Part 50: Honoring Tragedy With NOTHING!
At the conclusion of our last meeting, we witnessed the destruction of both the Burmecian and Cleyran civilizations. The horror was both visually striking and emotionally resonant. To depict the efforts of our party as being mostly in vain is a daring and respectable exercise on the part of Final Fantasy IX’s writing staff. What is less than commendable is how the succeeding scenes in the game play out. Just as the characters begin to grapple this senseless act of genocide the characters are on the deck of the Queen’s ship, and things play out like a Saturday morning cartoon. There they conveniently hide under a flight of stairs which allows them to overhear Beatrix openly question the decision making of the queen. Following this lead, our party ferrets their way to Queen Brahne who announces her intention to execute Garnet upon her return to Alexandria.
If you have not already noticed, I am a stickler for tonal consistency in the narratives that I end up experiencing. I’m the old school wrestling mark, or hard science fiction elitist, who demands a certain structure or format to whatever I watch or play. Now admittedly I am a hypocrite from time to time, but for the most part, I am relatively consistent about maintaining that perspective. If a narrative must subject me to an action set piece, I am not above judging it by the merits of its spectacle. After the destruction of Cleyra much of Final Fantasy IX comes across as a spectacle like a Christopher Nolan film. The set pieces and scenarios are beyond superficial, but once you “accept” the spectacle you are in for a visually stunning affair that will not cease to amaze you.
This is the case here. The story has provided its characters with a focus point, save the princess from the evil queen, and what ensues latter is a raucous time. That said, I cannot help but feel like there’s this unshakable sense of artificiality. The economy of action is poorly spaced out, and the characterization feels uneven. Worse yet, once we exit Alexandria the characterization for two of our party members ceases to exist entirely. This leaves us in the dark as to how or why their perspectives morph over the course of the story, and this would have been a welcomed addition to the game. The characters that we do have the honor of watching change suddenly, and oftentimes only do so for the sake of the plot. Take for example Beatrix, whose sworn duty is to protect Alexandria at all cost. Her secondary duty, to protect Princess Garnet, only becomes a factor when the game wants it to. After the queen announces her intent to execute the princess Beatrix stands idly by as if nothing happened. Flash forward to Alexandria, and it appears she has awakened from her stupor, and realizes that murdering Garnet is a bad thing to do. Doesn’t anyone notice this, because I feel like I’m taking crazy pills?
The action also plays out in the most generic and prototypical manner possible. The characters, which are among the most wanted in the kingdom of Alexandria, are somehow able to get within a hair's breadth of the evil queen, and somehow DON’T decide to storm the deck and try to kill her. SHE HAS BEEN RESPONSIBLE FOR ORDERING THE MASSACRE OF TWO CIVILIZATIONS! WHY ARE WE NOT KILLING HER TO PREVENT FURTHER WAR CRIMES?!?! And how the FUCK did they not get caught sneaking up behind the queen in the first place? What is this, a Looney Tunes cartoon? Oh, and it turns out that the airship we are in uses a teleportation system that can send us immediately back to Alexandria! Why do we see this technology in any part of this world ever again?
However, this is all nitpicking for entertainment purposes. My real issue regarding Final Fantasy IX at this point is its narrative and mechanical structure. This is going to be a point I hammer home for the rest of this blog, but the game’s structure is unequivocally soul crushing. For the most part, I am entirely open minded to everything Final Fantasy IX attempts regarding its narrative. It is how the game transitions to its various story set pieces which will be the death of me.
Part 51: Oh Great! It’s A Timed Mission!
Eventually, we find ourselves in Alexandria but this time in control of Steiner and Marcus. Because you cannot spell “WASTED MY GODDAMNED TIME” without “pointless minigame,” we have to break them from their prison by swinging the cage they are in too and fro. Does anyone want to challenge my notion that the tone of the second disc is totally inconsistent? In one minute we are witnessing thousands of people being massacred, and in the next, we are playing a minigame with Steiner and Marcus.
The game’s exercise in mediocrity continues after Steiner manages to re-connect with Zidane. Upon doing so Zidane explains the situation to a skeptical Steiner and announces Queen Brahne’s arrival in thirty minutes. Honestly, if there’s one thing that gets my blood pumping it’s a timed mission.
Narratively the conceit behind this timed mission is understandable… but I still don’t like it. The player is ultimately thrust into a relatively new location and is expected to piece together what to do next. Throw in a few battles here and there and this gripping moment quickly becomes an exercise of one’s patience. To further compound my frustrations the queen’s palace has a multitude of rooms with multiple levels. It is possible that you, the player, decide to explore all the levels of an entire ward of the palace only to discover you are no closer to furthering the story than when you first started. This exact scenario happened to me .
So what exactly does the game want you to do? Well, I’m glad you asked because the answer is a bunch of random bullshit! First off, the game wants you to go to Garnet’s personal quarters, which might I add you have never been to nor know how to get to. There you have to locate the fireplace which was hiding a secret passageway to a torture dungeon near Garnet’s bed. I’m not lying about that last line:
You know what? Let me get back to you on that one. I’m going to go back to my parents’ house, and check out my old room. While there I’m going to knock on all the walls and closets to see if they have been hiding any torture dungeons behind my back. This shouldn’t take too long….
NOPE! THERE WAS NO SECRET TORTURE DUNGEON! SO I’M CALLING BULLSHIT ON THIS ENTIRE SCENARIO!
Part 52: Being By The Numbers, But With Charisma
After you reach the bowels of the torture dungeon the party immediately crosses paths with the doyennes of mediocrity, Zorn and Thorn. After the party dispatches Final Fantasy IX’s favorite B-tier villains the cast has a touching aside with Steiner. While there Steiner expresses total culpability for failing to properly protect Garnet, and the remaining cast members assure him that this is not the case. Zidane of all people refuses to chastise Steiner, and it is one of the better moments the two have. It is worth acknowledging that Steiner has treated Zidane with nothing but contempt for the entire game, and for Zidane to take the “high road” he is showing a great deal of maturity and character. You could even argue Steiner’s over emotional pleas and bellyaching are finally justified given the circumstances. It took the game twenty hours, but it has finally found a way to tie the character traits of the cast into the story without coming across as heavy-handed or pandering.
Now there is one issue I want to bring up before moving on. Beatrix’s “face turn” does not work for me even at a superficial level. First, Beatrix’s characterization is seriously lacking, but the game still adds her to the party anyways. Lacking any form of substantive context Beatrix’s turn comes across as an event for the convenience of the plot. Time and time again Beatrix firmly established her unabashed loyalty to the country of Alexandria. So why is she only now ceasing to abide by such two-dimensional moralities? The queen declared her intent to execute Garnet on the airship, so why is Beatrix only now piecing together that the queen might be a wee bit insane? On a more fundamental level, I find Beatrix’s inclusion to the main cast to be beyond problematic. I say this on account of Beatrix being guilty of multiple counts of war crimes. Lacking any proper redress it appears as if the game wants the player to completely forget the destruction of Cleyra for the sake of Beatrix and Steiner “hooking up.”
For goodness' sake, the first direct interaction Zidane has with Beatrix involves her boasting having killed thousands of soldiers with her own hands. Whether you believe Beatrix is “interesting” in how she will relate to Steiner is one thing, but you cannot look back on what we witnessed at Burmecia and tell me her hands are clean. I understand during times of war everyone loses a bit of their humanity, but that’s an excuse and nothing more. At no point do we witness Beatrix in turmoil over her conduct at Burmecia and Cleyra, and what little turmoil we do see is far from sufficient. It is as if the scope of those scenes is being applied selectively, and in turn weakens the message and impact of those scenes. Lacking any ethos, Beatrix’s inclusion is simply irresponsible on the part of the writing.
This quibble aside the breezy storytelling is what manages to motivate me to continue playing Final Fantasy IX. All my points prevent the storytelling from being entirely successful, but it is far from being crippled beyond repair. The race to transport Garnet out of Alexandria is another example of the game providing an interesting “spectacle” that works once you turn off the logic centers of your brain. There’s also a true sense of stakes as you attempt to accomplish your mission swiftly, and it bears mentioning how this is done so without the inclusion of a timer. Steiner's decision to remain at Alexandria and the succeeding scenes feel far more impactful than their actual mechanical execution. When you stop and think about it, the return to Treno is mechanically ho-hum, but it is the pacing and storytelling that elevates the scene beyond its superficial patchwork.
Part 53: Who Thought It Was A Good Idea To Put A “Tutorial Level” On Disc Two?
Now let’s talk about that superficial patchwork because the next two set pieces are a ! Admittedly, the narrative starts off on a good note. Zidane appears to finally engage in a screed with Garnet without being the sexist ass that he normally is. Indeed, I would argue a vast majority of Zidane’s dialogue, before the party reaches Pinnacle Rock that is, depicts the level of humanity and maturity that I have been begging the game to provide his character.
Then Final Fantasy IX realizes it is a video game. The problem here is the “video game” portions for the next four to five hours are unbelievably contrived. The most notable example of this is Pinnacle Rock, which happens to be Final Fantasy IX’s tutorial level for its summoning system. Here we are cursed with mountains of expositional text which does NOTHING to progress the story. At Pinnacle Rock our party is graced by the mystical Ramuh who wishes for the party to prove their mettle before he joins them. What the game subjects you to next is a glorified version of hide-and-seek. That is honestly what happened… this is what my life has come to.
You mean to honestly tell me there was no alternative way to convey this information to the audience? Running around in circles, trying to find this random bozo, is the best way to introduce the summoning system? Am I to assume the developers were ignorant of better alternatives to this inane bullshit? Otherwise, we can only assume that the developers got lazy and threw in this slapdash bullshit mission because they did not give a fuck. I do not know which is worse. That the developers suddenly became incompetent, or they gave zero fucks about entertaining their audience. You tell me!
Every encounter you have with Ramuh results in the game subjecting you to pages of expositional text that convey an Aesopian parable. This is when I became especially cross with Final Fantasy IX. Here we have a game that utilizes a novel system that subjects the audience to fully animated cut scenes where we can discover whatever the Hell the secondary cast had for dinner. Be that as it may, the moment the game wishes to afflict me with a legend or parable it decides to have me read pages from a book.
It bears mentioning how nostalgic Final Fantasy fans get more out of Pinnacle Rock than a naive bum like myself. The parable happens to be a recollection of the events of Final Fantasy II. Either that makes this whole scene pleasurable “fan service,” or it continues being excruciating filler, and I think you all know where I stand. What if instead of shamelessly referencing events from a previous game in the Final Fantasy franchise Ramuh asked us to recall a famous tale or parable from the world of Final Fantasy IX? This tale would be a story practically unavoidable in the game, and our ability to recall it surely guaranteed. This would reward the player having paid attention to the story, and incentives them to continue doing so.
As I always say, it’s not all doom and gloom in the world of Final Fantasy IX. There is a brief interjection where we are transported back to Alexandria, and learn the queen has employed a couple of mercenaries to track and defeat our party. This scene further establishes how the queen is becoming more entrenched into her madness. However, once again I have to question to what end. Is it greed, or an insatiable desire for worldly riches? Is the queen afflicted with a dire sense of paranoia? The audience is still unsure, but that notwithstanding praise should be directed to the game for taking the time to foreshadow events in a clear and cohesive manner.
Part 54: Amazingly Poignant But Superficial Destruction
I understand this title may incense some of my readers, but hear me out before leveling your inflammatory rebukes. From a purely functionalist perspective, the destruction of Lindblum works. From a literary and holistic perspective, the scene works in the grand scheme of things but is lacking in one major regard. Both estimates are correct, and in my book are “non-overlapping magisteria.”
First and foremost, walking through the ruined streets of Lindblum is without a doubt one of the game’s most powerful and poignant moments. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again; the fact that Final Fantasy IX takes the time to depict brazen acts of total war, and what the repercussions of those acts of total war are, is beyond commendable. So often in video games we witness bombs being dropped without any regard as to whom the recipient of that payload may be. Final Fantasy IX takes the time to depict the sheer depravity of war, and most importantly, does so with a gray sense of morals. Your initial interaction with the citizenry of Lindblum results in Zidane trying to discourage the citizens from caving in the skull of a black mage. Are the citizens wrong in wanting to destroy the source of their hardship? Is Zidane wrong in saying that destroying this Black Mage will solve nothing? The game poses moral quandaries such as this for the audience to mull over without subjecting them to an arbitrary dialogue tree.
Lindblum was the most “alive” location in the entire game, and all its NPCs felt like they were more than your standard pointless dialogue repositories. To see many of these NPCs missing or maimed further highlighted the tragedy that Lindblum had been subjected to. Walking through the ruins was honestly one of the few times when I felt genuinely motivated to interact with every possible NPC in the environment. As a result of doing so, my heart skipped a beat for every interaction I had. It is the small touches here and there that add to the poignancy of the set piece. On one occasion I happened to encounter an elderly woman, and lo and behold, this was the result of the interaction:
This shows how the writing behind Final Fantasy IX has an attention to detail. All the game’s worlds and characters morph over the course of time and play some role in furthering the story. Unlike most video games, once Final Fantasy IX’s story is “done” with a location it does not remain in stasis and stuck in an uncanny purgatory. Continents and cities can be revisited and you are all but assured your second visits will reveal changed and warped landscapes alien from the autochthonous one. There’s a clear sense of scale as your adventure in the game unfurls, and it is a journey that draws more than the immediate cast into its tendrils. So when I decided to revisit the synthesis shop only to discover the master of the shop was gone, and the shop’s kiln has dimmed, I was shocked. Moments like these work wonders for the narrative and to be honest are far better than anything attempted with 70% of the cast.
All the same, I cannot help but comment on how “empty” all this death and destruction comes across as. Without a clear sense as to why the queen feels motivated to take over Lindblum the leveling of the city ultimately feels like a moment that exists for the sake of it. Final Fantasy IX certainly takes the time to elevate the brazen razing of Lindblum from complete superficiality, but there is no denying the game’s proverbial “elephant in the room.” Lacking a clear villain with a cohesive purpose means everything we witness the villain doing is done so in service of establishing that they are evil and nothing more. Queen Brahne is no better than the mustache twirling villains that your middle school English teacher implored you to avoid writing in your quarterly unit on creative writing.
Given how masterful the rest of the narrative is it is downright baffling how underdeveloped Final Fantasy IX’s initial antagonist is. When you stop and think about it Final Fantasy IX’s narrative is built upon a shoddy and haphazard scaffold. For all intents and purposes, it has yet to collapse, but that doesn’t mean it is spectacularly built in the first place. But you understand what the game is trying to build, and if it pulls it off it would be a video game “World Wonder.” Essentially have to trust the game it will indeed honor your time and patience.
Part 55: Fossil Roo Is The Worst
Someone at Square Enix needs to be punched in the face for allowing this entire sequence to be included in Final Fantasy IX. What makes this whole affair especially disappointing is how marvelous the narrative scaffold is leading up to Fossil Roo. The game manages to foreshadow an impending invasion by Alexandria against an unknown force; frame Garnet as emotionally compromised after witnessing the destruction committed by her kingdom; and Zidane as a sensitive but still chivalrous lad. As you can hopefully see, everything related to the narrative works, but it is the gameplay that seriously drops the ball.
A truly praiseworthy aspect of Final Fantasy IX is its use of relationships in favor of romances. The barbs and dialogue Zidane and Garnet trade as they mosey on out of Lindblum are among the best the game has provided yet. Zidane clearly has a sense of romantic infatuation towards Garnet, but this is not spelled out to the audience in a painfully obvious manner. Instead, the two characters talk as allies with a common goal without an ounce of malice or cynicism. It’s almost as if the writers understood how romances start in the first place.
Clearly, the developers understand how to create believable characters and experiences. What I am less confident about is their ability to design compelling gameplay. This segue leads us to Fossil Roo! Now why the developers felt the need to include a switch puzzle dungeon is beyond my comprehension. Rest assured, the shit storm torment we are about to subject ourselves to is a slow moving disaster. First, we are forced to re-add the BLIGHT known as Quina to our party, and Quina’s tone ruining nature is in full effect.
At the dungeon, we are immediately thrust into a battle with Apollo’s purple space chariot. I… I have no words.
Remember the asshole robot spider from the Dollet invasion scene from Final Fantasy VIII? That’s exactly what we are dealing with here. Your party is meant to run away from Apollo’s evil chariot of death rather than defeating it outright. Littered on your path are a ton of environmental hazards which can quickly impede your progress and force you into a confrontation with the purple space chariot. Okay… that’s less than “great,” but at least the confrontation is quickly alleviated once you reach a certain point. It’s not like the game subjects you to another boss battle immediately after this bullshit. Wait a minute….
So with our BULLSHIT LEVELS at an all-time high, we make our way to the proper Fossil Roo dungeon… and this is where Final Fantasy IX broke my “spirit.” At Fossil Roo you are afflicted with one of the most asinine switch puzzles in video game history. To add insult to injury the random encounters at Fossil Roo pop-off at an all time high, and feature a plethora of groan-inducing baddies. That latter point is one of my least favorite aspects of this entire experience. Normally when the game subjects you to an environmental puzzle the random encounters are disabled or at least minimized. Here the random encounter rate seems to dole out every four or five steps.
Then there’s the actual puzzle! After reaching the bowels of Fossil Roo you discover the Gargan transportation system in disarray. Gargans seem afraid of water and using switches that control streams of water allow you to progress to the next location. My issue here stems from the game’s insufficient direction. Do you have any idea if you are getting closer or further away from your intended direction? NOPE! Do the miners at Fossil Roo provide any form of helpful guidance? NOPE! Is there a clear and explicit map to assist you in your journey?
Why do puzzles in JRPGs have to be the shits? I MEAN THE ABSOLUTE SHITS! There’s nothing to parse out from the environment, no foreign language to translate, and no logic to draw from previous scenes. Once again a Final Fantasy game is stricken with an environmental puzzle best solved using brute force.
The monotony of this musical track drove me insane. It is almost as if the track is taunting me. As the melody circles and continues its guttural grunts it’s almost as if the game is chanting “you’re stuck, you’re stuck, you’re fucking stuck!” When you finally do manage to slog your way to the end it feels like an honest to goodness accomplishment, but one where you do not feel better having done so.
Part 56: Conde Petie Is Beyond Problematic
After subjecting yourself to Fossil Roo it is time to enjoy the moribund mediocrity that is Conde Petie. As a transitional set piece for the excellent story revelations related to Vivi, Conde Petie is passable. The issue with Conde Petie is well… everything else. The tone, characters, and narrative additions that the location provides are just terrible. The dwarves and their comical soliloquies are just a bizarre juxtaposition from the poignancy of Zidane and Garnet’s previous asides. To make matters worse the writers decided to regress every bit of character development regarding Zidane in favor of having him return to his objectionable sexism. Every one of Zidane’s interactions with Garnet at Conde Petie felt like a grotesque flip-flop from what he had conveyed earlier. Now, why is that you may ask? Why that is because the writers decided the game needed a comical set piece out of nowhere.
There’s also something objectively reprehensible about using an accent to depict a technologically and socially inferior society. The dwarves all speak in a pseudo-Scottish accent, and this accent is used to imply an inherent inferiority between them and the “normal” civilizations we have seen earlier. Why does the game decide to use this accent in the first place? Because whoever translated this game thought that Scottish accents equal humor! Not only that but the translation of the dwarves’ dialogue is simply atrocious. The translation feels as if it was created by someone who watched fifteen minutes of Trainspotting and used that as a reference guide for an entire scene.
If there’s something about Final Fantasy IX that I am becoming tired of it’s the game’s tendency to thrust the player into a new environment, and expecting the player to piece together what they need to do next. Yes, the ATEs are used to foreshadow and hint at what the players’ intended duties are, but these goals are expressed in the most tenuous manner possible. Like so many locations before it, after we enter the gates of Conde Petie the player navigates the byzantine streets of the new location in hopes of tracking down your accompanying party members. All I would like to question is if this is the best course of action for the game.
The game has employed this exact structure a dozen times. It’s the game design equivalent of the “path of least resistance,” but it sure does not lend itself to the most exciting introductions of new locals. Placing the burden of discovering the worth of any new location on the player is something I personally view as poor game design. It is very much possible that interesting tidbits about the world I am interacting with can be missed. Final Fantasy IX provides its player with no notification of this possibility, nor does it front load the possibility of revisiting previous locations to its audience. Did any of you know that you could visit the town of Dali in between the game’s story moments to view it undergoing different phases of economic booms and busts? For a game that clearly values worldbuilding, it concealing entire bits of worldbuilding from its audience seems entirely counter-intuitive.
But whatever, at least everything related to Vivi is good. At Conde Petie, Vivi encounters a Black Mage interacting with one of the Dwarves without any hostility from either side. Wishing to explore the situation further, Vivi chases after the black mage only to watch it scamper from the city before he can inquire it further. Because the game has already done a wonderful job in building my sympathy towards Vivi I am willing to assist him in his “side-quest.” It’s almost as if the game recognized that assisting Vivi would come across as only being tangentially related to the main plot, so the writers endeavored to create a compelling story to motivate the player to feel it was worth their time. It’s as if the magic of storytelling is in full force!
Part 57: Everything That Occurs In The Black Mage Village Is Fantastic
As I hope I have made entirely clear, I see the value of every section in Disc Two. Well, except for Fossil Roo but that level can go fuck itself. My qualms stem from how the game bridges the gap with its mechanics between all these set pieces. All the game’s interesting story moments are patched together either using benign fetch quests, or unmeritorious puzzles. Considering the compelling nature of the main story, and equally interesting character arcs, I have to believe the men and women behind this game were capable of something greater.
I say this with a great deal of confidence given the rather excellent time you have at the Black Mage Village. Certainly, I could bellyache about the long and convoluted process to reach the village, but as long as the ultimate payoff is worth it then I’m willing to wade through whatever bullcrap the game levies my way. Here, the story manages to weave a compelling tale about the fragility of life and the importance of making the most of your time. Better yet, the game wraps this revelation around the most sympathetic character in the entire game, Vivi, which ends up heightening the emotional impact.
As we enter the infantile Black Mage Village, where the buildings are shaped in the form of various faces and living creatures, Vivi can interact with other members of his “race.” We discover the village is populated by black mage drones which broke free of Kuja’s spell. Lacking any exposure to society, beyond the destruction they have inflicted on the outer world, the black mages are of a third or fourth-grade intellect. This character trope dangerously errs towards the fallacious “noble savage” archetype, but lo and behold, the game makes it work. The Black Mage Village ends up being a scaffold towards more mature and adult narrative themes. I say this because the first scene we witness with Vivi involves him interacting with the village leader at the Black Mage cemetery. There the game ends up sinking its narrative fangs into your precious heartstrings.
The Black Mage Village even justifies Garnet’s normal “fish out of water” character arc as she attempts to convince the villagers that she comes to their village with no intent of harm or malice. The extreme skepticism of the black mages is entirely understandable, and Garnet’s emotional pleas feel honest. For all intents and purposes, the game provides a location where the characters can shine beyond their intrinsic tropes. I would argue all the characters, besides Quina, shine at the Black Mage Village. When Final Fantasy IX’s moral compass finally calibrates itself and makes itself nakedly transparent to the audience the game’s superficial mechanics become a secondary and forgettable issue. That, if anything else, is beyond commendable.
Part 58: What The Fuck… Zidane Becomes An Interesting Character
Exhausted, our party decides to retire for the night. After commandeering a bunk bed Zidane and Garnet have what I can only describe to be their best character moment thus far. Once again, Final Fantasy IX’s character moments are best when attempting to build relationships, rather than romances, as this aside comes across as an emotional appeal without a carnal subtext. As such, it successfully builds our sympathy towards both Zidane and Garnet.
As our duo slowly descends into a slumber Zidane imparts a parable of a child attempting to find his home, and it is clear to the audience the child in the story is himself. That notwithstanding, the tale Zidane weaves is the most fascinating his character has been since we first crossed paths with him on the Prima Vista. As Zidane imparts his life experiences he exposes his vulnerabilities to both the audience and Garnet. In doing so we learn of Zidane’s life as an orphan, and failure to learn about who or what he is. The entire scene does a fantastic job of reframing him as a human.
This provides the audience with context as to Zidane’s earlier swashbuckler behavior. Lacking any normal moral compass, Zidane was effectively raised by the abusive and intolerant Baku. Skeptical of my accusation that Baku was an abusive father and Zidane in effect was an abuse victim? Well, I think the game spells things out to the audience in a tasteful and proper manner:
I’m a sucker for a story providing a moral backbone or context to its characters. It’s a damn shame the succeeding scene after this DOES NOTHING TO BUILD UPON THIS! The touching moment here is immediately complimented with Zidane devolving back to his unwanted sexual advances on Garnet. Rather than building upon Zidane having this innate desire to learn more about himself; he instead goes back to teasing and harassing Garnet. What happened to his humanity? Where’s his sympathetic characterization? Was this entire scene developed in isolation from the rest of the story? Will the “REAL” Zidane please stand up?
Part 59: Vivi Is The Greatest Character In The Entire Game
I have nothing to directly chastise Vivi with. Vivi is after all Final Fantasy IX’s greatest vicarious vessel into the game’s multifaceted and livable world. Vivi’s troubles are a believable worry that all of us will be forced to confront at some point in our lives, we just end up confronting our mortality at different times. In the schema of Final Fantasy IX Vivi ends up becoming the game’s jumping point to its more mature and heavier themes.
After Garnet and Zidane have their moment together we transition back to Vivi next to the Black Mage leader. There the leader reveals how the average lifespan of their race is approximately a year. Vivi, in turn, connects the dots and can deduce his time is far less than that. What ensues next is Final Fantasy IX’s most poignant moment yet. Dazed by the information he has been presented with Vivi asks the village leader how he feels, and his confusion ends up coming across as the most “human” I have ever seen a video game character act.
The game manages to take these automatons, which lack many of the characteristics we associate with normal human beings and makes them the most “real” characters in the entire game. Vivi is forced to recognize his limited lifespan but manages to confront his mortality with grace and respectability. This will provide a direct contrast to another character who ends up confronting his mortality but does so incorrectly. The scene has gravitas, but it also ends up underscoring why Vivi needs to be a part of this journey. As the cold abyss of death eventually consumes him, Vivi remains as alive as he could hope to be while on this journey. More importantly, Vivi is a force for the greatest possible good he could ever hope for. If you knew your time was seriously limited, wouldn’t you wish to commit yourself to the greatest amount of good before your passing? I hope we would answer that question with an unequivocal “yes.”
Life is such a fragile thing, and Final Fantasy IX is as respectful about that fragility anyone could hope the game to be. I know being emotionally attached to Vivi will only lead to heartbreak. This anguish is something tangible and real. However, it is from this anguish that I myself feel a greater appreciation for my own humanity, and the social network I have surrounded myself around. It’s baffling to admit this, but Final Fantasy IX is a game that resulted in me stopping and thinking about my own legacy and place in the world. As inane as that may come across, and I know this is meant to be a blog for entertainment purposes, but few games cause me to do this. It is just another highlight of how special Final Fantasy IX can be when it fully commits to its own humanity rather than its sillier aspects.
Part 60: Returning To Conde Petie, And Wishing To Set Zidane On Fire
So we just subjected ourselves to an emotional plea on the part of the game to make the most out our limited time. What could the game possibly do to complement such narrative poignancy? Why how about some sexist bullshit! I WISH I WAS FUCKING KIDDING YOU!
Okay… so let’s break down the literal aspects of our return to Conde Petie before I blow an emotional gasket. Eventually the party recollects itself and we discover our next location is the mysterious “Sanctuary.” After inquiring the local denizens of Conde Petie we discover the Sanctuary can only be accessed by those wedded to a companion. What ensues next is the most objectively terrible moment in the entire game.
I am willing to accept Garnet and Zidane needing to undergo a ceremony that betrothed each other into a superficial marriage. What I am NOT willing to accept are the snide ass barbs Zidane directs at Garnet throughout the wedding scene. Shit like this, IS NOT OKAY:
Or how about bullshit like THIS:
Good GOD! I feel like my lungs are collapsing. I feel as if I have aged twenty-five years just from reviewing these screencaps all over again. I’m honestly contemplating setting the world on fire because of stuff like this:
Who fucking allowed this to happen? Who thought this was a good idea? How do we go from confronting our mortality, to having wacky romantic adventures with Garnet and Zidane? Can we also talk about how culturally dismissive the characters are regarding the religious practices of the dwarves? Here they are, having created this marriage ceremony that does not discriminate on race or sexual orientation, and all the characters just dismiss it as an end to justify a mean. There’s no introspection; instead, it is the objectification of a culture for comedic purposes. Did I also mention how for the next hour we have to essentially listen to Zidane talk about Garnet as if she is an object he now controls?
Can I just declare this to be a complete waste of my time and move on? Can I also mention how we are on this quest to stop a maniacal queen, but here we are getting married? Can I highlight that while this wedding scene plays out Final Fantasy IX still has “gaps” in its fossil record? Can I ask if my anaphora is articulating my point? Despite the game doing its utmost to establish Queen Brahne as the current villain, we still lack any clear understanding why she’s doing all this global conquest. No seriously, why is anything in this game happening? Why aren’t there any ATEs set in Alexandria? What the fuck is happening to Steiner, Freya, and Beatrix?
Part 61: Someone Please Save Me From This Torment!
Fuck… I don’t even know where to start. I want any of you who like this game to honestly justify these abrupt thematic shifts. I can’t, but simultaneously, I am entirely powerless to outright declare this game a total failure. This game is a mess, but it is an emotionally taut and beautiful mess. I have slowly reached the conclusion that I love half of Final Fantasy IX, but despise the other half. So, in the end, what am I to make of this game?
Every step of the way, and for every minute I sink into Final Fantasy IX, it does something to draw me back. Either a location draws me into its tragedy, or the characters depict a level of humanity few games are willing to endeavor to depict. Then as I finally start to get cozy with the game it immediately compliments my goodwill with a depraved act of pure idiocy. These transitions are the true affliction facing the game, not the small nitpicking that I am innervated to do. There’s no structure or logic to its format other than to patch together a series of compelling scenes and characters. These characters and their moments deserve more than switch puzzles, abhorrent sexism, and comical joshing about. They all deserve a platform to assert a pathos, logos, and ethos which would highlight the multi-ethnic and livable world the game so earnestly wishes to impart on the audience.
In the end, the world and characters of Final Fantasy IX deserve so much more than what is provided in the game. However, as I say this I know the characters will stand above their superficial backdrop. If there is one thing I have to honestly concede it is the characters have become better. They have begun to metamorphosed, and some are even adults despite their appearances. At least the cast is not afflicted with a child character whose drivel adds in more inanity than you could shake a stick at.