Ideas for FFIV: Free Enterprise

If you’re not familiar with Final Fantasy IV: Free Enterprise, the gist is that it’s a version of Final Fantasy IV that starts you with the airship, jettisons all the cutscenes and plot flags, and mixes up everything else. For my part, it’s the best randomizer I’ve played, both in terms of how much I enjoy playing it and how well I feel it presents the base game in a new and interesting way. I could write an entire article about how good it is and why, but I’ll just leave it at “very plenty good” for now.

FF4: Free Enterprise Homepage

One difference I’ve noticed between Free Enterprise and other randomizers I’ve played is that the FE devs seem to have a very strong vision for what their randomizer ought to be. The design philosophy seems to be: leave as much of vanilla FFIV in tact as possible, while creating lots of opportunities for new routing and combat challenges. So when I recommend these new features, I do so in the spirit of the rando as it currently exists. I don’t want to see a “kitchen sink” approach taken to FE, where absolutely every option that pops into someone’s head eventually gets added. In terms of content, I want as little added to the rando as is possible. I don’t want to suddenly see geomancers and blue mages, I don’t want a bunch of new characters from The After Years, I don’t want the janky spell-on-hit weapons from FFIV Advance.

What I want are new ways to create interesting routing and combat challenges. Here are some ideas me and my Twitch chat have come up with, over the course of a few dozen FE runs this past year.

Cid needs to be slightly better.

Not a lot better, just slightly better. FFIV has a lot of early- and mid-game characters that never get developed, because you aren’t supposed to have them after about the halfway point in the game’s story. FFIV Advance solves this problem by adding a new dungeon with a bunch of endgame gear for the leftover characters, but this probably isn’t possible for an SNES romhack. I’d argue it’s not desireable, either.

These characters are Tellah, Edward, Palom, Porom, Yang, and Cid.

Tellah, Palom and Porom don’t need any help. They’re caster characters, so they can equip some or all of the endgame-appropriate equipment already in the game meant for Rosa and Rydia.

Yang doesn’t need any help either, because he doesn’t actually get more powerful with equipment. Just the experience levels he gets are enough to make him really strong in the end.

Edward needed help, because the best he could do was to equip an endgame bow and arrow, which made him “like Rosa, but with no magic”. FE added the -spoon flag, which allows Edward to equip the Spoon. This is a powerful endgame weapon that puts him on par with Cecil for damage output, and probably ahead of Kain and Edge. (The joke here is that Edward is a “spoony bard”, see?)

The best Cid can do, though, is a weapon called the RuneAxe, which is pretty weak as far as weapons go. He has strictly better weapons, including all the bows and arrows, but these make him even worse than Edward used to be; they make him “like Rosa, but with no magic, and also still really slow”.

One possible fix might be to allow Cid to equip the Avenger, a two-handed sword that adds berserk to its user. This is a pretty powerful endgame weapon that Kain and Cecil can both use, although those characters have other options that might be better. If the Avenger is Cid’s only endgame option, though, it gives the character a pretty distinct flavor, while sticking with the personality of the character.

A second option might simply be to make the RuneAxe better, by altering its stats to be more in line with, say, the Murasame or White Spear. This is a weapon no other character uses as far as I know, so it really wouldn’t be stepping on anyone else’s toes.

More boss dependencies!

FE randomizes boss locations and statistics in a pretty interesting way that makes it usually possible to fight late-game bosses if they roll into early-game positions, and make early-game bosses a threat if they roll into late-game positions. There’s a lot of weirdness with this system, and a few bosses can be pretty nasty no matter where you see them, but pushing through the boss fights in whatever order you find them in is much of where the fun of the rando comes from.

There isn’t really any sense of needing to kill a particular boss, though, with one exception: killing the Mist D., wherever in the game it happens to spawn, causes Rydia’s dead-ass mom to cough up a key item in the village of Mist. This is an interesting interaction unlike anything else currently in FE. It creates neat situations where you’ll encounter the Mist D. in a place you’re exploring anyway, and then make a side trip for a free key item. Or, if you’re starving for key items, you might prioritize some early game bosses you would skip otherwise, hoping to find the Mist D.

Gating off more key items in this way would be against the spirit of the rando, I think. (The Mist D. is a unique case in that regard.) But there are other things that could be gated off, which might then be entered into logic to create new routing possibilities.

  • Dead guards block your way into Damcyan (both the keep and the treasure room) until after you find and kill Antlion. This treasure room is a somewhat quick early-game check, so blocking it reduces your chances of finding great gear before your first boss. Blocking the keep means being able to put the Hoovercraft into logic.
  • Instead of gating Cecil’s class change behind the Ordeals event, gate it behind finding and killing the D. Knight. This boss is notoriously nasty in some areas, so players tend to avoid him if they can. But Cecil is so terrible as a dark knight, and so great as a paladin, that the hunt may really be worth it. Lots of lulzy troll seed potential here!
  • Instead of using items to teach Rydia the Odin, Asura, Levia, and Baham spells, unlock them only after finding and killing those bosses. Or, require both! Levia and Baham are both good enough that putting Rydia through the extra hoops is probably warranted.
  • Similarly, Edge only learns his Flood and Blitz spells if you find and kill the Eblan king and queen. This probably doesn’t matter that much, because nobody ever uses those spells, so maybe make some of Edge’s other advantages latently locked until this fight, like his Dart command or his second weapon slot.
  • Wherever the Elements happen to roll, they will refuse to fight you until you’ve found and killed Milon Z., Kainazzo, Valvalis, and Rubicant somewhere in the world. Instead, they give you a generic message similar to the one you get if you try to complete Zot without the Earth Crystal. Maybe they give you a hint as to where to find one or more of these fights. If paired with a flag that forces a required item behind this fight (wherever it is), this alone would transform the seed from “find the key items and win” to “go on a big boss hunt!”
  • The crystal at the center of the Big Whale is inoperable until you find and kill the CPU. Maybe the beds, big chocobo, and transport to the Giant don’t work until then, either. (Of course this creates a dumb situation where the CPU can’t roll into hits vanilla boss slot!)
  • Instead of requiring the Earth Crystal to get into the Troia treasure room, the guard requires you to kill some boss out in the world. Dark Elf is the obvious choice, but one could also make a fun case (backed by NPC dialogue!) for Valvalis, the Magus Sisters, or Dr. Lugae.
  • Change the HP threshhold at which Edward automatically hides to something really dumb, like 90%, until you find and kill the WaterHag and see Anna’s inspirational message. (This one might actually be too aggravating, depending on where and when you find Edward!)
  • As a sort of hint system, the guard rooms in Baron Castle fill up with helpful NPCs the more soldiers you injure. (They’re there convalescing, and since the only way to get to this room is to defeat whichever boss is in Baigan’s slot as the false captain, they’ve now come to their senses and willing to help!) By my count there are fifteen such NPCs spread through three different boss fights: four in the Kaipo soldier encounter, three fights with three soldiers each in the Fabul gauntlet, and Yang’s two Guards. Four of these soldiers are “lost forevers” since they try and retreat if you kill their underlings, thus incentivizing a different approach to these fights. Information could vary from the location of key items, to character identities, to where you can find choice gear. (“I heard about an Artemis Bow in the Sylph Cave!”)

Those are some interesting and thematically-appropriate ideas that would mesh well with the existing rando options. Of course, arbitrary barriers could be added in just about anywhere, requiring arbitrary bosses to be defeated, which could then all be randomized. That would be a bad direction to go in, though, and against the spirit of what FE is so far. The reason the existing Mist D. block works so well is because it makes sense in the lore, and it’s the same thing every seed. The random element should be where you find the boss, not which boss you need to find, or why.

Make a “weak” version of Edge.

Right now, Edge is just about the best character you can possibly get early in an FE seed. FuSoYa is strictly better, but the rando has flags to make him start weak and only power up as you kill bosses. This is a cool idea, but the best they’ve done for Edge so far is a flag that removes him as an option for starting characters.

There’s not really a problem here that needs fixing, but there’s an opportunity for something potentially great. The reason Edge is so good is his base level and equipment set vastly outclass anything in the main overworld of FFIV. In the base game, you don’t get Edge until you’ve completed the overworld, gone to the underworld, and returned. By the time he joins you have already seen the last of Cid, Yang, the twins, and just about every other character.

What he needs is an experience curve that brings him more in line with Kain, and a worse starting equipment set. Say, a single Boomrang or Silver Dagger, Leather Armor, and a Cap. A L5 Edge with 100 HP and terrible gear would put him on par with a starting Cid, or Yang, or anyone else really.

But here’s the brilliant bit: we now have a “weak” Edge suitable for starting the seed with, and a “strong” Edge suitable for destroying the entire overworld. We can do this with every character in the game!

  • “Strong” Rydia starts with gear comparable to what she has when she rejoins the party in the Dwarf Castle in vanilla, and one of her elemental summons (Shiva, Indra, Jinn, or Titan) unlocked at the start.
  • “Strong” Kain has the gear he rejoins with in the Tower of Zot in vanilla.
  • “Strong” Cid comes decked out with all his best stuff from the Tower of Zot, and actually serves as a neat dividing line between “strong” and “weak” in this context. Edge is so “strong” because his default level outclasses everything in the first part of the game, which happens to coincide with right around the time Cid leaves the party in vanilla.
  • “Strong” Rosa, Palom and Porom come in with mid-tier caster gear, like Wizard Shirts or Tiaras. The twins start with middling stat-boosting weapons, like the Lilith Rod and Silver Staff. Rosa instead starts with an Archer Bow and some Poison Arrows. Palom’s starting level should probably not be high enough to let him out of the gate with Quake.
  • “Strong” Yang just joins at a higher level than usual, maybe with two claws equipped instead of one. (Maybe even randomize these, leaving Cat Claws out?)
  • “Strong” Edward doesn’t make any sense, but starting him at L20 instead of L1 would make him more durable at least. In fact, it might be appropriate to start a “strong” version of Edward with one piece of really good endgame gear, like a Ribbon or a Protect Ring, which would immediately be yoinked and placed on a more deserving character.
  • “Strong” Tellah doesn’t make any sense either, outside of just starting with better gear, and should probably be extempt from these shenanigans. If you really want to give him something, maybe start him with one extra each of white and black magic.
  • “Strong” Cecil also doesn’t make any sense, and we’ll exempt him too. The way to make him stronger is to just promote him to paladin.

Now that we have all this done, we can mix and match the “strong” and “weak” characters in various game modes. Some ideas:

  • “Strong only” mode, where all characters are the “strong” versions. (Reduces how much time is spent gearing up new characters, without overpowering anyone for the back half of the run.)
  • Two characters are chosen at random to be “strong”. They may or may not be one of your starting characters. (This is essentially the current behavior, just with Edge potentially replaced with someone else.)
  • Starting character is guaranteed “strong”; nobody else is.
  • All characters are “weak”; no chance of an early Edge carry. (This is essentially what the current “no free Edge” flag does.)

I should emphasize that “strong” in this context only means “as strong as Edge currently is at the start”. So, a “strong” character should be good enough to clear all content up to and including the Magnetic Cave, but that’s probably it. (It’s worth pointing out that, in a typical vanilla run, Edge is weaker than the rest of your party at the point where you find him.)

This could go the other direction too. Make every character weaker by starting them at L1 with no gear at all, forcing you to scrounge for treasure or shops until you can scrape together a few boss wins.

“Shopping Mode”

Currently, the way to gear up any party in FE is to fly around opening up lots of chests. The quality of gear that can be found in boxes is variable (and adjustable in the rando settings), but most of the good stuff you find comes from treasures. Conversely, very little shopping is done in a typical rando run, outside of a few choice items players keep an eye out for. For the flags I like to play, that list is less than ten items total.

What we do here is flip the incentives; we make treasure boxes less valuable, and shops more so. Instead of gearing up by finding stuff in the wilderness, you have to shop for every piece, for every character. (Maybe pair this with “all characters start as ‘weak'” as outlined above!) Step one: instead of treasure, boxes give GP, maybe the sale price of whatever the box was supposed to contain, or some percentage of it.

At the start of the game, the only two shops that are open are the Fabul equipment shop (which has a smattering of random, low-tier gear, nothing better than Edge’s Short Sword), and the Troia Pass shop (which has a smattering of random, low-tier items). Shops that are currently gated (Baron, the Feymarch, the Hummingway Cave, etc.) remain so. Their inventories are also suitably randomized, but cannot contain anything phenomenal. You might find, say, a Blizzard Spear, but not a Dragoon Spear.

Any location that grants a piece of equipment from the monster box or key item pool unlocks a random shop somewhere in the world. Instead of finding, say, the Drain Spear, you’d get a fanfare and a message window saying, “The Mist weapon shop is open!” These shops can contain anything the seed is capable of generating, except for really high-end lunar equipment.

There are more of these locations in the game than there are shops to open, so fill any remaning “shop slots” with a single item added to Kokkol’s inventory. Immediately after turning in the Adamant and Legend Sword, instead of gifting the Excalbur, the prize is instead the opening of Kokkol’s shop. The Excalbur is immediately for sale, but the rest of the powerful endgame lunar equipment is not. These are unlocked one piece at a time until the shop is full, or the player runs out of spots to check. This should be the only way to get equipment like the Masamune, Stardust Rod, Ribbon, or Adamant Armor. Since this means some lunar equipment might not generate, there should probably be logic ensuring Kokkol can’t end up with useless equipment. There’s no reason to sell Masamune in a seed with no Edges, after all.

More monster box variety.

Currently, there are lots of early game dungeons that are basically worthless to visit. Sure, you might luck into a powerful sword in the Watery Pass, but it’s just as likely you’ll find comparably good stuff in the Antlion’s Nest, which has a guaranteed key item roll at the end. In dozens of FE seeds I think I’ve done the Watery Pass, like, twice.

On the flip side of this coin you have dungeons like the Tower of Bab-il, Sylph Cave and Lunar Subterrane which are probably guaranteed required, considering how many monster boxes they contain. Depending on your flags, monster boxes contain some combination of key items, powerful gear, or summon magic. Locations with high concentrations of these are definitely choice, and even locations with only one such box might gate your progression.

As a side effect of most FE players electing to turn off random encounters, these monster boxes are the only non-boss encounters in the game. So I think we can do with some variety here!

By my count (and this is a back-of-envelope figuring, I haven’t double-checked) there are seven duplicate monster boxes in the game. By which I mean, seven boxes which have the same fight (or near enough) as another monster box found elsewhere. These are:

  • The box full of Mad Ogres in Bab-il. (There’s already a box full of these in Eblan.)
  • Two boxes full of Ghosts in the Sylph Cave. (We’ll leave one.)
  • A box of Malboros in the Sylph Cave. (There’s another box that has Malboros and Treants that’s more interesting.)
  • Two Behemoths in the Lunar Subterrane. (We’ll leave one of these too.)
  • A box with Karys and Warlocks, also in the Subterrane. (There are two of these, we only need one.)

(We’re ignoring the Alerts in the Tower of Bab-il; it’s thematically interesting to have a mechanical security system in that location, and besides, they summon all sorts of critters.)

The idea here is to turn those seven boxes into regular treasures, containing items from the regular treasure pool, then add seven new monster boxes, with fresh encounters, to locations that don’t already have them. This incentivizes players to check locations that now have monster boxes for key items or good loot, and adds a little more enemy variety than a typical FE run sees. Also, it moves potential checks out of the Sylph Cave and Subterrane, where they’re gated behind underworld and moon access, to earlier in the seed where those checks could more organically gate progression. (It’s worth noting that without these extra boxes both of these locations are still chock full of checks!)

Here are my suggestions for what to do with the seven new boxes:

  • The center box of the Mist Cave contains six Imps.
  • The far side of the secret passage on B3(?) of the Watery Pass contains a battle against a group of jellies. (Say, one black, one white, and two each of yellow and red.)
  • The secret chest in the Baron Waterway save room contains an Aqua Worm and three Elecfish.
  • One of the chests in the room on B2 of the Magnetic Cave contains a battle against two Mages. (A nice reference to the FF1 WIZARDs, who also frequently guard treaure on spiked squares.)
  • We’ll replace the Mad Ogres in the overworld Bab-il chest with a D. Machine for some out-of-depth robot dragon fun.
  • The weird out-of-the-way chest just before the Falcon in the last section of the Tower of Bab-il, that always felt like it should be a monster box, but isn’t, for whatever weird reason, just because the developers felt like screwing with us I guess. Anyway we’ll put one of those cool Eggs that hatches into a Q. Lamia here. (This also makes the overworld stretch of Bab-il more attractive, from a key item standpoint, if you don’t need it for underworld access in your seed.)
  • The secret box to the right of Kokkol’s stairs contains the rare underworld trio: a Gorgon, Tarantula and GlomWing. (FFIV trivia experts will appreciate this one, for sure!)

Of course, now that we have a unique fight in every monster box, we can also have a “randomize monster box” flag, so you get a Behemoth in the Mist Cave and some Imps on the moon. Or, if it’s possible to add the current boss scaling logic to monster boxes as well, we could mix the bosses and monster boxes together. (This is probably not possible considering most monster boxes don’t have map sprites. Or maybe all of their sprites are just a treasure box?)

These ideas aren’t exhaustive, of course. They’re just what I’ve had rattling around in my brain as I’ve been working through a dozen seeds on stream and processing a dozen more videos of Free Enterprise for YouTube. The randomizer is already excellent and I’m sure whatever direction it continues to develop will be fun and interesting to watch.

Thank you for reading!

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