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 as it took us to clear 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.
(*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.
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 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 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 – yeah, 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 it (this journal is the first of the ones carried over from my old blog, but intro is new), 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, FFII doesn’t seem all that out-of-line to the two of us. Yes, its level progression is 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. They just all happen to be 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.
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 #2s, like Zelda or Castlevania. Unfortunately, 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. (more…)