One of these days – one of these days! – I’m going to remember that Daylight Savings Time throws WordPress for a whirl and screws all my scheduled posts. This time I didn’t even realize I had to correct things until a few weeks in! Sheesh!
It took us a while to get the White and Black Mage buildings. We are not proud. We finally got the White Mage Temple on Day 36, with Dana finally excelling and killing a boss instead of Mr. “You’re Not The Only Hero” Franklin. White Mages start off with nothing but Cure spells, requiring another building for anything else, which makes them awful solo adventurers, but this is the situation the game’s put us in, isn’t it? The advent of mages also introduces Rods to the Weapon Shop and Robes in the Armour.
Thankfully, the Black Mage Academy followed quickly after the White on Day 38, though I insisted we put it further away from the Adventurer’s Quarter, as I was hoping to put another residential district near where the Quarter had been creeping, not knowing that the game was never going to give us another Bakery (in hindsight, the remaining civilian building should have gone there instead of where we ended up putting it, but we didn’t realize it has the same functions as a Bakery!). On the plus side, the Academy ended up between our two residential districts and might have boosted the Intellect stat of local resident adventurers, but not so much that I ever actually noticed it. As for the Black Mage Academy itself: Black Mages start with Fire spells, and never branch out into other elemental disciplines, since the complexity would just make things unweildy.
Clearing this dungeon also got us a cutscene. The central cast arrive in town square to see a hubbub already in process. It seems that someone has heard news that a “Dark Lord” lives in the region and is responsible for King Epitav’s disappearance, not to mention the unusual level of organization among the monsters. Some of the people want to book it, being more familiar with life in exile than a sedentary life, but the central cast is able to rally them… only for the Dark Lord to show up in person. To make matters worse, the Dark Lord appears to be King Epitav himself!
Epitav manifests next to the Crystal and then gives him some unexpected advice to continue working and building up the town. We were probably supposed to read this as suspicious, but then he started talking about “earning the right” to be a king, which sounds a lot more appropriate coming from a villain, even though I don’t think we were supposed to see it that way. “Go colonial monarchy!” right game? Chime jumps in and insists that King Epitav didn’t used to be “like this”? What, telling his son he’s doing a good job? Harsh! Or do you mean the “steaming with evil smoke” thing? This is one of those “one definite localization problem suggests other localization problems” scenes. In any event, Epitav teleports out.
The next morning, Hugh comes up to tell us that the adventurers “held a rally until the wee hours of the morning.” Oh, a “rally!” So that’s why we need a Tavern: they just drank all the booze! Basically, they’ve decided they’re going to fight the Dark Lord even if he is their former king. In a more narrative-oriented product, this could have been an interesting angle, not least because all the adventurers are young adults, and probably barely remember the original king except in childhood! The young Leo knows him even less, but has the family tie, and Pavlov, Chime and Hugh seem to have known the man personally. The potential was here for some good character conflicts, a generation gap with Leo on both sides, but the game’s not going in that direction, and for more reasons than perfunctory, narrative shallowness, as you’ll soon see. The main characters wonder aloud why the Dark Lord who destroyed the kingdom (as rumour has told them) now wants it destroyed, but obviously they have no idea.
By the way, this is one of the first scenes where the game does this weird bit, where Pavlov makes a sound that he often makes, but in some cases characters are surprised and get mad at him for doing it, but other times they just treat it as part of his speech? The game is trying to be funny and it is… not. It’s just not. I’d even go so far as to call it actively bad!
The game unlocks the Demolish command at the start of this chapter, which takes a little longer than you’d might expect: you mark a building for demolition, people move out and temporarily move “into the castle,” and the building is only actually destroyed at the end of the day. The displaced family then moves into the next available houses. Kyle and I weren’t clear if they move into any available house, even if it’s larger or smaller (moving in with other families? splitting their own family up?) or if they wait for the next copy of the same house, even though we gradually replaced single houses with larger ones? Oh well.
Now that we have the Black Mage Academy building, it was time for us to learn about the slime boss guarding the Tavern the hard way. Chapter 3 began on Day 38, and we finally killed the Bavarois on… well, we don’t actually know any more! You see, for the first time in the years we’ve been doing recordings at this point, our recording just sort of… stopped! And we don’t even know why! I touched the computer only once during this section, just to check another tab of my browser, and I certainly don’t think I pressed the stop button or entered the “stop recording” hotkey, but when else could it have happened? All I can tell you is that, late in the day on Day 45, the recording stops, and we only noticed in the middle of Day 57! I’ll try to fill in the gap as best I can, but a simulation game like this, with little variance from day to day, doesn’t exactly lend itself to detailed memories.
The biggest problem was that our Black Mage aspirants were low level relative to our initial set of characters, whom we wanted to keep as Warriors or Thieves. For what it was worth, we did raise the adventurer cap and assigned some of the newbies to mage jobs, but they were literally at Level 1 and weren’t about to improve any time soon! Eventually, a Black Mage named Liz squeaked her way up from the mid-ranks all the way to level 11, one higher than the dungeon that housed the Bavarois, and we began to throw her at the boss over and over (and our money into upgrades for mages, not that she could afford them!) until finally the boss broke. What else could we do? We couldn’t form parties! We couldn’t go to any other dungeon, because they were all cleared! In hindsight we should have grinded Liz up to 12 or 13, but you can’t really blame us for not, because the game never explains the differences between a grind and a boss run, and we figured that if she’s still fighting enemies during a boss run, surely that’s enough, right? Well… it’s not! But we only really clued in later in the game. Luckily, Liz eventually did beat the wretched slime, but what a chore!
In the interim, we got our first shop upgrade request, but these are not what they seem. Basically, after upgrading the shop’s initial item line to a certain level, the opportunity to upgrade stops (funnily enough, secondary items, like Mage equipment, have free reign for you to upgrade all the way up to Level 100 from the moment they unlock!). These “upgrade quests” apply to the three traditional shops, as well as the mage upgrade buildings, though not the Thief and the later Warrior buildings for whatever reason. The owner asks you to set a Behest to find some crap they need for upgrades, and the lowest difficulty version of this quest becomes available. Unfortunately, these quests are far, far harder than they appear, with someone online saying that they match the level of the item upgrade you’re going for, which doesn’t seem right (the entire storyline ends around Level 30, but the first upgrade quests show up around Equipment Level 25. If the person online was right about the boss being Level 25, we should never have won the few upgrade quests that we did around mid-game!), but they are still very, very hard. We basically only ever won one upgrade for each shop, ever.
During the recording gap, we also started to encounter yet an element that the game probably should have given us a tutorial prompt after its first encounter. It turns out there are wandering, high-level monsters (for example, one’s a Behemoth), which are nigh impossible to kill for most of the game, who will park themselves in a dungeon for a few days before going somewhere else. We quickly learned to avoid them, and frankly not much else. It’s not worth the trouble to kill them in Vanilla Normal, so far as we could tell. Combined with the shop upgrade quests, our initial enthusiasm for the game was starting to drag against the friction of its actual mechanics. As I’ve already mentioned, the game is very random, but I’m also getting the impression that Normal Mode might not have been very well balanced, as you lack the ability to influence your adventurers beyond a certain point. You basically just have to keep throwing Black Mages at the slime or at grinding until the slime chances to die, hoping the wandering superbosses never run into your path, and there aren’t new upgrades you can build or actual, level-appropriate challenges you can do in the interim. Things like the wandering bosses and the upgrade quests also make it seem like the game was meant for longer campaigns than we actually got, whereas in Normal you’ll basically never overcome them! The DLC “Infinite Tower” might have been especially helpful as it holds 99 levels worth of challenges inside!
The long-awaited Tavern delivered on its promises, once we finally got it. This building allows adventurers to form their own parties when they go off to dungeons, but these will be random and aren’t ideal. Thankfully, you can also mandate one consistent party for each Tavern you have in town (max two Taverns in Normal Mode) consisting of up to four adventurers of your own specifications. The only real downside to parties is that the party leader is the only one who gets the Medal after completing a Behest, so you have to swap the leader around from time to time, and changes to your manually created party only go into effect on the next day! Taverns also serve an important role in traffic management, since everyone going to join a party will go to one of your taverns before marching off to the dungeon. While this is an irritating, added step in the pre-dungeon process, it makes it easy to chat with each adventurer for their daily buff, since all you have to do is stand outside the Tavern as they parade into your lazy A-presses. Obviously this all gets a little harder once you have two or more Taverns, but still. By this point in the game, you’ve long since stopped reading the text boxes everyone has to say to you when you talk to them, and one wishes the game would turn off repeats (or give you the option to toggle repeats on or off, anyways) and just play a chime and particle effect to let you know you talked. You’d save hours off the game with just this change!
Another building unlocked during the recording gap was the Training Hall, the much-belated Job building for your default Warriors, selling “Sword Skills,” “Battle Skills” (actually defensive skills), and providing a place for free EXP when your adventurers wander in on their day off, or whatever. Since most of your adventurers are probably Warriors, this is a very helpful upgrade.
One other weird thing to mention about these two buildings is that, instead of being run by a randomized NPC, all the games’ Taverns are run by Chime, instead (which isn’t wholly surprising with her teleportation), and Hugh staffs the Training Hall, even though he’s simultaneously standing in front of the castle, mustering prospective adventurers!
By the time our video returns on Day 57, we’ve already finished mopping up the dungeons south of Padarak on the map (I suspect many of the Hard Mode dungeons are to the south, as it’s by far the least populated of the three map sections), and are just now gearing up to complete Corrum Sih Highroad, the first eastern dungeon, which unlocks around this point. This is good, because it means our recording hasn’t missed the important cutscene that hits after clearing Corrum Sih and I don’t have to go to somebody else’s Let’s Play for the details! This ultimately happened on Day 59, and I’ll discuss it now.
The central cast has decided, off-screen, to write to an old friend of King Epitav to ask about this whole “turned into an evil overlord” thing. This is Stiltzkin, the wandering Moogle, who besides being a reference to FFIX, has the dignity of being the only character to appear in every FFCC game, typically as your tutorial taskmaster (although obviously not in this one!). Stiltzkin reveals that he’s arguably to blame for Epitav founding this city, since he told the king about the magic of architek just after the Miasma broke. But the legend’s not as bright as you might have assumed: Stilzkin calls the Crystal “a rock [that] houses the heart of a king,” and “A corrupt crystal, bathed in drops of sorrow and remorse.” He adds that the Crystal is destined to create an “Archlord,” a sort of emperor. Stiltzkin credits this legend to the Carbuncle, which are actually a race in the FFCC universe. In short, this sounds like a perfect legend for a bad guy to pursue and not so much a kindly old king, but this game is super pro-monarchy and decides that Epitav would love to become unquestioned master of a colonial super-state, and the evil job title, “Archlord” is just icing on his asshole cake. We’re supposed to like this guy! Stilzkin also paraphrases Epitav, suggesting that he might have come for the Crystal to show Leo that he could accomplish something that great on his own. And considering he failed, well….
Epitav doesn’t sit the meeting out. Once again appearing in front of the crystal, he’s barely said hello before Chime insists he throw off “that disguise.” Annnnnnd he does! Surprise! Our primary source of dramatic tension for the entire last chapter was just a gag on the part of a bad guy who isn’t related to Epitav at all, and even he doesn’t care to maintain it any longer, making the entire “Epitav is now evil” storyline a waste of time! I’m serious, they basically just flipped you off for giving a damn! And let me tell you, this was definitely a “stern look and a groan” sort of situation. It’s not as though the game had been a narrative masterwork prior to this, but I definitely started writing up a mental nomination for our Worst Marathon Moments list for the sixth generation. “My Life as a King Declares It Doesn’t Give a Shit.” Yeah, there’s a header for you.
The Dark Lord makes his proper appearance, and he’s basically a sort of Warhammer-esque Chaos Warrior armour with no body inside. The Crystal turns purple. By the way, now that we know the Dark Lord isn’t actually Epitav, I should specific that the only name we ever get for him is “Dark Lord.” The wiki informs me his name is actually “Craydall,” probably info that comes from the sequel. Craydall brings up the fact that he wants you to succeed, and when they ask about the contradiction in him destroying Epitav’s kingdom, he blames the old king for not cooperating. He explains this used to be his land, a kingdom of monsters, but once the miasma broke, he was so overcome by the psychic wave of dying monsters that it caused him to literally explode. His heart, like Stiltzkin implied, was literally bounded within the Crystal as a consequence of the explosion (don’t question magic!), and he’s been with you ever since. What the game never explicitly says is that elementatite is actually the Dark Lord’s remains, ala MAGI or various other examples I could think of, and that by gathering it in once place, you’re basically rebuilding his body in the form of an evil sentient city! Another narrative idea that could have had loads of potential, but do they use it?
We get a flashback to Epitav’s city (actually distinct from your own) and learn that he one day learned about Craydoll’s influence within the Crystal. Craydoll declared that he was the real king of the land, and keeps derisively referring to the fact that the Clavats and other tribes call his people “monsters.” Wow, his people are demonized by colonizers, he has so much empathy that their deaths caused him to literally explode, and he’s the bad guy beeeee…cauuuuuse? Oh right, because this game is so pro-colonialism that literally erased the three other human tribes from its Vanilla launch. Craydoll tried to strike a bargain with Epitav, offering him the position of Archlord. Epitav says that a personal offer like that won’t work on him, because, “This land isn’t mine alone.” No, you meathead, it belongs to the monsters you stole it from, that’s literally what Craydoll is saying! But no, Epitav’s talking about Leo and his Clavat colonists, and their future on “their” land. Ugh, whatever. 4X games and their spinoffs always have this sort of problem, since it’s hard to divorce colonialism from the whole eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate angles, and indeed it’s rare to see a game even try to question the problems. My Life as a King is not surprising me here, is what I’m getting at. The two get in a fight and Epitav loses.
Craydoll then tells Leo and friends that he sealed Epitav away in a building we see on the northern horizon (on top of a cliff side that backs Padarak), calling it “the place where my heart reposes,” implying that he’s still alive. But your heart reposes… in… the… Crystal? The game’s translation could honestly use some work, I don’t know. He then says something about his body that’s equally fuzzy in translation. Long story short, Craydoll leaves, pointing out the irony in the kingdom’s motto of swearing allegiance to the Crystal when the Crystal’s actually him, an angle I wish they went into deeper, just like everything else this narrative does that’s even partially close to good. This game’s narrative feels like it’s nothing but hooks for better plots, but none of them are being used to hang anything!