Part 62: Eiko Could Have Been A Contender
NO! JUST NO! YOU CAN’T... NO! BAD GAME! NO! NOOOOOOO! OH GOD, PLEASE SAVE MY SOUL!
Now let me tell you how I feel. When you stop and think about it, the intermediate act of disc two marks the beginning of Final Fantasy IX’s “middle chapter.” I’m not going to play the role of the backseat writer and exclaim the game requires the prototypical “dark middle chapter.” Nonetheless, the game’s oscillations regarding its tone are just gut wrenching. The game already provided the audience with a “breather” set piece in the form of the wedding sequence at Conde Petie. So why in the world are we being subjected to three hours of Eiko swooning over Zidane, and her unleashing a bullshit love-triangle against Garnet?
Now let’s review all the reasons why Eiko does not “work” for me. Rest assured it’s not all “doom and gloom” over at Grandpa ZombiePie’s front yard. First and foremost, Eiko is a child whose age and design are purposeful for numerous reasons. The inherent tragedy of her being the “last of her kind,” while laughably generic, underscores her need to maintain a bubbly personality. Then we need to simultaneously concede Eiko’s age, and as the game clearly stipulates to the player, Eiko is six years old.
Earlier I mentioned there is an “inherent tragedy” associated to Eiko, and here is where things begin to fall apart for me. Eiko is the last of her race, and the ruins she surrounds herself with further underscores this tragedy. The premise behind Eiko is compelling in and of itself, but it is the packaging that repulsed me. Eiko is what a JRPG character would look like if you had James Cameron or DreamWorks Animation design them. Eiko is just an easy, literary “low-hanging fruit,” meant to pull at your heartstrings. She is the clearest example of a game trying to build sympathy for the audience by using a naive child I have ever seen. Do you want to know what would have been more daring or novel? What if they game provided a character visually repulsive and the game inverted our expectations with how the character interacted with the gang over the course of time? In this scenario, we slowly come to an understanding of the character’s lot in life and they feel “authentic.” Through due diligence and hard work the character must engage a bias or stereotype inherent to the narrative. As you warm to the character, so too do the other party members.
Eiko isn’t forced to confront anything. All she needs to do is curtsy and smile, and then you immediately become receptive to her present circumstances. Oh, and by the way, it appears Zidane is continuing to talk to Garnet like an object he possesses. I’m so “glad” this development from the Conde Petie wedding scene is continuing in the game. Well then… I guess I’ll just wonder loudly to myself if Zidane ever gets punched in the face.
Part 63: Can We Just Ban All Children In Video Games?
I do wish to highlight a handful of positive points concerning Eiko. First, and foremost, once the game is done with its inane bullshitery the story swoops in to rescue the player from their stupor. Yet again Final Fantasy IX stands on the laurels of its characters in a way that builds our sympathy for every cast member. Eiko’s loneliness also wonderfully ties her to the other party members. You have Vivi, who like Eiko, was adopted by another race and grew up in isolation from the outside world. You could even draw a parallel between Eiko and Zidane as both characters wish to understand more about their origins. This is a wonderful way to tie a new addition to our pre-existing party members so as to feel motivated to accept them. Despite our time with Eiko being limited, we already have a clear understanding why she’s a member of our bevy of intrepid explorers.
Consequently, it is officially time for me to begin my griping. First, Eiko is six years old. Stop and think about that. No honest… I want you to think about that fact for a bit. Eiko is six years old and is prepared to join our adventure to stop an evil David Bowie space wizard. Also, somehow Eiko speaks about her upbringing with near perfect clarity. Not only does she recall the slow death of her race, but she simultaneously can recall the death of her grandfather. So how old was she when that happened, three or four? I don’t know about you, but I sure as fuck only remember one or two things from when I used to be five. However, I’m not using these nit pickings as a total indictment against Eiko. That said, these small things showcase how tenuous Eiko’s character scaffold is.
In the end, Eiko is a Disney character among bigger fish. After inverting the brash Zidane, and properly showcasing Vivi’s humanity; it’s almost as if the game is done with being ambitious. After closely examining Eiko’s design I cannot help but notice how “easy” of a character she is. It is as if Square used their Quality Assurance department to set Eiko’s “Sympathy Levels” at an all-time high. Eiko has large eyes to suggest she is an impressionable youth wishing seek out new life experiences. The bright colors of her clothing are meant to encourage the audience to accept her with open arms. The horn on Eiko’s forehead provides her with any “animal element,” and on top of that, she’s wearing angel wings. So now Eiko’s design symbolically conveys her childlike whimsy. Also, EIKO WAS RAISE BY FUCKING MOOGLES! How can you honestly root against someone raised by Moogles? Then you tack on a “love triangle,” and essentially you have a “creature” that fills its storytelling purposes perfectly. While I can respect this workmanlike storytelling, this just induces a big “yawn” from me.
It is also worth recognizing how expedited and “convenient” Eiko’s back story is. In the brief six years Eio has been on her planet she has managed to live through the death of her grandfather, become the last of her race, and live in complete social isolation from anything NOT a Moogle. Vivi, Garnet, and even Zidane convey a clear sense of introspection over the course of years. Their character arcs are earned after years of avoiding their sometimes painful destiny. Eiko “earns” her release from isolation by just being at the right place and time. Did the writers grasp how illogical this seems? God, I hope so. Did they care? NOPE! Eiko isn’t about creating a character who makes logical sense. Eiko is here to provide another base appeal to your senses so as to provide the game with extra sentimentality. Disney figured this shit out decades ago, and this has been a template that everyone in mass media storytelling has employed… ever.
In the end, Eiko comes across as less a character and more of an artifice. Sure what is eventually attempted with her character is interesting in the grand scheme of things, but this is to be anticipated. After the dust from the Black Mage Village has properly settled I cannot help but feel this is just small potatoes. Eiko is here to bide my time before the real shit starts to pop off.
Part 64: On The Road Again To Hot Bullshit
After faffing about with Eiko, our motley crew ends up adding her to the troupe as she leads us to her home. On our way, we end up seeing the enormous and imposing Iifia Tree. The set-up to the Iifia Tree is spectacularly done. There’s a brief sweeping shot of Final Fantasy IX’s most breathtaking topiary, and this transitions well to Zidane’s own befuddlement with the tremendous natural monument. How this is meant to justify the game immediately transitioning the player to a boss battle against the Jolly Green Giant is beyond me.
This is yet another example of the game becoming cognizant of its insufficient gameplay in the most baseline manner possible. There is no narrative connection between what we have witnessed in the preceding scenes to this exact boss battle. This boss battle is here because the designers wanted it to, and there’s nothing I can do about it. So if the game designers don’t give a shit about this juxtaposition, then why should I? Don’t you love it when a game encourages you to give zero fucks?
Once our tussle with the Jolly Green Giant is over we finally arrive at Eiko’s “home.” I say “home” in quotations given she lives in the ruins of a recently destroyed town completely infested with Moogles. Despite every Moogle looking the same Eiko can tell each of them apart by listing their names with perfect accuracy. In the game, Eiko isn’t the only person able to accomplish this monumental feat. Every person in the world of Final Fantasy IX seems able to do this. Seriously, how do the people in Final Fantasy IX tell the difference between the Moogles? Do the Moogles have accents or different voices? Are there small physical differences between the Moogles I haven’t noticed? Am I going insane? Oh and somehow Eiko has a specific Moogle she has grown especially attached to. This Moogle is named, and I shit you not, “Moogle.” Let’s just say Eiko isn’t exactly the most creative mind in the world of Final Fantasy IX. Moogle also has the magical ability to fit into Eiko’s shirt pocket, and I thoroughly enjoyed how Zidane found this act of wizardry outrageous:
It is at this point the story decides to thrust Eiko into a “love triangle.” This was simply the worst. THE… WORST! Comparable to my criticisms of Final Fantasy IX’s previous missteps, I understand what the storytelling is attempting to accomplish here. It’s just the execution falls completely on its face. Moments such as Eiko swooning over Zidane, or immediately butting heads with Garnet are meant to highlight her childlike naivety, while simultaneously underscoring her abject loneliness. As a young impressionable child, Eiko is seeking social interaction with people who look like her, and it goes without saying her behavior is no different from any six-year-old. As someone in the teaching profession, I can attest to children having this innate desire to seek out social interactions and interpersonal relationships at every opportunity they can. The game even suggests in another scene that Eiko taught herself of the social customs of the outside world from romance books and plays. This is the in-game justification her social awkwardness, as well as her blunt attitude.
I say all this to accentuate how the “concept” inherent to Eiko is sound. What I simply object to is the presentation of this concept. The game conveys Eiko’s introduction with the broadest and most painfully heavy-handed strokes you will ever witness in Final Fantasy IX. While it is praiseworthy of the game’s thoroughness to depict Eiko’s social awkwardness as ignorance rather than malice; it’s still tough to stomach through. Where are the moral grays of Vivi, or the slow character development of Garnet?
Part 65: The Game Wastes MY GODDAMNED TIME ON MAKING DINNER!
Before commencing my moaning and groaning about the inanity of Eiko’s cooking, it is worth mentioning how I enjoyed everyone else’s character acts at Madain Sari. Vivi uses the party’s momentary respite to once again question his mortality. As is usually the case, Vivi’s moments are spectacular, and they set the story up for future heart warming scenes. Garnet conversely appears to be stewing over an existential crisis. While by herself she appears pothering about eidolons, as well as her tumultuous relationship with her mother. Here she openly questions the emptiness she feels now that her eidolons have been removed. WAIT A MINUTE! At Pinnacle Rocks didn’t Garnet express complete ignorance to the existence of eidolons? How can she suddenly feel an emptiness inside of her if she didn’t know these summons existed in the first place? If she did know she had eidolons, why didn’t she use them earlier? It’s not like there WEREN’T BOSSES WHERE USING THEM WOULD HAVE GREATLY ASSISTED OUR PROGRESS! OH NO, IT’S NOT LIKE THE COMBAT ISN’T A COMPLETE SLOG!
Right then, this cooking nonsense with Eiko is just that, it’s complete nonsense. Certainly, it provides the characters with “breathing room,” to expose the audience to their emotional and personal vulnerabilities, but the execution here feels so slap-dash. This is worse if you decide to view every possible ATE during this sequence. The end result is simply dizzying. In one episode we witness Vivi or Garnet having an emotional aside, and the next we watch Eiko bombastically spell out her desire to foment a relationship with Zidane. Consequently, in the same exact scene Eiko will even express momentary lapses of vulnerability:
Wha… what is even happening anymore? Did someone at Square have their brain prolapse mid-development? To make matters worse the game decides what the story needs is Quina. There’s honestly no justice in the world anymore.
Even then, we witness Zidane guiding Garnet to “The Eidolon Wall” which allows her to learn more about the history and religious practices of the Summoner Tribe. That’s good. This is immediately complimented with Eiko accusing Quina of being Kuja, and eventually allowing Quina to assist in making dinner for the crew. That’s bad. We eventually regain control of Zidane who can interact with the Moogles to learn more about the history of Eiko’s tribe, and the deep personal relationship she has with the Moogles. That’s good. The party then eats dinner with Eiko who oscillates between two entirely disparate emotional states in the same scene. That’s… eh. In other words, I feel like I’m shopping at the “House of Evil” for a child’s birthday gift.
You know what? I am willing to excuse Eiko’s immature bluntness when interacting with the party. What this tableau truly highlights is Final Fantasy IX’s frustrating obfuscation of its world building, as well as its desire to provide humor where it is inappropriate. Now to my first point. On my own prerogative, I needed to seek out every Moogle at Madain Sari so as to learn more about the history of the Summoner Tribe, as well as the ruination of their civilization. This is egregious game design. The possibility of not knowing the context of a location is untenable especially given how superficial the packaging for Madain Sari ends up coming across. This background information, as well as the ATEs, made Madain Sari work for me. Without them, this entire set piece comes across as an ill-fated push to force sentimentality in the story. Just have Eiko be Eiko while she informs us of the history of her people, and cut out all this comic relief bullshitery. With regard to the game’s inappropriate use of humor; I honestly feel as if I am shouting directly into a storm at this point.
Part 66: And Then All Of A Sudden All the Characters At Madain Sari “Work”
I honestly have never felt more conflicted with a location in Final Fantasy IX like Madain Sari. On one end the character establishment for Eiko is horribly inconsistent. The forced moments of humor were narrative shattering and provided me with awkward juxtapositions I struggled to stomach through. Then, through the mist and the madness, Final Fantasy IX uses its wonderful cast to draw you back into the game. Lo and behold, just as I was about to summarily dismiss Madain Sari as an honorable failure, it provides me with a touching exhibition between Vivi and Zidane.
! Even today never have I seen a game place so much due diligence into establishing interpersonal relationships between its cast members. Final Fantasy IX’s use of interpersonal relationships far outshines everything the game attempts with its romance arcs. Here we witness a dejected Vivi who feels the impending specter of death dragging him down. Recognizing Vivi needs his support, Zidane comforts him in a manner both respectful, and without an ounce of condescension. Zidane doesn’t speak down towards Vivi for feeling his anxieties, and if anything else embraces him for revealing such vulnerabilities to him.
Zidane’s apt for humor even in the midst of destruction surfaces a more compassionate and emotional side to him. Zidane proactively seeks out opportunities to support his party during their darkest moments, and I have consistently found these episodes to be the true highlights of Final Fantasy IX. It sounds bizarre, but I feel confident in saying it, but a game from over fifteen years ago managed to convey some of the most humanistic characters the medium has ever seen. Acts like these serve as a double-edged sword. This touching aside showcases how half-baked earlier moments in the game were.
All the same, the story lulls are mostly behind us from this point forward regarding Disc Two. I would even argue the game manages to utilize Eiko’s brash and sarcastic sense of humor to its benefit. As she leads you to the Iifia Tree she does so with a sense of glee and joy you can honestly get behind. I have to hope whoever designed and/or wrote this game had a good laugh when they stopped and thought about what they were creating. God, I hope that is the case because the game seems to emanate a sense of pure joy when you play it.
Part 67: I Don't Understand What's Happening Anymore
Surprise, after breaking the barrier protecting the Iifia Tree our party is immediately thrust into a dungeon! This dungeon happens to be populated by a myriad of undead monsters which pack a wallop. Okay, so fuck that. I used “Soft” kill all the Lovecraftian octopus monsters, and “Life” spells to instantly kill any of the undead monsters. I certainly understand the perspective which would argue I seriously need to stop avoiding trying to understand this game’s mechanics, but I am a creature of habit if anything else. If I see an opportunity to cut a corner I am going to take it. Just rest assured knowing I never worked in the food service industry. Otherwise, people would be dead. A ton of people would be dead.
The Iifia Tree caused me to experience flashbacks to the plate climbing section from Final Fantasy VII. Luckily the platforming bits on the Iifia Tree are brief, as well as few and far between. All the same, the look and design of the level reeked of Square’s prototypical environmental platforming design. Here the greatest challenge isn’t the random encounters or environmental puzzles. Instead, the true enemy is your ability to parse out the environments to figure out what is and is not interactable.
Luckily for us, the level design is at least interesting inside the bowels of the Iifia Tree. Despite the Iifia Tree’s welcoming exterior, entering the chasm into the belly of the beast reveals a far more nefarious truth. The Iifia Tree’s interior manages to visually establish a sense of artificiality, and I mean “artificial” literally. Inside we see dark and sickly mechanical structures, and the lovely naturalistic exterior fades away. The environmental filter also transitions from a soft blue, to black, and finally to an infirm neon green. Then there’s the music which masterfully hits home the hunch things are not what they seem. Boom, this right here is what I would raucously exclaim to be “adroit” direction. The visuals, gameplay, and music all blend to create a sense of death and dread.
So the art direction isn’t the issue here, but this is not to say the game has excellent “direction.” The reason for the troupe being at the Iifia Tree is muddled at this point, and what the party wishes to accomplish here is especially so. It goes without saying our cast was directed to the Iifia Tree on a tip from the Black Mage Village. Nonetheless, there are few if any clues to suggest the party is making progress in their quest to locate Kuja. In essence, this has the consequence of creating the sense the crew is continuing their journey by pure convenience rather than justifiable intuition. When one stops and thinks about it until an enormous talking tree accosts them there’s no evidence to suggest entering the Iifia Tree is bringing our motley crew closer to their sequential conclusion.
Part 68: WHELP! It Is Time For The Story To Get Stupid!
Boarding a sketchy looking elevator on a spike covered plant, our party decides now is the time to question where “mist” comes from. Final Fantasy IX sure does pick the weirdest places to have exposition induced diarrhea.
The characters' befuddlement, as well as their drive to work together, is a nice touch in the grand scheme of things. It is quaint but greatly appreciated seeing the members of a party work together as a team so as to solve a pressing stopgap in the story. I say this while peering at Final Fantasy VIII with an intense glare. Nevertheless, our team moseys their way to a magical harp looking contraption. If you felt this terrifying backdrop was the perfect place for Eiko to make a pass on Zidane then you would be correct.
Normally I would decry such balderdash, but it results in a momentary flash of introspection on the part of Zidane I found ABSOLUTELY HILARIOUS!
In any event, a giant zombified tree monster pops out of nowhere and admonishes Zidane and company. This giant topiary monster appears to be the commandant of the Iifia Tree. As our Deus Ex Machina explains, the Iifia Tree processes “something” to create the mist which blankets the continents. This mist is then used to encourage aggressive and even warlike behavior by anything it touches. Kuja is using the mist to produce Black Mages and other weapons of war. If you ever wanted a perfect example of a video game story pulling a villain out of its ass in order to make its story work, well here you go!
Right then, why does the story stop making sense? Was Soulcage created by Kuja? Was Soulcage always the guardian of the Iifia Tree? Why does Soulcage allow Kuja to use the mist to create the Black Mages? It is mentioned earlier Kuja is a “weapons dealer.” Are all of Kuja’s weapons coming from the mist? Is Kuja using the mist to make guns and swords? Who does Soulcage take orders from, and why? Soulcage said it had already seen its death a thousand years ago, and then we defeated it. Does this mean I will have to fight Soulcage again? If Soulcage is trying to contaminate the world with mist why isn’t he pumping out mist at a higher capacity? Why is he allowing the Iifia Tree to hold back on its evil mojo? Isn’t the whole point of the Iifia Tree to destroy civilization as we know it? Why does Soulcage support Kuja’s plan for world domination? WHY?
Part 69: Final Fantasy IX’s Start And Stop Pacing Is Killing Me Softly
After Final Fantasy IX subjects us to what is essentially an exposition dump regarding the purpose of the mist, its story suddenly halts. The characters marvel over the clear skies of the continent, and then they hurry back to Madain Sari with an unacceptable nonchalance. Our motley crew brushes aside the dire situation both they and the greater world are in, as well as their responsibility to locate Kuja expeditiously. .
What the fuck did you just say, Zidane? Are you pulling this shit straight out of your ass? I thought we went to the Iifia Tree with the hope of directly confronting Kuja! We clearly didn’t accomplish that, so why the fuck are you claiming “mission accomplished?” Well whatever, if the game thinks it can just make shit up on the fly without a care in the world, I’ll just fucking let it. Here we are at a crossroad with the story, and essentially the game is setting us for “story time with Eiko and friends.” I can hear you furiously frothing at the mouth with rage as I type this. I can practically hear you exclaiming “BUT CHRIS (i.e. my name)! The return to Madain Sari provides some wonderful story routines for the cast (i.e. Eiko and Garnet), and seamlessly introduces our final party member!” Yeah well… that’s why I feel so conflicted about this set piece.
The literal aspects of our return to Madain Sari are simply "plot by convenience." The characters temporarily stop their quest to locate Kuja, because the story needs them to. Their assumption of Kuja returning to the Iifia Tree proves correct because the story needs this to happen. Finally, there are no immediate exigencies for our ragtag party temporarily halting their investigation. I mean why does the outfit just automatically assume Kuja doesn’t have any other lackeys at or near the Iifia Tree? Why are we not conducting a thorough investigation as to how the mist is actually manufactured at the Iifia Tree? I hope this line of questioning proves my main point here. The story simply stops when it shouldn’t have, and this disruption of flow is all the more disorienting when you consider the circumstances our party is currently confronting.
But that aside Final Fantasy IX can almost be forgiven for all these quibbles when you stop and appreciate what it ventures with its characters at Madain Sari. Vivi forces the party to pontificate upon the aftereffects of our actions; Eiko is compelled to confront her isolationism; Zidane rises to the occasion on multiple fronts; finally, Garnet evolves beyond her substandard “fish out of water” archetype. This forward progress in terms of the story is greatly appreciated, and as with previous scenes provides the audience with touching and poignant moments. When a game has at least a workable cast that seems genuine, and their drama is reputable, you are willing to forgive the superficial backdrop they may be hiding behind.
This is why I wouldn’t decry any of my issues as being a “gut punch.” I mean I could complain about the tonal inconsistencies with Final Fantasy IX until I’m blue in the face, but doing so is pointless when the game’s heart is in the right place. Final Fantasy IX is cognizant of the fact its characters are above and beyond anything attempted with tits main story, and thus provides them with the proper opportunities to shine. The story annoyances associated with Madain Sari are less a sudden impact, and more alike being stabbed repeatedly with a butter knife. It’s not going to kill me immediately, but that isn’t to say it doesn’t hurt. So make with that what you will.
Part 70: A Little Humanity Goes A Long Way
As we marvel over our victory over Soulcage, Vivi points out the most notable consequence of our actions. Without mist, no further Black Mages will be created, and this, in turn, means Vivi’s race will cease to exist. Final Fantasy IX doesn’t strive to answer this conundrum immediately, and I do not wish to suggest it should, but I do wish to mention my appreciation of the game providing this line of dialogue. Final Fantasy IX’s writing saw an opportunity for the cast and player to genuinely pontificate upon the impacts of our actions, rather than ignoring such consequences even exist. This is a monumental improvement upon the previous Final Fantasy games I have played.
With this bit behind us, one of Eiko’s Moogles informs her of a major theft at Madain Sari. Following Eiko to her home we discover countless precious gems have been stolen from her abode. The emotion of Eiko dejected at this discovery is palpable. Eiko makes it clear to the audience how the earrings stolen were the last remnants of her grandfather. By losing these earrings Eiko has in effect lost a part of her past, and she is so overcome with emotion you can honestly feel for her.
Then Zidane decides this is the appropriate time to make a pass on Garnet:
Somehow between getting some air, and Zidane being a jackass, Eiko got kidnapped by the female mercenary, Lani, from earlier. When Zidane confronts Lani at The Eidolon Wall she immediately demands he hands over Garnet’s gemstones. Stuck at an impasse our party is saved when some green-skinned, red-afroed mo-fo pounces on Lani. With the tide against her Lani relents and is forced to surrender all the gemstones she has in her tow.
I actually found this to be a bit anticlimactic. While the game certainly needed to provide the story with a proper introduction to the abilities of our final cast member, Amarant, I can’t help but question if this was the best course of action. Instead of allowing Zidane an opportunity to outwit or use his intuition to solve a pressing issue the game employs a deus ex machina. This is just the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to Amarant’s moribund introduction.
Part 71: Everything About Amarant’s Introduction Is Terrible... Including Amarant
Right away I just would like for the record to show I think Amarant’s late introduction is a storytelling “tactical error.” His late introduction stunts his character development, and what little development he is provided feels hollow comparatively to the rest of the cast. To make matters worse we never witness Amarant evolve from his initial character trope of that as the aloof vagabond. Now to Amarant’s defense he doesn’t exactly have time to evolve from this character arch, but this just proves my point that he should have been introduced earlier in the game. Then there’s the tussle we have between Amarant and Zidane. This battle is torturous.
This one-on-one confrontation exacerbates each of Final Fantasy IX’s battle-based mechanical issues. Zidane’s ATB meter fills up at a laborious rate, and once it has filled up Amarant has already sliced you twice. The player is then thrust into a frustrating Catch-22 wherein they are forced to use their only turn on healing potions as Amarant quickly whittles away at your patience. Our battle with Amarant is beyond contrived. Why in the world does Amarant have the ability to employ life-threatening attacks, whereas I am stuck exhaustively trying to stay alive? On that note, why does Amarant have the ability to attack twice within the time it takes Zidane to attack once? How the fuck is that fair? What is meant to be a quick battle between two warriors immediately becomes an absolute bore.
The amount of “dead time” between each attack truly underscores how slow Final Fantasy IX’s combat system is. The mechanics of the battle system prevent the intent of what the developers attempted to accomplish with this scene. I can only imagine the designers noticed this, but were powerless to do anything. Zidan’s battle with Amarant is meant to be “their moment,” but the true impact of that moment is thoroughly sabotaged. But hey, at least Amarant and Zidane “bro it out” after their fight and agree to work together.
And what was this all in the name of? Being able to include an aloof warrior monk in the story? Amarant makes it clear he and Zidane have “unfinished business” to address at some point. Following the introduction of this story beat the game entirely forgets it until another hour has passed. Worse yet, there’s no foreshadowing or recurring moments that build up an impending confrontation between Zidane and Amarant. So, in the end, Amarant comes across as entirely wasted potential, and this is a shame given how novel he is in combat. Amarant is a cross between an agile ninja and a warrior monk. I cannot attest to understanding how to take full advantage of Amarant in combat, but what I can at least appreciate is how different he feels mechanically in battle. Watching him waste away enemies by throwing junk at them is a constant supply of hilarity.
Part 72: Eiko And Garnet Become Interesting... Mostly
WELL I’LL BE DAMNED! Who would have guessed Final Fantasy IX could take two of the most painfully rigid character archetypes and invert them in a compelling manner. Upon what I can only hope is our final return to Madain Sari, Zidane has two touching exhibitions with Eiko and Garnet separately. The first setting, which involves Eiko, is an emotionally taut scene wherein Eiko embraces her “call to adventure,” and in turn shirks away her emotional and social isolationism. Caught between honoring the last wishes of her grandfather, versus her own personal desires, Eiko is forced to confront a truly adult social malady. How Eiko decides upon an answer, which results in her embracing her “call to adventure,” is a lovely milieu which evokes a response from the audience. Moments like these almost cause you to forget Eiko is six years old, or her previous story-based bullshitery. I would like to place extra emphasis on the word “almost.”
The troupe’s universal acceptance of Eiko further establishes the necessity of Eiko being a part of our troupe of heroes. Eiko deeply desires to interact with the outside world, and thus establish long-term interpersonal relationships. How Final Fantasy IX endeavors to establish why each of its party members is entwined in the story is beyond respectable, albeit a bit inconsistent. While all this attention is afforded to Eiko, we also have Amarant sitting in the background just moping in a corner. While Eiko is afforded every opportunity to shine as a character, Amarant and Quina just continue to waste oxygen. So instead of delving into Amarant’s pathos, logos, and/or ethos he simply expressed befuddlement with Zidane’s lack of blood lust, and that is all we get from the game for a solid two hours.
Then we have the story pivot related to Garnet. Now I must be honest with you, my opinion on this specific matter has flip-flopped constantly. So, if my final impressions of this story revelation end up coming across as dazed and confused, then I simply apologize. At the risk of sounding generic, sometimes video games are not a matter of “black and white” objectivism.
With that aside let’s meticulously break down the scene at hand. The story starts out with Zidane and Garnet flirting with a level of belligerent sexual tension Mulder and Scully would blush at. It’s an honest enough exhibition where Zidane’s debonair attitude plays off of Garnet’s naivete wonderfully. Both parties share a level of appreciation towards one another that comes across as both honest and genuine. Then things get FUCKING WEIRD!
While Zidane paddles to a cliff, the cliff starts singing. Or I think that is what happened… I don’t know what’s real anymore. This causes Garnet to experience flashbacks to her previously forgotten childhood. So I guess the cliff may sing AND cure amnesia. Garnet faints at some point, or at least I think she does, and she has a dream about the Summoner Village. The flashback shows a giant eye in the sky, which we have seen before, and a woman on a boat. The mysterious masked lady is holding a baby, and the woman looks like Garnet. The eye in the sky is destroying the summoner village, or at least this is what I think it was doing. On top of that, Madain Sari is impacted by a massive hurricane. I assume the eye in the sky is causing the storm, otherwise, the Summoner Tribe got hit by a double-whammy. I don’t know… the game presents all these visuals without any supporting text and hopes you can figure this shit out by yourself. Either way, we discover Garnet is actually a member of the summoner tribe despite her present lack of a horn on her forehead.
Good golly Miss Molly, where do I even start? Let’s call attention to what I appreciate with this story development. First, the relationship that buds between Garnet and Eiko is a massive improvement from their love triangle tryst from earlier. The two characters slowly establish a familial relationship like sisters and this continues being an absolute treat throughout the story. I also greatly appreciated how much more introspective Garnet becomes after this moment. With a tenuous grasp of her past, Garnet feels more independent, as well as self-guided from this point forward. She certainly has progressed nicely from her “holier–than–thou” beginnings. This plot development also plays a role in reinforcing why Garnet still wishes to break the queen from her maniacal stupor. While the queen certainly is guilty of more than a few war crimes, she is all Garnet has at this point in terms of a family figure. You do not have to agree with her decision making regarding this point, but at least you can follow it. Zidane even makes a rather poignant inference on this matter:
Onto my perceived negatives, and boy are there plenty! I just want to say this is some Final Fantasy-ass plot development if I have ever seen it. For reasons which are beyond my comprehension, Garnet couldn’t simply be the daughter of the queen. No, instead she needed to be adopted from a nigh-extinct race. Why couldn’t the plot twist be the entire royal family of Alexandria is members of the summoner race? Or how about having the Queen related to the destruction of the summoner tribe as part of her insane quest for world domination? I mention all this for a reason. There’s a disconnect between this plot development and everything the game has solicited with Garnet prior. If the queen knew Garnet was a summoner why did she wait as long as she did before extracting Bahamut? Wouldn’t you want to do that BEFORE attempting to invade other countries? Because of this, the development of Garnet being a summoner comes across as an example of the developers digging themselves out of a hole. They already mechanically had Garnet be a white mage with the ability to summon eidolons. Given all the story justifications for what the eidolons are, this was probably the best the writers could come up with to justify having Garnet being able to summon shit.
But at least the game makes this work to its benefit. The characters continue to evolve and develop beyond their initial tropes. Simultaneously there’s an oddly compelling connection between the gameplay and the story. As the game becomes more transparent with its mechanics, so do the characters. For example, the in-game discovery of eidolons allows the player to use them in combat.
Part 73: Shit Pops Off Fucking Quick!
After all these touching and emotional quiet moments the shit hits the fan. After we accept Amarant to our party we immediately notice Kuja flying to the Iifia Tree on a dragon. Here we are immediately subjected to one of the most heavy-handed evil villain soliloquies I have seen in a GOOD LONG TIME!
Sensing an impending confrontation, our ragtag group dispatches to the base of the Iifia Tree. After convincing Amarant to carry Vivi and Eiko ourunit immediately locates and confronts Kuja. Did I mention how laughably evil the game depicts Kuja at this point of the story? My God, the game practically bludgeons you over the head with its simplicity whenever Kuja talks. After droning about wishing to drag the mist continent into war ad nauseam, and posturing himself as a would-be Shakespearean poet, the game makes it difficult to take Kuja seriously. Certainly, his flamboyant design is a factor of this, but his mannerisms are what immediately repelled me from his character. At some point, I just want a straightforward villain with a believable motivation for working outside the confines of humanistic moralities. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK FOR IN A FINAL FANTASY GAME? EVEN THE LEGEND OF ZELDA FRANCHISE ACCOMPLISHED THIS!
After tolerating Kuja’s bullshitery for what seems like twenty minutes Queen Brahne arrives with a massive naval fleet in tow. Viewing Kuja as the only person capable of stopping her from world domination, or whatever she is trying to accomplish in the story, the queen opens a salvo of destruction upon Kuja as well as the Iifia Tree. As mentioned earlier, despite the evidence the queen is beyond redemption Garnet still believes she can “save” her adopted mother. After dispatching a handful of random encounter baddies Garnet locates the sealed eidolon at the base of the Iifia Tree. Unfortunately, Garnet realizes the eidolon is Leviathan, who as a sea serpent can do shit against a crazed maniac flying on top of a dragon.
Tired of her fleet’s insufficient progress the queen decides to summon Bahamut on Kuja. While the scene that ensues is visually stunning it is almost ruined by Kuja’s shitty affectations. At one point we watch Kuja subject us to the terribly off-putting “how impressive, you drew my blood” evil villain trope. Once again, I honestly wish I was lying about this:
Part 74: Everything Goes BOOM, And Then Disc Two Is Over
Once Kuja is done with his flamboyant posturing he immediately summons the giant ominous eye in the sky we have seen earlier. Using this eye to gain control over Bahamut Kuja immediately uses the dragon to subject massive destruction on the queen and her fleet. With the climactic destruction complete the game smash cuts to black, and eventually to narration done by Vivi. Vivi not only narrates his hatred for Queen Brahne, but also an inability to feel anything amidst all this death and destruction. The emptiness Vivi indicates is an emptiness any one of us could relate to. Even if something you abjectly disliked was destroyed there still is the need to rebuild and recover from that hatred. The moment here is a friendly reminder death rarely should be embraced with open arms.
Had the game ended on this note I would have applauded it unequivocally. However, the game decides to poison the well by providing Queen Brahne with a redemptive arc in the last three minutes of disc two.
It’s almost as if the game continues to ignore the elephant in the room, but is cognizant of the fact that there is indeed a GIANT ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM! I know I am guilty of “back seat writing” on this blog series, but here I simply must insist. The story has done NOTHING to develop the queen as anything more than a comical mustache twirling villain you could find in a 1960s era Disney film. This type of villain does not warrant a redemptive story arc! This is especially the case if the corrupting factor for the villain wasn’t entirely clear to the audience. How am I supposed to empathize with someone who is not only guilty of war crimes but committed those war crimes with a sadistic sense of pleasure? What even caused the queen to be broken from her stupor? Why is any of this happening? So it goes without saying this scene does not work even at a superficial level.
With that I appear done with disc two, and to be honest I have no idea how to feel. On one hand, the game has begun to embrace its colorful cast of characters, and has provided them with some truly memorable moments I will cherish for the rest of my life. Simultaneously, the game sabotages this goodwill time and time again with inanity and fluff. Disc two, and Final Fantasy IX in general features some of the worst “economy of action” I have ever seen in a video game. The disc starts with Steiner ferreting Garnet in a bag of pickles and ends with Garnet making amends with her dying mother. While this is certainly an improvement upon disc one, I cannot help but remind myself of how frustrated this game has made me feel, while simultaneously enthralling me with its humanity. There exists fifteen mainline story set pieces on disc two of Final Fantasy IX. Only around half of these tableaus are successful in honoring the mood and tone which benefits Final Fantasy IX the most.
If anything, Final Fantasy IX works best when it breaks away from the mold which defined the franchise for years prior. When the game seeks out opportunities to improve upon the mistakes of the past it truly shines and stands as a testament to video game storytelling. When it devolves into comical fan service I have a burning passion to punching people in the face. And trust me, I have wanted to punch a bunch of people in the face while playing this game.