Final Fantasy V: Penultimate Endeavors

I think I understand by now how the rest of the game is going to go. An area is available to me now that I have every reason to believe to be the endgame area — at least, it’s a place that you can’t return from, offering little opportunity to save and no opportunity to buy equipment, all of which is typical of a final dungeon in a Final Fantasy. I’ve visited this area twice. The first time, I was sucked in accidentally when I flew over it in my airship, and didn’t survive long. The second time was curiosity, coupled with lack of progress elsewhere. It lasted longer, but still ended with a TPK courtesy of a miniboss I wasn’t prepared for.

The one really atypical thing about the endgame is how early it becomes available. I’ve still got some major quests to do, including at least two dungeons. But the plot is no longer the driving force. Rather, the point of the remaining quests is simply to gear up for the final battle. The main quest right now is to unlock the game’s ultimate weapons, and other quests involve obtaining the ultimate spells and one final Job. It’s not unusual in the Final Fantasy series to spend some time hunting down upgrades before plunging into the finale, but that stage of the game usually doesn’t have this much content. It’s not clear yet how optional it all is, but given how tough the end boss in FF4 was, I’m not going to make another sally at the endgame until I’ve completed everything else. And since I’ll be getting on a plane to the east coast tomorrow, I probably won’t get a chance before the new year.

There’s something going on here that’s almost unique to RPGs. Call it “soft walls” — places where you don’t go before you’re ready, even though the game doesn’t prevent you. My earliest memorable experience with such a thing was in the 1988 post-apocalypictic RPG Wasteland, which put the Archivist Citadel, one of the highest-level areas, smack in the middle of the map with its doors wide open from the beginning of the game. Every once in a while I would go in there to see if I could handle it yet, only to limp home after fleeing one encounter. The FF5 endgame doesn’t work quite like that: most of the encounters there are things I’m quite capable of handling, but I don’t want to go there simply because I can’t come back.

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