Part 102: The Most Final Fantasy-Ass Part Of Final Fantasy IX
Saving Amarant from his own fatuousness was where we ended the previous episode. As with the antecedent blog, I would like to remind my readers how Amarant jeopardized our mission for the sake of proving why he prefers working alone. Luckily for us, Amarant essentially "dies" as a character and we never have to think about him again. Having collected every elemental tablet from Ipsen's Castle; our intrepid crew endeavors to place these tablets in their respective temples. Needing to accomplish this task post-haste, Zidane develops the "excellent" strategy of having the cast break into teams of two to deliver the tablets to their corresponding edifices.
Right then, this premise makes ZERO SENSE! First, why is it so important we work hastily? Why didn't Zidane give a shit about speeding things up while he was moping about Garnet or playing in a card tournament? Why can't we deliver the tablets one at a time? How is individually transporting four teams to four different temples saving us time? How is this any better than going to each temple one at a time with a full party? If we went to the temples individually we wouldn't have to worry about wasting time picking up each team in their respective temple.
Second, we do not understand what we are dealing with inside these temples. What if Zidane allowed Garnet and Eiko to carry a mission critical payload and Kuja was the boss at their intended temple? They would have been fucked! Why does no one think of this EXACT SITUATION as Zidane proposed this idea? It doesn't help the groupings themselves are FUCKED! Eiko strong-arming her way to have Garnet as her partner, for the sake of "girl talk" was a pick-axe to my temple. I mean for fuck’s sake, I thought the game was done with this comical bullshitery!
Speaking of comical bullshitery, having the player's party be Zidane and Quina is BULLSHIT! I say this as someone who has put ZERO TIME into leveling Quina or collecting Blue Magic. This further places Zidane’s judgment into question. Why in the world does Zidane just wantonly create these groupings without a care in the world? Isn’t transporting these elemental tablets critical to our quest of stopping Kuja? Why does everyone stop thinking like logical people? Why do the characters think these temples are NOT each guarded by some horrible monster?
Let's make something apparently clear. I understand this entire sequence is largely an homage of the "Temple of Fiends" from the first Final Fantasy. Fine, it is Square's game and if they wish to pander to their audience that is their prerogative. I will preface, as a Final Fantasy "neophyte," I found this entire sequence to be flat. Sure the direction was fantastic, with quick juxtapositions between each of the parties, but the structure itself felt painfully artificial. We only have player agency over Zidane and Quina's activities at the Earth Shrine, but none at the other shrines. Additionally, the scenes here lack explicit context. We discover the foes which face us at the shrines are "Guardians of Terra." We assume these guardians are connected with Kuja, but filling in this gap is left to the player’s imagination. Lacking context during these moments makes it difficult to get emotionally enthralled with what is witnessed.
Part 103: The Point Of No Return
The game makes it painfully clear entering the Shimmering Island is the game's "point of no return." The cast has many brief asides, and they are all questionable in terms of self worth. Eiko bluntly confronts Garnet regarding her feelings for Zidane in the cringiest manner imaginable.
Subsequently, Amarant expresses befuddlement with Zidane's need to fight for something besides personal or financial gain. It's as if Amarant has been provided with every possible opportunity to learn the meaning of "altruism," but refuses to do so. I can't even anymore....
Then we enter the portal to Terra. As I suggested in the previous episode, this is where Final Fantasy IX almost entirely lost me. Full disclosure, had the game not included the “You're Not Alone” sequence, I was fully prepared to “” the game. That scene “saved” me, and if it did not exist, I think my opinion of this game would be entirely different. I feel as if I have already pleaded my case on why I feel this, but I'll articulate my points again for posterity's sake. My ultimate issue with Final Fantasy IX's story pivot is how at conflict it is with the game's original tone and setting. Everything prior to the pivot was on the polar opposite of the narrative spectrum (i.e. light-hearted fantasy) to what the pivot brought to the story (i.e. science-fiction and soul theory). When you compared the two you realize the massive leap of logic you are expected to accept in order for the story to “work.” In Final Fantasy VII and VIII both games have science fiction based pivots, but at least they were science fiction based stories from the get-go.
I have nothing against the prospect of any game providing its story with a major plot twist. A character “pipe bomb,” or general plot twist can genuinely invert your expectations and re-frame the story within a new context. Per contra, I cannot hesitate but throw down caution as this perspective is presented. The attitude that the Final Fantasy franchise is a franchise steeped in adding insane nonsense to its stories at the last minute is troubling. Using twists to maintain an audience can prove counter-intuitive. If this defines the franchise, it practically sets up future entries for failure. Some games will use pivots correctly, and others will not; failure is baked into the franchise by default.
Finally, and this is what honestly grinds my gears, how did the game prepare me for this? Where was the game's explicit foreshadowing this science fiction alternate dimension even existed? In terms of art direction, there were two set pieces which suggested a futuristic underworld or dimension. Those locations were the Iifia Tree and Oeilvert. Did we witness the characters pontificate upon the alien design of either location? NOPE, and the fact the game cannot connect such dots drives me insane. Worse yet, these two locations exist in isolation and are not reinforced as the story progresses. Oh, and Zidane being able to read the technobabble in Oeilvert and Ipsen's Castle? Turns out he's a clone from Terra, so there's your answer! Was there anything provided within the game to support this revelation? No, so essentially the foreshadowing here comes across as a third-grader's first attempt.
Part 104: Deconstructing Garbage
Let's jump directly into the game's introduction of Terra. After placing the elemental tablets in their respective locations, our party discovers a massive tempest by the Shimmering Island. With the portal being a massive hurricane, Zidane declares our best option is to jump directly into it. Without equipping his party with protective gear or parachutes, everyone jumps straight into the hurricane. Well then… this is a scene in this video game. This happened. Zidane says "hey let's jump smack dab into this massive storm," and everyone goes along with his idea. W-what? WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING ANYMORE?
So is this the game's naked attempt to ape Final Fantasy VII's parachute jump scene, or am I crazy for even suggesting this? So much of this game is an homage to prior Final Fantasy games, I honestly would not put it past the developers to have included a nod to Final Fantasy VII. Either way, after we successfully navigate through the portal we discover the neon-drenched dystopian futurescape of Terra. Here is where everything related to the story crumbles for me.
As we take control of Zidane, the old robot man from before appears in front of Zidane and welcomes him to “Terra.” The old man's name is eventually revealed to be “Garland,” because there are not enough references to Final Fantasy I already. Zidane's initial interaction with Garland boils down to a Shakespearean, “What's in a name?” existential debate. Garland prompts Zidane to question his progeny and origins, and Zidane rebuffs Garland. This confrontation spoils Zidane being from Terra with each of Garland’s sentences painfully spelling out this reveal. Having Garland declare “You know nothing,” and “See what Terra is, and what you are,” all but confirm your inklings of Zidane being from Terra.
This spoils the deluge of time the game spends on the dramatic reveal of the Genomes. To make matters worse, we have never seen Zidane torn or emotionally distraught over not knowing his origins. This ultimately castrates the gravitas to a vast majority of Garland’s villainous soliloquies. There was a single brief scene on disc two where Zidane told Garnet a story clearly about himself. The scene highlighted Zidane’s basic desire to know more about his past, but isn’t reinforced during future moments in the story. Instead of making this a major undertone, Final Fantasy IX pulls this out of its toolbox when it is convenient to the story, and this greatly hampers its emotional impact.
The idea or concept of Zidane actively wanting to know where he came from has never been addressed beyond a single scene. This results in the moments pertaining to Zidane discovering more about his origins being devoid of narrative stakes. It does not help Zidane conveys a limited emotional range as he learns more about himself, but the scenes were sabotaged from the outset. Why do I care about Zidane knowing more about where he came from? The game's answer is to tie his origin into a hackneyed subplot pertaining to him being the harbinger of Gaia's destruction. Which leads me to:
Part 105: Everything That Happens In Terra Is The Pits
After Garland mysteriously disappears Zidane quickly encounters a female humanoid with a tail, like himself. Zidane dispatches to chase after the girl, and when he finally does, she ends up extolling this:
After spending a brief amount of time in Terra we enter a town on this decaying planet named "Bran Bal." As we ascend the steps to the town the airship "Invincible" passes over Garnet and Zidane. As Garnet stares directly into the Invincible's red orifice, she realizes the airship is the ominous “eye in the sky” from earlier. This means the Invincible destroyed the Summoner Village and many other locations significant to Garnet. Because the writers of Final Fantasy IX appear to have no other narrative tools to depict her as experiencing a neurosis, they have her pass out and remain unconscious for two hours… AGAIN!
With Steiner looking over and protecting Garnet; Zidane leads a party to locate a shelter in Bran Bal. As we enter the town, we discover it to be populated with tailed humans who look shockingly like Zidane. It is at this point I feel as if the game insulted my intelligence. Not only has this EXACT PLOT TWIST been painfully splayed out for all to see, but attempting to investigate the matter results in the game farting in your face. Think the second part of that sentence was histrionics? Here's what happens when you attempt to interact with the citizens of Bran Bal:
Responding to unintelligible technobabble with further technobabble is far from optimal in my books. Every level prior to this the game placed a great amount of emphasis on exploring the world to better understand the context it exists within. On this occasion, where I would argue it matters the most, the writers and designers flipped the bird to the audience. Do you want to know what the deal is with the history of Bran Bal? "GO FUCK YOURSELF," is essentially how the game responds to you!
Eventually, Eiko informs Zidane the young girl from before wishes to talk to him in a laboratory. Where this can be found, or how one navigates Bran Bal is entirely up to the player to discover. Remember how I mentioned there being an insufficient amount of time wherein Zidane is torn about not knowing his parentage? The game becomes cognizant of this and has Freya mention Zidane isn't “acting like himself.” I'm not joking, this is honestly how the game sets into motion Zidane's ENTIRE CHARACTER MOMENT. It was at this moment I swore loudly at my computer screen:
So why is this such a problem? Well let’s review basic "facts" related to Zidane’s characterization at this point:
- Lines of dialogue where Zidane scoffs at everything Garland or Mikoto says:
- Lines of dialogue where Zidane seems dismissive of what he sees or is forced to do in Terra:
- Lines of dialogue where Zidane appears to express emotional poignancy about discovering himself to be a soulless clone:
NO, YOU CAN'T DO THIS, THIS IS JUST WRONG! You cannot have a character state to the audience a character seems emotionally distraught and expect the audience to buy into this! I don't make the rules on how to convey a story. If I wrote the rules, then I would have one rule be:
“ Have characters express an emotional state prior to their character moment which compliments the events of the aforementioned character moment.”
You CAN'T wave a magic wand and say “hey it's time for Character A to be sad and emotional,” because your story demands it. Such a tonal shift must be justified within the context of the story, otherwise, the scene will come across as painfully contrived. I would even go further and say Zidane is essentially on an emotional roller coaster set to the exhilarating speed of five miles-per-hour until the last leg. At that point the coaster accelerates to over 500 miles-per-hour as your clothes are physically ripped from your body.
Admittedly, the game ends up conveying a scene wherein Zidane conveys a spectrum of emotions on par of a normal human being. Here I cannot help but look at the abject laziness of the writing. Imagine for a minute a larger Final Fantasy meta-narrative where each game is connected. Could you imagine Zidane loudly declaring “MAN! I went through a 10-minute emo-phase….” Then off in the corner Cloud and Squall are nodding their heads whilst saying “That's rough, buddy.” Yes, the “You’re Not Alone” scene works on a superficial level and is one of the game’s strongest moments. Yet, when you stop and think about Zidane's eventual depiction of angst, the entire scaffold for the scene comes crashing down like a house of cards.
Part 106: It Just Gets Worse... No, It Just Gets Worse
Because the story demands it, Garnet awakens from her slumber to reveal her hunch the Invincible destroyed the Summoner's Village. Do you recall how Shakespeare usually included a character whose purpose was to summarize the events of the story? Did you know he did this because he suspected most of his audience in the Globe Theater only came for the action sequences of his plays? Shakespeare always viewed a majority of his audience as intellectually beneath him. He included a modernized version of the Greek Chorus to keep the peons in his theater up to speed every half hour. This is how I feel about Garnet’s declaration about the Invincible. It's the writers thinking I'm an idiot who didn’t piece this together ten minutes ago.
But it gets worse.
Finally, Zidane musters the courage to confront the young girl in the laboratory. There he discovers the citizens of Bran Bal are all clones born from a tube. The girl then painstakingly explains to Zidane that he too is one of them, and his race is known as “Genomes.” So were you expecting this revelation would finally cause Zidane to feel more than the two or three emotions he is apt to depict?
I would like for the record to show at this exact moment I Ctrl+Alt+Delete-d the game and shut it down for a day. I play games because they make me feel good or question my surroundings. I feel like the games I play value my time and have something interesting to offer. The one thing I ask out of every game I play is to not waste my time. At this instance, Final Fantasy IX was wasting my goddamned time. I have put up with its bullshit for three fucking discs. I deserve characters which encourage me to live vicariously. I deserve transformative experiences which allow me to emphasize with the cast. I deserve emotional gravitas which moves me at an interpersonal level. I don't deserve Zidane being a sarcastic prick for comedic purposes.
Zidane is a character the game wishes for me to be emotionally invested in. For much of the game, he repulsed me with his casanova-wannabe antics, and his confrontational attitude with the world which surrounded him. Somehow, and I'm not sure what exactly was the panacea, my stance softened, and I warmed up to Zidane. His interactions with Vivi were excellent, and through the game’s sheer brute force, I believed in his relationship with Garnet. Now was the time for the story to be about him. Now was the time for Zidane to shirk off his superficial posturing. Now was the time for Zidane to mature into the adult we saw inklings of in scenes prior to this.
The game sabotages all this for the sake of having Zidane crack wise. The emotional tone of Zidane in the laboratory and in the next scene with Garland is wrong; it's just entirely wrong. Every scene in Terra and Bran Bal is ruined due to Zidane being Zidane. It’s tragic what the game wastes here. The game could have attempted to aim for our hearts, but instead aimed for our guts. The attempts to induce guttural laughs are painful, and Zidane’s commentary counter-intuitive. Instead of fervidly rejecting Garland’s offer to live out his prophecy from an emotional standpoint, Zidane sarcastically rebukes the old man. I’m just left baffled at what was done here.
But hey, it turns out Zidane isn't a soulless zombie like the rest of the citizens in Bran Bal!
It’s tough to judge whether Final Fantasy IX made lemonade out of lemons. The spectre of the past looms ominously over Final Fantasy IX, and there’s no denying this. Previous games within the franchise have already tackled the issue of self-discovery, and some better than others. Having Zidane be introspective about his progeny may have drawn direct parallels to Cloud or Squall. On the flip side, how Final Fantasy IX differentiates Zidane from his predecessors is too aggressive, and often disorienting for the audience to witness.
Part 107: I Officially Hate Zidane Again!
With Zidane irreparably "damaged" the game moves onto to contextualizing Garland's motives. If you love Final Fantasy stories being inane bollocks, then are you going to LOVE the next couple of scenes! It is revealed Garland is on a quest to restore Terra to its former glory. Garland created the Genomes to transfer the souls of the people of Terra into them. NOT ONLY THAT, but Garland plans to transport the long dead citizens of Terra to Gaia. To assist this transition, Garland hopes to transform Gaia into Terra by changing its light source from blue to red. I am NOT joking about that previous sentence.
For those of you who read my Final Fantasy VIII retrospective, you may recall my extensive discussion about narrative “skyhooks,” and “cranes.” For those that are unaware, a “skyhook” is a plot or plot point that exists out of thin air because the writer needs it to be there. There is no base for the skyhook, and in fact, nothing builds up or supports the skyhook other than an otherworldly person needing it to be there. Now we also have “cranes,” and cranes work to develop a narrative skyscraper from a simple foundation. From this foundation a crane provides a set up to a new plot development, and once that development is over the character in question is “elevated” to a new level in the story. From there a visible scaffold guides the character to their ultimate destination.
To Final Fantasy IX's defense, most of its storytelling avoids narrative skyhooks for cranes. Even here the revelations in Terra have a scaffold that builds towards its exposition dumps. However, at some point when a construction company is building a skyscraper they recognize they only need one or two cranes, instead of a dozen. This is ultimately where Final Fantasy IX falters. Not satisfied at proposing a parallel planet or cloning, it then needs to top this all off with soul-transfer and the dichotomy between free-will and predeterminism. Instead of masterfully building a single foundation, Final Fantasy IX haphazardly constructs five… on the third disc.
In any story one or two of these thematics would have sufficed. Topics as dense and complicated as soul-transfer could reasonably last a skilled writer a lifetime to do justice. By presenting all these topics as possible pivot points, the game stretches the story to a proverbial “breaking point.” There was no possible way Final Fantasy IX could handle all these topics and develop them into marvelous moments in the story. You could make the argument the game circumnavigates many of these problems by putting on a special dress and subjecting its audience with its charms, but this is a band-aid in the grand scheme of things.
Part 108: Final Fantasy IX Decides To "Borrow" The Worst Part Of Final Fantasy VII
Fucking seriously? Are we honestly back to this dumb bullshit about the cyclical nature of souls?
Is Garland simply a less memorable rendition of Sephiroth? I only ask because much like Cloud's character arc in Final Fantasy VII, Zidane is revealed to be the trump card of an antagonist’s masterplan. Having sent his only begotten son to Gaia, Garland planned on Zidane furthering his aim of taking over the souls of Gaia... or something like that. Here's where the game honestly "lost me" at a basic comprehension level. There's a cycle of souls on every planet, and this cycle exists on Terra and Gaia. Somehow Garland plans on replacing the souls of Gaia with the souls of Terra. So Garland created Soulcage to turn the Gaian souls into a mist, and replace those souls with Terran souls, or this is what I think is the case. I mean… CAN SOMEONE HELP ME HERE? I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS!
Why does Garland need to control Gaia's cycle of souls? Isn't the cycle of souls on Terra the only cycle he should care about? How is putting the Terran souls in Gaia going to assist him in putting those souls in the Genomes? Why doesn't Garland just transfer the souls of the Terran people into the Genomes and then teleport the Genomes to Gaia? If the Terrans are in the Genome bodies, won't the blue light no longer hurt them? Why doesn’t Garland create clone bodies immune to being damaged by blue light and put the Terran souls in those? Why is Gaia so critical to Garland's plan? There are myriads of planets in the universe; so why not pick another one both uninhabited and doesn't have a light source fatal to the Terrans?
[At least Zidane seems to have regained his common sense.]
Beyond that, there’s the simple fact Garland has the technology for transferring souls and cloning people, but DOESN’T USE THIS TECHNOLOGY TO FIX TERRA! You honestly mean to tell me this technologically advanced society couldn’t just “science” their way out of a Malthusian Dilemma? Why not just put everyone into spaceships and explore potential planets to colonize? Why doesn’t any part of Garland’s plan make sense? WHY?
The game addresses none of these plot holes. Worse yet, it believes the panacea to the myriad of issues facing its story is MORE SCIENCE FICTION NONSENSE! This is as bad as you may expect.
Part 109: What The Fuck Is The Story Trying To Accomplish With Zidane?
It is at this point Zidane finally allows the vast amounts of story exposition grab hold of him. Or at least partially. He rebukes Quina, and when he catches up to Vivi, an optional ATE which shouldn't be, Zidane is forced to confront a frightening similarity he has with Vivi. He is a homunculus, created to serve the whims of a master he disagrees with. You would suspect Zidane would finally convey a sense of being emotionally torn asunder. Instead, he continues to roll out witticisms as he is forced to reckon with real pressing issues pertaining to his identity and personhood.
What the fuck is the game even attempting to accomplish with Zidane? He oscillates between two emotional states at the drop of a hat, and I do not understand what the reasoning is for this. Did the writers intend for Zidane to come across as falling into a madness? Did they wish for him to hold onto the base emotions that defined him as he is forced to confront a stark reality? Either way, it's shitty the game has Zidane act like an emotionally "broken" automaton in one scene, and a wise-cracking rogue in the next:
What the fuck is even happening? I get the literal aspects of the scenes at hand. Zidane is Garland's greatest "creation," and has an intended purpose to bring forth untold destruction onto Gaia. What I have to question is what any of this accomplishes. At least with Cloud he experiences a clear mental breakdown and requires a close compatriot to guide him to the truth of his personhood. Cloud's character arc isn't without its faults, but its intent is clear and ends up serving a primary theme in the story. What part to Zidane's character arc ties into a greater thematic in Final Fantasy IX? Some users used the thematic of "destiny" to justify the plot twist of Final Fantasy VIII, and I'm not tolerating that bullshit anymore!
The only of these new undertones I feel services the story is the theme of predestination and free will. This thematic was a defining characteristic of Vivi's storyline and provides the game with some of its greatest moments. With Zidane, the game ends up bludgeoning the audience with its simplicity. The writing behind Zidane is so brutally simple he's honestly painful to listen to. Likewise, Garland’s offer never comes across as a divisive point of contention for Zidane to mull over. Zidane’s choices are to follow his destiny and destroy everything he loves and holds dear, or not. There’s a severe lack of nuance to the dilemma Zidane faces, and this becomes especially clear when the game attempts to draw parallels between Zidane’s angst to Vivi’s.
Part 110: Strange Bedfellows And Other Nonsense
"BUT WHAT ABOUT KUJA?" some of you may ask as Final Fantasy IX maniacally cackles in the background. I'm glad you asked because the next exposition dump is about to address this matter! Were you prepared for the dramatic reveal of Kuja being a Genome, and essentially Zidane's brother? Of course you were, this was a foregone conclusion when we learned Kuja came from Terra hours ago. From there it was never a massive leap of logic to assume Kuja was a Genome as it was heavily implied earlier in the game he is a "pawn" of Garland.
Kuja's strong will is viewed by Garland to be his greatest "flaw," but Garland still endeavors to use him as a pawn to further his goal of transferring the souls on Terra to Gaia. Speaking of which, is Kuja onboard with transferring the Terran souls to Gaia, or is he fucking shit up in Gaia for fun? I don't entirely understand why Kuja is okay with furthering Garland's plan of spreading chaos on Gaia, but not okay with further the other aspects of Garland's plan. What was Kuja's original end-goal? Was he being evil for the sake of it, or did he have a master plan which was interrupted by Garland?
Garland then droned about the cycle of souls for a solid ten minutes and I couldn't deal with this game's bullshit anymore. I couldn't. Is Garland disrupting the souls of Gaia so he can replace them with the Terran souls? Why doesn't Garland find a different planet easier to transfer the Terran souls too? Why is this happening? Oh dear God why is this happening?
After being prompted by Zidane, Garland discloses Zidane's role in his master plan. Zidane is a "perfect" Genome with more power than Kuja. Kuja's response to all this was to drop Zidane on Gaia and hope to never see him again. That last part was an addition on my end because the game does a terrible job of justifying why Kuja drops Zidane on Gaia rather than killing him.
Let's move on to other pressing matters. Why did Garland wait until NOW to locate Zidane? If Garland knew Zidane was a critical component to his plan why didn't he actively search for him earlier? Better yet, why didn't Garland create a third Genome? Where the FUCK is Solidus Snake in this story? Why did all the characters cease behaving like logical people?
Part 111: OH GOD PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!
Now let's talk about the Iifa Tree because this is when the game shouts "FUCK ALL!" at the audience. The Iifia Tree is blocking Gaian souls and turning them into Mist. In their stead, the Iifia Tree is replacing these souls with Terran Souls. So here's my problem, where the fuck is Terra? How is Garland transporting these Terran souls to Gaia? Is he using a telescopic space bazooka?
I guess the whole point of Zidane is the fact at some point he was meant to replace Kuja. Despite leaving Zidane to interact and grow up with the people of Gaia, Garland assumes Zidane will always have this blood lust to destroy it. This worked out in Dragon Ball, so I guess it will work out for Final Fantasy IX.
Oddly enough, this is where the story wins me back. Zidane's frank rejection of Garland works. As he is left to stew about his destiny, the story refocuses its attention on providing character moments instead of science fiction plot-twists. To be honest, this may be the most emotionally taut line Zidane ever utters in the entire game:
The reason I welcome this comment from Zidane is that it comes across as an honest rebuke, rather than a misplaced comical wisecrack. Practically speaking, Zidane has more to lose by supporting Garland than he has to gain. Zidane is in love, and values his relationship with Garnet. As the audience, we understand this on account of the myriad of times we watched Zidane proactively pursue this relationship. Zidane’s interpersonal relationships also underscore this point. The friendships he has developed on Gaia have physically and emotionally changed him. It’s here where the game’s commentary on free will and predeterminism begins to “work.” We all have choices which play a role in our destiny. Having Zidane make the “correct” choice, and later Kuja make the "incorrect" choice, is a poignant and powerful message.
While the game’s science-fiction tropes bring nothing to the table to develop Zidane as a character, the idea of “choice” does. Having Zidane reaffirm his allegiances articulates his purpose and place in the story. You can feel and empathize with the emotion in Zidane’s words and thus become a willing participant in progressing his adventure. Having Zidane declare his intention to be a mass murderer NOT SO MUCH!
Does the game fail to realize the problem here is Garland and Kuja, and not the millions of Terrans who wish to resurrect their civilization? Why do we indiscriminately need to destroy Terra to protect Gaia from further harm? Remember the movie WALL-E? At what point did WALL-E torch the entire spaceship ferrying humanity because one artificial intelligence overstepped its parameters? My memory is suspect, but do any of you recall WALL-E using a chainsaw to decapitate the last remnants of humanity because of one “evil” robot tasked with protecting the human race?
Part 112: Everything Is Forgiven (i.e. The "You're Not Alone" Scene Is FUCKING AMAZING!)
I will be blunt with you right now.
- Point #1: The musical track "You're Not Alone" is
- Point #2: The scene in which this track is used almost justifies the mountains of science-fiction bullshit we had to wade through to witness it. I EMPHASIZE "ALMOST!"
I already mention the massive flaw of this scene. When you stop and think about it, ten minutes of angst, seemingly out of nowhere, is “messy” storytelling. For almost the entirety of our time at Terra, we watched Zidane learn about his progeny, and act relatively unfazed. Now we are expected to agree Zidane is emotionally torn between two worlds. We also are expected to accept that ten minutes of angst is enough to cause Zidane to wake from his depressive episode. Somewhere, Squall is scoffing at Zidane for being an “amateur.” BUT THE HELL WITH IT! The scene’s heart is in the right place so I’m willing to accept what it brings to the table! Even if what it brings to the table is nothing more than Taco Bell. It may be nutritionally deficient, but I’m still eating it with a smile!
Fucking somehow, through the mist and the madness, through Hell or high water, the game makes all its previous hoity–toity science fiction technobabble a side note. Here the game finally conveys an emotionally evocative message resonant to all people. You are in control of your destiny, and your friends and family are the clearest reminder you have of this. Being at a personal low-point in his life Zidane can only remember the negatives of his interactions with his interpersonal relationships.
The game finally characterizes Zidane in a manner complementary to what happens in the game. Depressed and dejected, Zidane declares himself to be "an empty vessel," and ignores his surroundings. The supporting cast members then have to jolt Zidane from his stupor and make him cognizant of the sacrifices they are willing to make for him.
Upon rejecting the initial efforts of his friends, Zidane finds himself in a series of battles against horrible monsters and requires his companions to bail him out. This is without a doubt the single greatest non-Vivi related scene in the game. After being a brotherly figure to so many of the supporting cast members; it is now time for Zidane to rely upon the help of others as he deals with an existential crisis. It is a wonderful inversion of his role since the game has already endeavored to depict Zidane as helping his party members through perilous situations. Additionally, the scene is a happy marriage between gameplay and story with each combat sequence seamlessly highlighting Zidane’s need for his garrulous troupe of friends.
How good is this scene? The game somehow makes Amarant, who has been the doyenne of mediocrity, a highlight!
This scene even conveys Steiner, an idiot I have been bereft of feeling an emotional connection to, as a stand-up guy! I'm not fucking joking, look at this amazing line of dialogue:
Despite continual reminders from his close friends, Zidane still feels empowered to reject the reality of his esteem. Then, as Zidane is forced to confront the most difficult foe he has faced yet, the person he values the most comes to his rescue.
Triaging the interactions Zidane has to culminate with an interplay with Garnet is once again the writers reminding us of their skills. The cast comes together once more to admonish Zidane of every accomplishment they have had with him. It is the emotional honesty and sincerity of the scene which touched me the most. It's so simple, yet evocative simultaneously. You understand why Zidane felt dejected in the first place and what his compatriots are attempting to communicate to him. Then, after Zidane recollects himself it's an accomplishment the supporting cast earns via their own hard work. After coming back to his senses Zidane gathers the party once more to remind them of their new purpose; they, as a team, must stop Garland from bringing further harm to Gaia.
Part 113: Another Justifiable Boss Rush And A Grand Final Premise
With the team ready to confront Garland and all which he represents, our team defiantly marches to Garland's inner sanctum... right after they navigate a platform puzzle.
This minor quibble aside, Final Fantasy IX crafts a complimentary scene to accompany Zidane's character moment. After Garland offers Zidane one final opportunity to join his side, Zidane unequivocally rejects Garland and sets into motion the game's climax. Our first confrontation involves a battle against Kuja's dragon, and this encounter is NO JOKE! Armed to the teeth with wind attacks, some of which can hit your entire party, the silver dragon could dispatch my company with relative ease. Upon my third or fourth confrontation with the silver dragon, Zidane entered Trance, and I used Grand Lethal to end my woes. This set into motion my final confrontation with Garland.
With Garland down for the count, Kuja arrives and uses the Invincible to weaken Garland further. After some taunting on Kuja's part, he approaches Garland and mocks the old man as he battles the party. After an extended tussle, it appears Kuja is KO-ed much like Garland. However, Kuja instead enters Trance and immediately levels the party in one fell swoop. The game's justification for Kuja finding this newfound power, he absorbed the Gaian souls aboard the Invincible, again frames Kuja as an unsalvageable menace. Kuja has already abused the lives of the Black Mages and now has wasted the souls of innocent civilians; he is beyond redeeming. Kuja openly mocking Garnet that he has consumed her biological mother's soul was a low blow I can fully support. It’s cheap, but goddamn does it get the job done. Moments like those again underscore Kuja being the villainous inversion of Zidane. The glee Kuja conveys in making the lives of others miserable is complementary to his flamboyant personality.
After punting him to his death, Garland pulls the rug from underneath Kuja. Garland reveals to Kuja that he designed him to have a limited lifespan and his time is about to reach its end. This is one of the most spectacular examples of a villain being "hoisted by his own petard." After providing the Black Mages with the empty promise of extending their lives; Kuja finds what he brazenly abused, time, used against him. It’s a wonderful callback and an example of the foreshadowing I called for earlier.
Frustrated he cannot be the ruler of both Terra and Gaia, Kuja attempts to extinguish all life as we know it. He decides immediately that if cannot live to see the climax of his power, then no one deserves to live. This serves as a stark reminder of how Vivi and Zidane faced a similar dilemma, Vivi, more so, but took the moral high ground. In facing the premature demise of his life, Vivi made the most of his time by doing the greatest amount of good he could. Kuja takes the selfish route and holds everyone responsible for his mortality. It is an anger we understand but are not meant to emphasize with.
This ends up providing the game with its final premise before its conclusion. Kuja is on a rampage to destroy everything we know and love. While Kuja has reached the "incorrect" conclusion to his dilemma, he has reached a conclusion you understand the logic to. I do not say this to suggest I feel sympathy for Kuja, but instead as a counterpoint to my previous groveling of Final Fantasy IX lacking a villain with a coherent raison d'etre. It is a tenuous and “cheap” reason for being, but it is at least a coherent one. I call this cheap for a reason. Kuja’s madness occurs suddenly and plays on base emotions rather than nuanced ones. Likewise, if this is what happens when the game pulls something from “its playbook,” then I don’t want to be right.
By having a clear antagonist in the game's eleventh hour Final Fantasy IX sets up stakes which we feel compelled to buy into. Kuja's torching of Terra highlights the dire situation Gaia faces if our heroes fail. As our party watches in awe as Kuja shatters the planet of Terra they embark to minimize the pain and suffering. We commandeer the Invincible and use it to transport the surviving Genomes to Gaia. As we leave Terra, it becomes apparent there is no turning back. Kuja must be stopped.
Part 114: 50/50 Storytelling Has Me Split Yet Again
Oh Final Fantasy IX, what am I to make of you? You are a slow lumbering beast who holds its punches until I least expect it. Once you unleash your flurry of blows, they prove to be devastating. Yet here I am left to once again question if I should recommend others play you. I am essentially “stuck” repeating the same soundbite over and over again.
I do not know how I honestly feel about this game.
After having subjected me to what was essentially the game's "drizzly shits," it simultaneously provided me with one of its most evocative scenes yet. I feel rather confident that many others would enjoy experiencing these moments, but am I to also wantonly condemn people to hours of frustration and insanity? This question continues to divide my opinion of this game. I am truly flummoxed.
Regardless, this was hopefully another entertaining and educational dive into Final Fantasy IX.Maybe next time we meet there will be less craziness involved.