Overall, the game isn’t difficult. Some of the bosses (e.g. Atomos) might cause a bit of trouble, but it’s nothing insurmountable. There’s one vividly intense moment in Castle Karnak, but that’s only because it’s a timed sequence. The game also has a peculiarity in that there are no particularly good levelling spots. There are some great areas to gain ABP though, which is vastly more important, since, in a game so heavily based on job abilities, levels don’t do much for the characters. Consequently, clearing the game at level 43-45 is perfectly doable.
The final boss is fairly well-balanced. He’s not as brutal as Zeromus from FFIV or Cloud of Darkness from FFIII, but he does put up a fight. However, he still completely lacks personality as a villain. First of all, Exdeath? Really? I want to know who came up with that name, because they should be fired or at least fined. Secondly, he’s still a big guy in hulking armour accompanied by pompous, stereotypical villain-music. Thirdly, while his real identity is rather, uh…interesting, to say the least, he still has no backstory to speak of. The only positive thing about him is that he is actually the main villain: the game doesn’t pull a last-minute final boss out of its…hat. Still, it’s good that the subsequent games in the series got their act together and started producing more memorable baddies, because it was damn time. One final thing worth noting about Exdeath, however, is the importance of status protection when facing him: if any of your party members end the battle with a negative status effect on them, they’ll be considered dead, and the ending will change accordingly. So make sure you slap some Ribbons on them: there’s enough of them available, and a decent amount of time before the endgame, too. This is what makes the Dancer job vital.
For the first time since FFI, optional superbosses are back. There are two of them: Omega, Warmech’s/Death Machine’s deadly robot descendant, and a dragon ominously named Shinryu (“god dragon” in Japanese). And they certainly deserve their superboss status. If you enjoy a challenge, these guys should be right up your street.
You could also say that this game marks the first proper appearance of Gilgamesh. Sure, there was a Gigameth in FFIII, but not only was he a very different character, he was also eminently forgettable. Not so here: Gilgamesh makes sure you remember him. This is where he gets his trademark red outfit, his six arms, his sidekick Enkidu, his obsession with Excalipur/Excalipoor (a lame replica of the Excalibur sword, which he believes to be the real thing), a bitchin’ theme song and quotes such as: “Enough expository banter! We fight like men! And ladies! And ladies who dress like men!” Guess Faris had that one coming.
Just as in the two previous games in the series, sidequests mainly involve battling summons to add them to your Summoners’ spell list. There are also a couple of extras, like the infamous Money Cave, the quest for the Chicken Knife/Brave Blade or collecting some of the Bard’s songs. Nothing particularly breathtaking, but it does add to the list of things to do.
You have to pay attention to your characters’ equipment when they change jobs. The game automatically equips them with what it believes to be the optimal gear for the job they change into. The problem is that its criteria are purely stat-based, disregarding any added effects the equipment may have. Which, in the case of the Bone Mail, for example, is a permanent ‘undead’ status, meaning that healing spells will hurt the character in question. Needless to say, you really want to double-check what your characters end up with. It’s distinctly annoying, but there you have it.
Modes of transportation attain a peak of variety in this game. Eventually, the party will have access to two different ships, an airship, a submarine, two different chocobos and a wind drake (the same one as on the logo). On top of that, the meteorites that crash around the world have teleportation points inside them. A lot of these options end up being redundant, but it’s still worth pointing out.
To conclude, some random bits and bobs:
– The world map is now significantly more useful, as it is large enough to be helpful and even has places of interest marked on it. It’s consultable from the overworld screen by pressing Y.
– Phoenix Downs, the items traditionally responsible for reviving dead party members, are surprisingly expensive (1,000G apiece!) this time around. So do try not to let your characters die too often before obtaining the Raise spell.
– Limited inventory space is finally gone, bless its soul. It will not be missed. Until it rears its ugly head once more in FFXI, that is.
– The resident oddity of the game is Kelb/Quelb, a village of werewolves who all appear to be shepherds…
– Snooping around the ocean floor once the party obtains the submarine may yield an interesting discovery. A Moai head stands tall and proud in the middle of nowhere. How did it get there? Your guess is as good as mine. It has, however, acquired Easter Egg status in the series ever since. Terrible pun fully intended.