So let’s correct this now and talk about these dungeons. The level range for things was adjusted after my initial preview, and we have a similar leveling arrangement to how things were in Heavensward, but I honestly like this batch more. Part of it is familiarity, sure, but I remember feeling like the first two dungeons in Heavensward were kind of clunkers even when they were new, compared to really enjoying the heck out of everything in Stormblood. Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t high points and low points, but… well, let’s just get to it, yes?
The Sirensong Sea
Much like Dusk Vigil, this is very clearly your “remember how to play the game” dungeon, but it also serves as a ship graveyard, which is always fun. I love the ship graveyards the franchise has featured before, and this manages to hit all of the right notes while also reminding me marvelously of Arrapago Reef from Final Fantasy XI. Ruined ships, sea creatures, ghosts, spectres, and all sorts of charmingly spooky atmosphere.
The bosses also impress me here by being, well, more involved than the ones in Dusk Vigil. None of them are all that difficult, and you can screw up the mechanics on the second or third boss many times before you’ll bite the dust, but they simultaneously introduce new concepts (the last boss has the “marching” mechanic used a few more times) and require you to be a bit more aware of what’s going on. So I enjoy it a great deal, and was already excited for the further dungeons by my first trip through.
Shisui of the Violet Tides
Oh, yes, I already had a good idea about this dungeon. Surprisingly, it holds up quite well over time; the second and third boss in particular have interesting mechanics, while the first has rather bland mechanics but is still fun to fight. And the sheer nature of the design makes it feel fantastical while still grounded, a deep-sea adventure even while you’re on solid ground.
If there’s anything to be critical about, it’s that the dungeon is pretty bad about actually explaining what’s going on behind the scenes; there’s the vague implication of Ascian involvement, but more than anything else it feels like a collection of fights without much reason. Bit of a lost opportunity, there.
The second boss in here is perhaps one of my favorite bosses of the whole expansion, simply because it’s so painfully absolute. Suddenly there’s no mitigation, no distractions, no excuses. You either dodge or you fail. Simple as that, and it manages to mix up the formula of the game while feeling entirely like a legitimate boss encounter rather than an arbitrary puzzle.
For the rest of the dungeon, though… well, I still like it quite a bit. I’d like a bit more explanation of the Cardians at the end simply because that’s a big nod to FFXI that goes without so much as a slight tilt of the head, but the lore of the place is already rich and the actual mechanics are fun without being obtrusive. This midpoint hits a nice balance between strategy and difficulty, possibly serving as the best of the leveling dungeons through the expansion.
By contrast, I would point to Doma Castle as the weakest of the batch. It’s not a bad dungeon, certainly more fun than Dusk Vigil or Sohm Al, but it has two main problems. The first is that the bosses come across as, well, arbitrary; until the very end, you’re just fighting faceless war machines, most of which you’ve seen before and all of which you’ll see again. Second, for the first two bosses the mechanics come down to little more than “dodge stuff,” and it’s all intuitive and obvious enough that it doesn’t feel nearly as interesting as a boss where all you do is dodge stuff. (That second Bardam’s boss.)
The last boss does covereth a multitude of sins, though, simply by serving as a simultaneous forecast of how effed up the next dungeon will be and as a sudden swerve for a character who had heretofore been little more than a running gag. The fight itself is kind of a matter of whatever, but the lore and surrounding environment are just… stunning. You feel like you’re seeing the last act of a tragedy, and you didn’t even realize it was a tragedy until the very end.
Hello, and welcome to Naoki Yoshida’s report on Final Fantasy VI. Seriously, this dungeon hits that button hard; every single boss is taken right from FFVI, several enemies are as well, and the overall feel is very heavily reminiscent of exploring Vector for the first time. It’s one of the more aggressive lifts from previous games that we’ve seen, up there with the wholesale adoption of the Crystal Tower from Final Fantasy III. It works, though, and it melds almost seamlessly with the Empire we already know, expanding and refining our understanding of how far the Garleans will go.
It’s a better dungeon than Doma Castle, but it still suffers a bit from having some less-engaging boss mechanics (the last boss in particular is heavy on “just dodge”) and some moments that can be a real slog to tank. Still, as the penultimate story dungeon it works well, and I enjoy the heck out of running it when I get the chance. Plus, since it’s at a high level, you see it less often and it retains a sense of specialness.
When I saw that this dungeon dropped loot, I was instantly happy. It was a welcome change, the sort that makes a dungeon rewarding to run well after launch. Lo and behold, this one is still fun, even though we’ll likely be waving farewell to it as it falls from Expert roulettes with the next patch. (Or perhaps not… that’s speculation now, but still.) You have three bosses with very unique and epic-feeling mechanics, lots of neat setpieces, and you get a whole lot of dogs jumping on you at one point. What’s not to like?
The only criticism I really have is that it can be really hard to see some ground indicators against the floor here. Not impossible, but a bit harder than needed. It remains my favorite Expert dungeon right now, though, and I feel like it’s tuned just right to be tricky without being hard to understand. You can muddle through the mechanics well enough on your first run.
Solidly a middle-of-the-road Expert, neither great nor terrible. The last boss is a lot of fun, and the two bosses in the middle have interesting mechanics insofar as they “lock out” parts of the arena, but for the most part it feels… perfunctory. It hits all of the expected notes and you run through the paces.
The biggest disappointment, I suppose, is how little the whole “funds” mechanic on the last boss actually affects things. People have tried just totally ignoring the mechanic and found that it’s not really hard to survive through, thus removing a lot of the tension involved; it also doesn’t give the boss any new mechanics if you let him get more coin. Still, part of me hopes this is just an appetizer before we see him again, so…
Temple of the Fist
Easily my least-favorite Expert right now, but it’s still not bad; it’s more fun than several other “worst” entries. (Pharos Sirius, I’m looking in your direction.) All of its faults come down primarily to being mildly annoying in one way or another. The second boss has lots of obnoxious mechanics that can make the fight drag on longer, for example, but it’s rare for those to lead to a wipe; they’re just bothersome. Similarly, the last boss is just a remix of several existing mechanics that don’t combine in particularly interesting ways; he can totally cause a wipe, but it’s almost always a matter of someone not paying attention.
This doesn’t make it bad, just a bit tedious. Although I can appreciate how the dungeon is the first dungeon you see in the expansion and one of the last you actually enter.
Feedback, as always, is welcome down in the comments or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. As we’re all waiting on that next Live Letter to really know what the deal is for patch 4.1 beyond the bits we’ve already seen revealed, I’d like to talk about the leveling flow, core mechanics, and how the game handles its level sync.