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.