Ah, there is nothing sweeter than nostalgia. While Final Fantasy IV was indeed my first introduction to the Final Fantasy series, it is here in the sixth installment that my heart truly lies. I’ve written about it before and how the message of this game was really there for me when I was growing up, but there’s also just something magical about it in my eyes. Something that no other Final Fantasy got right before or since. That special je ne sais quois that VI had. Hmmmm. Warm fuzzies. Anyway, let’s get into it shall we?
The tale begins on the outskirts of the mining town of Narshe where two Imperial Magitek soldiers – Biggs & Wedge – alongside our currently mind slaved and soon to be protagonist 18 year old Terra. They are assaulting the town to find a magical being called an Esper that was said to be frozen in ice somewhere in the minds. However, when they locate it, Terra reacts to it and the Esper kills Biggs & Wedge and triggers an explosion in the mine. Terra awakens sometime later with little to no memory but with soldiers hot on her tail. Her escape is assisted by the Treasure Hunter – Locke – and the King of the nearby Kingdom of Figaro – Edgar – who want to take Terra, who somehow possess the power of magic (not seen in 1000 years) to meet the Returners, a group of rebels that fight against the ever forcefully expanded Gesthalian Empire.
The tale then gets split three ways as Terra, Edgar and Bannon (The leader of the returners) try to return to Narshe, Sabin (Edgar’s wandering martial artist brother) gets swept by a river south to meet the wild child Gau and Cyan the only survivor of the Imperial poisoned kingdom of Doma, and Locke heads back into Figaro to find it under Imperial occupation and joining forces with the disgraced former Imperial general Celes. All three groups meet up to face often against a massive battle with the Empire to defend the frozen Esper. After claiming victory, Terra tries under Bannon’s urging to try to communicate with the Esper only for Terra to turn into a screaming pink demon monster and fly away.
This begins the next story arc where you have to find Terra and discover her true nature as a half-human, half-esper explaining her magical powers. This involves things like the famous Opera scene that you use to steal an airship and break into the Imperial MagiTek Factory where you discover the Empire’s secret technique to making unstoppable magitek weaponry: Draining captured espers dry. With Terra realizing who she is, the group meets back up together and decides that the Returners will use the machines of Figaro and the resources of Narshe to fight back the Empire. But they still need to manpower, so Terra as a hybrid goes to the Sealed Gate to the Esper World and beseeches them for aid. Instead, the Espers use the opening to raze the Imperial Capital and run amok across the world in a fit of anger. Returning to the Imperial Capitol, Emperor Gesthal wants to hold a truce meeting with the Returners to reach some sort of agreement to help stop the Espers from destroying the whole world.
With the truce in hand, the heroes travel to the town of Thamasa where they discover lots of people who can use magic. Indeed, the town is actually the descendents of the original Magi Warriors that fought 1000 years ago but now just want peace. They help to make contact with the Espers who explain that their strong anger got the better of them and they apologize for the damage they did. Returning to Thamasa to announce the peace between humans and espers however is interrupted by the Imperial Court Sorcerer, the insane clown Kefka who poisoned Doma and burned Figaro earlier. Kefka uses the opportunity – on orders from the Emperor no less – to kill all the Espers he can and trap their essence in crystal. The Sealed Gate bursts open again as others come to avenge their comrades only to be slaughtered by Kefka. The heroes flee on the airship to discover that the Empire had set the whole thing up. Meanwhile, Kefka and the Emperor entered the sealed gate and use the turned-to-statue magic gods of the Warring Triad to raise the floating continent above the world.
In one last ditch attempt to save the world, the heroes assault the Floating Island, battling the fierce Ultima Weapon and confront the Emperor. However, what they find then is that Kefka betrays and kills the Emperor and then disturbs the careful balance of the three statues of the Warring Triad, sending small sparks of magic flying off… that explode in massive Ultima blasts that rip apart the world below. Kefka cackles in delight as the world is destroyed. The heroes flee in failure. And that’s how the first half of the game goes.
I’m not going to do a synopsis of the second half because… it’s a lot of small plots building towards a big one and it would take forever. Essentially each character of the 11 or so total get their own subplot in the second half that all culminates with them marching up Kefka’s tower to confront the Mad Clown God.
This game is probably my ideal “perfect” Final Fantasy. The plot is never confusing, but it is incredibly epic. The characters are relatable, likable, and each have a fairly cohesive character arc through the course of the game and with such a large cast that’s a feat on its own. The game mechanics are solid but have a lot of depth and each character brings their own unique talents that are useful yet are only necessary when the game ensures that they’ll be in your party. Most importantly, it scales well. It starts off simple in both gameplay and narrative and slowly thickens things. This is just a really well made game.
In terms of a narrative, the fact that at the half way point the heroes fail and the entire set up is turned on its head was a brilliantly orchestrated twist. The Floating Continent FELT like a final dungeon. It felt like everything was coming to a head. This was going to be the big final showdown with the evil emperor! Then you don’t even get to fight Gesthal. At all. Then Kefka becomes a god. The world gets blown to smithereens and the rest of the game is pretty much spent helping each character find a reason to keep on going in a dead world. A reason to stand back up and fight again. For some, it’s easy and for others it’s very hard.
I know people constantly suggest VII or X as “great places to start” but that’s only if you want to get wow’ed by the pretty pretty (and oh they are) but for my money, if you want a solid story, beautiful music, fun and non-frustrating gameplay, wonderful characters you’ll learn to love, and just an overall better polished experience – play Final Fantasy VI as your first Final Fantasy. You’ll be glad you did. Unless you absolutely can’t stand to play a 2D sprite based game. Then you might have some problems. And for those who haven’t played it yet? DO IT. It’s on Steam, Android, and iOS. I’m not kidding. GO PLAY IT NOW. It’s a masterpiece!
Final Fantasy IV
The tale of Final Fantasy IV is probably one of the longest and most winding tales in the whole SNES library of games with political backstabbing, character deaths, side quests, diplomacy, three completely separate societies on the surface of the world, beneath it and on the moon – so pardon my extreme abbreviations of the events that occur here.
Cecil, a Dark Knight of the illustrious Red Wings airship squadron that serve the Kingdom of Baron has become disillusioned with his mission of attacking defenses villages and towns to lay claim to the Crystals of Light that his King demands. His punishment for voicing his concerns is to be stripped of his rank and sent on a mission with his dragoon friend Kain. The mission – thought to be an envoy of good will to a village of summoners – is actually a hidden attack that unleashes bombs across the village and kills everyone. Thus Cecil begins his quest to bring his former lord to justice for his actions.
Through his adventures he encounters and re-encounters characters like the summoner child Rydia, his beloved Rosa the White Mage, Tellah the Sorcerer, Edge the Ninja, and the meme worthy Edgar the Spoony Bard to name a few. Cecil also learns of his replacement in the Red Wings: Golbez, who has also taken mental control of Cecil’s friend Kain. Through their adventures they uncover a sinister plot orchestrated by Golbez to steal the four Crystals of Light and the four Crystals of Darkness that reside in the Dwarven lands of the Underground to open a gateway to the moon. To accomplish this, Golbez commands the four elemental Archfiends – one of which murdered and replaced the King of Baron. Golbez, through much manipulations and mind controlling and backstabbing, manages to gather all the crystals and flee to the Red Moon. Cecil and company chase after by summoning the massive spaceship ‘Lunar Whale’ to take them there.
On the Moon, Cecil meets with Fu So Ya, a Lunarian charged with watching over the rest of his people while they sleep. Fu So Ya explains that ages ago the Lunarians sought to conquer and colonize the Blue World, but decided to stay on the Moon and leave in peace with humans. One Lunarian named Zemus was against this. Zemus made contact with Golbez – who was half lunarian – and drove Golbez to complete Zemus’ desire of destroying the world with the Giant of Babil and sent the Archfiends to assist in the process.
Cecil and the party return to the Blue World to enter and destroy the Giant of Babil and save their world, but then must return to the moon and descend into the Lunar Core to bare witness to Fu So Ya and Golbez destroying Zemus only to unleash a being comprised of Zemus’ hatred and desire to destroy known as Zeromus. The party defeats Zeromus and thus peace is returned to the three worlds.
I think. I mean, there’s a sequel called the After Years, that I never played so what do I know.
If the first Final Fantasy was analogous to the simple adventure story of the Hobbit, then Final Fantasy IV would have to be Lord of the Rings. The game is just massive. That entire plot synopsis was about as parsed down as I could make to cover all the major bases and even then it’s like 600 words. I skipped over major swathes of the political struggle between Baron and the neighboring kingdoms, Cecil and Kain’s extensive repemption arcs. The fact that Rydia goes from a 8 year old kid to a 18 year old woman in the course of a few days thanks to be thrown into another plane of reality, or Tellah’s quest for revenge against Golbez. That’s just some of the stuff in this game. It is really that huge. And yet, when people ask me “which one was IV?” all I can really respond with is “Oh, it’s the one with the spaceship.”
I mean, it does. It has a spaceship. You go to the moon. You meet Moon People. Can you name another Final Fantasy like that? It kind of stands out. Even so, this game is amazing and I’m happy to say it was my introduction to the series back when I was like 8 years old I think? I would go over to my pal Patrick’s place and we would play it all night on his SNES. Final Fantasy IV DEFINED old school RPGs to me. From the many vehicles, spell casting system, different colored chocobos, the eidolons, and the various classes – my very fundamental view of the Fantasy genre was shaped by this game. Not Tolkien. Not Lewis. Final. Fantasy. IV.
You can imagine my disappointment when I picked up the next ‘installment’:
Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest
There are four kingdoms. They each have a crystal. Go save their crystal. Then fight the Dark King to find the Fifth Crystal. The end. It really is that simplistic of a cliched plot. The only point where it gets interesting is that near the end it’s revealed that the Prophecy that set you on the path to restore balance was actually a rumor created by the Dark King ages ago. Why did the Dark King start a rumor that a hero would appear to save the world? I don’t know! He was bored perhaps?
Mystic Quest is a game that I barely even remembered from the salad days of my gaming youth. A weird experiment in creating a ‘beginner RPG’ for western audiences to get eased into the genre and it at least got the beginner thing right. The game is easy, removes a majority of player choice from who is in your party to what equipment you use, and the only real problem you’d run into nowadays is probably either frustration or the completely arbitrary subversion of Final Fantasy convention (Air based monsters are weak to Wind and earth based monsters are weak to Earth… somehow.)
The only thing that this game is apparently remembered for is the music and I can’t even say that it made that much of an impression on me. I mean, yeah, I was young, but I remember a ton of music from Final Fantasy IV and I played that at the same age.
So should you play it? Eh. I’d just skip it. You can’t even justify it as being part of another tangentially related series like the game boy ones (Adventure series was actually part of the Mana series and the Legend games were originally part of the SaGa series). If you find it at a garage sale for like a buck, go ahead and give it a whirl. But seriously, don’t pay collector prices to experience it.
May the light of the Crystals guide your way!
Do you have any great memories from these classic Final Fantasy games? Feel free to share in the comments!