Before we get started on the actual update, I'm way behind on Ragtime Mouse encounters. Let's knock three questions out from my rather large backlog on this side quest.
This one is true. Too lazy to see if it's mentioned explicitly somewhere, but there's this I guess if you really want to do math on randomly mentioned background events irrelevant to the plot.
BFFs forever (fuck rat people, though)
This is a Friendly Mu, and he kicks off the Friendly Creatures quest line. If you remember Magic Pots from previous FF games, these guys are like those except they're nice enough to not want your freaking Elixirs.
Also true. All airships use Mist except the three Hilda Garde airships.
Steiner, Freya, and Dagger are behind on both levels and abilities, so I'm taking this crew to Ipsen's Castle.
It's in the northwestern part of the Forgotten Continent, in a canyon inaccessible unless you have an airship or mountain chocobo.
So, Ipsen's Castle. The upside-down part is not just for show, but a neat little clue as to this place's weird-ass gimmick. But more on that in a bit.
So you may have noticed that Amarant's been largely irrelevant the entire time he's been in our party, so now's as good a time as any to shoehorn in half-assed character development for him!
...? What's up, Amarant?
I work alone. Always have, always will. I don't know why you bother carryin' dead weight all the time.
What's your point?
Hilda said there's some key here to break the seal, am I right?
Let's see who finds it first. I'll be going by myself, of course.
Calm down, Rusty.
Amarant's always been a "Be the strongest, rely on yourself" kind of guy. Zidane obviously handles things much differently, and Amarant's not going to learn any lessons by simply being ordered around by Zidane. So Zidane is going to humor him and let him go.
I don't know what you're thinking, but if that's what you want, it's okay by me.
Well, aren't you an agreeable fellow?
What can I do? I can't change the way he thinks.
Then the game lets us pick our party again. As you may have guessed, we can't take Amarant for this dungeon, though everyone else is fair game. I stick with the party I said I was going to use.
So, Ipsen's Castle. First thing to notice is the music falls similarly to the title screen's (titled "A Place to Call Home", or in the case of the soundtrack translation I'm using, "The Place I'll Return to Someday") and Oeilvert's, i.e. the weird Terra-centric place. I'll let you connect the dots for this one, even though I've pretty much hammered the damn meaning into your skull by now.
Our first treasure is a Dagger. The Dagger is the weapon that Zidane started with. Indeed, everybody's initial weapons (as well as the Air Racket, the first racket) are treasures in this dungeon.
Also the Aquarius Stellazzio. Aquarius doesn't really give a shit about wooing chicks, apparently.
Alright. Time to start wrecking shit with my physical powerhouses.
...and here is where we get to Ipsen's Castle's gimmick. Yep, the weaker the weapon is, the more damage it does. So Zidane will do more damage with the crappy daggers he just got than his fancy new goat skull thief sword. Likewise, since I've got Steiner and Freya decked out to learn abilities from higher-end weapons, they're going to do shit damage.
So even though Steiner hitting Trance in a random encounter is normally good since he's one of the very few to actually have a Trance useful for randoms, it's still useless here because of the weapon he has.
Trance: Even when it's useful, it's useless.
However, abilities such as Freya's Jump and Steiner's Darkside bypass the gimmick, since it only applies to the Attack command.
Next room has a moogle to deliver mail to.
I heard that you can't enter Mognet Central unless you're riding on a chocobo. Kupo.
Way ahead of you there.
Kumool also sells the second-weakest weapon for each character, in case you're not hoarding everything already.
This is the Veteran, another staple FF creature.
Like its brethren, its gimmick is to inflict the Doom status, where after a count of 10 the target instantly dies. This is also a Blue Magic staple, and is in fact Quina's final Blue Mage spell. I will grab this spell next update since Quina's not really that great for this dungeon due to the initial fork being too powerful.
The Agares (the right creature with the book) can revive the Gargoyle, which does annoying petrification attacks. Of course, Soft instantly kills it so I never saw it act. Otherwise, the Agares spams -ra magic and inflicts the Freeze status, so Body Temp is handy for this dungeon.
Go down the pole and then go up this ladder (we'll get to that chest later).
There's all sorts of wonderful weird architecture here. I mean, Symphony of the Night kinda did it first but it simply flipped its castle rather than having a right-side-up castle placed on top of an upside-down one.
The two paths lead to more weak weapons.
The last encounter here is a doozie. These are Tonberries, one of the best-known FF enemies. They're murder incarnate.
They simply slowly advance towards the party. If they reach a party member, it can knife a character for 9999 damage before disappearing. Even worse, they can inflict their signature attack, Everyone's Grudge, on the party for damage equal to 4^(# of dead Tonberries). So simply killing six of them will very likely cause a party wipe (4^6 = 4096), assuming I understand things correctly and the damage is not split. I believe there needs to be multiple Tonberries alive by the time one reaches you for it to take effect.
Let's nuke the shit outta them.
Bahamut is pretty swell. Not as good as other summons if you exploit weaknesses and/or use equipment that boosts elemental damage, but eh, it's a giant fuck-off dragon blasting shit at enemies for large damage. It's alright with me.
And all those Garnets are paying off.
Just make sure not to fuck around with these guys. Running away from them isn't that bad an idea.
Anyway, next up is this room.
This thing is kinda weird. First, we examine it.
Then push it.
Then pound it.
Then we think about it.
Push and pound some more.
Then try something drastic, to no effect.
So fuck it, let's rest.
This unlocks a stairwell at the entrance. We'll backtrack there in a bit since we're almost at the thing we came here to get.
In fact, all we need to do is take this elevator.
Welp, so much for the contest.
...Have you figured out how to break the seal?
Take a look at that wall. Maybe you can figure it out. But it's no longer my concern.
What do you mean?
I proved myself right. I don't need to follow you around anymore.
Amarant's gone forever. Goodbye, Amarant. I'm sorry I wasted time grinding up abilities for you.
...It's his way. We can't change him.
Amarant doesn't even have a guaranteed 9999-damage attack. We won't miss him. Let's finish this place up.
...? There's something written on it.
Since there's a wind mirror, as you may expect, the others are mirrors of water, fire, and earth. Because it's always those four elements. Always.
See? Those elements are core to Final Fantasy.
Even though the way the series handles them is weird. Fire is always well-represented, being a Black Mage's bread and butter along with Ice and Bolt (not to mention Ifrit and fifty other things). Earth is generally an end-game Black Magic spell, but more associated with the Summoner's Titan. Wind is usually Blue Magic, while Water is kinda all over the place (Summoner's Leviathan, Ninja's Water Scrolls, sometimes Blue Mage's Aqua Rake, etc).
Anyway, we've got our four mirrors.
It seems someone from Terra found these mirrors but could not uncover their meaning.
What did it say, Zidane?
Yeah, they were the same as the ones I saw at Oeilvert... Like Hilda said, those things on the wall must have something to do with the seal.
Oh hey, some thing's ass we get to kick.
Wh-What is this!?
You should say please when you ask for things.
Boss battle time!
Taharka is pretty straightforward. Apparently it can close itself and do heavy physical damage, but I never made it to that part.
Otherwise, it casts Blizzaga and uses physical attacks. No biggie.
Especially since the former can be nullified by Silence.
And I debuff it a bit while Zidane gets to stealing.
The Elixir and Mythril Claws are nothing new. The Orichalcon are the strongest daggers in the game and Zidane's third-strongest weapon overall, though they have no status effects and only teach Detect. Minor speed boost, though, and again, damage boost.
I had Steiner equip his Flame Saber for this battle. You see, it has a 10% chance of inflicting the Heat status effect. Luckily enough, I triggered it on the first attack!
Reminder: If you act with the Heat status, you instantly die. The enemies are too dumb to realize this.
Pretty fun way to kill a boss, though the next one will be even better.
Welp. So much for that. Anyway, we have to manually walk out, so...
The FF Wiki says order of priority of triggering this trap is Garnet, then Eiko, then Vivi, then Quina, meaning Steiner should not be triggering this. Go figure. Bumbling Steiner triggering a trap makes more sense than anything else, especially since he's already done so before. Disc 2 at the end of the Dagger/Steiner/Marcus arc, remember? And probably fifty other times too.
I-I wouldn't fall for such a childish trick!
How clever. We must have activated the trap when we reached the top.
Well, I'm glad you're okay.
Zidane and Steiner are pretty close friends at this juncture, and it's pretty sweet. Of course, I use the scene where Zidane's dialogue is predetermined and vague enough to work with all characters, but still.
Anyway let's fall down this trap.
This is how we reach the chest and the Maiden Prayer inside.
Before we leave, let's check out that central path.
It leads to this elevator...
And this room. Apparently there's a clue here that says "Fight the flow of time" or whatever but I didn't see it. Oh well.
The trick is to rotate the pots counter-clockwise a few times before a thing triggers.
This weird add-on boosts Strength and Shadow-elemental damage and teaches Dagger Odin's Sword, which deals damage to any enemy that Odin's Zantetsuken does not instantly kill. Considering it takes 5 magic stones and the strength is weaker the more Ore you have (when you want more Ore to boost the chances of proccing instant death), it's not really worth the hassle.
Finally, more weak weapons up here in the moogle room.
And with that, we're done!
You came out first, Zidane!
What? What happened to Amarant? He was waiting for us at the top and left as soon as we got there! I thought he took off! Is he still inside...?
Yeah, Amarant's a loner and kind of a jerk-off. But come on, do you really think Zidane's gonna strand an ally like that?
So now we go back to Ipsen's Castle with only Zidane.
Liberal use of Flee is applied.
Amarant? What happened to you?
Answer my question... I told you we might be enemies next time we met... Or did you come back to mock me?
The guys outside told me that you hadn't come out yet. That's why I came here looking for you.
We don't have anything to do with each other anymore... You don't have anything to gain from this. Or do you?
Amarant's whole story thing is paper-thin, consisting only of his thing about being the strongest, but he's also a good foil to Zidane. Zidane's all about teamwork and friendship and has great camaraderie with his six other followers. As the outsider of this crew, Amarant's only along because he realizes Zidane is stronger than him and wants to know why. He's naturally a loner and values inner strength and power above all else. He doesn't understand how you can be more powerful thanks to the people you keep around you.
Zidane kinda glosses over all that, sometimes playing along with Amarant when he has the time, but sometimes just ignoring it in more dire situations such as this. Zidane simply does what comes natural to him.
You don't care...? You're willing to put yourself at risk to save me?
Come on. We've helped each other many times since we joined forces.
I don't know why I'm doing this, but I can't just walk away. It goes against my nature.
And that's what being a part of the team means...?
Amarant's slowly beginning to learn how Zidane sees things and will slowly start re-evaluating his perspective on life. I mean, there's really not much to Amarant's arc the way there is for Vivi or Dagger or hell, even freaking Quina, but Amarant does grow and develop like everyone else in the party.
I'm getting outta here as well.
Next time, we figure out our gameplan and proceed in one of the coolest sequences in the game.