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.