So, during my most recent FFVIII post, I was discussing my least favourite dungeon in the entire Final Fantasy Marathon, D-District Prison. For point of reference, I also threw some shade on my previous least-favourite dungeon, the Ronka Ruins from FFV. But as I added in an edit after the fact, I actually replayed FFV not long after FFVIII, and realized I didn’t dislike the Ronka Ruins as much as I remembered. If you want to see my comments on those two dungeons, check out that post. In this post, I’m going to follow up those thoughts by trying to work out my new #2 least-favourite dungeon!
Now, some quick standards. Because not every FF game has “dungeons,” we’re going to be weighing whatever each game considers to be a distinct “unit of play.” That means dungeons in the traditional RPGs, any chapter/stage in the stage-based games, and any battle or fixed series of battles in FFT (spoiler: there are no FFT battles on this list, not even the duel with Wiegraf. But I thought it would be nice to have that rule in case we revisit this list after playing FFTA!). Also, this is only for games we’ve covered in the Final Fantasy Marathon at the time of writing (in the middle of FFVIII), and for Final Fantasy alone. If I had allowed Persona 1 dungeons, there’d be nothing else on the fucking list, so I am happy to dismiss it. No TV episodes or films either, both because they’re so different and because, like Persona 1, LotC and FFU would just dominate the list. With that out of the way, let’s take the the dungeons in Marathon order.
Since we wrapped up the FFVI Journal last week, we decided to take the opportunity to do a celebration here at Marathon Recaps and look back over the past two eras of Final Fantasy: the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. And it won’t just be me because, for the first time you’ll be hearing Kyle’s thoughts directly from the source! With many of these games, it’s been years since we last played them, and we wondered if a good look back might have changed out opinions. So here’s the plan: this week, Kyle and I will alternate talking about each game, giving some time-aged insight into each. Next week, we’ll be back with two Top 5 lists each: our Top 5 Worst and Top 5 Best Moments in the Marathon! Be sure to be back for that!
I’m going to put this bluntly: at the time of writing, Soul of Rebirth was the roughest part of our entire Marathon so far, and also the most dull. It started with the longest grind of the Marathon as well, almost as long on its own as the final dungeon of the main game. This is where we discovered that the mirrored Jade Passage actually does have different enemies on other floors, meaning the impossible enemies dropped on our heads when we controlled only Minwu and Scott were just the 2004 developers being jackasses. It wasn’t a happy way to start the day.
First off, according to a walkthrough we checked, Leon is supposed to be stronger than us right now, or at least as strong. E-excuse me.
(*hideous laughter* *wheezing* *gross cackling*)
Leon started off stronger in Attack than everyone but Firion, and was weaker than everyone in every. single. other. stat. Oh dearie. We have a problem.
We started the day by trying to grind a few of Maria’s weapon stats, and also Leon in general. Leon got a bit out of it but actually proved somewhat uncooperative. It wasn’t (quite) like Josef strangling himself to death with his own hands: Leon just didn’t gain HP, the only stat we were truly monitoring, until we were well past the Jade Passage. But Ultima was the real disappointment, looking at this in hindsight. We never used Ultima, not seriously. While it proved better than Maria’s Level 6 Flare (and itself only costing 4MP for most of the time we had it), Maria was simply too preoccupied with casting Berzerk 6, which was the real game-breaker. Ultimate magic my ass.
Returning to the north, we received some bad news almost as soon as we stepped on shore, when we were attacked by a powerful new group of Imperial wandering monsters. It was a great accidental story moment: “Oh, shit, the army is here.” Exploration confirmed it was worse than even that: all the towns opposed to the Empire, except for Fynn, had been outright destroyed. Even the original headquarters of the Rebellion. The people in Fynn were rambling about how Fynn would be next and wouldn’t stand a chance, making you wonder why Fynn hadn’t been attacked first. There’s really no explanation, either, since the doughnut world makes it so Palamecia and Fynn are practically neighbours.
The source of the attack? The Emperor had used his magic to summon a massive tornado. Wow, and Ultima is supposed to be the ultimate magic? (Tornado actually did go on to become an unusual but powerful FF spell.) We followed our walkthroughs and told Paul that we planned to attack the “Cyclone.” To help out, he gave us access to his stash, which included the Blood Sword. Excellent. Stage 1 of The Plan is complete. We have our super-weapon: a blade that causes more damage to an enemy the more HP they have, devastating bosses. Now for our secret plan: to smuggle it into hell. We’re the heroes.
Our murdering a snake-lady disguised as the princess led to the most bizarre scene of the game. Our weapons still stained with the blood of the woman they thought was their monarch, Gordon and some guards burst in and started shouting that the princess was still being held by the Empire. Look, if you knew about the monster, would you at least remark on it? If not… could you arrest us? I don’t want you to arrest us, but I’d appreciate some semblance of realism, some reaction to this series of events.
It seems that the Emperor had a coliseum built near Palamecia itself, and was holding the princess as the “prize” of the tournament. Yeah, this isn’t a trap, let’s rush right in to the weapon- and monster-filled location where they’re holding the political prisoner. For his next low-hanging fruit, the Emperor will hold the Elf Prince hostage in one of the jet-bike stages from Battletoads.
Also, shouldn’t Hilda be addressed as “Queen” by now?
When we reached Kashuan with our unexplained bell-key, we discovered the fire was right there, just inside the broken front gate. We hadn’t noticed it during our Kashuan grind, just assuming it was the sort of fire pit dungeons keep as decoration all the time. The real problem would be finding the torch inside the rest of the ruins. I admit, this does retroactively explain how the empire got to the fire, if not how they carried it. In any event, the locked door was just past the fire, so we unlocked it and discovered Prince Gordon had gotten here before us, but had stopped just inside the gate, terrified of the monsters. Dammit man! Someone’s already died because you went missing! A little girl’s been orphaned and left with an obsessive stranger! And… okay, several of those things are our fault, and probably none of this is helping your cowardice, but my point stands!
What we did next was a bit of an odd note, one not likely to be repeated in the Final Fantasy marathon. We decided to use the game’s fast travel system – this game has a taxi system of ships and airships – to explore ahead of where we were supposed to be, partially because the airship ticket guy talks too fast and we bought one by accident. We landed in a town that was only one quest ahead of our intent, but we actually stumbled into a special plot point you can only see by going ahead of schedule!
It seems that the Empire was building a massive Dreadnought, an airship built for war (as opposed to the warships in the other Final Fantasy games, which carried heavily equipped level 93 Warriors of Light for famine-relief purposes). The man in charge of the operation was called “the Dark Knight” and no one else in town would speak to us: it’s not clear if they were just terrified of the Knight or if they were actually zombified by some sort of power. Later dialogue suggested that whatever it was, terror or magic, it was making work proceed at a rapid clip.
It’s pretty much expected once I start a Final Fantasy II article that I’ll start by saying this is the “black sheep” of the series. But as I tried to write this new intro for the Journals from my old blog, I find I just don’t agree. I wrote a few drafts, trying to explore my issue with the “black sheep” label, before coming to talk to Kyle and finding he felt the same. The internet may feel FFII is a black sheep, but seems that, 6 core games and 5 spinoffs later at the time I write this new intro, FFII doesn’t seem all that out-of-line to the two of us. Yes, its level progression systems are different, but Kyle gave me the same argument I had in my early drafts: that’s true of every Final Fantasy game. Even the Job System games (III, V, 4HoL, Bravely Default, Dimensions) work differently than one another. True, most Final Fantasy games are rooted in “levels,” but that doesn’t mean a Black Mage from FFI levels the same way as Vivi of IX. And the same is true with FFII. Yes, FFII’s successors did go on to become spinoffs (the SaGa games), but only after introducing a whole pile of new mechanics all their own.
To the two of us, FFII just seems like the natural extension of FFI, given the mechanics in use in tabletop and PC RPGs of the era. Maybe that’s the experience with games from that era talking, or maybe it’s… just us! Or it may a matter of nostalgia: fans of later Final Fantasy games who have cut their teeth on later Final Fantasies coming back to FFII with an idea of what Final Fantasy “is.” to Kyle and I, as outsider, Final Fantasy is just a developing series growing up one entries at a time.
There is also the matter of the “black sheep narrative,” the idea that “every” game developer was creating weird second entries is simply mistaken. Zelda yes, Castlevania sort of, but anything more than a shallow look at game sequels in the 80s will turn up more Mario 2 JPNs than they will Mario 2 USes. FFII hardly seems as experimental as Zelda II, even if it’s not as similar as Dragon Warrior II.
No, FFII’s real crime isn’t that it’s a black sheep. FFII’s real crime is that it doesn’t work.