, since I need to finish discussing the consequences of my poor gameplay decisions. Deciding I should just carry on with the plot at first, I let off another group of two at the next spot, and only then changed my mind, so we were left with just the remaining party of four for our trip to this new location! Thankfully it was just a town: Daguerreo, a library town that sold the game’s best equipment (after a puzzle) and synth recipes. We didn’t have near enough money for everything, and went grinding for some cash by fighting the Grand Dragons outside, and also the Gimmie Cats, who try to trick you into thinking they’re Friendly monsters when they’ll actually just steal from you! The Grand Dragons are incredibly dangerous even this late in the game, so we decided to go back to the Iifa Tree to Eat the Level 5 Death ability off of a Stroper.
…Oh god, we made Quina eat a dick. I hate everything.
To my utter bafflement, Cid declared that if they jogged to shore, they’d be able to follow the Hilda Garde I on their fucking seaship, Thankfully, no doubt skippered by Squall Leonhart, they did the impossible and chased the man across the ocean, seeing him go to Esto Gaza up north. Most of the town had been abandoned, but the furious bishop was able to tell us that Kuja and “hundreds” of Black Mages had shown up. The game then showed a cutscene with exactly thirteen Black Mages. I’m not entirely sure what angle I want to make fun of this from, so I’ve decided to be curious and wonder if these proportions can be applied to any Final Fantasy game’s population abstractions. Are there supposed to be ten times as many people in any town as there are actual NPCs? Where in the series does that ratio make sense, and where doesn’t it? Show your work!
Anyways, Kuja and his pals had taken Eiko into the nearby dormant volcano, Mount Gulug, same as the name on the stone. Mount Gulug was named after Mount Gulg from FFI, and even played a remix of its famous music. “Gulug” is another transliteration that I don’t think I can blame on the localizers, because the mountain’s name remains inconsistently translated to this very day. Translations include: “Gulg,” “Gulug,” “Gurgu,” and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a remix of the song entitled “Gorgo.” As I discussed with Kyle, the idea of Mt. Gulg being in the arctic might be a reference to FFA, where Marilith was an ice demon for some reason, but that’s probably just a coincidence.
We finally made our way to the desert, where we found not one but four whirlpools of sand. Naturally, three were fakes, and just as naturally, the fakes included fights with the Antlion boss from back in Cleyra, still able to do easy group damage and hefty counterattacks, making it far more dangerous than the average enemies, or frankly even the average boss refight! I actually had to go back to the ship to swap Vivi into the party (despite him being a much higher level than the others) because I just couldn’t figure out how to deal with them without his magic! Naturally again, we only found the fucking fortress dead last, leading to multiple Antlion encounters, plus some with sand worms out of FFI.
As soon as you “find” the fortress, FFIX does another of those in medias res cuts it’s been using so often lately, and jumps ahead a few hours. And with good reason! It seems you were captured the moment you went under the sand, and everyone wakes up in separate cells, except for Zidane, who has been packed in with Cid so that Kuja can threaten / negotiate with them together. Definitely not as a hackneyed way for the devs to set Cid free later on!
Yup, Kuja just attacked Alexandria with Bahamut. Taking control of Garnet, we were able to assign the Pluto Knights to various tasks. Unlike Eiko’s cooking sequence, we had met these fellows and knew something of their personality, but it had been over a year and two Persona games ago, and asking you to remember twelve different names and personalities from the start of the game would be asking a lot at the best of times, so I was basically just picking at random. Judging from their reactions, we got two right and two wrong, earning an Elixir where we could have gotten an ahead-of-the-curve accessory.
Garnet lingered as the evacuation began, and was for some reason overcome by a magical effect that caused her to faint. Unawares, Steiner and Beatrix went into town to fight the Mistodons Kuja had unleashed after his summons. I actually died here towards the end, because there was a series of battles that almost refused to end, but I kept assuming they would to give me a chance to heal! They didn’t! The Mistodons are actually pretty tough with just two people, since they can put you to sleep really easily! I then died again after I restarted and tried “Nina” all of Beatrix’s equipment (you can take everything but her Save the Queen sword). When this, too, failed, I gave her shittier equipment instead, and was well rewarded in the long run, but I’ll take the blame for those cock-ups.