Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Final Fantasy Flight, Part 10

Back to action. It's time for the final dungeon, a rematch against the four fiends, and the ultimate showdown against Chaos. But before we wrap up, it's time to take care of some last minute items.

First, remember that Adamantite? The first stop is to return to the cave where the dwarves were hanging out, and create the Excalibur sword. This weapon is the second strongest in the game and quite crucial to killing the final boss. I equipped it on my knight and swapped out the Defender sword.

Sadly, my ninja was unable to equip the Defender sword.

The next step: stock up on 99 of every item, including Ethers, Phoenix Downs, and Hi-Potions. Not that the party needs them, but it's always good to be prepared. On a side note, the original game did not have any of these items. If you ran out of magic charges, the only solution was to go to sleep. If you wanted to heal, you could buy 99 potions. Except, you had to buy them one by one. The whole thing would take about 8 minutes. Smart people would tape down their A button and go grab a Coke.

Thirdly, buy new spells for the knight and ninja. Once upgraded, knights are allowed to use white magic and ninjas can learn black magic. It's not essential to learn the dinky healing spells. However, the ninja can learn the Temper spell, which is extremely useful against the rematch against the fiends. The spell increases the attack power of one target in combat, allowing the ninja to buff the party faster and let the black wizard focus solely on casting Haste.

Okay, now it's time to go to get Chaos.

That strange black orb where you fought Garland at the beginning of the game? Turns out it's a passageway to the basement of the Temple of Chaos. Those random bats? Those are the transformed heroes who last confronted the fiends. The game is all about circles and rebirth. In that same spirit, the game ends where the heroes started.

On the lower level of the Temple, our heroes encountered a strange seal. True to RPG conventions, the most useless item in the game suddenly becomes the most important item. By playing the lute, the heroes break the seal and create a time warp into the past. Back then, the Temple was more pristine, and apparently 4x the current size.

Wandering the halls, our heroes fought Lich, Marilith, Kraken, and Tiamat again. Unlike the first encounter, there's no warning. Each of the bosses occupy a specific tile that the heroes can't help but step on. When they do, the battle begins. This phenomena was later referenced in Final Fantasy IX's Memoria.

Our heroes also found the legendary Masamune in a little corner. The cool thing about this sword (besides later becoming associated with Sephiroth) is that anyone in the party can equip it. I gave it to the white wizard since he's the only one with low attack power at this point.

Past the four fiends, the heroes ran into Garland again. He explained that before he was killed, the fiends sent him into the past (now). Then, he sent the fiends into the future so they could send him back again. Hmm... I don't recall the four fiends sending Garland back in time at the beginning of the game. Oh well.

The final battle with Chaos was a lot longer than in the NES classic. He doesn't hit hard, but has more hit points and constantly recovers 9999 HP. Here's where the Masamune and Excalibur swords pay off. The way to defeat him is to deal so much damage to him that he can't heal enough to make up the damage.

The knight spammed Excalibur attacks, the ninja cast Temper, the white wizard cast NulAll and spammed Masamune, and the black wizard cast Haste and Flare.

After about 5 minutes, Chaos crumbled away.

Ending text scrolls. The credits scroll, including names of both the original team and the new team. Strangely, Hironobu Sakaguchi's name is absent. The warriors of light return home as heroes and promptly discover they have no domestic skills and cannot integrate into civil society. Just kidding. Seriously though, what are heroes supposed to do after their adventures?


Friday, September 19, 2008

Final Fantasy Flight, Part 9

The trip to Leifin was short and sweet. But something felt off. Here was a technological advanced race living in a town that looked like paradise on earth. They wander to and fro in flashy white robes, the kind that only advanced 4D entities would dare wear (See: Star Ocean 3). But the live in a little town.

Now I understand that two of the fiends teamed up to destroy civilization prior to the start of the game. But you'd think these Leifin people would try to expand their town and tame the land rather than carve elaborate fountains.

The chime that they gave me helped me access the Mirage Tower. And since I had previously acquired the cube from the robot underneath the waterfall near Onrac, access to the Sky Fortress was a cinch.

There's a really tough super-boss called WarMech that resides on the upper level of the Sky Fortress. In all my years of playing this game on the NES, Wonderswan Color, and PlayStation, I have never once encountered him. But if the message board ramblings are to be believed, he hits for insane damage and is more frustrating than legendary. Plus, you don't really get any special items for defeating the WarMech, which means all of the subsequent boasting to friends requires their extreme faith in your honesty.

Either that or you'd have to invite them over and convince them to stay 6 hours in front of the TV as your party wanders aimlessly on the sky bridge.

In any case, I didn't expect to encounter WarMech this time. So when he failed to rear his ugly command console, it wasn't much of a surprise.

Another thing worth mentioning is that the adamantite (which used to be called adamant) is pretty much in the same location but bigger. I'll have to return to the dwarves later and have them make the second-best sword in the game: Excalibur.

One of the random things about the Sky Fortress in the original NES version was the sky window. It was a 3x3 sky tile segment that looked like a spriting error. Upon closer inspection, a message would pop up saying that the fiends were gathering at the Temple of Chaos. A little subtle hint about what to do after defeating Tiamat, perhaps.

Not so in the subsequent remakes. The window is now a giant orb a la Zordon's viewing globe that shows a short scene of four colored ribbons of light converging on a center point.

In any case, the path to Tiamat was pretty simple. The GBA version's decision to remove magic charges in favor of MP means I can let my party die hundreds of times and never worry about resurrection. That's not to say my party ever died. Since the GBA version decreased the amount of EXP required to level up, the heroes were already ridiculously overpowered.

Tiamat went down in three rounds without ever posing a challenge. There was no need to buff any characters. I had the white wizard heal the entire part with Healara. Weasly the black wizard would either heal with a staff or attack with the cat claws I bought from Gaia. And both the knight and ninja just focused on fighting.

With the final crystal restored, we've reached the final dungeon in the game: the Temple of Chaos.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Final Fantasy Flight, Part 8

One thing I neglected to mention in my last Final Fantasy Flight entry is what an improvement the ninja class is over the thief. This guy can use all the cool weapons and armor previously limited to the warrior class, making him an much more agile version of the latter. This means the party now has two heavy hitters. With 'Haste' cast, most battles can be ended in one or two rounds.

Once you get the airship, the game becomes less linear. There's still an order of progression. For example, you can't enter the Mirage Tower without learning to decipher the Leifin language. But for the most part, you can fly and land anywhere, which gives the game more of a sandbox feel.

There are three cities in the north: Onrac, Gaia, and Leifin. Onrac is a city filled with broken pillars, which gives the impression that civilization was rebuilt over the ruins of something much greater. Gaia is a forest town that contains the best weapons, armor, and magic spells. Lastly, Leifin is hi-tech and advanced, but inaccessible because the citizens all speak gibberish.

There was no readily available landing area near Onrac, so I had to land near the desert and walk through the forest.

Speaking with the residents revealed that the city was once part of much larger one. But a big chunk of it sunk underground when the fiend of water thrashed civilization. The city has its share of wacky denizens and sub-quest leads. For example, the party also ran into a witch who was amazed that we had legs as well as a young lady boasting about how great her legs are.

The party traveled west to get the bottled fairy from the merchant. He charged me a bunch of gil.

Flying to Gaia, the fairy automatically broke out of the bottle and flew north. We followed her to a lake where the fairy gladly drew out oxyale from the bottom. Apparently, this magical substance allows its user to breathe underwater. The rest of Gaia was filled with level 8 spells for both of my wizards, as well as weapons and armor. Unfortunately, I ran out of money. So we'll be visiting this town again after killing the next fiend.

The party returned to Onrac and rode the barrel down into the Sunken Shrine. The first step was to travel to the very top of the shrine and meet the mermaids. They didn't mind that I stormed in and jacked their gil. Traveling northwest, the heroes acquired the Rosetta Stone. It's nice to see that the GBA translation found a more descriptive alternative than 'SLAB.' I'll have to visit Dr. Unne later to get the Rosetta Stone deciphered.

The rest of the Sunken Shrine consisted of repetitive, blue mazes. While some of the new enemies were pretty cool, by far, the most common encounter was with groups sahagins. There were a few notable artifacts as well. The Shrine held not one, but two Light Axes, which allows the user to cast Diara. Also, I found a pair of Giant's Gloves, which casts Saber.

On the basement level, Kraken waited in his orb for the heroes to arrive. Apparently, every time you fight him, he can be either extremely difficult to defeat (endless water attacks) or extremely easy to defeat (weak physical attacks). I was lucky and met the latter. So I had Lewis cast Protera and wailed on him with a combination of physical attacks and Thundaga. The fiend fell in about 4 rounds without putting the party in any significant danger.

Three crystals restored, one to go.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Final Fantasy Flight, Part 7

It was a five hour flight from San Francisco, CA to Charlotte, NC to visit a very important client. I woke up at 7:00a for an 8:55a flight. By the time I landed, it was 4:00p. Traveling east is always a bleak affair since you lose three hours. However, I was happy there were no crying babies or smelly people sitting next to me. Also, the flight gave me an opportunity to delve back into Final Fantasy.

When we left off, our heroes defeated Lich, the fiend of Earth, and Marilith, the fiend of Fire. Two down, two to go.

The first thing to do was to travel back up the river and revisit Crescent Lake to see if anything had changed. Sure enough, the sleeping man in the northern part of town started muttering about what I should do next. He spent his life searching for an airship, but couldn't find it because he didn't have a 'levistone,' which conveniently could reside in the north. Wow, what a Macguffin! I thought he spent his life sleeping?

In a Japanese RPG, whenever an NPC tells you that there are rumors that item x is in location y, the rumor is always true. It's one of those 'laws of RPG plotting' you can't really break. The only exception is probably Castlevania II: Simon's Quest and its blatant breaking of said laws in every possible way. Hit Deborah Cliff with head, my ass.

With the canoe, our heroes could land the ship along not just docks, but river mouths as well. To the north of Crescent Lake, I found such a river mouth, leading to a second maze of rivers and a cave opening. Since I had just finished a fire-based dungeon, it was only fair that the next challenge would be an ice-based dungeon.

The Ice Cavern contained a lot of nice items for my fighter. The Ice Armor, Flame Sword, and Ice Shield made him pretty invulnerable to the endless bands of mummies and white dragons. Sadly, the other heroes didn't get much goodies.

Something I noticed about Final Fantasy is that 90% of equipment you pick up is designed for the fighter. If you're a thief or a spellcaster, you might find an armlet here or there. But the vast majority of compatible items must be purchased. If that's not enough, you can only buy them in every other town. And if you're playing as the monk, you're pretty much screwed because you can't wear anything.

Although my other character were pretty weak, the earlier romp through the volcano had resulted in so much gil that I was able to stock up on 99 potions, hi-potions, and phoenix downs in Crescent.

The levistone (called the Floater in the original NES version) rested in a chamber surrounded by cracks in the ice. Stepping into the cracks caused the heroes to fall to the very bottom floor. Traveling back up to the levistone room meant walking on stretches of spiky flooring. Why can't the heroes walk in-between the spikes?

The levistone itself was pretty loosely guarded. For starters, the forced encounter with the Evil Eye felt anti-climactic because it died in one hit. And this is with the 'increased HP' in the GBA version. The annoying thing is that once the heroes received the levistone, they had to jump back down the holes and walk through the spike floors again.

Traveling back up the river and sailing south, the heroes used the levistone to revive the airship from the bottom of the desert. A small cutscene played, showing the sand literally splitting open and an airship (fully functional) rise up.

Here's a piece of nerdy trivia. Did you know that the levistone makes an appearance in FFIX. There's one section in the game near the end of the 3rd disc where the villain Kuja forces Zidane and company to find an ancient ruin and battle a living airship called Ark. The boss rewards them with a 'Pumice Piece.' It turns out that this Pumice Piece is actually a levistone, just badly translated. Hooray for homages.

Anyway, the airship in the first Final Fantasy is especially awesome because there's so much world map traveling. No more random encounters! Pretty much every Final Fantasy game after FFII features areas in relatively close proximity to each other and an abundance of air travel early in the game. Think back to FFIII: you get air travel in the first 2 hours of the game. In FFIV, you get three airships. In FFV, you get an airship and a dragon. But in FFI, the heroes travel all over the place by foot and ship for over 50% of the game. So as a result, the airship is quite a godsend when it does appear.

Interestingly enough, the GBA version features Mode 7 manipulation of the world map while in the air to make the game look more like FFIV and FFV. I personally don't like it because it makes it difficult to see where you're going. But I guess some people find it spiffy and pseudo-3D.

Our heroes headed north to the Castle of Ordeals (now called the Citadel of Trials). The only access to the castle was through a river or a small patch of land for the airship. Heroes who use the canoe for the river path end up encountering weaker enemies. However, the journey is much longer thanks to the relative slowness of sea travel. Traveling by air, the heroes would have to walk a short distance through a forest and desert, facing tougher enemies like the Allosaur and Weretiger. However, the journey would be shorter and less tedious.

The Citadel of Trials could be summed up as a series of teleporters, bookended by two thrones. Along the way, forced encounters like mud golems guard some pretty cool equipment. One such item is the Gauntlets, which allow characters to cast Thundara by 'using' the item in the inventory. The healing staff, another such item, allows its user to cast Heal.

I recall that back in the NES version, I relied on these items quite a bit in the later parts of the game because potions were such a pain to accumulate.

The second of the two thrones contained a chest, holding the Rat Tail. This quest item functions as a proof of heroism. It was guarded by a Zombie Dragon, which ended up being another disappointing boss fight. Why? Our heroes had already battled packs of 2 or 3 dragons as normal encounters.

With the Rat Tail in hand, our heroes returned to the airship and flew to the Cardia Islands. This ended with a visit to Bahamut, King of Dragons. He's a lot bigger than he was in the NES version. He also has the same grayish-chrome color scheme established in future games. Pleased by the party's acquisition of the Rat Tail, he blessed them and upgraded their jobs.

At last, I have a ninja in the party. Also, I can finally learn spells to escape dungeons instantly.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Final Fantasy Flight, Part 6

The journey continues...

Our heroes left Sadda the Sage's cave and went back to the Titan's Pass. It turns out there was a nice battle axe and helmet in a room south of where the Titan used to stand. In any case, it was back to the Earth Cavern to smash the slab.

Considering every little event in this game thus far has been jazzed up from the original, I expected fireworks and explosions when smashing the slab behind the vampire's throne room. Instead, the slab just kind of disappeared without even a message.

The heroes traveled deeper into the dungeon, encountering new enemies like trolls and ogre magi. At the very end of it all, they entered a room with an orb.

In the original game, the heroes held orbs, not crystals. So when they defeated a fiend, their orb would light up. Here, the game retained the orbs, but also added a crystal in the room. The orb transformed into the Fiend of Earth, Lich, and the battle began.

The battle was much easier than the NES version, despite the fact that he had more HP. The trick was to have my white mage cast NulShock to halve all of Lich's lightning attacks. This meant every single time he cast an area spell, I could counter with the healara spell and recover all of the lost HP. I boosted my fighter with temper and haste, and depended on him to deal all the damage. Lich cast haste on himself, but then proceeded to use zero physical attacks. Go fig.

After defeating Lich, the Warriors of Light lifted a shard of crystal and restored the light to the crystal in the cave. Then, they walked into the glowing circle in the back of the room and were transported back to the overworld.

In the original game, it was unclear where you had to go after defeating Lich. You were expected to be a good little explorer and take Bikke's ship around the world until you found a new dock. Here, not much has changed. The Earthgift Shrine opened up, thanks to a short cutscene, but I didn't want to visit it yet. So based on my recollection, I sailed southeast to Crescent Lake.

The monsters here was essentially taken from the previous dungeon. There were bands of trolls and some hill gigas encounters. I also encountered ankhegs, which reminded me of the other game I'm currently playing: Baldur's Gate.

The more I play this game, the more I'm convinced that the creators lifted all the monsters straight out of a Dungeons and Dragons monster manual. And when you consider that the leader of the good dragons is Bahamut, and the evil dragon is Tiamat, it makes all the more sense.

Crescent Lake looked as beautiful as ever, although I didn't remember it being so desolate. In the north part of town, near the gravestones, we met up with a woman complaining about her husband, sleeping. Traveling further north, I found the husband. Sure enough, he was sleeping. Compared to Melmond, it felt like Crescent Lake was the one with the epidemic. An epidemic of monotony.

We bought upgraded weapons for my fighter. Sadly, the heaviest thing my spell casters had on were leather gloves... still. We then headed east, through the grove of pine trees, to meet with the sages.

As in the original, there was no indication that the sages were far at the edge of town. The only clue that something in the town wasn't what it seemed was a message back in Cornelia about Lukhan's prophecy. Even then, nothing in the original identified the town as Crescent Lake. You had to look at the shape of the body of water on the world map and figure it out for yourself. Ah, those were the days.

The sages gave me a canoe and pseudo-blamed me for releasing Marilith, the Fiend of Fire. Apparently, when we killed Lich and um... you know... saved the earth from rotting away, there was an earthquake. Marilith woke up from a deep sleep and is now super pissed off. Thanks.

One of the sages also told a foreboding tale about the northern civilizations falling into ruin at the hands of the combined might of the Fiend of Wind and the Fiend of Water. They sent huge typhoons that plunged everybody into the dark ages. Oh good. I have to fight them later.

The spells in Crescent Lake were too expensive, so I decided to hold off on my magical shopping spree until after taking care of the Fire Fiend. Along the way, I saw some familiar enemies. The piranhas would later make appearances in Final Fantasy VI, during the scene where Sabin jumps off the waterfall. The Ochu showed up in later games as well, its big mouth spewing toxins and such.

I spent some time exploring the channels but in the end got tired of spamming thundara and headed to Gulg Volcano. Just as in the original, our heroes had to walk through pools of lava to get to the bottom floor. The first few floors revealed an awful truth to me: I had just wasted a lot of gil buying mythril equipment that I could have gotten for free. It also gave my fighter a great sword, which was designed to fell giants.

Down, down the heroes traveled, battling lava worms, pyrolisks, and fire elementals. The final floor was segmented into 9 corridors (similar to the first level of the Earth Cavern). Marilith was in the bottom left one. But first, I went down the left to get some flame-resistant armor for my fighter. At least, I hope it was flame- resistant and not ice-resistant in a wacky reverse element sort of way.

Marilith gave the typical spiel about evil triumphing over good and her personal goal of setting the world ablaze. She proved tougher than Lich to handle. But this was due to the fact that my white mage was critically low on MP thanks to the gradual wearing down of healing items from the lava-filled trek. The only thing I cast was NulBlaze, to halve all fire damage, and the rest of the time, I had the white mage attack with his hammer. My black mage spent the entire battle casting support magic on the thief and fighter. As for the fighter and thief, their job was to wail on Marilith until she was dead.

Unfortunately, the final fira spell knocked my black mage unconscious. I couldn't revive him in time with a Phoenix Down, so he ended up not getting any experience from the battle. Other than that, it was a job well done. The second crystal was restored and the heroes warped back to the overworld.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Final Fantasy Flight, Part 5

Tonight, I traveled from San Jose to Ontario Airport to visit my parents. For clarification, I flew to the Ontario that's next to Riverside, not the Ontario that's in Canada.

For a moment, I almost didn't get to play Final Fantasy on my flight. You see, my flight was slated to depart at 7:50p on a Friday, so I left work in a hurry and completely forgot to undock my laptop from the workstation. It wasn't until I reached the airport that I realized my backpack felt suspiciously light. With my flight a mere 50 minutes away, I called my girlfriend (who had just dropped me off at the airport) for help. Her kind soul braved the heat wave and tedium and drove all the way back to work, picked up my computer, and dropped it off to me outside Terminal A. I then dashed back through security and made it onto the plane just before they closed the doors.

So thank you. This post is dedicated to you.

Anyway, when we last left off, the Warriors of Light had traveled to Melmond, a desolate town plagued by a vampire problem and lacking an item store and church. The villagers were practically begging the heroes to save the land from rotting, blaming the vampire for everything. We also met Dr. Unne, a boastful scholar perpetually strolling in the north-west part of town. His self-indulgence became tiring, so the heroes stocked up on the latest weapons and magic spells and set off to the west to slay the vampire.

The vampire hid on the third basement floor of the Earth Cavern, a big, sienna-colored dungeon featuring numerous dead ends and one a particularly nasty corridor with a 100% encounter rate. Deeper in the dungeon, the party also met cockatrices with the ability to turn our heroes to stone. Luckily, they dropped gold needles. So when they did petrify someone, there was always a means to turn them back. A lot of the chests were useless and guarded by Earth Elementals, who were a pain to defeat thanks to their high defense. However, one particular chest contained the Coral Sword, which was a nice prize for the thief.

Eventually, they made it to the throne room of the evil vampire. Sadly, he was all talk and a simple act of casting Haste on the fighter turned him into a battle machine. He felled the undead lord in a single blow, dealing about 350 damage. The reward was a Star Ruby from the vampire's cache. Why did the vampire have a Star Ruby? Was he secretly a titan?

Behind the vampire's room, our heroes noticed a slab and evil energy emanated from beneath it. Whatever was rotting the earth had not gone away with the death of the vampire. It was still waiting. Try as they might, the slab could not be moved.

In the first Final Fantasy, there was no such thing as a mid-dungeon warp point. When you defeated a boss in the middle of a dungeon you couldn't save, you couldn't rest, and you couldn't leave. You literally had to fight your way back out. This meant boss battles weren't the end. They were the midpoint of every dungeon. If you depleted more than half of your supplies by the time you reached the boss battle, you might not have had enough to make it all the way out.

The GBA version of the Earth Cavern pales in comparison to the original experience. With the charge system replaced by MP, my white mage was able to case cure magic on my party repeatedly. This made the return trip easier, though still tedious.

It's unfortunate that my black mage was unable to learn the Teleport spell. This spell would have allowed the party to exit the dungeon instantly. However, the game prevents black mages from learning the spell until they've been upgraded to the black wizard class. So why did the developers put it in the magic shop in Melmond? Three words: to taunt you.

Anyway, our heroes returned to Melmond briefly to rest in the inn. But then, it was off to the tunnel. Our heroes gave the vampire's prized ruby to the stone titan blocking the path. He stuffed his face like a fat kid with candy and lumbered off the screen.

In the cave at the end of the peninsula, our heroes consulted Sadda the Sage about the earth rot. His advice? Look under the slab, stupid. Clearly, the evil living deep below the earth's surface must be responsible for the... you know... rotting of the earth. However, Sadda did give our heroes a key piece of the puzzle: the Earth Rod. With it, they could shatter the slab and proceed deeper into danger.

Next Time: The Fiend of Earth

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Final Fantasy Flight, Part 4

I was on a plane next to a crying baby for six hours. It nearly negated the rest of the perks of flying Virgin America.

The journey back to Matoya's Cave was a fairly tedious one thanks to the unrelenting gangs of goblins that keep attacking the party, despite having no chance whatsoever to survive.

Anyway, the witch received her glass eye. As a reward, she gave our heroes her strongest potion: a jolt tonic to wake the Elf Prince. I'm not sure why the herb was changed to a potion. But perhaps it has to do with Nintendo's changing standards for age appropriate content over the years. Up with violence and religious references, down with drugs nad sex. Maybe the localization team didn't want kids to think the old witch was peddling narcotics.

We also have have one of the earliest examples of an RPG padding its length by forcing its heroes to run back and forth on a fetch quest, all the while subjecting them to unchallenging random battles. Case in point, after I received the jolt tonic, I traveled back south to the docks north of Cornelia, boarded the pirate ship, and sailed south to Elfheim. There, the jolt tonic promptly awakened the prince, who said something about waking up from a nightmare and awarded me with the mystic key. Then, I had to travel back to Cornelia Castle to use the key to open the treasury. The next hour was spent backtracking to the Chaos Shrine, Marsh Cave, and Western Keep to load up on loot.

In order to leave the enclosed sea, the heroes needed to blow up the little land bridge south of the Dwarves' mine. The TNT (which is now called Nitro Powder for no real good reason) was found all the way back in Castle Cornelia in the treasury.

With the land bridge destroyed, our heroes sailed west toward the town of Melmond. The GBA version adds an extra dungeon called the Whisperwind Cove right next to the newly created channel. It looks like a whirlpool and leads to one of the Soul of Chaos location.

The Dwarves' Mine has a different name now. It's called Mt. Drurugarsomethingorother. They all have weird Colonial American/Scottish accents. The blacksmith is still there, and he's still demanding adamantium to make the legendary sword, but he's now a blacksmyth. Go fig.

Melmond is surprisingly green from the outside (I believe some of the other versions show more decay on the world map). But inside the town, the dilapidated buildings, torn up grass, destroyed church, and endless graveyards create a mood of desolation and foreboding. Inside the inn, the decorations are bare and you can even see a big spider web in the corner. It's a nice touch.

Even back in the NES version, Melmond was a sad, dreary place. Sure, there wasn't much variation in the palette. But the gravestones and NPC conversations let you know that it was time to crap your pants because a vampire was running around killing the villagers. Plus, there was no "clinic," and therefore no way to revive characters without going back to Cornelia or Elfheim.

The area is a bit easier in the GBA version thanks to the presence of Phoenix Downs. You can buy them from Cornelia and they cost 500 gil each. Also, Melmond sells the Revive spell, which has the same effect.

One of the dwarves in town identified himself as Watts, a nice reference to Seiken Densetsu. Our heroes also ran into the ever-so-smug Dr. Unne, taking a walk in the northeast corner of town. Oh Dr. Unne, how we love you and your rosetta stone translating ways.

But back to the main adventure. I didn't have enough gil to stock up on the new weapons and armor thanks to the ridiculously expensive spells from Elfheim. However, the heroes were pretty well equipped from my mystic key stash raiding earlier. So I loaded up on potions and antidotes from the item store and headed southwest.

Hopefully the vampire is more challenging this time around.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Final Fantasy Flight, Part 3

So I'm in New York this week to visit a client. Of course, this means more time at the airport playing Final Fantasy.

Actually, it was a JetBlue flight, so there was TV on the plane and I didn't play as much as I would have if I flew Southwest.

One thing that hasn't changed about this game is the sudden price increase for learning new magic upon leaving Pravoka. You'd think the citizens would pitch in since, I dunno, I just saved their lives from sadistic pirates. But no. Spells still cost a pretty penny. As a result, you spend a good hour or so sailing aimlessly and grinding.

It gets worse. The spell shops in Elfheim (formerly Elfland) are even more expensive (1000 gil each) and there are two sets of them for each magic school.

Anyway, the first hour or so consisted of me fighting SAHAGs and ODDEYEs (or whatever they're called now). Occasionally, I fought sharks that managed to jump on deck. In the NES version, you could occasionally fight pirate-like enemies called KYZOKU. They were easy to defeat and awarded a lot of loot. However, they kept not showing up.

Elfheim was interesting. Whereas every town looked roughly the same in the original, the palette was changed here to look more woodland-ish. Edrick's tombstone was also changed to Link's, to align it with the Famicom version.

The Elf Prince was asleep, cursed by the Dark Elf. An elf kindly informed me that a witch named Matoya could wake the prince with her herbs. So... the elves can't ask Matoya for the herb themselves?

I traveled to the Western Keep to speak with the king. The place was in ruins. He told me that Astos caused the downfall of his kingdom and that he needed a crown to restore his kingdom.

I guess the Warriors of Light are kind of like Forrest Gump. They're kind and want to help people, but also pretty stupid. Here we have a king sitting in the middle of a ruin. Nobody asks him why he doesn't join the rest of his folk in Elfheim?

Oh well. Marsh Cave it is!

Square-Enix is more consistent these days with monster names. It used to be that a monster would have seven different names. Here, the WIZARDs have been renamed Piscodemons, which is a subset of Mindflayer found in the later games. These are the squid-faced magi who steal your brain if you're not careful. They were much easier than I remember thanks to a lack of spellcasting. But it could have been due to the Phoenix Down (not in the original) conveniently placed in a nearby chest.

I did die once from the Ghasts outside the Marsh Cave. Back in the day, these enemies were called GEISTs. Every successful attack paralyzes one of the characters. So if you don't kill them fast, the entire party becomes paralyzed and it's impossible to win. They just whittle you down 5 HP at a time until it's game over. I guess the Dia spell had its uses after all. Oh well.

Back at the Western Keep, I healed the entire party, saved the game, and gave the king the crown. Of course, he turned out to be Astos in disguise all along. Ho ho! Classic Final Fantasy twist!

Back in the NES version, Astos used a spell called RUB to "erase" an enemy. Nintendo censorship dictated that no references to death could appear in their games. Here, the spell has been renamed Death and features the now-classic animation of the grim reaper slashing the character's soul.

It was the first spell Astos used, and on my fighter too. But it also missed, which is a Final Fantasy form of epic fail. Thus, the rest of the battle consisted of my fighter wailing on him, while buffed with the Temper spell. Astos crumbled away and left behind Matoya's crystal eye.

How did he ever manage to steal the eye? The world will never know. Next stop: Matoya's Cave.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Final Fantasy Flight, Part 2

Well, I was dropped off at Ontario Airport an hour before my flight, so that gave me plenty of time to continue the quest to "restore grace" to the crystals.

When we last left off, the king of Cornelia had finally built the bridge he promised for the heroes to enter the mainland. But first, I decided to trek back to the shrine for some treasures. Wouldn't you know it, I ran into some undead monsters! Of course, had I bought the Dia spell, it would have been completely useless since my fighter could kill them in one hit.

Two of the four doors were locked by the 'mystic key.' If I remember correctly, this key won't be available until after I wake the sleeping prince, which is several hours further in the game.

Anyway, crossing the bridge triggered the good ol' Final Fantasy theme and the intro sequence. After that, the game plopped be back onto the world map. I headed north to Matoya's cave. I seem to recall fighting lots of ogres and creeps back in the day along the way. But for some reason, I kept fighting goblins in the GBA version.

The possessed brooms were still sweeping the cave, but instead of talking backwards, they now say stupid things like "swish-swish-shisheroo!" Talk about unnecessary.

Matoya's Cave has changed into a pretty nice bedroom with carpet and bookshelves. A mini-cutscene also plays upon entering. In the NES version, Matoya lived in a dark chamber littered with skulls. Considering the townspeople aren't trembling at the mere mention of Matoya the man-eating witch, I suppose this characterization is more fitting. Besides, why would the Warriors of Light want to help a crazy, blind woman wandering around a pit of human remains?

I traveled southeast to Pravoka, running into some crazy horses (formerly mad ponies). Here, I met Bikke the pirate: the manliest character in the history of the series. Okay, maybe not. Actually, I didn't even fight Bikke. In true Mr. Sinister fashion, he send nine of his henchmen after me. After I made short work of them, he begged for his life and gave me his ship as a sign of good faith.

Considering I took care of him with weapons that I bought from the Pravoka weapon shop, it begs the question: why couldn't the townspeople kill the pirates themselves? Bunch of cowards.

With a new boat magically appearing at the docks, I now had access to the high seas. Next stop: Elfland.

I had forgotten how hard the sea creatures were (or that there were sea creatures at all). The sahagin come in waves and cause my fighter to miss. The only consistent attack against them was the black mage's Thunder spell. It took some back and forth grinding and inn-resting, but eventually I made it to the southern part of the continent and entered Elfland.

I'll be flying to New York at the end of March for a client visit. So I guess the elves will have to wait a few weeks for the Light Warriors to wake their sleeping prince.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Final Fantasy Flight, Part 1

I live in Silicon Valley and work in the advertising field for a moderate/large internet company. However, my family lives in Southern California. Every so often, I fly out to visit them and use the weekend to drive to Los Angeles and see my orthodontist.

I'm not sure what it is about the combination of San Jose Airport and Southwest Airlines. But in the 30 or so flights I've taken, I've been delayed over half of the time. The result is that I've become proficient in keeping myself entertained. I've gone through all the portable Zeldas, Marios, and Kirbys as well as the Metroids and Castlevanias. But next on the list is Final Fantasy. I'm referring to the GBA version, of course since emulating the original is like elective torture.

The GBA version is much easier. Your characters deal more damage, take less damage, can dash in town, and have a lot more starting gil. You're no longer limited to dinky little potions that you have to buy one at a time. 'Ineffective attacks' are gone too, meaning if a character targets a monster that another character just killed, the game will redirect the attack to the next available monster rather than just attack the air. Most importantly, you can save the game whenever you want. In the original, you had to trek back to the inn and pay a fee to save the game.

I'm sticking with the default characters: warrior, thief, white mage, and black mage. I have nothing against the monk and red mage, but I really like the thief's long term potential (ahem... ninja). Meanwhile, black and white mages are pretty necessary if you want to get all the crucial spells like Teleport.

The warrior is named Kevin, of course. To be honest, I never use my own name in place of the main character. But hey, I'm on a plane and just had a rum and coke. I'm feeling adventurous. As for the other three, Garret is named after the main character of the Thief games, Lewis is inspired by C.S. Lewis, and Weasly is the ginger kid with the goofy faces from Harry Potter.

So bam. The game begins. And just like the original, the heroes are plopped in front of Cornelia, the kingdom formerly known as Corneria.

The heroes are now called the Warriors of Light rather than Light Warriors, a change that's like changing Final Fantasy to Fantasy, It's The Final One. Longer, but not better. Also, the dancer no longer calls herself Arylon. She just asks you if you want to dance with her, and then proceeds to not dance with you.

So yes, I talked to the first soldier I saw, who promptly escorted me to the king. Huzzah! Except... the king wants me to go kill the evil knight Garland and rescue his daughter. If I don't do it, he won't build a bridge to the mainland. Then, the four heroic looking people who magically showed up outside a town holding crystals that match the description of a great prophecy that says they will save the world and most certainly are the ones foretold will have to just wander around the island endlessly. Okay, saving the princess it is.

Back in the town of Cornelia, I decide to go shopping. I remember in the original, if you neglected this step, you'd be creamed by the endless bands of savage imps roaming the grasslands. Here, not so much. But nevertheless, I maxed out all the weapons and armor. Surprisingly, I still had enough gil to buy all the spells and a couple of potions. The king is more generous in this version with his funding.

Since I can only learn 3 of 4 spells. I decided not to get Dia for the white mage. I figure there aren't many undead monsters this early in the game and I can always get a stronger version of Dia later. As for Weasly, I bought all the spells except Sleep. In all the Final Fantasy games so far, has there ever been a time when the Sleep spell was actually useful? By the time you have the stats to make the spell effect consistent, you're strong enough to fell the enemy in one hit.

Anyway, I spent the next 20 minutes wandering around Cornelia, grinding on the imps (now called Goblins). Then, I moved my way up to Chaos' Shrine and passed by the Earthgift Shrine, one of the new bonus dungeons in the GBA version. There was a statue of Lich, which is quite the spoiler. But hey, the creators probably didn't care because they assumed everyone who would buy this game already played it before. Insert snide remark about Square Enix rehashing Final Fantasy games to fund its Dragon Quest endeavors.

I found Garland chewing scenery in front of an ominous black orb. They changed all of the heroes' crystals to actual crystal-looking shapes but neglected to change Garland's. Oops. They also kept his meme-worthy "knock you all down" line. But knock us down he didn't. A few Fire spells from Weasly and he crumbled away.

As promised, the king built me a bridge and Princess Sarah (they added an 'h' to her name) gave me a lute. Neither gave me free weapons, armor, or funding for the rest of my journey. Gee thanks. I'll remember how helpful you were after I save the world.

At this point, the flight attendant told us to turn off all portable electronics to prepare for landing. So we'll pick this up on the return trip. Stay tuned.