Final Fantasy IV: The After Years – Passing the torch to burn the next generation (2023)

Final Fantasy IV: The After Years – Passing the torch to burn the next generation (1)

The Crystals, Part 3

The Depths are more than twenty stories deep, so excuse me if I speed things up. The Depths mark the line where the 3D version, previously a fairly close replica of the PSP version of TAY, goes gallivanting off in its own direction, much to the consequence of my screenshots. The Depths in the cell phone, WiiWare and PSP version are guarded by additional Crystals, like the levels above, but filled with bosses from other Final Fantasy games, using the sprites already made available in previous remakes (namely FFI 20th Anniversary, which features cameos from these same bosses). This caries the somewhat uncomfortable implication that the worlds of FFI, II, III, V and Vi may have been destroyed by the villain of TAY in the same manner as the blue planet, though I’ve never really subscribed to that theory, figuring instead that they were simply similar monsters from similar worlds.

The original 3D smartphone version, unfortunately, couldn’t use sprites from other remakes, as it’s a 3D game after all. While the models from FFIII would have been available, that would have left TAY four games short. While I personally would have preferred a version of TAY 3D with brand new 3D models of bosses from FFs I, II, V and VI, Square Enix decided they’d rather cut corners, and I don’t think I can blame them, no matter how cool the alternative would be. It also helps that they shrunk down the gargantuan dungeon while they were at it. Personally, I find the referential kitch of the 2D versions to be a net selling point, but I’m hardly everyone and I imagine that a lot of other players could be discouraged by the sheer size of the original dungeon. In the end, the 3D version cut back most of the bosses, leaving their treasures guarded by a new set of “Lunar” Eidolons (boring recolours of the bosses from The Crystals: Part 1).

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That explanation chewed through a lot of my so-called “hurrying up” so let’s pick up the pace and get back to the PSP version. Kyle and I went down a few floors before some Crystals forced us to refight the Fiends from FFI. Tiamat destroyed us, but the others really posed no significant threat, despite Kraken’s usual habit of being able to take more damage than Godzilla.

Few more floors, and then we fought the chest-guarding bosses from Pandaemonium in FFII, who continued to not speak in this game. FFII’s Tiamat did not reappear on this floor, and instead, we fought a rare wandering monster from Pandaemonium as a boss instead, the Iron Giant. This was an odd decision Square started to make in the FFI bonus dungeons on GBA, though I think I understand it. Naturally, “re-“fighting Tiamat would have been silly, considering the more famous Fiend from FFI was already present in both games. Instead, they seem to have gone with the Iron Giant because the Steel Giant was one of the four major bosses in the GBA FFII’S brand new Soul of Rebirth! While I’m gabbing about the Giant, I’ll note that the Iron Giant in this game was the first enemy in the Marathon to breach 100 000 HP at that number exactly. Previous games could not get far past 65 000 due to programming constraints.

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A few more floors pass by, and then we fought the four Dark Crystal guardians from FFIII. Naturally, there were no more bosses left to re-fight from FFIV, so after FFIII, it was time to jump ahead to FFV. Instead of contributing four bosses in a set, FFV’s bosses were staggered across several hallways. Only two were mandatory. First was FFV’s breakout star, Gilgamesh, the first mandatory boss. Next came the two optional bosses: Omega, FFV’s first superboss, and also the “Nova Dragon,” the name FFIX would later gave to FFV’s other famous superboss, Shinryu. Naturally, we had to give these two superbosses a try. Omega killed us in the first turn or two, but Shinryu was the real piece of work, wiping us out in the first action of the battle. Giving up on that, we encountered Atomos, a Lovecraftian beast from FFV that was warping the laws of space. Despite its fearsome appearance, this incarnation of Atomos was only able to pepper Kyle with low-power, time consuming Meteors and wasn’t honestly all that threatening. If anything, its slow attacks were outright boring, foreshadowing the infamous doldrums of long-animation summons in FFVII and VIII. Even I know about that problem.

On the far end of the Depths, we fought two bosses from FFVI: the famous/infamous Ghost Train and reoccurring boss Ultros (called “Orthros” in this game, because Square’s localization can’t make up its mind and changes Ultros’ name back and forth from Ultros to Orthos depending on that week’s lottery numbers). Editing from the future, I can tell you that Orthros was far more difficult than he would turn out to be in FFVI, with a second set of attack patterns that had him repeating any spell cast on him, along with a Deluge attack that could instantly kill our (at this point definitely underlevelled) party. We beat him by tricking him into using Flare on one our our Reflect-equipped party members, but it took some finesse and luck with the Deluge.

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Like I was just saying, I feel pretty confident now that Kyle and I definitely were behind in levels at this point. You might be wondering: how did it happen, if we were in-line with levels when Cecil rejoined the party? Well, sadly, around the FFV floors, the game began the same stunt it did in the original FFIV: it replaced the usual bevy of random monsters with random bosses instead, and Kyle and I lost interest in fighting them very quickly (it would have make more sense to go to the earlier floors and fight multiple battles in less time). There were a few weaklings we would deign to fight, including the Duke Malboro, who not only died in about two turns, but could only really poison us most of the time, and was deathly weak against Fire. Even better, he gave double the XP of the rest of the enemies, so he became our best, stinky tentacle friend.

Later in the FFVI floor, we found a Crystal holding Ultima Weapon, our liquefied buddy from Soul of Rebirth. It, uh, didn’t seem all that pleased to remember our little Blood Sword stunt, I can’t imagine why. I fought him for a time, but unfortunately, Ultima was an optional superboss in this game just like the two FFV bosses, and I didn’t have any luck. Kyle gave it another try later on when we were a higher level, and while Kyle did much better than me, the fight was still a wash in the superbosses’ favour. Ultima Weapon wasn’t the only superboss wandering around. We also found Deathgaze, a boss from VI who flees battle but retains damage, like the wandering Legendary Pokemon from every Pokemon game from Gold and Silver on (who took the idea from this guy, for the record). Unfortunately, while the original Deathgaze would remember its HP loss until it was ultimately defeated, this Deathgaze only retains damage until you leave the floor! Kyle gave the boss an admirable effort, but it didn’t pull off in the end. If I’m remembering correctily, I think Deathgaze may have outright killed him with attrition instead of the other way around! Sadly, the reward for beating Deathgaze only upgrades your choice of Palom, Porom or Leonora by giving them Dualcast, and we weren’t using any of the three, but we’d have appreciated taking Deathgaze out all the same. Soon, stingray! We’ll be back to get you in your real world!

Pressing on, we found a few quiet floors mostly inhabited by giant robot parts, who were not, by and large, worth the trouble, thanks to the heads’ propensity to use Reflect and Holy. Despite this, Kyle fought two of the head-torso combinations for XP that really didn’t match the effort he put in, which was a good summation of the problem with these floors, if you ask me. On the twentieth floor of the Depths (the 32nd overall!) we finally caught up to a doppelganger – probably the one that had taunted us at the entrance. We fought her, she summoned Bahamut (apparently, if Rydia is not in your party, he kills you instantly), and we lost. I don’t even want to talk about it. It was incredibly humiliating. But I sort of have to.

See, where the “Nova Dragon” opened with an attack that killed us instantly, we understood that we weren’t supposed to be able to fight Shinryu at this point in the game. When the doppelganger opened the fight with Meteor and we survived it, we naturally figured everything was coming up Team Golbez. In fact, we survived Meteor on a “Black Magic Up” moon phase, so were feeling pretty good about ourselves (yes, the moon phases still apply while you are on the moon). Still, we lost that attempt in the long run. After that first loss, where we noted that the doppleganger used Quake to destroy us, so we even reentered the fight using Float, on a Black Magic down day, and were doing pretty good fighting Bahamut. Walkthroughs say we need to cause 100k damage to beat him. Got it.

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The trouble was: Bahamut’s Megaflare doesn’t give a shit about the moon, and would always kill our Rydia and Rosa in a single attack (it does 3000-3100 damage, and they had ~2500 HP). They weren’t alone: if Golbez was nursing anything more than a scratch, it would often kill him too, probably because Golbez wasn’t supposed to be treated as seriously as a party member as Kyle and I were treating him. He’s more like that powerful Fire Emblem character with zero growth that you abandon the moment you have a replacement, but we were naming our team after him!

It gets worse: Bahamut needs several turns to recharge Megaflare, giving us a chance to recover in turn, but the doppelganger was still using Quake nearly every other turn. We cast Float to avoid it, but anyone who dies loses Float, which means Rosa has to lose a turn she could be spending casting Slow to cast Float again instead, usually to get her own self in the air. Rubbing it all in, the doppelganger has Black Hole, which, to repeat, is a buff and debuff destroying spell. She uses Black Hole just before Bahamut uses Megaflare to prevent Megaflare from being Reflected. This trick simultaneously destroyed our Float, not to mention our Slow, Haste, and any reason for us to ever use Shell. We had to grind. There was no other choice.

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This grind went on for something like two, maybe upwards of four real-world hours that just blurred together, thus my losing track of time. Granted, that clock includes our attempts to challenge superbosses and Bahamut again just for the sake of doing something other than walking back and forth. Unfortunately, FFIV’s wandering bosses dragged this out even longer, either by fighting them or by running from them. As a result, this patchjob grind session only earned us about five levels, and we hated every single minute of it. I can actually still remember the feeling in my gut years later as I write this for the new blog: a mix of anger, exhaustion, and nausea. The Internet would have lapped it up live.

Kyle fought Bahamut after our grind session and and won without any trouble at all, Asura and Leviathan showing up to calm him down. It ultimately just came down to HP and I doubt a single new point of Strength, Spirit or Intellect contributed to our success. It’s just a fucking numbers game, not tactics or strategy, god dammit. In the next room, we began to be attacked by the Mysterious Girls directly, though the game was now calling them “Maenads.” It was nice to know that, game, but would it have killed you to make sure Bahamut or the last Mysterious Girl said the name, instead of making this big reveal come from an out-of-universe source? Generally, the Maenads were rough but not as complicated as the monsters on the previous floors, unless they decided to cast Meteor, which was often a TPK. This was where I officially gave up on counting TPKs in the original blog, which had originally been a proud tradition, because our deaths were just that arbitrary and the grind had made us very grumpy. Good riddance.

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We eventually came upon a crowd of docile Maenads, who had (as far as I could tell) been ordered to provide us with exposition by whoever was in charge here. They claimed to be designed to be advanced lifeforms, and in the next room we found what must have been some sort of cloning chamber. There, we found a young girl in one of the pods, who came out and asked Rydia for “orders.” Rydia, confused, told the new Maenad to “stay here and be a good little girl.” Aw, look, Rydia doesn’t understand that this kid is practically a robot and is going to stay in the room under absolutely all circumstances. You’re gonna die of thirst, aren’t you sweetie? D’aww. I’m glad we lived to see it happen: Rydia has finally taken the torch from Cecil and is ruining her own children. I’m so proud.

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Pressing on, we recovered the blue planet’s eight Crystals (wait, we hadn’t run into those yet?) and then the tileset changed, but there were no monsters to accompany it. At the end of the long tunnel, we discovered a strange cocoon, which immediately caused the characters to spout dialogue about this being the home of the master of the ship. Look, guys, we here in the real world know this is the final boss, because there are unique graphics in the room, but I don’t see any reason for you to draw this conclusion. It’s a bio-pod. There were electronic pods in the previous room, do you want to accost one of those? Finding an electronic door in the midst of the cocoon, the party decided to knock (with their swords) only for the cocoon to close over. At this point, the “door” began to hit us with Drain and Osmose spells, which is unusual behaviour in a door.

After breaking down the door, the old man inside burst out to charge us a few hundred Rupees for the damage, but since we didn’t have any he decided to cut loose with Flare instead. The blue blob guy (as he appeared) was hooked up to the machine in the cocoon and explained that he was the one who seeded the galaxy with Crystals. He said that the Crystals were the basic seeds of life on each planet, and also guides to civilization that lived there (ala 2001: A Space Odyssey), but were also recording devices. The idea was that the Maenads would harvest the Crystals, giving Gumby here reams of data about what had evolved in that world. Unfortunately…

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Unfortunately, the “Creator” had decided that the denizens of the Blue Planet were under-evolved and refused to let them dominate the universe, and so he was going to wipe them. Wait, hold on: are you saying that the species that was going to dominate the universe was the “lesser” species? Wouldn’t that make them the best species? Try adjusting your perspective a bit, ya melty-looking caterpillar. He fought us – an odd fight that was mostly retaliations though if left alone he would often cast Reflect, only to lose the Reflect buff in favour of elemental absorption if you so much as poked him with a stick (i.e. a physical attack), after which it was easy enough to just avoid his elemental absorption. What a counter-intuitive strategy!

The Creator then told us that his original species had depleted their world’s natural resources down to the crust, and then left to the stars. Like many FF major villains, Creator launched into philosophical rants as he went about the battle, asking us how they were supposed to live after that, and revealed that he’s the only one of his kind left. Unfortunately, he then said started talking about something from the outside getting in because we had destroyed the cocoon, and he began to go mad. …Wait, hold on again. Our main villain’s motivations for attacking us have gone from eugenics and genocide to sheer anger brought about (indirectly) from destroying his door? I made that Zelda joke to Kyle just for kicks, but is this legitimately what’s happening? I really don’t know how to feel about this.

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The third form, as the Creator took on a humanoid shape, which in typical lazy design was more powerful than the alien form. Okay, okay, the first form was about as threatening as a melty puppy, but why is it so hard to find a truly alien final boss? (I prefer human forms to be stronger if you’re facing a familiar human character, but you’ve got a sentient slime man! Be creative!) The humanoid Creator launched powerful spells, but there is also very little to say about it even in hindsight. Kyle beat it, and went on to the final form without much thought. This next form was a vast, over mutated version of the Creator. who now had angel wings. Of course he had angel wings. The rest of the body was Lovecraftian-meets-Square Enix’s-overly-religeous-final-boss-art-style sort of thing, not unlike the World of Chaos from KH1 in a manner of speaking. In a scripted squence, this third form crushed the party under its bulk (who for some reason thought they would be swallowed, even though this form does nothing of the sort). Luckily, their loved ones revived them with their prayers. …Again. You know, the ending of FFIV. This game full of bosses from other games is just such a bastion of originality. At this point, the party was revived by the Crystals, who also broke the barrier of Darkness around the Creator, who had lost his mind to his mutation.

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And then Kyle and I lost. Were you really expecting any better at this point? Well you should have, because it was a much closer fight than any of our struggles with Bahamut or the Maenads. It was even better than our slow but inevitable sink into the pit against Zeromus in FFIV. So we were underlevelled or fucking not? The long and the short of it is that i still don’t know to this day. All I know is that I decided to get some grinding in, which was humiliating as a Maenad Meteor’d me to death right out the door, in the very first fight in the grind. By Marathon rules that meant I had to give yet another grind over to poor Kyle. After some productive grinding from Kyle, we went back and died on the Creator’s third form. Yeah, despite our grinding we didn’t even get as far as our first attempt. I don’t even know what to say.

After even more grinding, Kyle went in and pulled it off. It was a long fight, between the Creator’s 200 000 HP and a miscalculation of mine that had Cecil and Kain abandoning their one good Band for normal attacks (another Band, however, between Cecil, Kain and Rosa, restored their HP and cast Haste on them, was immensely useful, even though the Creator used Black Hole from time to time). There were definitely better combat options out there. Valis for instance, used Kain, Cecil and Rosa’s “Trinity Crusade” band to surpass the 9999 damage cap. Damage-cap-breaking Bands are honestly the way to go here, but Kyle and I tried to stick it out with our original team no matter how stupid it made us look.

…There are probably a lot of ways we could have avoided that grind session, huh?

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To my surprise, our greatest firepower in this little quest came from Rydia – formerly useless not one boss prior – through the use of her newly-acquired Bahamut. Ironically, we wouldn’t have even had Bahamut if we had let Asura die like we had considered in the previous session. This was also a major reversal of Rydia not even surviving the Zeromus fight in FFIV.

On one last note of trivia, the Creator can use a move in combat that actually hurts himself, but he never did it once in our winning battle. There must be a trigger, but what is it? Perhaps it only happens if the player is losing the fight, as it happened a half dozen times in our abbreviated first attempt?

Beaten back, the Creator told us to run, as he had lost control of his body. We did so, though his out-of-control body caught up to us in several encounters, doing more damage to himself than to us (though we probably could have lost if we fell asleep at the wheel). Coming back to the cloning rooms, we found the little girl still waiting stock-still as predicted, and Rydia ordered her to follow us. Seeing us protecting the girl caused the Maenads to break ranks, and they attacked their Creator one on one. Unfortunately, this presented itself with one battle sequence after another, until we had seen every spell they had, boring us when things should have been at their most tense. Once or twice would have been enough, really! And that they all told us, one by one, to defend the girl, making things even duller. The final Maenad, causing what we figured was about the 100 000th point of damage since the running started, killed the Creator with Meteor, but died herself. The party escaped and the Moon turned away from the Blue Planet, possibly reclaimed by the Creator at the last minute in a change of heart.

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The Epilogues were not very surprising, as most characters stayed exactly where they were or went exactly where you’d expect them to go. Kane is now in Cecil’s old role with the Red Wings prior to the events of FFIV (Baron’s official “Brooder?”), and Cid and Luca are helping the Red Wings to disarm by removing the old cannons from their airships. Uh, Cecil, I know you don’t want them to take over the world again, but do you remember how the monsters didn’t disappear after you beat the last game…? The Red Wings are now off to rebuild the world. The Elder of Mysidia… who is… still alive?… gets Palom to admit he doesn’t want to be a Sage quite yet and that Mysidia is more important, and so he names the Twins as head of the city on the spot, saying it has something to do with balance. And goodbye to anything that made Porom unique in this game! Leonora leaves the Epopts to go to Mysidia, not (just) to be with Palom, but to become a Sage. As I said in an attempt at Porom’s voice: “So this is still your story, Palom? Not mine? By the way, the Elder’s calling for you.” “You,” Kyle added in the same, dry voice, “not me.” Surprisingly but happily, Palom agreed to help Leonora.

Rydia has adopted or found a home for the last Maenad in the rebuilt town of Mist. It seemed our little robot child has been named Cuore, and Leviathan and Asura come to visit them, realizing that they had been assholes to Rydia at the start of the story. Last of all (well, last of those worth mentioning at all), Golbez has “just ganked the Lunar Whale” in Kyle’s words, to investigate the fate of the Lunarians and Zeromus’ Malice on the moon. His fate (and Fusoya’s) was left ambiguous, though the credits’ “parade” of sprites seems to suggest that Fusoya may have passed on. This sequel baiting epilogue may explain some of the weaksauce conclusions to character arcs in TAY, but I doubt we’ll ever see a third game in the FFIV series.

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The. End. The FFIV experience, a process that took more than a year and included Kyle moving in the middle of it, was finally closed behind us. We didn’t have enough gil lying around to challenge the game’s resident superboss (yes, you have to pay to fight them), nevermind that you need three fully functional parties to beat him. We weren’t willing to grind for the cash, because for some reason, getting our faces bashed in even for comedy wasn’t a priority.

All in all, TAY was one of my favourite Final Fantasy experiences at the time, with dumb plot, but great character moments and at least acceptable gameplay even at the worst, even if it had worn out its welcome by the time we were done all forty or so stories of the final megadungeon. It was probably the first game in the series I wanted to replay on my own time, instead of a simple “urge” to keep playing like with previous games (it was also the first I wanted to replay for the same of playing it and not to catch up to something the Marathon skipped!). Sadly, I haven’t gotten back to the game in the years that followed, since I figured I should replay IV first and check out those Lunar Ruins. One of these days I’ll get back to it, but who can say exactly when or even what version I’ll play! And I know both Kyle and I are excited to see Cecil in Dissidia. There aren’t many children in a game like that, so we suspect he may outright set Zidane on fire to make up the difference.

It goes without saying that this was the longest chapter, with the various parts combined to a time of 20 hours. Adding together the surviving chapter times gives a time of 39h 30m, and the estimated time from the lost Lunarian’s chapter time makes it something in the neighbourhood of 41h hours for the entirety of The After Years!

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In 2018, I revisited this game as a part of A Crystal Compendium, a collaborative blogging project between multiple writers, reflecting on the Final Fantasy series. You can read my re-review of the game here, but be aware that it may feature references to my thoughts on later Final Fantasy games!

Prev: Final Fantasy IV: The After Years – The ImmortalSlog
Next:Final Fantasy Legend III – Churchyard to the DangerZone

Screenshots in this Journal come from Valis77’s longplay of the 3D version of FFIV:TAY on the PC, available from World of Longplays (YouTube).


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