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, or 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.
This post is a part of A Crystal Compendium, a collaborative blogging project between multiple writers, reflecting on the Final Fantasy series. Check out the hub article for a full listing of games and posts!
The Depths are more than twenty stories deep, so excuse me if I speed things up. The Depths mark the line where the 3D version, previously a fairly close replica of the PSP version of TAY, goes gallivanting off in its own direction, much to the consequence of my screenshots. The Depths in the cell phone, WiiWare and PSP version are guarded by additional Crystals, like the levels above, but filled with bosses from other Final Fantasy games, using the sprites already made available in previous remakes (namely FFI 20th Anniversary, which features cameos from these same bosses). This caries the somewhat uncomfortable implication that the worlds of FFI, II, III, V and Vi may have been destroyed by the villain of TAY in the same manner as the blue planet, though I’ve never really subscribed to that theory, figuring instead that they were simply similar monsters from similar worlds.
The original 3D smartphone version, unfortunately, couldn’t use sprites from other remakes, as it’s a 3D game after all. While the models from FFIII would have been available, that would have left TAY four games short. While I personally would have been far more interested in buying a copy of TAY 3D if it had included brand new 3D models of bosses from FFs I, II, V and VI, Square Enix decided they’d rather cut corners, and I don’t think I can blame them, no matter how cool the alternative would be. It also helps that they shrunk down the dungeon while they were at it. Personally, I find the referencial kitch of the 2D versions to be a net selling point, but I’m hardly everyone and I imagine that a lot of other players could be discouraged by the sheer size of the original dungeon. In the end, the 3D version cut back most of the bosses, leaving their treasures – though a new set of “Lunar” Eidolons (boring recolours of the bosses from The Crystals: Part 1) exist to guard the biggest prizes.
This chapter began with us in control of Ceodore, but a quick chat with anyone soon gave us the option to swap party members. We could use anyone from the previous chapters, with Cecil joining us anew at Level 40, far above the rest of the party… and useless. Cecil’s stats had been floored by his mental state, and were kept bolstered only by his top-tier equipment, though they were still below the intended level. This put us in an awkward state. We did not want to check ahead in the walkthroughs, but the Marathon’s rules state that we have to check ahead to make sure we don’t lose any optional party members. As a result, we knew a secret: we would need a party of Cecil, Golbez, Ceodore and Rosa to keep Golbez alive past a certain point of this dungeon, or Golbez would die. Cautious about this but not sure when it would actually happen, we made sure to use this exact party for most of the dungeon, including Cecil. This was a terrible mistake.
To fill the final party slot, we drafted Kain after some deliberation. When we finally did notice how poorly Cecil was doing, we considered swapping him for Luca (my choice) or Edge (Kyle’s), but never did it. We were just too nervous about losing Golbez. This might surprise some people, but it actually took us a while to notice that Cecil was even doing sub-par! This was because Rydia had been doing very poorly during The Gathering Tale (and would continue to do so until she got her -aga spells) that Cecil’s pathetic stats almost seemed half-decent in comparison. Seriously, what was wrong with Rydia in this game?
The Crystals – Part 1 Thanks to reader hyperion09, I’ve been informed that this chapter was originally divided into three in the original cell phone release, while it was amalgamated starting on the WiiWare version. On the PSP, Part 1’s chapter was called “The Gathering Tale” but I’m getting conflicting reports about the others, so I’m just going to use the name given by the game: The Crystals. No “Tale” subtitle, either. I’ll delineate them as released on cell phones so that I can at least have regular section breaks.
This was the first of the scenarios that requested save data from a previous playthrough, namely Ceodore’s Tale. Apparently, in the WiiWare release, these two versions merge or something if you own them both to avoid this loading process, which was no doubt cumbersome, and also costs the player access to Ceordore’s bonus dungeon in replays, making the whole thing more than a little silly. Yet again, I’m glad we have the PSP version on-hand.
We joined up with Kain just at the tail-end of the Interlude, where he was hearing voices on Mount Ordeal (either that, or Kain’s been hearing voices for years and just ignored them until now). Not that the game says this is a flashback, so it can keep up its bluff that Kain is Kain and the Hooded Man is Some Random Guy. Kain was Level 30, same as when he joined up with Porom, and we took him to the monolith or whatever at the top of the mountain, only for him to find nothing. It took us a moment to realize we were supposed to just… leave the mountain, only for Kain to turn back and go back to the top. What’s all this running around for?
Edward’s Tale Edward’s Tale began with holy crap so much talking, as Kyle and I remarked on how little we really cared. The plot had very much ramped up after Edge, Palom and Porom’s tale, and it didn’t seem like there was anything Edward could really add at this point. And controlling Edward, the Worst Character in FFIV, was not a prospect we found appealing. Well, let’s get this over with.
It turns out Edward is still somewhat morose about his lot in life, and is trying to live vicariously through charity toward Mist and Eblan, despite the fact that Damcyan is only just on its feet itself. He has his private secretary, Harley, cook the books to hide this generosity, which runs out of luck about when we tune in. When the falling star touches down between Damcyan and Fabul, Harley goes off to investigate it personally. Meanwhile, Edward gets the same ugly news about Baron, and unlike Yang sends off a messenger to Baron to make sure everything is all right. Days later, the messenger has not returned, nor has Harley’s search party. Edward is up late, and because we’re… uh… thorough like that, we snuck into Harley’s room and read her diary. And tried to sleep in her bed, why not (Edward actually slips off into dreamland for a second before he remembers where he is, heh). Harley’s diary notes in it that she is Troian, but that she’s proud of her work in Damcyan, though the recent changes have brought everyone’s mood low. Edward proves unable to sleep any further, and so sneaks off into the night to investigate on his own, only to be caught by his Chancellor, who forces him to go with guards.
Finding some early-morning shop keepers, we outfitted our guards with Long Swords thanks to Edward’s vast starting bank of gil. We headed northeast, finding that the Antlion Cave was still present, and probably a bonus dungeon (we’re considering doing it the next time we pick up the game before anything else). From there, we got to the crater, and I should note that this is the first time we’ve ever been at the crater from the west. We found a Bronze Tail randomly dropped by one of the monsters, which we retreated to Save, and then pressed on. (Ed. It turns out you need a lot more Bronze Tails than that to get anything good, but hey, we didn’t know.)
Playing with Edward was a strange experience. His bodyguards, nowhere near as interesting as Monks A-C or even White and Black Mage, were heavy fighters, definitely an odd break from the mages we’ve been dealing with. They also all outranked Edward in terms of levels. Edward himself still used a useless Harp for his attacks, and now had the “Bardsong” power, originally from FFIII but functioning in a manner unique to TAY. In TAY, Bardsong casts a spell on one or more targets, the results randomly selected between nothing, buffs/debuffs (a good result to get if you happen to have selected groups) and healing for allies (good on single targets, as the healing is spread out if you target a group). Note that there seems to be no good reason to only target a single enemy. No, you don’t get to pick which you get. Try your luck! He also still had Salve and Hide, and also started with a ring that increased the gil drop rate.
We pressed on with Edward’s party to reunite with Harley, who reported nothing we did not already know from Yang and Gekkou, and asked her to come back to Damcyan with us. She agreed, and joined the party. Harley doesn’t really resemble any other Final Fantasy class. She has whips, at least (the shops in Damcyan are limited to whips, lutes and swords), and the power to throw gil for damage (normally a Samurai ability in later games) and the power to give a monster a new elemental weakness and drop its magic defence. She also has an ability to boost the effect of healing items, which taken together implies she might have been inspired by FFIII DS’ remake of the Scholar. Personally, I think Harley’s accessory would work better tied to Edward’s Salve, and Harley’s Gil Toss would work better tied to Edward’s gil ring, but we like money both too much to throw it at bad guys and too much to put it on a character like Harley who might not be with us at all times. We kept the gil ring on Edward.
With four party members at his back, Edward really cut an unusual figure. Far from his world-changing friends who have to get off their throne to save the world, Edward couldn’t punch his way out of a paper box, so travels with his entire entourage into battle. This is actually fairly entertaining. Also helping us to like Edward is the way that he actually seems to actually grasp what’s going on. Very genre aware (as though someone at Square Enix is an Order of the Stick fan and decided to play Elan straight), it becomes clearer and clearer as the plot goes on that Edward is already aware that Cecil is under some else’s control, has known since perhaps not long after it happened, and that he plans to circumvent it. When he returns to Damcyan, he sees an airship (the Enterpise?) arrive to talk to him. It turns out that it’s carrying an emissary from Cecil, who turns out to be the Baigan face-stealer clone we saw in the Prologue. Edward feels uneasy at his arrival, and one of his first questions upon learning that the emissary has been given a tour is to ask his aide a leading question as to whether or not the emissary has been given a tour of the Crystal Chamber. Wow, that’s… very perceptive! Luckily, the emissary had not.
Edward tried to conduct business as usual, but the emissary was terse, telling us that Cecil has asked for exclusive control over the Crater and the investigation thereof. Edward pointed out that Cecil normally comes to meetings like this in person, but the emissary simply took his saying this as rude, which it was. Don’t get me wrong, it was rudeness in response to rudeness. Moreover, if Edward is suspicious something is up, being this open about it might not be… wise. Maybe it’s just my perspective, since I know what’s going with Cecil, whereas Edward’s just seeing a good friend being a dick. Still, the game’s doing an all-around good job with characterization and the occasional subtlety. After the emissary left, Edward announced his plan to go to Baron in person, so at least the out-of-order jibe served the flow of the next conversation, I suppose. At the exit to town, Edward tried to leave Harley behind, which for once didn’t come off as sexist. It’s clear to us players that Edward is going to Baron to take on Cecil directly, to the death if need be, but Harley doesn’t know that… or at least so she’s pretending. She seems pretty clever too. Agreeing to let her come (since this is a diplomatic matter… heh), Edward stops by the exit to grab a bouquet of flowers for his own suspicious reasons.
So that’s where we left off. Now all we have to do is get to the port near Kaipo, so let’s go grab that hovercraft, eh fellas, and head right down to what do you mean we don’t have the hovercraft? Wait. You don’t mean that we have to… have to… go back… through the Underground Waterway? Right Edward? Edward? Don’t do this to us Edward! No! DON’T DO THIS!!!
We broke for the night there and picked up with Edward by going backwards through the cursed Underwater Cavern, with a small section of passage added to get up the normally one-way waterfall that serves as a feature in the dungeon’s second (now first) half. This passage was the only one stocked with near powerful monsters: the rest were simple, so we assumed because going through this dungeon was only a formality! We were mistaken.
No sooner had we reached Tellah’s hometown of Kaipo when Harley came down with desert fever (time loop, remember?). Edward then spat in our mouths and kicked us in the groin by saying he would be going back through the Underwater Passage without his bodyguards because this was personal. That’s why the first trip had been so easy. Fantastic. Once that was done (oh sweet Light Emperor he wouldn’t even jump down the waterfall like the six year old twins!), we went to the Antlion Cave and were somehow not attacked by the antlion in doing so (did the game just realize that Edward was not capable of handling a boss on his own?). On his way back through the Underwater Hellhole for a third time, Edward was ambushed by bandits he also couldn’t handle, and so fell off a bridge and discovered himself at the other side of an entire mountain range. I’d feel bad for him but I just skipped a dungeon I hate, so couldn’t muster the sympathy. Edward revived Harley and we pressed on after they had a quick personal moment that might have not really been a moment.
After repeating the scene with Yang, we discovered that Edward’s reason for leaving the Fabulian ship behind was… nothing, his reason was completely insubstantial. Nice guy. We then hit up Baron and had an awkward conversation with Cecil, wherein Cecil gave Edward a gift and Edward replied by whipping a bouquet of flowers twice his height and complete with vase straight out of his pants. Nothing else was accomplished diplomatically, but of course the exchange of gifts had been both parties’ real intent. On the boat ride home (what, did you think Edward was going to attack Cecil Harvey after falling off a bridge to avoid simple bandits?), Edward told Harley that he did not believe he had spoken to the true Cecil, revealing that his bouquet had contained a sample of Whisperweed that Cecil had not recognized when he should have. Edward then used the plant to spy on the throne room, hearing Cecil talking to the doppleganger about his gift to Edward. That confirmed Edward’s suspicions: that Cecil had handed him one of Baron’s Carnelian Signets – the artifact that had destroyed Mist.
Just as he was ordering that the box never be opened, Edward’s ship came across Yang’s being attacked by Leviathan…
…and he appears to have just up and left again, because the next time we see Edward, he’s just fine. Best friends.
Edward’s big pace in a circle on the way to Baron cost us 2h 15m.
Porom’s Tale. Nominally. Remember when I said Edge’s Tale started much earlier than the others? Well, this one goes way back, all the way to the ending of FFIV, with Palom being dragged away from boasting to little Leonora. In the meeting with the Elder, Palom tells him that since he and Porom just helped save the world and all, maybe they’re above basic training, and the Elder says that one day he’ll let them off into the world to expand their training. We then cut ahead a number of years to the first of those trips, which Palom has conspired to send he and his sister to the desert town, Kaipo, where Cecil took Rydia at the start of FFIV, as it’s the town Tellah lived in at the end of his life. En route, we learn from Porom that Tellah and the Mysidian elder used to travel the world for decades before they settled down, Tellah even longer. She implies that being a Sage is a title given by thankful people as you help them in their everyday lives, which her brother mostly ignores. The two stop off at Tellah and his daughter Anna’s graves in town to pay their respects.
Kyle and I made a mistake here in assuming that this flashback would be self-contained, but we were wrong. Apparently, Porom and Palom keep their levels, possessions and gil untouched over the years between this scenario, the next scenario and the third (the one set in the present day), despite everyone else losing things like levels between FFIV and TAY. As a result, when Palom announced that he wanted to train at the Underground Waterway, we bit our tongues and went at once, without bothering to grind for cash. Heck, Kyle skipped a lot of the chests. This was a mistake, but at the same time…
Edge’s Tale Like Yang’s Tale before it, Edge’s tale begins with the man himself beating the crap out of his students. But these are not (unforgettable!) faceless mooks. These are “The Eblan Four,” Edge’s pupils and some of the best ninja in the world. And they’re allllllll Level 5-10s. What do you want from me? The heroes that saved the world are all Level 15, there’s really no higher standard!
This story started much earlier in the TAY chronology than some of the Tales, starting with Edge and the other seeing the second moon appear in the sky (aka, during the Prologue). Edge decided to go out and investigate himself, but his students intervened, saying Eblan needs its leader to do actual leadership work. Instead, we were given the choice to pick from four separate missions during four separate days (Moon Phases). As it happened, we never had to use a Tent or Inn during our missions, so I’m not sure we could have changed the current phase. We did some research on the Four and their specific abilities to help pick phases, but our choices were somewhat ill-informed. It would appear that Ninjutsu, the spell category the characters have in common, is considered a “Skill” rather than a mix of White and Black magic, so making our decisions based on magical abilities gleaned from the wiki didn’t help us at all. Oh well.
Keep in mind that we had to be careful in these missions! Falling unconscious during the missions meant the character had died and would never come back, and we were Marathon-bound not to allow that!
Palom’s Tale We began Palom’s Tale with an entertaining but odd note, as we found him on a ship that had been lost for a month after losing their compass. I can’t help but wonder if this scene was added to fill a gap in the timeline or something to that effect, but since this game is so bad at conveying a sense of time, I can’t imagine if that’s really the case (indeed, the delay will never come up again, even though the people Palom talks to all seem to be in a rabid hurry). The ship had been trying to take a journey from Mysidia to Troia, where Palom is supposed to train the newest Epopt, which you’ll recall are the city’s eight leaders.
We learn two important things. Firstly, that Palom is trying to follow in Tellah’s footsteps to become a Sage, which he seems to think involves learning both Black and White magic and not a lot else. Porom’s Story will later suggest that, while this does encompass the fundamentals, there’s more to the role of “Sage” that Palom is ignoring in his short-sightedness. The Elder of Mysidia has refused to give Palom any Sage training and set him off on this journey, which leads us to point two: the Epopts traditionally get White Mage training, not Black, because they’re pacifists. The game builds up suspicion about this over time. While I will try to list the clues as they appear, I have a feeling I’m going to fail, as they span multiple chapters. The game is being rather clever about this one plot (Ed. which is funny, because it never goes anywhere.)
Before I forget, Palom seems to have dyed his bangs silver (I like to believe it happened in a magical accident) and has stuck some kind of broach or device into his hair. The former looks fine, while the latter really looks quite silly. I’m not sure what to make of it. Unfortunately for my aesthetics, the 3D version dropped the former while keeping the latter!
Lucking their way on to the Troian coast, the ship turns past a massive building by the coast that I naturally assumed was a lighthouse. Kyle turned out of town and went immediately to the tower, and we found it was actually a “Tower of Trials,” which was locked (it must be nice to live in a world where place names are presented to you when you arrive). Following instruction, we found a nearby chocobo forest to cross the river blocking the route to Troia, and began to poke around.
Remember when I went on and on in the FFIV journals about Troia being sexist, and said it had something to do with how they keep talking about their government instead of anything related to the plot? Thankfully, now that Troia is deeply enmeshed in the plot, it doesn’t come off like a weird sexist setting at all! Funny how treating women and matriarchies as characters and societies instead of devices and jokes makes that work. In fact (partially because we came back here so quickly in Edge’s Tale), Troia has really come off as the best realized and most involved of the game’s towns
Palom met some of the locals (in Edge’s Tale, one of the “locals” meets him as well… and it’s too bad this conversation can’t take place in this chapter no matter who you talk to!), and one of the young women even flirts with him, but unlike our predictions, he doesn’t flirt back. Palom has become kind of sullen in the past 16 years, quite in contrast to his childhood boisterousness. At first it seemed as though he was just put out by being denied Sage training and being put on a boat for a month to do a job he doesn’t want to do, but Porom’s Tale would elaborate on the changes to his personality and show they’re more thorough and long-term. One thing both he and his sister end up doing is to reject their “Lord” and “Lady” monickers. This is probably best adapted section of the Interlude: the twins were happy to have the labels in the Interlude, so you can see them ironically coming to reject them as childishover time. That said, while the Palom’s sullenness makes sense, I’m not sure he would reject the title when he seems so desperate for power. Porom I could understand, but the young man trying to master all forms of magic to become all-powerful and praised? Oh well. Subjective.
Palom presents himself to the Epopts, and we get our first sign of an interesting subtext in The After Years that implies that the people of the world don’t just reverse the Crystals, but actively worship them, making the Epopts a spiritual order as well as a political (later, it will outright be stated that the Dwarfs pray to their Dark Crystal). This really casts an odd twist on the opening lines of FFIV, when the Red Wings wonder if the gods are punishing them for stealing the Crystals. From this new perspective, they could have said, “the gods are punishing you for stealing them“! The Epopts tell Palom that one of their member has fallen ill, and they require him to train a replacement at once. They were very brusque, something only amplified by the suspicious behaviour of the new trainee: a woman named Leonora. As Kyle and I remarked part-way through the next dungeon, “she’s so full of shit,” but it’s since become hard to tell exactly what shit she’s full of: not only does Leonora seem to be protecting the same mystery as the rest of the Epopts – about why she needs to be trained in Black Magic – but she has another secret that will land before the end of the chapter.
Leonora is in her mid-twenties, just three years older than Palom, but was only Level 3 when she joined the party, where Palom was Level 15. The Epopts told Palom that any Epopt in training would have to reach the top floor of the Tower of Trials and recover the Mantle of Something or Other. We also learn that Leonora is not Troian by birth, but was taken in by them earlier in life. Palom tried to bring up the suspicious Black Magic issue, but the Epopts deflected the question so well that I was at least willing to accept it as authorial fiat. Should have been more suspicious, Palom!
While we considered doing some grinding to help even out our two mages, we eventually headed straight to the Tower, in belief and hope that it was properly scaled to Leonora’s level. We were so hopeful that we took a Chocobo to get there, assuring there would be no experienced gained en-route. FFI would physically attack you with the controller if you tried to pull off a stunt like that!
Once at the tower, Palom began the Black Magic training, giving Leonora the “Fire?” spell, which caused less damage than the real thing but only cost 2MP as opposed to 5. The lectures on magic in this section were weird, as Palom implied that magic was much easier to master than it would seem one minute, and then much harder another minute. Perhaps this had to do with Palom’s pig-headeness, but it was still confusing to the reader. One thing that is clear is that anyone who can use magic can use both branches of magic, they just might be predisposed to using one or the other. Heck, from what they were saying in this chapter, I’m not sure if there are any limitations on who can learn magic at all!
The dungeon was simple thanks to it being littered with Healing Pots: a feature from the original game where certain generic pots were scripted to heal you to full HP and MP (FFIV’s way of not designing levels around the space-consuming Healing Springs of FFIII). At the end of every few floors, Leonora would solo fight one or more Tiny Mage recolours who we could only be hurt by her in-training black magic spell. Each time, she would get more confident, starting as a scared civilian and eventually starting to speak up on her own. In conversations, even. Palom would then teach her the next in the series of basics: Blizzard? and Thunder? in turn. Sadly, Leonora never really became a good Black Mage (she gained Intellect at a similar rate to Palom, but started 20 points below him and so never caught up!), which was unfortunate, because it’s kind of hard to fight wandering monsters with a party full of mages. And ooooh boy, was that only going to get worse.
Along the way, Palom became suspicious that Leonora was actually training to be a Sage and he was being duped, since she already had some White magic, but after she denied that, Palom began to shift his suspicions in the proper direction, as you’ll see in the next paragraph. At the end of the tower, they discovered that the MacGuffin was actually a labelled plinth, and that there was nothing to carry out. Palom and Leonora had a fight showing that she will put up with his attitude so long as it doesn’t come against Troia and the Epopts, whom she deeply respects. Now, at this point, there was a lot suspicious things going on in the tower, that would come up in dialogue between Palom’s lessons and his and Leonora quasi-bonding. These mysteries were punctuated by the strange, double-wide throne at an apparently unused half of the final level. …But we still don’t know what’s up. The game once again forced us to trudge out on our own. I know the original, episodic release was trying to extend its lifespan but Leonora started with Teleport and nothing happened on the way out, so this is silly. You know that, right developers?
We went back to the Epopts, and Palom threw his suspicions straight at them, pointing out something most Final Fantasy characters would have ignored: the monsters you spend 90% of the game dealing with. The fact that the Tower was stocked with “guardians,” the Tiny Mages, who could only be killed by specific kinds of Black Magic (he ignored the wandering monsters like they weren’t even there, but this is still progress) meant that a proper White Mage Epopt would be dead by now. He demanded to know what was going on, and the Troians told him about Baron’s recent militarization and said that they were actually training a war-mage to defend them against Baron. Palom was quite upset by this, having apparently idolized Cecil more than I would have thought, and he left without realizing that the Epopts had largely deflected his question: Cecil had arrived on the scene far too late to be the real reason behind these affairs. Indeed, this if nothing else might have been the reason behind the “month-long trip” aspect. But it’s hard to tell. At the time, my suspicions about the Epopts were waylaid, only for them to be roused again during Edge’s Tale. You’ll see what I mean in a bit.
Leonora found Palom a room to sleep in in the infirmary, as the castle had strict rules about men staying elsewhere. There, Palom brooded about Cecil before he got an idea that brought him to his feet: one he doesn’t spell out but it’s probably the same conclusion Edge and Edward will draw in their tales, especially Edge. More on that when we get to that. Palom got up and bumped into Leonora, who told him (though she didn’t think he’d believe her) that the Earth Crystal was “crying.” They went to the other Epopts, and learned that an airship was inbound. Either before or after that piece of info was dropped (I can’t recall), Palom scrapped together a plan that seemed substantial at the time. To us, the plan was obvious, and we would have advised the same: take the Earth Crystal to the place that even Golbez had not been willing to pursue it, the Lodestone Cavern. But wait, wasn’t the magnetic effect of the cave caused by the magic of the Dark Elf in conjunction with the Crystal? While you might expect that Palom plans to cast the spell himself, the game actually seems confused on this point and thinks the cavern is magnetic at all times!
It later turned out Palom only had the first part of that plan (flee with the Crystal), and Leonora was the one who decided to go to the cavern, which was kind of funny, actually. When Leonora agreed to join up with Palom’s plan (not knowing it was incomplete), the Epopts agreed to trust the Crystal with one of their own, and Palom and Leonora slipped out a secret passage as the doppelganger arrived at the front gates. Wait. Troia: the nation that had its Crystal stolen by guile, now has a secret passage out of the Crystal Chamber even though it’s a theft risk, but Fabul, the nation whose survivors were trapped at the dead-end of the Crystal chamber and should have been wiped out… did not? Oh for fuck’s sake.
The tunnel was another stinking water cave, and was packed with monsters that could, depending on luck if nothing else, tear us apart. Alligators that could attack twice, clams with absurd strengths stats, and the bad luck of showing up on an Attack-High lunar cycle meant that both Kyle and I died to unremarkable wandering monster groups (TPK + 2). There was no boss on the way out: Leonora simply came up with her idea to go to the Lodestone Cavern, and we went to the Chocobos to find a black one that could get us there. As we did, we were spotted by members of the Red Wings, who tried to chase us. In chasing us, I imagine that they ran into Luca and Rydia: though those two did not appear in this Tale, it seems like the logical flow of events. Unintentionally covered by our unseen allies, Palom and Leonora escaped into the cavern.
The cavern was not so hard. As mages, we weren’t carrying anything metallic in the first place, so weren’t really at any disadvantage. Part way down, we discovered an illusion that had been set up by the Epopts: Leonoroa showed us the way around, and naturally we had just gotten around when the leather-equipped Red Wings showed up to be floundered by it. Saving up, we headed to the false Crystal Chamber, where Palom pointed out that they can’t hold out forever because they rely on MP. Leonora said that he was not acting like himself, but before Palom could accuse her of being presumptive, they were interrupted by plot holes, as the Dark Elf suddenly revived. He said something about being the eternal life he had been rambling about in the original game (making me wonder if he does indeed ramble about it in the original English SNES release, which apparently has very different dialogue for him) and claimed that he had never actually died. I supposed the Earth Crystal had accidentally revived him, but we were given no explanation.
Kyle lost to the Dark Elf, because he had thought the fight was a guaranteed loss at the time (that Astos turned Leonora into a Pig did not help matters). Now, Kyle tends to play guaranteed loses like they aren’t, which is far more entertaining, so don’t think he just sat down to die, but there is a difference between Kyle’s attempts at play-fighting an impossible fight and a genuine attempt. Indeed, the Dark Elf wasn’t exactly pulling his punches, but I handled him well enough when I got the controller. When the Dark Elf turned into his dragon form, however, he proved invulnerable to magic, but we were “rescued” by Shiva. The doppelganger had gotten past the illusion wall.
Palom came up with a desperate plan. He had Leonora give him the Crystal and then use Teleport to escape the cave, and then he used Break to turn himself back into stone. This is either a brilliant or stupid plan, and I’m not sure which. It depends on if the Crystal turned to stone with him, something I don’t think he can promise. If it did turn to stone with him, it’s a brilliant plan. If it did not, and Palom was counting on his grubby stone fingers keeping the doppelganger from one of the greatest powers in the world. Luckily, Leonora arrived and uses Esuna to cure him, which just plain worked. Holy crap, even The After Years thinks FFIV was full of shit. I like this expansion more and more every day!
What happened next isn’t chronologically arranged in my mind, I’m afraid. Suffice to say, Leonora revealed that the reason she felt she knew Palom was because they knew one another as children: she was the girl he was “flirting” with at the end of FFIV. And I was surprised by that because I had only put that scene in the FFIV write-up on a whim, I didn’t really expect anything to come of it! She said she had always liked how he boasted and was generally a jackass in a way that boosted people’s spirits, prompting Palom to give the fitting sentiment that Leonora was a terrible Epopt but a great partner for him. They gained a Band attack, probably the strongest we had seen, doing about 1500 damage to the doppelganger (indeed, the only thing that hurt her at all), but the doppelganger just shrugged it off.
And I have to say, for all I’ve been enjoying The After Years, its villain’s dialogue is a real low point. Every time she speaks she has to underline that she’s either an alien or a robot by calling the Humans present an “inferior species.” Every time she speaks she has to take issue with some aspect of Human behaviour, to the point where I wonder if she considers anything natural behaviour at all. Yes, we get it, you’re not Human, you don’t have to say it time (Cecil’s story) and time (here) and time (Edge’s story) and time (Edge’s story) and time (Edge’s story) and time (Edge’s fucking story), and time (Porom’s story) and time (Porom’s story!) and time again!
The point is, she finally started attacking and we died immediately. Like that was even a surprise.
By the way, I couldn’t help but notice that every time we see this person, she’s using a different Eidolon, and only ever uses that one Eidolon throughout the encounter. This might just be for variety, but I’m wondering if she’s actually one person at all… Either way, she took the Crystal, left Leonora unmoving, and Palom screaming before he collapsed. Quick cut to Porom’s story which I’ll get to later, and then…
Palom’s tale finished with a proximate time of 2h 30m.