If it turns out Astos has been emptying treasuries as he goes and re-locking the doors on his way out, I am going to be pissed.
After meeting the King who for some reason lives entirely alone in the Western Keep (previously known as “creepy abandoned castle”), I’m told that my pal Astos has been busy while I was sailing around and kicking pirate ass. He tricked the King into… something, it’s not quite clear exactly what, but whatever it was seems to have led to the ruin of the Keep. Anyone who lived there is now dead or fled, and the King remains alone on his throne. It’s weird, but I’ve learned not to question video game plots. The King asked me to venture into the Marsh Cave and retrieve his crown, which he’ll use to restore the castle. Maybe it’s a magic crown or something.
I admit that I already knew where to go, and it’s a good thing I did because the Marsh Cave won’t appear on the map until you find it first, and good luck finding it without the map.
Like so many of the people I’ve run into, he sent me off on his little errand without telling me where I’m supposed to go. This time I didn’t even get a “to the west” or anything. I know it’s a cave and that’s it. Helpful! For all I know it’s back on the newbie island, or east of Pravoka, or north of Mt. Duergar where the Dwarves live. Those are all locations about as far apart from each other as it’s possible to get, by the way, for those of you unfamiliar with the basic geography of every Final Fantasy you’ve ever played. Filthy casuals. There’s no way in hell I’m wandering around blind until I stumble across the right place, so I take a shortcut by checking out my map to see if the Marsh Cave is marked. It isn’t, but there are symbols for important locations, and one of them is on the southern tip of a marshland. Bingo.
Waterfront property, gorgeous view, and plenty of shopping! What more could you ask for?
The Marsh Cave will be the first real dungeon of the game. Naturally the guys are excited and Calla is nervous, as she’s the one who has to keep them all alive. OB solves problems with his axe, Cookie is a believer in “Kill it with fire!” and Dizzy just plain likes to punch things. In a few more levels he’ll do more damage unarmed than with his nunchaku, but we’re not there yet. For now, I deem it practical to visit the shops of Elfheim before setting off for the cave. I’ve already bought weapons for those who needed them, but the party could use some new armor – and Elfheim is the only town in the game that can boast four magic shops rather than the usual two. Level 3 and 4 spells are for sale here and I’m pretty sure Calla and Cookie can use both.
I don’t understand why OB can’t wear a bracelet along with his armor, but whatever the reason, he is thankful for it. And definitely not compensating for anything.
One of the Mt. Duergar Dwarves recommended that I try out armlets in place of full body armor, which sounds incredibly foolhardy on the surface, but I’m guessing these must be enchanted armlets because the armor shop sells copper ones that offer upgraded protection for everyone except OB. No pretty bracelet for him. He’s not particularly disappointed by this, but Calla is! Partly because she wanted to see him wearing one, and partly because she knows he’s going to spend most of the game tormenting Cookie and Dizzy about their unmanly jewelry. In lieu of an armlet OB gets a helm and an iron shield, while the rest of the party don new leather caps. It’s not the most fashionable ensemble, but I don’t think they read Vogue down in the Marsh Cave.
Still haven’t figured out why Sleep and Sleepara are AOE and single-target respectively, while every other spell in the game with an upgraded version works the other way around.
At the black magic shops Cookie picks up level 3 spells Fira and Thundara and level 4 spells Blizzara and Haste. Those first three do exactly as you’d expect, only they’re AOE rather than single-target like their prior incarnations. Haste speeds up the party member it’s cast on, which causes them to hit more times per attack. It’s one of the most useful buff spells in the game. There’s one slot still open for both level 3 and 4 magic since I only chose two spells each, but the other options aren’t worth paying for. Hold will paralyze one enemy but since it almost never works on bosses, it’s easier to just use a spell that kills the monster in question instead. Focara lowers the evasion of all enemies, and again, while it isn’t a bad spell per se, there’s nearly always something else you can cast that’s a better use of the turn. I also ignored Sleepara, a spell that puts a single enemy to sleep for longer than the Sleep spell (which is an AOE), for the same reason as Hold. Lastly there was Confuse, which sometimes causes random enemies to attack one another. It can be fun, it’s just not very useful.
Man, it sucked to have to walk out of this shop without the Heal spell. There’s a weapon which grants it later in the game, fortunately.
In the white magic shop, I chose Cura, Diara, and NulBlaze for Calla’s level 3 slots, and Poisona and NulFrost for level 4. Again, these are exactly what they sound like: the Nul spells prevent much of the damage from their respective elements, Cura and Diara are more powerful versions of Cure and Dia, and Poisona removes the poison status. So much for the pile of Antidotes I just bought! I had a much tougher time deciding which spells to take this time, as the other level 3 option was Heal, which restores HP to the entire party. But it’s only a small amount of HP, and I decided the other choices were more useful. I also skipped over Vox at level 4; it removes the silence status, which almost never occurs and is easily handled with a cheap item when it does.
I was never in any real danger of a full-party wipe inside this dungeon, but I saved a bunch of times anyway because fuck you NES version and your shitty lack of save points!
All geared up and ready to go, so I do my customary “everybody is alive and not at 1 HP, right?” check and then set out for the Marsh Cave. It’s about the same distance as I covered on the trek to the Western Keep, only I turn south in the middle instead of north. After passing by some mountains the ground turns into marshland so I know I’m closing in. And there it is at last, my first dungeon! Huzzah! I top up everyone’s health with Potions and head inside, all fired up with anticipation. And then I immediately come back out, and save my game. Oops. In the NES version it wasn’t possible to save inside a dungeon, so if I met an unfortunate end in the cave and hadn’t saved just outside, I’d have to start back in Elfheim and walk all that way again. That lovely “feature” is gone in the remakes, and I can save wherever the hell I want – but it’s still a good idea to do it before entering a dangerous area.
The first things I notice in the Marsh Cave are the weird rainbow swirls of… something. Mist, fog? In the Chaos Shrine and Western Keep the atmospheric fog was a proper fog-colored greyish white. This, is not that. It changes from gold-brown to blood-red to deep purple and back again as I watch, mesmerized, and it rolls in and out of the cavern.
It actually looks a lot cooler than this, but you just try getting screenshots of moving, swirling, color-changing, fading-in-and-out swirls of mist.
I also found one of these, and they’re expensive, so all in all it’s not a bad haul of loot. I wish there’d been a Cabin since I can’t buy those yet, but I guess it’d be tough to fit one in a treasure chest.
For once, OB and Calla are in agreement; they want to stay and watch the pretty fog awhile longer. But Dizzy and Cookie disagree and it’s not worth finding out whether it’s possible to parry a fireball using a large axe. Besides, I guess I did come here with a goal in mind: the crown. The fog will still be here when I’ve finished saving the world or whatever else people keep asking me to do. So off we go. There’s a fork in the path right at the entrance, so I head north first and climb some stairs down to floor B2 of the dungeon. I fight off a few Gargoyles and some Green and Grey Slimes, but there’s no crown here, only some assorted Gil and a broadsword. OB is not giving up his axe, so that’s useless. There’s also no exit from this place other than the stairs I came down, so I go back to the entrance and take the south fork.
It’s missing a flashing neon sign that says “Step in here to trigger an inescapable battle!” but really it doesn’t need one.
Unsurprisingly, this leads to a ladder and a different section of floor B2. It’s one very large cavern with no distinct path, so I kind of crisscross back and forth as I move downwards, making sure I don’t miss anything important. There are a couple of doors that lead to little interior rooms within the larger area, and I find a bunch more Gil, some Potions, and no crown. But there’s a way down to floor B3, so I’m making progress. I still haven’t fought anything that’s given me much trouble. The Slimes were a pain in the ass until I realized they’re practically immune to physical attacks – but they burn nicely. B3 is another huge, open area containing a bunch of smaller rooms, but it’s much more symmetrical than the floor above and therefore easier to navigate. I make my way down through the rows of box-like interiors opening treasure chests that don’t have much of interest, and some are oddly empty. Finally, I enter a small room with a chest surrounded by intricate statues. Something tells me this is what I’m looking for.
These guys look like a cross between Cthulhu and… no, just Cthulhu. Only with a staff. I don’t want to know what it looks like without the robe.
As I step forward to claim the prize, I’m instantly attacked by four Piscodemons. I remember these were called Wizards by the NES, and that they were vulnerable to lightning spells, which was a bit strange. Now I understand why; the prefix “pisc” or “pesc” refers to fish, and if they’re meant to be water creatures it explains the abhorrence of electricity. It’s standard Final Fantasy lore that water-based monsters are vulnerable to lightning-based attacks, for reasons that are clear when you think about it. Zap! I also remember dying to these guys a whole bunch of times as a kid, but they don’t give me any trouble now. Zap! Zap! They’re fried, and the crown is mine.
Now I get to retrace my steps all the way back out of the damn cave. Damn.