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.

Final Fantasy V: Third World

FF5 does something cool at the start of the third chapter. To recap: chapter 1 takes place on the planet where the supreme bad guy X-Death was imprisoned thirty years ago, and at its climax X-Death breaks free. Chapter 2 take place on X-Death’s homeworld, where you rush around getting Dawn Warriors killed and failing to stop X-Death’s master plan. But you do eventually face X-Death in battle and defeat him. Not that you expect this to stop him or anything. He’s been killed before, after all.

Immediately after this fight, everything goes dark, and the heroes find themselves lying on the ground near Reina’s castle, which is back on world 1. Except… things are different. The land is connected in ways that it wasn’t before. I didn’t understand what had happened at first, but I still got a sense that there was Something Very Wrong.

What happened is this: the two planets merged. The chapter 3 map is a melding of the chapter 1 and 2 maps, which fit together like a jigsaw when overlaid. An inaccessible mountainous island from world 1 is now in the middle of a bridge from world 2. A region where both worlds had an archipelago now has an uninterrupted land bridge.

It seems that the two worlds were once one, and that reuniting them was essential to unsealing the power of the Void, which X-Death wishes to claim for his own. Why does sealing the void involve splitting a world in two? Because the designers came up with this neat gimmick and needed an excuse to put it in the game.

Final Fantasy V: The Death of Galuf

By now, all four of the original Dawn Warriors are dead. With the exception of Dorgan, who was already dead before the story began 1Unless he’s actually alive, which wouldn’t surprise me at all., they all heroically sacrificed themselves to help me escape X-Death’s clutches, symbolically stepping aside so that the new generation can take over and so forth.

Note that Galuf was one of the Dawn Warriors, and also one of the player characters. Thus we have one of those famous Final Fantasy “cutscene deaths”, where the plot demands that the resurrection magic you’ve been using all game suddenly doesn’t work for some reason, although he version I’m playing cuts through that by designating characters who have run out of hit points as “KO” rather than “dead”.

Galuf’s death leaves a vacancy in the party, which is quickly filled by Galuf’s granddaughter, Krile. I actually knew this was coming; I’ve looked at a few spoilers files by now to help me choose which Jobs to advance in. I’ve been trying to avoid plot spoilers, but a change in the party roster is something that game mechanics spoilers have to cover too. So I was worried about what would happen to all the experience levels and job levels Galuf had accumulated. As it turns out, he somehow manages to transfer them to Krile. So as far as the gameplay goes, it seems less like Galuf is dead and more like he’s been transformed into a little girl. And it’s not a large change, either, aside from the graphics — there’s some difference in their base stats (Galuf is stronger, Krile faster and more magical), but this is completely swamped by the effect of the Jobs on stats.

Speaking of the graphics, Galuf’s death is one of the stranger visual moments in the game. As he gasps out his final words, he starts flashing like a boss monster in combat mode, and when he dies, his body vanishes. “Deresolution”, as they called it in Tron. Now, we know that this is what happens when things die in this game, but it’s always seemed like a simplification of what really happens — much like how we accept the battle animtions, in which the heroes “stand ten feet away and make hitting motions” as Kingdom of Loathing put it, as a symbol for actually hitting the enemies with their weapons. But to take that out of combat mode — are we to understand that this really is a story about a world where dead people actually vanish? It seems like a joke, or like something that an indie developer would put in as some kind of postmodern commentary.

This isn’t the first plot-death in the series, so I may well have seen this happen before and not been struck by it so. Mind you, most of the deaths of major characters in the last Final Fantasy game I played, FF4, turned out by the end to not have really been fatal after all, so maybe there wasn’t any on-screen non-combat-mode deresolution there. On the other hand, perhaps this blog is making me think about what I’m seeing more.

1 Unless he’s actually alive, which wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Final Fantasy V: Separation of story and gameplay mechanics

Final Fantasy is something of a genre unto itself. Moreso, in my opinion, than most game franchises. There’s a significant number of people who play the Final Fantasy games and no other CRPGs. It has its own convetions and vocabulary, things that fans of the series understand from earlier games, making it easier for those in the know but harder for outsiders to get in — something that I’d argue is a big part of genre in any medium.

Often, genre in games is reinforced by things that don’t make sense, but which the player doesn’t question.

Usually it’s a matter of gameplay considerations trumping common sense, as is right and proper. In most first-person shooters, you can take multiple bullets to the chest without so much as slowing down, because the alternative would be a less enjoyable game. You can make in-game excuses for it, declare that the player is wearing power armor or something, but you don’t really need to, because most of the players understand the conventions of the genre.

Or consider healing items, potions and medikits and so forth that instantly remove damage when used. One of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen in a noninteractive cutscene was a moment in the final boss battle of Prince of Persia 3D — not The Sands of Time, but the largely-forgotten one from several years before. In it, the baddie you’re fighting (some kind of anthropomorphic tiger), badly beaten, takes a moment to pull out a vial of orange fluid, uncork it, and gulp it down, restoring him enough to begin the next stage of the fight. It’s not at all unusual in games for players to do this sort of thing, but the presentation here makes it seem like part of the story rather than part of the game, and that draws attention to the absurdity of the idea.

Final Fantasy has healing potions, which can be used in combat. It also has a number of status effects which can be cured with specific items: “Antidote” for poisoned characters, “Soft” for petrified ones, “Cornucopia” for those artificially aged by magical aging effects — not all of the effects are obvious, but since they’re mostly the same from game to game, you learn them. Or, if you have enough mana, you can cure any status effect with the spell Esuna, a nonsense word that doesn’t seem to mean anything in Japanese either, but which players of the series will recognize immediately.

But if you’re really low on mana, you should stay at an inn, which heals the entire party, recovers mana, and removes status ailments all at once. If you’re not near an inn, there are tents and cottages, which are like small, portable inns. (Based on the graphics, “cottage” is probably a mistranslation. It looks like a larger tent.) The animation that results from using a tent or cottage makes it clear that you’re staying in it overnight, although it only takes a few seconds of real time. Unlike potions, you can’t use them during combat — in fact, you can only use it in places where you can save the game, which is to say, anyplace outdoors plus save points in dungeons. But like potions, tents and cottages are single-use items. That’s their first violation of common sense. It reminds me a little of the keys in early Ultimas, which were more like single-use lockpicks.

The second violation is something that I don’t think really came up in FF1, but which I’ve just had a fairly big dose of in FF5. There are portions of this game where it tries to create a sense of urgency in the story that isn’t actually present in gameplay. At one point, for example, you infiltrate the tower that’s projecting the force field around X-Death’s castle. While you climb to the tower’s peak, Zeza the Dawn Warrior goes to the basement to where the bulk of the machinery is housed and waits for you, first reminding you to hurry, because you don’t have much time before X-Death’s forces overwhelm you. You battle your way up through the tower, and just before the top, hey! A save point! Let’s pitch camp.

My point isn’t that this is unrealistic. My point is that it actually took me a day or so to remember this. The mission is part of the plot, and the tent is part of the game, and seldom the twain shall meet.

Final Fantasy V: Dawn Warriors

I’ve made my way back to Galuf’s castle. It turns out he’s a king on this planet. I thought at first that this was another piece of his backstory that I had missed or misinterpreted somehow, and I was relieved to discover that it was news to the rest of the player characters as well. Another flashback filled in more details: the reason that Galuf and his comrades — “The Dawn Warriors”, as their PR department calls them — imprisoned X-Death where they did is simply because that’s where they defeated him, and they had to do something about him right there before he came back to life.

Now, these Dawn Warriors were a group of four, much like the current party. For the first time in the series, there’s a sense that the player’s position is not unique, that the previous generation had their version of this story — a Pre-final Fantasy, if you will (Midterm Fantasy, maybe?) — and that the story is partly about coming of age, filling the shoes of those who came before you and living up to their standards. When you think about it, it’s an appropriate theme for an RPG with mechanics based around improving your characters. FF8 does something similar.

As if to drive the point home, it turns out that one of the Dawn Warriors, the late Dorgan, was the viewpoint character’s father. This gives certain NPCs an opportunity to say admiring things about him and then conclude with “He would have been proud of you” or similar, just like whenever Dumbledore talks about James Potter. In particular, I’ve got this treatment from the two other remaining Dawn Warriors, Kelga and Zeza.

Kelga is a werewolf — werewolves are good guys in this game, there’s a whole town full of them. He’s too ill to have much to do with the new fight against X-Death, and will more than likely die before the game is over. Zeza, on the other hand, leads the offensive against X-Death’s new domain. It’s surrounded by an impenetrable force field, but Zeza knows a secret way in, through a cave that’s only accessible by submarine.

This is the point where I really started to think that everything that seemed new and different about FF7 was already present in FF5. FF7 was the point where the designers seemed to suddenly realize that
Fantasy does not have to imply Pseudo-Medieval. Sure, it still had swords and spells and dragons, but it was also full of guns and helicopters and neon-lit cityscapes. FF8 went so far as to declare that all magic was really manifestations of psi power, and put you in a world with roughly 1940’s fashions and customs (except in one country where it was more like Star Trek fashions and customs.) In FF5, people wear standard fantasy robes and live in standard fantasy castles, but this is but a veneer over advanced industrial technology. There’s always been a bit of high tech in the series — FF1 had a “castle in the sky” that turned out to be a space station populated by robots 1I always thought that the robots in FF1 looked a lot like those in Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky, AKA Laputa, which was released in Japan while FF1 was in development., and FF4 involved a trip to the moon — but that stuff has generally been more like an anomaly in a mostly stock-fantasy world, and a relic of Vancian lost civilizations besides. In FF5, people are building submarines and steamships and force-field generators, even though they evidently haven’t discovered gunpowder.

1 I always thought that the robots in FF1 looked a lot like those in Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky, AKA Laputa, which was released in Japan while FF1 was in development.

Final Fantasy V: I am an Idiot

It turns out that I actually got explicit instructions about where the Adamantite was, but failed to understand them, and then forgot them. This lack of understanding was made possible by a complete misinterpretation of Galuf’s flashbacks, which I will now correct point by point:

Galuf and his cohorts did not create or place the four crystals. In the flashback, they discussed creating a prison for X-Death using the crystals. But the crystals were already there. The presence of the Crystals is probably why they chose this planet for his prison in the first place. This leads into the next misconception:

Galuf is not hundreds of years old. Since the crystals had been there for as long as anyone could remember, and Galuf put them there, it seemed a reasonable conclusion. But, as noted, Galuf didn’t put them there. By now, I’ve reached another scene where he says that X-Death had been sealed away a mere 30 years ago.

Galuf did not stay on this planet. My idea that he had was based mainly on the fact that he said he came in a meteorite, just like the monsters. To return to his homeworld, he’d surely need some kind of flying machine, and meteorites, it seemed to me, are more like falling machines. Well, it turns out that these are two-way meteorites. He actually returns in one after a certain point.

Galuf’s granddaughter lives on his homeworld. It’s just that the two worlds have extremely similar customs and architecture.

And finally, the one crucial point that separated me from the storyline for the bulk of last session: The game starts with a meteorite crashing into the area near Reina’s castle. That was Galuf’s transport. His initial amnesia was a consequence of his crash-landing, and not, as I had assumed, of his being crash-landed at.

This also means that the destruction of the first crystal was not in any way caused by the first meteor, as I had assumed. Rather, the reverse: Galuf returned because he had seen that the crystals were failing. This means that the “amplifiers” probably are to blame after all, although X-Death certainly helped matters along once he was able.

Now, in order to figure all this out, I looked at a script at GameFAQs. This script is for the SNES version, so it’s not identical to the text in the version I’ve been playing, but looking at it, I see multiple references to Galuf having come 30 years ago, as well as Galuf’s reaction to being told that we need Adamantite: “Remember that meteor I came here in? I think I remember seeing some inside of the meteor!” If there was anything like this in the version I played, I could have saved myself some trouble by remembering more of it. But even in this version, it looks like the player is expected to have figured out a thing or two not explicitly spelled out — like that the “meteor I came here in” is the one where you met Galuf in the first place.

I don’t mind having to figure things out. I play adventure games, right? But to figure things out, you need access to information, including information you’ve seen once and forgotten about. Games are mocked for the unrealistic way that people repeat the same things every time you talk to them, but it’s kind of essential. And it’s often done like that here, especially for useless information: if I want to be reminded about how the wind is failing and ships will be unable to sail, there are any number of villagers willing to repeat what they said back at the beginning. But since this isn’t Planescape: Torment, you’re not given the opportunity to repeat conversations with player characters. If Galuf says “30 years ago”, and you forget that detail, there’s no way to make him repeat it, short of restarting or restoring. And I’m not likely to do that, because I want every monster I kill to count.

So, let me now record the rest of what’s happened since then, lest I forget things and get confused again:

  • Reina’s father was, in fact, under X-Death’s control. He met us at the site of the last crystal, urged us to kill the crystal’s guardian, then broke it.
  • X-Death is now free, and has returned to his (and Galuf’s) homeworld to work his senseless evil.
  • Galuf’s granddaughter, Krile, came after him in another meteorite. She undid the whammy on the King, who then gave his life to save the rest of us
  • Galuf and Krile returned to their world in Krile’s meteorite.
  • Cid put together a teleporter so that the rest of the party could follow, but it only works once. We’ll have to find our own way back.
  • X-Death captured the party and used them to bait Galuf. Galuf rescued them, so everyone’s together again now, but they’re in lost in a remote wilderness.

Final Fantasy V: Backstories

Progress is still slow. I’ve managed to swap one unpursuable quest for a different, equally unpursuable quest: apparently the last crystal is in orbit or something, and to reach it, I need some adamantine to upgrade my airship. This is the first mention of adamantine I’ve seen. I really hope I break out of this rut soon. I don’t recall anything like this happening in any of the other Final Fantasy games.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at what I’ve learned about the player characters.

First in line is Bartz. That isn’t actually his name in the version I’m playing; unique among the characters, the game lets the player name him, without even suggesting a default. He’s clearly intended as the viewpoint character, and is the only character you control from the very beginning. He’s also something of a prototype for later Final Fantasy heroes like Cloud in FF7: a laconic loner who’s reluctant at first to get involved. I’ll have more to say about him after I’ve described the others.

Second, there’s Princess Reina, whose chief attribute in the plot is that she’s a celebrity. Whenever we arrive at a castle, people recognize her and tell her what an honor it is and so forth, and suddenly it’s her story and the rest of the party is merely her entourage. She’s looking for her father, the king of Tycoon, who vanished shortly before the destruction of the first crystal. I’ve caught a few glimpses of what appears to be the king, always a step ahead, like the G-Man in Half-Life. Reina insists that these glimpses means he’s still alive, although, on the basis of his behavior, I’d say he’s either appearing as a ghost in order to guide us as best he can, or he’s trying to keep ahead of and avoid us because he’s turned into a minion of evil.

Counterpoint to Reina is the pirate captain Faris, whose ship the party attempts to steal early in the game. When this attempt fails and the pirates take you prisoner, Faris decides to hold Reina for ransom. In a surprising twist, Faris is then revealed to be a woman. That is to say, it isn’t surprising that she’s a woman, it’s surprising that this is supposed to be a revelation. She has long pink hair, for crying out loud. The first time I saw an NPC refer to her with a masculine pronoun, I thought he must be talking about someone else. Anyway, not only is she a she, it turns out she’s Reina’s long-lost sister, and a princess in her own right. Both Faris and Reina basically react to this news with “OMG Squeee!” So Faris abandons the ransom plot and joins Reina’s search. Her story arc seems to be mainly about coming to terms with her new station in life. But it should be noted that Faris’ crew displays the same kind of devotion to her as Reina’s people do to Reina. Blood will out?

Next up is an old guy named Galuf, who starts the game with amnesia. At that point, he knows that he’s obliged to protect the crystals, but doesn’t know why, or where he comes from. Well, by now I’ve reached the point where his memory comes back — memories of his granddaughter, his membership in the secret order that placed the crystals in the first place (is he even older than he looks?), and his freaking extraterrestrial origins. The real purpose of the crystals, it seems, is that they form a magical prison for an alien sorcerer called X-Death. Galuf came to this world to help create this prison, then stayed to watch over it, and, over time, went native.

So, basically, we have a bunch of history, including family connections, for each of the main characters except Bartz, who doesn’t even have a proper name in this edition. He’s the empty shell for you to project yourself into. This is probably why I found it moving when I found his home town.

It’s nestled in a forest surrounded by mountains, impossible to reach by airship: only a chocobo will do. It’s full of people who grew up with you and are pleased to see you return. They don’t say a lot, and there’s a bit of a less-is-more thing going on with that. But mainly, I was by this point accustomed to the idea that the viewpoint character is aloof from this world, and not directly engaged in anyone’s story, not even his own. So the effect is based not just on the idea that these people care about you/him, but that this was unexpected. Unexpected caring is the sweetest kind.

Final Fantasy V: Summoning and Obsolescence

Last night’s session consisted of little progress and lots of noodling around aimlessly in my airship. I’m at a point where the adventure is less directed than before. I know I have to try to protect the final Crystal, which means finding it. (I’m also pretty sure that finding it will trigger the plot event that results in its destruction, but that’s okay.) But since most of the map is open to me now, apart from a few mountainous areas where the airship can’t land, it’s not at all obvious where I’m supposed to go next. I had some leads, and I followed them, and now I’m stuck.

But one of the nice things about RPGs is that they give you goals you can pursue while stuck. I’ve gained a few job levels, and I’ve bought some better equipment (although I’m still severely limited by what’s available to buy), and I’ve conquered Ramuh, one of the basic summonables.

Final Fantasy‘s summoning mechanism is another one of the distinctive things about the series. Pretty much every episode from FF3 onward provides some kind of summoning, and FF5 makes it a Job. The way it generally works is: your summoner casts a spell (costing an ungodly amount of mana), and your entire party is temporarily replaced by a legendary being who does a great deal of damage, usually to all enemies at once, and then disappears. Summoning Ramuh amounts to casting a souped-up lightning bolt, and counts as such for creatures with resistance or vulnerability to electrical damage. Later episodes have elaborate non-interactive animated summoning sequences; how much you like the later games is in large part determined by how quickly these animations bore you. Sometimes summonables can be found or purchased, as is the case for a few low-level ones in this game. Sometimes, as in the case of Ramuh, they must be encountered and defeated.

Now, in most of the Final Fantasy games I’ve played, summoning is pretty much your biggest magic. It’s one of the things you bring out for the bosses. But here, it’s completely it’s overshadowed by other new class abilities. For example, the Geomancer can do damage comparable to the creatures I can currently summon, and do it at no mana cost. Geomancy doesn’t allow the kind of control that Summoning does — the effect is random, and if it’s an effect that requires a target, the target is random as well. But who cares, when you can cast it every single round?

Similarly, the Hunter has an ability to call on woodland creatures (yes, even from inside a dungeon) that sometimes does damage, sometimes does nothing, and sometimes heals the entire party for a few hundred points. Even though the healing only comes up every once in a while, it pretty much renders the White Mage job obsolete. Presumably I’ll eventually acquire new, more powerful spells for both the White Mage and the Summoner that tip the scales in their favor again. It’s just another way that this game puts the Job system at the forefront of the player’s attention.

Final Fantasy V: Blue Mage

I had a couple of breakthroughs last night. For one thing, I have the airship that I knew I’d find eventually. More importantly, I also now have a character who’s sufficiently advanced in the Trainer job that it completely transforms how I can use the Blue Mage.

The Blue Mage is a class introduced in FF5, an addition to the Black/White/Red Mages from the original. Its role in the game is to provide an additional form of collectible. You may have visited all the dungeons, taken all the treasure, and killed one of every type of monster in the game, but how many ways have you been hurt? Nothing kept track until now. You see, blue magic consists of monsters’ special attacks. In order to learn blue spells, the character doing the Blue Mage job has to observe the attack up close. Really up close.

For most of the game, I’ve been keeping the Blue Masochist’s “Learning” skill on two characters, just to increase the odds that one of them gets the opportunity to study these attacks when they happen. Some of the attacks are only used rarely, and those are the ones you really want — partly just because they’re rare, but also because they tend to be the more powerful ones. There’s a devastating attack called “Aqua Rake” — it does massive water-based damage to all enemies. I’ve only had it used against me once, but because I was Learning at the time, I can do it too now.

The Trainer, now: that has a few different skills. One of the things a Trainer can do is attempt to capture a weakened foe, then later set it loose during battle, damaging anything in its way. It’s strikingly similar to the mechanics of Pokémon — the captured monster even takes the form of a little ball — even though FF5 predates Pokémon by several years. But that’s not the important thing. The real purpose of the Trainer is to control monsters. During combat, a sufficiently advanced Trainer can attempt to take control of one monster at a time, and once you’ve got it, you can use any of its attacks against the other monsters.

Or against your Blue Mage.

Suddenly, the hunt for hurt, dependent on luck up to this point, is streamlined and efficient! I’ve got one character devoted to the process now: he’s staying in the Blue Mage job, which gives him innate ability to both learn and cast blue magic, and has the Trainer’s “Control” command equipped. Once I’m satisfied that he’s inflicted everything on himself that an area has to offer, I have the option of switching him to a different job. Or not: Aqua Rake alone makes it worthwhile to keep him blue most of the time.

I understand FF7 had something similar to the Blue Mage, an “Enemy Attack” materia or somesuch, but I don’t remember using it much, if at all. I’ll have to give it a better try when I replay that game — and I’m realizing I’ll have to do that at some point, to see it afresh in the context of the earlier games.

Final Fantasy V: Common Elements

The Final Fantasy games, somewhat famously, don’t really form a continuity. Each game in the series proper 1That is, each game with a title like “Final Fantasy [number in roman numerals]”. There have been a some sequels to particular games, but I’m not considering them here. is its own world. However, there are some recurring elements, not just of gameplay but of content, that help to give the series an identity. There’s an extensive Wikipedia article on the subject, but honestly it seems a little too extensive to me — yes, most games in the series contain healing potions, but so do most CRPGs.

So, what is there that’s genuinely distinctive about Final Fantasy? First and most obviously, there are some recurring creatures, such as Chocobos, Moogles, and Tonberries. The only one of these I’ve seen so far in FF5 is the Chocobo, a large bird used as a steed, but I understand there are Moogles to come.

Next, there’s the airship obsession. This is enough of a Final Fantasy mainstay that if you’ve ever seen a Final Fantasy parody, it probably had an airship in it. I haven’t found any airships in FF5 yet, but I’m sure they’re coming. At least, I hope so. Without one, the only means I have of travelling over long distances without the hassle of wandering monsters is by riding a dragon. This might not sound worse than an airship, but it can’t fly over mountains, and is thus limited to a certain mountain-beringed portion of the map.

Then there’s Cid, the crusty airship mechanic, or at least usually something close to that. In this game, he’s a scientist who designed the crystal power amplifiers that are blamed with overworking the four Elemental Crystals and making them shatter. (This never really seemed like an adequate explanation to me. I mean, a problem like that can’t be solved by killing things, which means I can’t do anything about it. So I have to find the real reason the crystals are shattering. And then kill it.)

These are surface matters, though. Less often remarked on but just as prevalent are common plot features, notable for being the only thing that identified the Final Fantasy movie, The Spirits Within, as Final Fantasy. Like the prison scene. Often there’s a point toward the end of Act 1 where the player characters are incarcerated, receive some small help in escaping, and then fight the rest of the way out. I’ve been through this scene in FF5 already. It’s kind of amusing how it comes about. See, there are these monsters attacking the crystals — the fact that the crystals are under attack by monsters is another reason why the “amplifier” explanation doesn’t make sense — and the monsters apparently emerged from huge meteors. Entering a hollow meteor yourself, you find a tunnel that leads to the site of another meteor. On the other side, you’re seen emerging from the meteor, which means you must be a monster. Luckily, the guards don’t have the same zero-tolerance policy towards monsters as you do.

Then there’s the dual antagonist scheme, consisting of a human-scale enemy, such as a conquering empire, who you focus on in the early parts of the game, and beyond that, the real menace, a cosmic horror that threatens the whole world. This creates an opportunity for a reveal scene where the plot suddenly broadens beyond the initial conflict. I don’t think it’s going to happen quite like this in FF5, because I’m fairly advanced in the game now and I don’t have a human enemy yet. All I’ve been doing it racing around after crystals to save them before they explode. (And I’m always too late. Good thing, too, because it’s the shards of the shattered crystals that give me new Jobs.)

1 That is, each game with a title like “Final Fantasy [number in roman numerals]”. There have been a some sequels to particular games, but I’m not considering them here.

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