Session 4 was an abbreviated one, and as such, we didn’t quite make the usual loop from the Calm Lands to the Calm Lands. Which is a shame because Chapter 4 looks like it’s going to be the game’s smallest, and we probably could have made it with just another hour or two! But these things happen. Instead, we only got a half hour or so into Chapter 4, and if you know Chapter 4, you can guess how we spent our time! At the time of posting, Kyle and I have finished the main game, but not Last Mission or any of the spinoff products!
After some forgetfulness about how to continue the Cactuar quest, we wrapped the rest of it up in short order. The next Cactuar hid inside of a chest in Chateau Leblanc (if you hit the wrong chests, they drop things), while the two after that were paired together and waited north of the Calm Lands. The final Cactuar in this set was available in the Thunder Plains, and was incredibly fast. If that speed is a sign of things to come and not just a Thunder Plains gimmick (lightning, yes?), then Kyle and I are probably doomed with this minigame!
There was literally nothing to do in Bevelle for anyone who sided with the Youth League in Chapter 2, so that means it was finally time help those poor people in the Cavern of the Stolen Fayth, who had been wailing for assistance this entire time. In all honesty, this was probably the hardest section of the entire chapter in terms of combat difficulty, at least prior to the finale and arguably even then. This is another example of the game assuming you play the opening hotspots before the side missions, and there’ll be more examples before the chapter is done! Too bad the developers didn’t come up with sturdier guidelines: it’d be nice to be able to tell new players that they can totally play the initial hotspots in each chapter so long as they avoid later ones, or something like that. That said, at the time of writing (accounting for only chapters 1-3), the only exception was Guadosalam in Chapter 2, which isn’t (really) available at the start after all!
It seems that the minigame vendors from the Calm Lands were ready to open their new attraction at the Cavern of the Stolen Fayth, only for Fiends to stream out, just like the temples. This is interesting, because it suggests the Fiends aren’t actually coming from temples, but from the former site of the Fayth (Shinra will try to make this point later, but because the line had to be phrased to ignore the optional Cavern of the Stolen Fayth sequence, it just sounds like he’s being anal about temple naming conventions. Unfortunately, Shinra being a pedant for pedantry’s sake is totally in character, which obscures what he was actually getting at!).
Yuna restrains her urge to chew out the minigame club in public, and agrees to rescue everyone in the cavern, which is going to take the form of a special sequence. By the way, if you’re curious about the whole mercenary, “charging people to save their lives” angle, Buddy seems to handle it from this point on, and you never see a dime, or at least you haven’t at the time of writing. But there’s trouble: even though the NPCs want to get out of the cave and its Fiends, they’re comically helpless: they all have stupid demands about how they want to get out of cave, some run away from you, and one fellow is literally running in circles. It all boils down to this: when you talk to them, they’ll offer to join you, but only if your current train of NPC lemmings is of the correct size. Basically, everyone gives you a max size where they’ll refuse to join your parade of morons, and will leave if you reach it. They’ll also give you a minimum number: if they join when your train is that small, they’ll stay with you from that point on, maximum be damned. Thankfully random encounters are extremely sparse, so you can compare lemmings easily enough. There doesn’t seem to be a prize for getting all the NPCs in one pass (well, all the ones that you can, but more on that in a minute), so you don’t have to struggle through the puzzle if you don’t want to, but we both gave it a shot anyways. Unfortunately, neither of us could have managed it, since one of the NPCs was hiding in a crevice just off camera, and we couldn’t find him. You literally cannot see him: he’s basically a hidden bonus, and we had to turn to a walkthrough to figure out what we were missing!
As I’ve been hinting, there’s a little more to this than just fetching the initial group of lemmings. You see, you can’t reach the final chambers at the outset: the teleporter originally guarded by Lady Ginnem is busted, so you can’t reach any of its four destinations: the two treasure rooms, the former site of the Fayth, or for that matter the shortcut to or from the entrance. The only way to repair the platform is to bring NPCs out of the dungeon, after which some of them will give you parts, though one also shocks by rewarding the “Besaid Key,” the item sold for a small fortune in Besaid at the start of the game! (According to a walkthrough, if you go to Besaid, you learn someone actually bought the thing, presumably this guy, who just gave you a king’s ransom!) Unfortunately, thanks to the secret NPC, Kyle and I were totally stonewalled without the help of a walkthrough.
Puzzle notwithstanding, Kyle and I fucked this up bad. First, after being nearly lulled to sleep by identical monster groups, I was killed by a surprisingly powerful pair of monsters just after releasing most of the NPCs. Then, Kyle made it to the boss only to discover this ends the mission, leaving every other NPC to die! Well, okay, maybe not “die” but you know what I mean. The thing that makes all of this worse is that the entire Cavern of the Stolen Fayth consists of a single map. That means that if you lose or restart, you have to restart the entire mission! The only save is the autosave before the boss, and since we made it to the boss with faulty numbers, we still had to start over!
Once we finally checked a walkthrough, we learned about the hidden lemming, but that wasn’t all. To get the final piece of the teleporter, you also need to talk to someone outside. hhhhhohoho, this was The Bullshit right here. It’s not enough that you have to leave the cave in violation of this game’s general rules for missions up to this point – generally, doing so would kick you out of the mission – but if you walk even a step past the person you need to talk to, the game asks if you’re trying to quit the mission then, instead! If you didn’t know you had to talk to the guy, you could easily mistake him as being past the cut-off point and inaccessible, because the line really is that close! And there’s really no indication that the game is hiding a secret: it just seems like the game moved the “abandon the mission” cut-off point a little, out-of-line with the rest of FFX-2 but not unprecedented in the genre at large. But no, they actually hid something at the extreme edge of this cull-de-sac! Combined with the unseeable NPC inside the cave, this really does seem like a deliberate, punk move from the dev in charge, playing with the meta to make things harder. The invisible NPC I can sort of respect, even I was bitter after so many replays, but putting the NPC nearly past an exit zone that could cost you 100% completion is the design language equivalent of hiding them inside a pool of lava!
After rescuing some people from the hidden chambers, we did our final attempt at the boss. Surprise: each of the Fiend assaults is being lead by the Dark Aeon associated with the area, and this one’s Dark Yojimbo. The game even gives the trio unique voice quotes at the start of each Aeon battle, asking “Why?” and whatnot, to no response. Yojimbo fights alongside his dog, who still works like one of his attacks, but did appear in the battlefield as though it was a regular enemy. Yojimbo’s attacks were fairly average, but one was to throw a set of kunai, damaging the victim’s MP instead of HP, and inflicting Poison. Poison is no big deal in X-2, but you don’t want to underestimate it in this particular fight. Like the other Dark Aeons, Yojimbo uses his Overdrive in the fight, seemingly at set HP levels, I suspect 25% and 50%. His Zanmato functions like Kefka’s Heartless Angel in that it reduces you to 1 HP, but it also carries over a feature from Heartless Angel’s recent appearance in Kingdom Hearts: it also reduces your MP to 1. Either way, this is disastrous. Zanmato makes it basically unreasonable to restore your MP, forcing you to change Dresspheres to combat spheres (or, in our case, to come back with better Jobs in the first place). And the HP may be even worse. Remember that kunai attack? Obviously it can’t do any more MP damage, but that doesn’t really matter, does it? Because the Poison was the real threat all along. If you’re poisoned when Zanmato strikes, you will die before you get a turn, which could lead to a total party kill! And we did die! Thankfully this time we could reload the auto-save!
There’s not much to say after the dungeon is done: the Dark Aeon stuff is primarily covered in the main storyline, so all that happens here is that the two companies give up on building in the Cavern, which is a no brainer at this point. The only real revelation from our perspective is that the Fayth’s body in the final room had been swallowed by another faux-Spencer Pit (returning to the room after the fact, you can get an accessory). The game finished up by giving us the “Tetra Master” Garment Grid. Despite the explicit FFIX reference, the “Tetra” in the name is actually reference to Kujata’s Tetra-Disaster attack from FFVII, since the Grid gives you elemental powers. I don’t know about this kind of reference, it kind of feels like they buried the lede on it.
Moving on to Gagazet, we learned that the inevitable had happened: the bulk of the Ronso had decided to turn their back on Kimahri to wipe out the Guado, with Garik in the lead. Shows what I knew, calling him a “bit part!” They had gone on to perform a pre-battle religious ceremony, “telling the mountain,” during which they hope for a response from Gagazet in the form of weather signs. Kimahri was waiting for them at the base of the mountain, ready to stop them by force if necessary, Gagazet be damned. I have a small degree of respect for Kimahri giving Garik room for a religious turnaround, but honestly dude, this seems to have happened because you did literally nothing about it and you waiting around for the problem to solve itself yet again just makes things worse. Just to underline the problem, remember the last time we were here, and how how everyone was talking genocide but Kimahri was still babbling to Yuna about finding Spheres of Not-Tidus? Yeah, he starts up on that again! It seems he hasn’t seen sight or sound of our missing guy, but he has found another Dressphere for us, which he presents to Yuna by holding his palm almost upside-down, as though the sphere were magnetized to his action-fiction plank of a hand.
This was the Trainer Dressphere which, like the Festivalist, offers different abilities depending on the user. Unlike the Festivalist the three characters do have something of a common gameplay theme: damaging, status-effect-inflicting attacks. Each Gullwing gets a special “pet” with its own capabilities. Yuna’s Kogoro, a remodel of Yojimbo’s dog Daigoro, does elemental damage alongside the status effects. Rikku’s Ghiki, a primate of some kind, has Thief-style abilities mixed in. Lastly, Paine’s Flurry, a bird of prey, is primarily concerned with restoration and buffs, to the point where the status effect attacks are almost an afterthought, but they’re there, too!
Garik has broken the teleporters, so you have to walk across the mountain, because there wouldn’t be much of a mission otherwise. Once we reached the Fayth Scar, we got a little confused… which way to go? Despite my previous conclusions, it turns out you can move on to Zanarkand from here (and thankfully we worked that out quickly, because Garik actually is waiting in that direction), but what if they went up to the ruins? Kimahri said the Ronso were at “the summit,” but surely the ruins are closer to the summit than any room in FFX, right? Even if it had been called the “summit” at the time? So sure enough, Kyle and I repeated the entire climb to the hot springs to go up a previously inaccessible cliff, reaching the ruins from the start of the game. There was nothing up there, and we were wasting our time! (Although we did stop a little short so it’s possible we missed something.) What’s weird is that the game had shown the Ronso climbing the mountain alongside us, but gave up right at the fork, when we needed them the most!
Garik basically told us that we’d have to fight him after only a little chatter, though it bothered me that Yuna basically had no practical arguments against his few and very shallow arguments. How about, “Genocide is wrong,” or “Plenty of Guado aren’t guilty,” or “Even the guilty parties deserve a trial,” or “Surely the Al Bhed have a right to a say in this,” or “Even though the Guado helped Seymour attack me and the Al Bhed, only Seymour actually attacked Gagazet, so this race-wide cull you’re planning here has been a transparent and baseless attempt at petty and selfish revenge from the beginning.” No, she just says “I don’t want to see anyone sad,” including the Guado? Sad? Is FFX-2 trying to imply that the Ronso were only going to beat the Guado up or something and then walk away like a schoolyard bully? That doesn’t even make sense! Or is she talking about the survivors? In that case, don’t you have a larger objection? They are talking! About! Genocide!!
Yuna makes Garik agree that he’ll give up if the Gullwings beat him in a fight, and he agrees (more on that in a minute). You end up fighting Garik alongside either one or two other warriors depending on how you talked to the Ronso in previous chapters. Despite what you might have expected, none of them seem to use Blue Magic. Instead, they’re seriously fast, allowing them to not only fight quickly but to buff without wasting time. Thankfully, their HP seems to be low, and Kyle was able to take them out quickly. After the fight, Garik reveals that the mountain actually turned his plan down during the “telling the mountain” ritual, but he was going to go to fight anyways until Yuna showed up to stop him.
Moving on to Zanarkand for the final side content, there was another set of free chests but not much else. We talked to Isaaru, who revealed that Zanarkand temple wasn’t being invaded by Fiends, or at least no more than usuals (monkeys, however…!). Indeed, Zaon’s relics were still in place, with no sign of a Spencer Pit this time around. I suspect this has to do with him being everyday, regular bones for a millennia, but time will tell! Isaaru seemed somewhere between fired up and surrendered by the idea of having to defend the holiest place in Spira, and left us alone.
Alright, enough of that crap. Next time: Plot!