The After Years

It’s that time of month again.  Another four weeks have passed, and Square Enix has decided to bless (or curse) us with three additional episodes to Final Fantasy IV: The After Years.  If this is the first you’ve heard of this episodic sequel, refer to this review of the initial available downloads and a follow-up that covered the tales of Yang, Palom, and Edge.

With the release of three additional episodes on August 3, 2009, that now brings The After Years’ number of quests to eight.  The story is now nearly complete, but much is yet a mystery.  Will each plot thread have a proper resolution?  Who knows, but my current mission is to bring you a full review of each of the three August episodes.

The month of August provides us with episodes featuring characters with very distinct personalities and abilities.  One of these characters is a personal favorite of mine, while the others are merely a passing interest.  The first new downloadable episode details the life of an adult White Mage named, Porom who was formerly a kid in Final Fantasy IV.

Porom was known for being rather mature for her age in FFIV, so it is interesting to see the personal transformations she has made on her path to adulthood.

The second new downloadable episode features one of the most reviled characters in FF history even though he’s actually quite original.  This character, Edward, the lowly Bard (and Prince), would often run from his problems (and battle), but now that he is a full-fledged king, has he changed?

Finally, the last episode is from the perspective of two Lunarians who had entered a deep slumber.  One was formerly an evil despot who was feared throughout the land, while the other had white hair as pure as snow.

Each of these new episodes are quite short, but they make for some of the most interesting episodes in The After Years pantheon.  Read on to see which episodes are worth skipping a meal for.

Porom’s Tale: The Vanished Lunar Whale

Porom

Let me get this out of the way: Porom was one of the least likeable characters in Final Fantasy IV.  First of all, she had an obnoxious twin brother, which was hard enough to deal with, but it was made worse by the fact that she always had to be right.  Being somewhat mature at her young age was admirable, but Porom came off as too much of a suck-up.

If Sage Tellah had lived longer, I’m sure he would have put an end to her charade, but alas, nothing can be done about the past unless you’re Crono, so it’s time to fast-forward to the present.

Despite being somewhat of a dud in Final Fantasy IV, Porom’s The After Years episode is quite interesting not only because it details the transformations she has made through written dialogue, but because of its clever use of flashbacks.

Several years have passed since the Blue Planet was saved from Zemus, and during that time, much has changed, including Porom’s transformation from a boyish- looking kid into a beautiful young lady (or sprite, if you will).  Now, you can actually tell Porom and Palom apart–her bright pink hair and stylish robes are a far cry from Palom’s Harry Potter look.

However, looks aren’t the only important thing, so it’s necessary to take a look at Porom’s other transformations.

As you learned in Palom’s episode, he began to mature through teaching others, but Porom needed a quest of her own.  Being fairly humble and quiet, she decided to keep her dreams to herself instead of approaching the Elder.  Like any good elder would do, Mysidia’s senior ranking official took matters into his own hands.

He approached Porom, and saw that she was somewhat jealous of Palom.  It quickly became evident that Porom was yearning to go on a quest of her own.  The Elder of Mysidia could sense the impending danger threatening the planet, so he decided to call on Porom to seek out Dragoon Kain.  He was Mysidia’s only hope with the Lunar Whale’s mysterious disappearance.

It was rumored that Cecil’s traitorous friend could be found on Mt. Ordeals where he completed a sacred ritual, so Porom set out with nameless Black and White Mage sidekicks to fetch the infamous Dragoon.

Before this pursuit of Kain Highwind began, there were several flashback scenes where the player could actually participate in the events that transpired between the end of FFIV and the start of The After Years.  During this portion of Porom’s episode, you spend much of the time playing with the original FFIV character sprites.

It’s interesting that the director of The After Years decided to use the original miniature sprites in place of The After Years-FFVI-sized character models.  Some would call this lazy, but I felt that it provided additional nostalgia to FFIV fans.

Much of Porom’s past is spent babysitting Palom as he follows in Tellah’s footsteps.  Porom attempts to help her brother mature, but he pays no heed to her advice.  Thankfully, other FFIV characters who you will meet along the way are able to talk some sense into Porom.

During this portion of the quest, you’ll encounter familiar areas that you’ve already traversed in Final Fantasy IV and even The After Years.  Reading the character dialogue during these portions is fun, and adds to the character development of two people who were barely a part of your party in FFIV, but the reused dungeons felt lazy.

Even when the player enters the present with Porom, you’re still entering areas you’ve already cleared in other The After Years episodes.  Mt. Ordeals isn’t that exciting, since you already met (and played as) Kain there in a few other episodes.

Even with the all-too familiar environments, it’s nice that players will finally get to see what happened in Mysidia.  In previous episodes, the events that transpired there were merely hinted at.

The last point worth mentioning about Porom’s episode is that it’s fairly easy for once.  You’ll find no pointless grinding here; instead, you’ll mostly spend time exploring and watching characters banter back and forth.

Even though Palom and Porom no longer have their Twin ability, they’re able to use powerful magic, so you’ll be able to make quick work of most enemies without having to level up.

Porom’s episode is quite brief (it only took me one-and-a-half hours), but at least there is no tedious grinding to be found.  You won’t find a deep plot and new environments here, but if you’re interested in learning more about Palom and Porom and their progression towards adulthood, this episode is worth checking out.

If you’ve had a long day, just download this episode and put your mid-level spells on repeat.

Score: 7.5

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Edward’s Tale: Star-Crossed Damcyan

Edward

Final Fantasy IV fans have been dreading playing as the cowardly Prince (and Bard) known as Edward, but unfortunately that ungodly hour has arrived.  Those of you who’ve played FFIV remember using this wimp during early portions of the game.

For those who aren’t familiar with this infamous bard, here’s a bit of history: Edward was set to marry Tellah’s daughter, Anna, but unfortunately his plan was foiled due to Golbez’s aerial bombardment of his kingdom, Damcyan. During the days that followed, Edward spent much of his time weeping as any normal person would, but unfortunately, his failure to protect Anna caused him to lose faith in himself.

Until halfway through the adventure, Edward was unable to act on his decisions, and his cowardice translated into poor performance on the battlefield.  By the end of Final Fantasy IV, Edward had become a capable ruler, but he still questioned himself at times, and this remains true in The After Years.

Unfortunately, his battlefield abilities remained pathetic, so you’ll be stuck with his lowly harp in The After Years.

Unlike in Final Fantasy IV, The After Years’ Edward is stuck with a single song, so he’s practically useless on the battlefield.  Once a mysterious meteor strikes the planet, he’s forced to venture out after his secretary, Harley,  who has yet to return, and he is unwillingly accompanied by a contingent of guards.

Thankfully, these guards remain with you most of the time; otherwise, you’d quickly become monster fodder.  Your three Damcyan guardians are relatively weak, but at least they actually wield swords that can decapitate monsters in five blows.

Harley

Two of the most annoying aspects of Edward’s quest are the endless monsters and pathetic amount of damage your party does.  The monsters aren’t that difficult, and fortunately, there aren’t many bosses, but it just takes forever to slay your foes with such weak party members.

During one portion of the adventure, you’re forced to return to a dungeon you’ve previously been to a second time with only Edward to acquire a certain pearl that was needed to cure Desert Fever in FFIV, but thankfully, you don’t have to battle a familiar, fearsome foe with just Edward.

As a result, you can save yourself the trouble of having to fight lengthy battles with your pathetic harp-plucker, and just make a run for it.

Edward’s adventure is simply a retread for the most part, but at least you’ll have the pleasure of reminiscing with a renowned sage in ethereal form.  You’ll also get to meet Edward’s "secretary" who is a somewhat valuable party member with her Gil-Toss, but don’t expect the kind of performance you’d see from change chuckers in FFV.

With only a couple highlights, this portion of The After Years experience should only be played by FFIV diehards that enjoyed previous episodes of this sequel.

Score: 6.5

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The Lunarians’ Tale: The Blue Planet That Was

Golbez

Most of the earlier episodes of The After Years haven’t done much to advance this downloadable game’s plot.  These adventures continually mention the moon, a mysterious meteor that crashed on Earth, the rising of the Lunar Whale, and a powerful blue-haired assailant that commands Eidolons, but they rarely move beyond that.

Usually, each story ends in a cliffhanger after covering familiar ground, so ultimately we have failed to learn anything.  Well, finally, The After Years’ story appears to be coming to a close.  With only one more episode after the Lunarians’ tale, it only makes sense.

Thankfully, this downloadable episode follows one of my favorite villains of the entire FF series (no, I’m not talking about Zemus).

Remember the evil man who commanded a great fleet of airships?  The one who had no problem with kidnapping innocent women, bombarding kingdoms, and burning down villages, all in the pursuit of crystals?  Yes, we’re talking about the one and only, Golbez.

Much like Darth Vader in Star Wars, Golbez has a past shrouded in mystery; he’s not entirely evil, but due to certain events that transpired during his lifetime (which were finally described in FFIV DS), he could easily be manipulated.

Thankfully, Golbez at least partly redeemed himself by the end of FFIV, and found favor with his brother, Cecil, before entering eternal slumber on the moon.

Like I imagined long ago with my own self-created FFIV sequel, Golbez awoke from his slumber.  He found most other Lunarians in stasis, but the old man who’d brought him to his senses was now missing.  This man, Fu So Ya, was nowhere to be found, so Golbez set out to explore the Moon’s depths.

This subterranean maze was daunting, but he eventually managed to find Fu So Ya, and also stumbled upon the now blood-red crystals.

Golbez and Fu So Ya would then seek out the cavern of the Hummingways.  Next, they would visit a meteor that had crash-landed on the moon.   During the next to last portion of their journey, these intrepid figures would enter the lair of the legendary King of Dragons, Bahamut.

Finally, Golbez and Fu So Ya would return to where their journey had commenced, and confront a great evil that had reawakened.

The After Years' Golbez

With The After Years, many feared for the day in which the Moon would return.  The much reviled barren wasteland of Final Fantasy IV was notorious for its endless battles, difficult dungeons, and oodles of secrets.  In the Final Fantasy IV remake, the final dungeon was even worse, because of the extreme amount of grinding that was necessary.

Even though you could defeat Bahamut without too much trouble while in your sixties, Zemus was nearly impossible unless you leveled your entire party to the lofty level eighty.  Not only did this level give you Rydia’s ultimate spell, Meteor, but it also enabled your party to withstand Zeromus’ devastating attacks like Big Bang.

Thankfully, The After Years’ Moon isn’t as hard (at least in this episode).  When you begin with just Golbez, you won’t have to fight difficult battles nearly every step (that’s a good thing as you don’t have access to Golbez’s ultimate abilities).  Instead, you’ll encounter a pre-determined battle in almost every room.  Luckily, most of these can be won with a simple Firaga or Blizzaga.

It’s a shame that Golbez is no longer donning his badass regalia, but at least you’ll finally get to see the man behind the mask.  Like most Lunarians, he has flowing silver hair, but he no longer strikes fear into his foes without his bulky armor.  It’s also too bad that you can’t shoot beams of light out of his fingertips, but then the game wouldn’t be fair, right?

The rest of the dungeons in the Lunarians’ episode can be cleared without much grinding, but the difficulty does increase gradually.  It’s important to stock up on tents and any other healing items you can afford, because there aren’t many opportunities to replenish your inventory.

Certain new monsters such as Malboros can quickly send you to the Game Over screen, so it’s important to keep a stock of Ethers, Phoenix Downs, and High Potions.  Unfortunately, you can’t run from certain monsters such as the Malboros that were mentioned previously, so you’ll need to think quickly and pray that certain status ailments won’t affect you.

Bahamut’s lair is the most difficult portion of this episode with the exception of the final boss, so enter with caution.  The familiar foe you’ll face at the end is a nuisance, but at least you’ll have a new ability (not W. Meteo unfortunately) to help put him to rest.

This next to last episode of The After Years finally explains some unresolved issues, so that’s reason enough alone to purchase it for fans of this downloadable sequel.  Unfortunately, you’ll have to deal with one of the most detested areas of FFIV–the Moon, but at least you’ll finally get to play as one of the greatest villains of the entire FF series.

If you like Golbez and his old man pal, or just want to see some After Years issues resolved, this is an episode worth downloading.  Everyone else will want to wait for The After Years onslaught to end in September.

Score: 7.5

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