|Yes, we'll talk about this in a minute.|
As we wrapped up my last substantive posting, I was expecting a long journey to Thardan's castle and another interminable 7-level dungeon. What I found was such the opposite that it's hard to be believed. The dungeon under Cassida (where Winwood was separated from, and reunited with, his party) was the last dungeon of the game. Some battle I fought there with minotaurs and ghouls was the last substantive battle. I almost wish I'd known at the time.
As the characters exited from Cassida, Bergerac and the rat-rabbit in tow, one new element became immediately clear. Every wandering outdoor monster in the game--every thief, mage, rat, snake, barbarian, and wisp--was replaced with parties of demons. At first, I thought they were the same old wispy ghosts and liches I'd massacred by the hundreds while mapping the contours of the Forbidden Zone. But when my entire party was dead by the end of my first encounter, I realized they were different. Though using the same images, they had names like "Thor Demons." Like the creatures in the dungeon, they always acted first in combat, and even a couple of them were able to kill all of my characters in the first round, before I even had a chance to act.
|This was unexpected.|
Fortunately, there weren't that many of them, and they didn't actually seem to be trying to attack my party, unlike the usual pack of wandering monsters. I was mostly able to avoid them. Perhaps some buffing spells or some more attribute upgrades would have helped protect against them, but I didn't see the point this late in the game.
Since the outdoors were a little dangerous, I spent some time riding the Cavetrain from town to town, looking for hints. I had to buy tickets for Bergerac and the rat-rabbit. There were no clues or new dialogue options in any of the towns. "Going around" in the taverns produced nothing either.
At this time, I was still under the illusion that Thardan would be found in some kind of structure. I thought maybe his little zone had a small town or castle leading to a layered dungeon. The overhead map seemed to support this hypothesis, with a large square that looked like a town in the upper-northeast of the Forbidden Zone. I didn't know if the rat-rabbit in my party was the powerful witch Bergerac had mentioned or if I'd find her in Thardan's fortress. I only knew that with Bergerac in my party, I could penetrate the inner Forbidden Zone. I decided to travel there and at least get a sense of what I was facing.
I followed various roads out of Mernoc. Most of them ended in inexplicable 3 x 3 platforms of pavement that served no purpose. But one of them wound its way to the northeast, past mountains and forest, into a dense thicket. The dangerous demon parties wafted around in my periphery, but they were far less plentiful than the lesser demons that used to occupy this area, and the few times I accidentally ran into them, Elgarette was able to pray them away.
|Thardan's corner of the world.|
I saw the end of the road approach and expected I'd find myself facing the door of a town or castle. Instead:
|Thardan, I don't want to alarm you, but I think your arm is on fire.|
Yep, Thardan was standing right there in the middle of a square of pavement. And without even the briefest explanation of how he performed the deed, the next screen showed all of my party members dead.
Okay. So I guessed the rat-rabbit probably was Bergerac's witch, and I needed to get her dispelled before confronting Thardan. I had no idea how to do this, so I scanned my map for anything promising. I noted that every location I had marked as "unknown" or "mysterious"--the monolith in the woods, the four pools of water in the northwest, the wand stuck in the ground near Cassida--had turned out to play a role in the game. Everything except a statue of a stone lion in a "memorial area" west-northwest of Valvice. Much of the game world was still unmapped, of course, but I had already used the magic jewels to scan for interesting patterns or structures in the unmapped portions and found none.
I couldn't imagine what a stone lion would have to do with anything, but I was out of ideas, so I took the Cavetrain to Valvice and walked to the memorial. I really didn't expect anything to happen, so I was surprised when Rabby stuck a paw in the lion's mouth, "the strange being vanish[ed] in a cloud of red smoke," and a woman named Morganna stood in her place. She related that Thardan had turned her into the rat-rabbit when she was a young child, "but now I have the power to destroy his evil force! Now it's the time for Thardan to quiver with fear! The day of revenge is near!" Okay, then.
|Every child in Germany knows that you can reverse spells by sticking your hand in a lion's mouth. It's from the Aesop fable "The Man with no Hand and the Lion."|
Morganna accomplished a lot in her youth, it seems. She's Level 105--about 40 levels above my characters--has over 1,000 spell points and comes with a dozen magic books, including the "Master" book.
Now, at risk of being again misunderstood and called a Puritan, we have to deal with the issue of Morganna's nudity, because the way it's used here is stupid and tiresome. When I talked about nudity in the context of Wizardry VI, I was not upset at the nudity itself but rather how forced it was. I was annoyed by the implicit expectation that I would enjoy it, because after all, everyone knows computer games are for adolescent boys. It's not even that the nudity was "gratuitous"; gratuitous nudity is fine. It's that it ran contrary to anything that made sense plotwise, and was being shoved in my face for no purpose except that it clearly excited the creepy creator.
|Fate had gratuitous nudity throughout, but only at the end did it get pathetic.|
So far, the English version of Fate: Gates of Dawn has only included stark nudity on the infrequent copy protection screens, where it's definitely gratuitous, but whatever. These aren't named characters that we know anything about. They're not even NPCs. They're just window dressing. But here comes Morganna, who has been a rat-rabbit since before puberty, so she has the mental age of a child. Her portrait only suggests a state of undress, but she explicitly refuses to put on armor.
On the Cavetrain back to Cassida--would you want to ride in a public transportation car with no clothing?--she scares the ticket inspector:
Off we go back to Thardan's castle--or, rather, Thardan's square of pavement. Look, my last few posts have stressed how tired I am with the game. I didn't really want a big dungeon. But I wouldn't have minded a small dungeon. So as I walked along the pathway--gingerly, to protect Morganna's bootless soles--I half-hoped that Thardan was simply blocking the entrance to his fortress, and now that I had Morganna, he'd run inside and we'd have to chase him a bit, maybe fight a few battles and use that "Master" spellbook more than once, and the game would come to a proper conclusion.
Alas, when we reached his square, what I got instead was Morganna turning to face the party and giving us some full-frontal:
And then she blasted Thardan out of existence.
No final battle, no confrontation. Just some pixelated nudity as an implicit "reward" instead of a proper, satisfying ending. In case anyone is still confused: I don't object to nudity. I object to nudity used in such a puerile, juvenile way, in place of a proper narrative ending.
"We've done it! Our world is free again! Thardan has lost all might and will never appear again!" Morganna exclaimed. "All his power is now in my mind! Thus I'm able to create the magical gate for Winwood's return!"
"But wait," the game offered before this return could be shown or described, "There may soon be a FATE Part II!"
And that was it, except for the option to replay the final scene over again.
What a ridiculous letdown. Almost 300 hours of gameplay ends with a stunted confrontation in which my characters play no role, the big bad is defeated by a deus ex machina character whom I never heard of until 98% of the way through the game, no explanation is offered for Thardan's bringing me to this world to begin with, and I'm supposed to forget all of this because I got to see a fuzzy pair of B-cups.
I want 250 of those 272 hours back.