There comes a point where the world breaks. Kefka reaches the sacred place where magic is kept in balance, and unbalances it. Continents split apart. The sea changes color. Long cutscenes play. The heroes’ airship is smashed like a bowl of eggs, and by the time the player is given control again, a year of gametime has passed. It’s clear that nothing will be the same from this point on.
So naturally my reaction is to immediately restore my last save. Not because I have any plans to prevent this apocalypse, which is clearly an inevitable part of the plot, but because it seems like a lot of doors are closing, and I want to do things in the world as it was while I still have the opportunity. On the most immediate scale, there’s an object near the breakpoint that I didn’t manage to pick up. (The ground splits under you if you approach it by the direct route; I had managed to work out how to get to it, but slipped up when I tried, owing to the Sprint Shoes I was wearing making it hard to control my movement.) Glancing at an online walkthrough to see if it was actually worth getting, I learned that I needed to do something slightly differently in the same scene if I ever wanted the ninja to rejoin my party again.
But even beyond the immediate situation, there are goals I want to pursue in the world as a whole. And here’s another of those false-urgency bits: even though the entire pre-cataclysm scene is built with a sense that you’re rushing to intervene before Kefka does something monstrously wrong, you’re given the opportunity at the last moment to go back to your ship and spend a week or two taking care of business.
The first thing I want to do is get Gau up to speed on the latest monsters. Gau has a special training area, the Veldt, where monsters that you’ve encountered in the rest of game show up. The in-game excuse is that they migrate there when you drive them out of the places where they live, which doesn’t make a lot of sense for the imperial soldiers and security robots, but there it is. You can spend a long time in the Veldt waiting for a particular monster to show up, and the designers have sensibly made it a no-XP zone, like the final areas in FF5. And, like those areas, although you aren’t getting normal XP that lets you level up, you do get the secondary version, Ability Points or Magic Points, which, in this game, lets you learn spells from your equipped Magicite crystals. Joining Gau this time is Strago, the Blue Mage, in the hope that he can learn some new spells from creatures that he never had a chance to observe the first time around, due to joining the party too late. Unlike FF5, where the Blue Mage (or someone with the Blue Mage’s “Learning” skill) had to be the target of an attack in order to learn it, it seems that Strago simply has to observe it. For that reason, I’m pairing him up with his granddaughter Relm, who has the ability to draw pictures of monsters that come to life just long enough to make a single attack. When the monster has an attack that Strago can learn, that usually seems to be the one that Relm produces. Thus, she’s kind of like the Trainer in FF5, in that she forms a natural complement to the Blue Mage, and making them relatives is a bit of a hint at that.
(Something to try in my next session: Can Relm draw the heroes? I hadn’t even thought of trying until now. Most attacks and spells can be directed either way, and there are situations where directing them the wrong way — healing the monsters or attacking the heroes — is actually helpful.)
There are other quests that need completing before the world is torn asunder. If there are any Espers still to be found, I should try to find them. (I almost missed the ones from the auction house. I wonder if the auctioneers know what Magicite does, and that they’re effectively holding a slave auction?) There were a couple of significant-seeming locations that I haven’t found the significance of yet, and which may be destroyed in a year. A minor quest involving delivering letters, which has yet to reach any sort of conclusion. The manual mentions a playable Moogle character, Mog, who isn’t part of my party yet, even though I’ve been through a Moogle den. He was playable briefly during that one tunnel defense scene, so I know he’s around, but Moogles are hard to tell apart when you can’t look at their stats. Maybe he’ll join when I talk to him if there’s an open slot in my party or something.
In the classic Wizardry IV, at the end of the initial level, there’s a sign just before the stairs that says “Have you forgotten something?” — a question that would become a repeated motif in the game, and work into the ending. Seeing it there for the first time was one of the most frightening experiences I’ve ever had in a RPG. Once the question has been posed, it’s hard to stop thinking about it. Have I forgotten something? Is there something else I’m supposed to have done by now? What if I can’t go back? The Final Fantasy games aren’t so cruel that they’d lock you out of victory for failing to notice a pickup, and they sometimes provide eleventh-hour second chances to complete collections. Still, I’d like to do what I can now, before I go to meet my appointment with the irrevocable.