Fighting Final Fantasy IX Part 89-101: Final Fantasy IX's Greatest Enemy Is Final Fantasy Itself

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Part 89: The Record Shows I Took The Blows And Did It My Way

Last we met, my ill-prepared party was ready to head off into the sunset, or I should say Oeilvert. Just as a friendly reminder of my horrible mistake in party creation here’s what I brought to the Oeilvert dungeon:

I will admit mistakes were made.
I will admit mistakes were made.

Let’s just say I threw all pretense to the wayside and stocked up on the item “Soft” and used those to blow through the Epitaph enemies which litter the Oeilvert dungeon. I fucked up. This dungeon was not going to be any fun if I tried to work my way through it legitimately. Regarding this, I blame myself, and not the game. My penchant for blowing through gameplay important dialogue sequences has, and always will be, my gaming Achilles Heel.

I will also admit to being a horrible
I will also admit to being a horrible "cheater."

Prior to reaching the dungeon in Oeilvert, there were a couple of moments worth mentioning. First, because I had Vivi in my party, there was a poignant interaction between the Black Mages and him.

Yeah seriously, what the fuck?
Yeah seriously, what the fuck?
I would like to question once again why every character isn't Vivi.
I would like to question once again why every character isn't Vivi.

I LOVE how Vivi does not blame the Black Mages for joining Kuja, as he understands the fear they feel about their mortality. Instead, Vivi squarely places the blame on Kuja for exploiting the Black Mage’s anxiety and fear to progress his agenda. It’s wonderful how a small moment like this was included in the game to not only showcase the progression of Vivi as a character, but also his moral thinking. Vivi starts the game as a bumbling buffoon barely able to walk without tripping. Now we witnessing him accessing a higher level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and this sufficiently hits home the progression of his character arc. The second point I would like to bring up is how THOROUGHLY FUCKED THE RANDOM ENCOUNTERS AT THE FORGOTTEN CONTINENT ARE!

It does not help Garnet is essentially nonfunctional given her current ailment. She is of course still afflicted with the “Anna Karenina Disease,” and as such her attacks and spells have a high probability of failing in combat. To make matters worse, everything you fight on the Lost Continent isn’t a slouch either! Here there are giant turtles, zombie whales, the house from Howl's Moving Castle, and Cactuars. OH… MY… GOD… the fucking Cactuars in this game are RIDICULOUS.

They honestly are the worst things in the entire game.
They honestly are the worst things in the entire game.

I cannot even begin to describe the optimal strategy for defeating the Cactuars. At some point I got so thoroughly fed up with getting my ass handed to myself, I just started running away from every random encounter I had against them. I normally have a high tolerance for bullshit, but essentially banging my head on a brick wall is where I draw the proverbial line in the sand. I wasn’t having a fun time so I cut my losses short and gave up entirely.

Part 90: Oeilvert Is A Portent For What Is To Come

Oh no, here we go again!
Oh no, here we go again!

Well, dear readers, we have reached “that point” in a Final Fantasy game wherein the developers felt the need to introduce a pivot which adds in a contradictory, and unnecessary thematic to the story. In Final Fantasy IX, and I cannot believe this is happening for the third time, it is another hackneyed science fiction story pivot. It’s almost as if the bright minds at Square learned nothing from their mistakes in the prior PlayStation One Final Fantasy games. On that note, I’d like to use the hilariously generic analogy comparing this trend to the brass ring in a carousel. The Final Fantasy franchise has now failed to grasp the brass ring THREE TIMES! But you know what; it’s almost respectable the franchise continues to try in the first place.

As is the tradition around these parts I wish to highlight the proverbial “glows and grows” with any given level. When it comes to Oeilvert the “glows” are its Gigeresque art design, and on the “grows” column I would say “EVERYTHING ELSE!” I make no qualms regarding a point of contention we will soon address. I hate the plot twist in Final Fantasy IX with every fiber of my being. Prior to the pivot, we had a perfectly serviceable, and occasionally excellent fantasy story with touching elements of self-discovery. Then, three-quarters of the way, the story decides to wantonly throw in three untested ingredients to its award-winning recipe. The best case scenario would have involved the science fiction plot development providing a new raison d'etre for our cast. While this certainly occurs, was upending all the game’s previous accomplishments the best course of action to bring about this?

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE!
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE!

Anyways, back to concise facts pertaining to Oeilvert as an actual level. The look and feel here are pitch perfect. You initially enter Oeilvert believing it to be yet another long abandoned stone cathedral like many of the dungeons prior to it. Then, as you navigate your way into its inner chambers, you discover a metallic and terrifying underbelly. It is an alien landscape like no other since the Iifia Tree. I would argue the game should have done more to establish a direct connection between Oeilvert and the Iifia Tree to better foreshadow its later revelations regarding Garland and Terra. This would allow for a slow mystery to develop, but instead, the game decides to devolve into schlock for the sake of providing the audience with a “shock.”

Which is a shame given how visually striking Oeilvert is.
Which is a shame given how visually striking Oeilvert is.

I guess what I object to most of all is how little Final Fantasy IX has spent developing this twist throughout the game. I can tolerate a story needlessly complicating its affairs if the narrative at least prepares me for such developments. Foreshadowing is a wonderful tool, and the writing in Final Fantasy IX inconsistently uses it. To add insult to injury, Final Fantasy IX’s twist commits the same exact sins of its brothers. The only difference is it narrowly avoids sabotaging its goodwill like Final Fantasy VIII. So, here we go again. It’s time to face our maker. It’s time to delve deep into some glorious Final Fantasy nonsense!

Part 91: The Presentation In Oeilvert Is FUCKING BOOOORING!

If I wanted to watch a slideshow I would have gone to my local nickelodeon!
If I wanted to watch a slideshow I would have gone to my local nickelodeon!

Now relax will you, I don’t mean the art direction of Oeilvert. I have already conceded to liking the art direction for its Alien-esque design. What I mean when I say the presentation is “boring” is how the game conveys all its plot revelations. There are no climactic boss battles or breathtaking cutscenes to be had here. Instead, the entire level plays out as an amateurish visual novel with minutes upon minutes of expository text being doled out with little “wait time.” To this point, Final Fantasy IX is no better than the decrepit history professor who would lecture for fifty minutes, and expect you memorize every bit of minutia which he or she spewed at you. Will some people admit to preferring this style of education? Sure, but certainly not everyone, and I am not one of them.

Now in the world of education we usually adhere to what is known as the “10/2,” or “Chunk and Chew” model. Studies have shown the average human being can only process about ten minutes of direct instruction before they begin to forget important facts and critical information. This, in turn, means people must be provided approximately two minutes of “wait time,” or opportunities to put their new found knowledge into practice. Otherwise, they will not see the worth of the content they have been taught. I can hear many of you angrily typing away as I comment on this little diatribe of mine. Is it fair to expect a game from 2000 to adhere to a recent development in the teaching practice? No, no it is not. Am I still going to hold Final Fantasy IX to this entirely arbitrary standard?

Of course I am. As they say,
Of course I am. As they say, "old habits die hard."

I don’t mention this to be a nitpicky asshole, though I do know this to be my reputation. I dredge up this point on account of earlier moments in Final Fantasy IX genuinely adhering to this model. Look back at the massive set piece in Alexandria from earlier, and you can see what I mean. In Alexandria, characters would present their perspective on what was happening. Following this, we would briefly control the character(s) for a handful of minutes and put into practice the character’s expository dialogue. After controlling the characters in question, a new development would be presented, and then we would follow a similar chain of events with a different grouping of cast members. So my ultimate question now is why do the developers use an effective presentation format in one set piece, and then immediately discard it for another of equal importance?

Everything conveyed to the player in Oeilvert is done so in the laziest manner possible. When we enter the “inner sanctum” of Oeilvert we eventually are graced by a hologram of an alien planet. We have never seen this planet before, nor do we understand its significance. Following this, we look over holograms of ship schematics for a long dead civilization. I’m not exactly getting misty eyed over this. Remember in Alexandria when we saw Bahamut basically torch entire buildings, and thus placing thousands of lives at risk? Remember how that scene effectively established the need for the player to act swiftly? It’s almost as if the gameplay and story were seamlessly melded together to create this thoroughly enjoyable action set piece. So what the fuck happened here?

Also, when did Final Fantasy IX become Assassin's Creed, or vice versa?
Also, when did Final Fantasy IX become Assassin's Creed, or vice versa?

Are you still unconvinced? If that is the case then I want you to move towards your computer screen. Yes, you right there. Get close to your computer screen. Do it, do it now. Now I want you to tell me how looking at holographic ship schematics prepares us for the emotional tone or narrative thematic of Terra. I dare you; I double dog dare you.

Part 92: Oh Wait… This Is A “Final Fantasy” Game!

Let’s now move on to the literal aspects of the “Oeilvert reveal.” What ends up happening is simply bizarre. Your party enters a room filled with electrified masks, and they begin spinning a tale about a civilization long ago falling into ruin. This in itself would have been enough for Final Fantasy IX to tackle in a lifetime, but because this is a Final Fantasy game things don’t stop there. The long lost civilization originates from a planet called “Terra,” with Gaia being the planet our characters are on, and Terra being some sort of world of mystery.

Please tell me this is
Please tell me this is "to scale." That would at least be a start.

Final Fantasy IX spectacularly sabotages its introduction to Terra. The planet is projected on a hologram, and some masks start lecturing the audience. We understand the civilization which fell is connected to Terra, but everything else is left up in the air. Most crucial of all are the simple contextual clues as to where Terra is, or what impact it has on Gaia. Is Terra an alternate dimension, a far off planet, hidden beneath the earth of Gaia, or part of a parallel universe? The game outright refuses to address any of these points in a coherent and intelligible manner, and let me tell you, this is a BIG FUCKING PROBLEM!

THAT'S A GREAT GODDAMNED QUESTION!
THAT'S A GREAT GODDAMNED QUESTION!

This highlights one of my greatest frustrations with Final Fantasy IX’s ultimate “conceit.” It fails to follow through on what it proposes here, and yet finds the need to propose many more developments on top of this. Not only is there an ancient civilization which declined and died, but this civilization is ALSO a part of some far off future planet. Then, because this isn’t enough to meet our “crazy quotient,” the game decides to tap into the horrifically moronic tropes of soul transfer and cloning. Once the game adds in all these elements its story becomes too unwieldy even for itself. The game essentially adds chaos where it is simply unneeded. Remember when disc two was all about providing a metaphor on the dangers of global warfare and weapons of mass destruction? How a game transitions from that to parallel universes and soul transfer is beyond my comprehension.

To add insult to injury, the game does not provide the cast with any of the proactive “wait time” it normally affords them. At no point do we witness the characters mulling over the information, nor do we see them attempting to connect any dots. Instead, the game decides to have the cast scoff at everything presented in Oeilvert, and carry on with their tomfoolery. After listening to the talking masks Zidane brushes them aside and reminds the cast of their primary mission: perform an errand for Kuja to save their friends. Does the game reinforce any of the information it proposes in Oeilvert in the succeeding scene?

Did someone let their child design a level in Final Fantasy IX?
Did someone let their child design a level in Final Fantasy IX?

Part 93: Final Fantasy IX Decides To Waste My Goddamned Time Once Again

Do you want to know something I believe Final Fantasy VIII does better than Final Fantasy IX? Well, other than having a superior card battle minigame. When Final Fantasy VIII gets “weird” it stays grounded in its weirdness, and there’s no going back. Final Fantasy IX believes it can set up the scaffold to its weirdness, and pretend the scaffold does not exist for two to three hours. I understand this to be a case of “pick your poison,” but I’m defiantly standing with VIII regarding this issue.

Now let’s make no qualms about it. The plot twist in Final Fantasy VIII is one of the worst things committed in video game storytelling. Nothing in Final Fantasy IX rivals its elder brother's gravest failure. That aside, and I have made this comparison before, a choice between polio and syphilis will always result in me picking syphilis. Be that as it may, this does not mean I am excited to have syphilis. Honestly, are any of you going to defend the game including shit like this?

Are you there God? It's me, ZombiePie.
Are you there God? It's me, ZombiePie.

Well then, the game decides it is time for the player to take control of Cid in a series of wacky adventures. I simply cannot even begin to articulate my hatred for this scene. Sure the game effectively starts off with Kuja openly mocking the party, but honestly what is Kuja’s deal? What is Kuja’s relationship with Zidane? What is Kuja’s relationship with Garland? Who is Garland? These story critical questions were wracking my psyche at this point, but lo and behold the game decides to provide a comedy set piece instead of answering them.

Oh fuck me, it’s another bullshit puzzle.
Oh fuck me, it’s another bullshit puzzle.

What does this all lead to? Why we take control of our leftover cast members and proceed to wreck shit up in Kuja’s palace! This may sound awesome on paper, but rest assured it is far more annoying than you could ever imagine. For example, lighting up the candles in the palace makes a future boss battle easier. Does this make any sense to you? No? Great, because unlike the developers I think you have a fully functioning brain!

The candle puzzles in the Desert Palace are video game machinations for the sake of it. Why Kuja has a byzantine candle system which assists the player in breaking out of his castle is beyond asinine. This right here is a perfect example of puzzle design in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It is honestly a marvel to behold today. Does any of this design help further the plot? Hell no! It’s just here to painfully extend your time because dozens of designers programmed this level, and you better appreciate every pixel of it!

Why would Kuja let a Moogle into his palace?
Why would Kuja let a Moogle into his palace?

Oh, and before you ask, the answer is “NO, Quina didn’t have Level 5-Death.” This is my play-through after all, and I have a distinct low tolerance for shit characters. Quina could honestly get stabbed in the heart, and I wouldn’t so much as shed a tear.

Part 94: The Game Plays Out Exactly As You Would Have Anticipated

Have I mentioned how the game takes every opportunity it has to remind you how Kuja is evil? Filling in what is driving Kuja, or the madness which has beset him since Garland’s appearance, becomes secondary to reminding the player how comically evil Kuja is. Moments like these make the prospect of redeeming Kuja all but untenable. I mean give me a goddamned break, he’s nothing but a moustache-twirling villain for 90% of the game! Let’s review his activities in the Desert Palace as a fun case study.

Oh goodness. You mean to tell me Kuja was planning on enacting a trap on Zidane to cause him to hand over the magical MacGuffin from Oeilvert? Then, the rest of the cast interrupt Kuja, thus causing him to go with his “Plan B,” which involves kidnapping Eiko and running away? Oh boy… it’s not like this has been done to death in millions of games before.

Meanwhile, someone taught Zidane Bible quotes.
Meanwhile, someone taught Zidane Bible quotes.

How does Kuja not realize his palace is getting wrecked by Zidane’s “B-Team?” There were alarms going off, and we even fought a sentient tombstone at some point! You mean to tell me there were no cameras in Kuja’s palace? Why did Kuja assume Zidane would enter his room alone? Why did Kuja assume the rest of Zidane’s crew wouldn’t enter his throne room at another time? Why is any of this happening? Oh wait, that’s right, this is all happening to set up a chase sequence in which we try to get Eiko back from Kuja’s clutches.

No Caption Provided

So rather than adding depth to our current antagonist, the game decides to throw some action schlock at our direction. I guess the chase sequence here is fun to look at, but I just wished I cared about the characters at play here. You know Eiko isn’t going to die, nor are we logically going to stop Kuja. The end result is this entire sequence feels utterly pointless. Then you add in a transitional location, which the game completely wastes, and you have a real ho-hum scaffold towards the next boss battle.

Oh fantastic, will you look at that! It appears Kuja has kidnapped the only fully functioning white mage in the party. This is undoubtedly exciting! It’s not like there’s a horrible dungeon full of dragons in the next set piece. It’s not as if the dragons in this dungeon are among the most difficult battles you face in the entire game. No, don’t worry, the next dungeon is filled with bunnies and turtles which can be offed by simply sneezing on them. There’s absolutely nothing to worry about here.

Fuck the pain away.
Fuck the pain away.

Esto Gaza is a complete waste of a location. Yet again Final Fantasy IX has a visually stunning local which it entirely fails to contextualize in a manner which would service the plot. Here we see an ornate cathedral populated by religious leaders and pilgrims. However, yet again the game showcases religious iconography but fails to build a sense of religion, faith, or culture in its use of religious iconography. So ultimately why are we in Esto Gaza? Well… because “reasons!”

Part 95: HEY! You Got Dark Souls In My Final Fantasy Game!

Maybe you were able to pick up earlier me not having the best of times in Mount Gulug. Before we discuss this matter in further detail, let’s address another quibble I have. The music in Mount Gulug is DOGSHIT!

The game presents this dilapidated underworld, which looks like Blighttown mind you, and populated by red dragons. Instead of complimenting this horrifying local with a moody theme, it alternately provides it with an upbeat techno one! This upbeat theme immediately deprives the level of any mood its design would have you believe.

Then there are the red dragons which populate Mount Gulug. The red dragons are negative fun. Not zero fun, nor positive fun. The red dragons are just a bad time all around. There isn’t an ounce of pretense prior to entering Mount Gulug in which you are aware you are about to face some of the toughest enemies in the entire game. It’s just a train which will eventually hit you at full speed whether you want it to, or not. There’s nothing stopping it, and you just have to hope your brains don’t get splattered all over the place.

Great, it's these assholes again.
Great, it's these assholes again.

When you finally catch up to the crazy clowns and Eiko, you catch them halfway into their exorcism of Eiko’s eidolons. Upon their most recent failure to strip Eiko of her eidolons, the clowns inform Kuja she is too young to be stripped of her summons. Now then, I don’t get this scene at all. All throughout our journey, we have been able to acquire multiple gemstones which contain within them eidolons. So why does Kuja need to excise Eiko for hers? Why doesn’t Kuja just collect the same goddamned gemstones we have been casually picking up throughout our journey? In some cases, I even have duplicates of the same gemstone! These gemstones aren’t hard to come by, so why does our glorious antagonist spend so much of his time trying to strip Eiko of her eidolons?

You mean to tell me the girl wearing angle wings had a literal
You mean to tell me the girl wearing angle wings had a literal "guardian angle" all along?

As the jesters prepare themselves to excise Eiko again, her pet moogle pops out of her jacket and reveals himself to be an eidolon all along. The eidolon here is named “Madeen,” and immediately dispatches the jesters in one fell swoop. Here’s my problem with this scene; why the fuck did Madeen wait as long as he did to save Eiko? Couldn’t Madeen have protected Eiko the moment she got kidnapped? How about saving Eiko before her first exorcism? Is Madeen secretly an asshole? Oh wait, it’s because Madeen read the script, and had to hold out on saving Eiko until Zidane conveniently waltzes into the scene. Either way, I suspect the game wishes for me to feel some sort of emotional intent with Mog turning into an eidolon, but my heart has completely turned into coal so this is no longer possible.

Part 96: The Clowns Turned Into Satan And Then The Game Gets "Good" Again

Guess who learned the hard way what the status ailment “virus” does in Final Fantasy IX?

I sure did!
I sure did!

You mean to tell me the whole purpose of the jesters was to allow them to occasionally crack wise and eventually turn into a gross looking tentacle monster? This is the entire pay-off for these otherwise worthless characters? This sure isn’t a punch in the gut. With the evil jesters of mediocrity having finally been defeated we discover Kuja has thoroughly left the building. As we investigate the area Vivi discovers his fellow Black Mages abandoned and confused. Vivi is then forced to immediately reconcile his relationship with the duped Black Mages. What ensues next is a friendly reminder of a simple time when Final Fantasy IX understood its strength lies in its characters rather than its story pivots:

Let the record state that I do not complain about Zidane's characterization on this particular blog!
Let the record state that I do not complain about Zidane's characterization on this particular blog!

Vivi’s people are left hopeless and now cognizant of their expedient mortality. Without a hesitation, Vivi immediately forgives his fellow Black Mages and promises to share what he has learned on his journey with them. It’s a touching reward and something Kuja could never promise to provide the Black Mages. I mentioned in the title how the game “gets good again,” and moments like these are why. We have a logical opportunity to provide the characters with “wait time.” Finally, the game decides to use this to effectively progress the characters, rather than attempt to appeal to comedy. The game even shows an attention to detail by tying recent events into previously established plot points.

Take for example Cid, a character who has consistently been played for humor's sake and nothing else. Lo and behold, the game decides to rectify this by providing him with a moment with his wife wherein they reconcile their differences. This is exactly what I have been asking for! If you are going to provide the characters with rest and relaxation, then at the least resolve or develop conflicts the characters are facing. For this reason, I found our return to Lindblum to be thoroughly spectacular. Here the characters coalesced in a way which established a sense of unity between our party members. This provides the story with a “backbone” for the succeeding scenes.

Part 97: I Would Like To Nominate Lindblum For “Best Level In Final Fantasy IX”

Everything that occurred in Lindblum after we rescued Eiko and Hilda was pure joy in a bottle. You know what, you were right all along. 2016 was a terrible year, and sometimes I need goofy shit to remind me what it means to feel joy again. Maybe the frosty abyss will be able to pitch 2017 into the void allowing us to coast idly along into the darkness. Then we can at least be awash in silence as the cold overcomes our white bones.

But never mind that! Look at Cid and how he talks like a bug even though he’s back to being human! Is that funny?
But never mind that! Look at Cid and how he talks like a bug even though he’s back to being human! Is that funny?

Yeah, one could moan and groan about the narrative convenience of Hilda knowing every bit and piece of information related to Kuja’s master plan, but this would be nitpicking for the sake of it. If Final Fantasy IX ends up serving me a wonderful three-course meal, who cares if it used plastic plates and utensils? I would even hazard to say having the gang all together for one last fun folly is entirely excusable. Watching Baku and his ilk try to rebuild their theater works because you clearly understand we have reached the game’s eleventh hour. Small moments like these work to build the world and fill in gaps as to what has occurred while we were away on our ramshackle effort to capture Kuja.

What I am decidedly less excited about is when Final Fantasy IX figures it functions on a higher mental faculty than it is capable of doing so. This includes when we relocate Garnet and witness the game’s most comically transparent metaphor yet:

I called it; I fucking called it!
I called it; I fucking called it!

Part 98: The Plagues And Pleasures Of Garnet’s Characterization

Look, come on, let me have this. I know I’m supposed to showcase professional impartiality as I blindly play these Final Fantasy games, but please… let me have this. Games and movies having a female character dramatically cut their hair as a sign of newfound independence is a played out trope which needs to die. Furthermore, Final Fantasy IX’s visual metaphors are the assassins of my dreams and are a part of the fundamental despair I wake up to every morning. Moments like these are equivalent to cutting someone’s feet and asking them to walk across a desert of salt.

The game dramatically cutting Garnet’s hair is a groan inducing moment it should have avoided entirely. I get it, Garnet has finally learned from her prior ignorance and understands the importance of believing in herself. You don’t need a two-minute CG cutscene to spell this out. The game subjecting me to an elongated game of hide-and-seek as the cast attempts to find Garnet is an equal waste of my goddamned time. I mean for fuck’s sake, how many times are we going to lose track of a princess? This is the third or fourth time it has happened, and trying to find her HAS NEVER BEEN FUN! How does Garnet NOT have a guard present next to her at all times?

It's not like people have attempted to kidnap or assassinate the princess at any point in the story.
It's not like people have attempted to kidnap or assassinate the princess at any point in the story.

Once again I feel motivated to bite my tongue as I gripe about the small things. Garnet’s interactions with Zidane are wonderfully done. Here, Garnet recognizes the superficiality of her previous worries. These worries included not sounding like a commoner or trying to run away from her oppressive mother. She openly identifies a need to continue her adventure with Zidane to protect something greater than material gains, this being the people of Alexandria. To watch Garnet identify and address her previous foolishness, and learn from this foolishness, shows maturity and progression with her arc. Even better, Garnet recognizes the need to grow and mature more, and thus we develop a sense of empathy for the anxiety she feels about becoming queen. These character moments ground Final Fantasy IX in a reality entirely believable to the audience. Then, the game decides to bludgeon you with its simplicity.

Oh no, there's no way this game stoops THAT LOW....
Oh no, there's no way this game stoops THAT LOW....

I'm sorry but did the game just subject me to a
I'm sorry but did the game just subject me to a "diamond in the rough" metaphor, but used Garnet's namesake gemstone instead?
YES IT DID! OH GIVE ME A FUCKING BREAK!
YES IT DID! OH GIVE ME A FUCKING BREAK!

But then the game rejects this simplicity and proposes real anxieties and personal maladies you can relate to:

WHO WROTE THIS GAME? I JUST DON’T KNOW WHAT TO FEEL ANYMORE!
WHO WROTE THIS GAME? I JUST DON’T KNOW WHAT TO FEEL ANYMORE!

At the risk of sounding contrived, I feel motivated to describe Garnet’s characterization mostly successful until the game tries to shoot for the stars. This failure is in the hands of the writers for thinking too highly of themselves. On the flip side, these same writers also deserve praise for the humanity Garnet depicts in Lindblum. We develop empathy towards a character who was, at least in my mind, largely intolerable. Garnet has developed beyond her initial tropes and now feels like a believable character. It’s a bit on the histrionic side of things, but I am once again amazed at how a game from over fifteen years ago managed to depict some of the most realistic characters in all video games.

Part 99: And Now For Something Completely Different!

Did you enjoy all those touching character moments from earlier? Well, guess what! The next two hours is all science-fiction nonsense and none of that! Oh, and I guess one could argue Amarant receives his final character moment. It’s garbage, but something is better than nothing.

No wait I take that back. I TAKE IT ALL BACK!
No wait I take that back. I TAKE IT ALL BACK!

Let’s address the setup for why we are exploring Ipsen’s Castle, because it sure is some Final Fantasy-ass bollocks. While listening to Kuja, Hilda learned of a portal between Gaia and Terra. Kuja admitted to her he is from Terra and uses a portal in the ocean to go between these two worlds. Unfortunately for us, there’s currently a magical barrier blocking us from using this portal. So we need to pick up some tokens in Ipsen’s Castle to lower the barrier guarding the portal.

Did this game’s ridiculousness already lose you?
Did this game’s ridiculousness already lose you?

Wait, why do we want to enter the portal in the first place? What do we gain from wasting our time investigating Terra while Kuja continues to muck about on Gaia? And four elemental seals; how fucking generic can you get? The game puts all this bullshit busywork in your way because this is the only way it knows how to structure its story. Now before you write me angry messages, I assure you, I understand “The Four Guardians” are a callback to the first Final Fantasy game. My point is this is unneeded pandering. Does the game benefit from including a contrived video game structure for the sake of paying homage to the past?

AND ZIDANE IS A FUCKING LIAR! WE DON'T LEARN SHIT ABOUT KUJA!
AND ZIDANE IS A FUCKING LIAR! WE DON'T LEARN SHIT ABOUT KUJA!

The game spends a painful amount of time using Amarant as a metaphor for the necessity of teamwork and jolly co-operation. The fucking metaphors in this game… they are like the Bubonic Plague. The premise behind Amarant’s moment is simple enough. He challenges Zidane to a competition to finally prove once and for all the superiority of working alone. Amarant then blasts Zidane for being weak and runs into Ipsen’s Castle by himself. I’m not entirely sure what the writers intended me to feel, but this scene led to me throwing my hands into the air and declaring “well, okay then!

PFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFTPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPT!
PFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFTPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPT!

The root of my blasé rebuke comes down to how little the game has spent developing Amarant as a character. Rather than cultivate Amarant as having an independent streak, his final depiction comes across as petty and selfish. He ends up risking our mission to SAVE THE WORLD for the sake of proving how superior he is to Zidane. This is no better than if the game had Amarant boast about the size of his genitalia. Every character up to this point has indicated a willingness to sacrifice their own personal independence for the sake of saving Gaia from a horrible cataclysm. Freya sacrifices time with her hubby Fratley, Steiner forsakes his budding relationship with Beatrix, and Garnet walks away from her sworn duties to protect her realm. So why exactly is Amarant on this journey? To be honest, I don’t believe the game effectively addresses this question, and the end result is his characterization is grievously impacted. I just did not give a shit about Amarant, and scenes like this certainly are not changing my stance.

EXACTLY! Let Amarant die as a result of his own stupidity!
EXACTLY! Let Amarant die as a result of his own stupidity!

Plus, and I do not think this is an unreasonable request, DO NOT JEOPARDIZE A MISSION TO SAVE THE WORLD FOR YOUR OWN PETTY BULLSHIT! I know I have said some ridiculous things during this blog series, but fucking come on now! For fuck’s sake, what if Amarant managed to destroy the magic seals in Ipsen’s Castle because he didn’t know what they were? Then everyone would have been FUCKED! The blame here should also be directed towards the writers. Was now the time to have Amarant attempt to prove his mettle against Zidane? How about the two times we were chilling in Lindblum?

Part 100: Let’s Just Steal The Magical Tokens And Call It A Day

Okay, look… I think I’m bad at playing video games. I’m just terrible at playing the things which otherwise provide me with the greatest amount of joy in my life. Why would I ever argue this? I slipped through Ipsen’s Castle not realizing the main in-combat conceit of the location. For those unaware, Ipsen’s Castle is where the game decides to subject you to “Opposite Day.” At this particular castle normally potent weapons result in minimal damage points; whereas lesser items become boss killing murder machines. Some of you are about to chime in the game provides a hint as all the chests in Ipsen’s Castle dole out daggers and low-tier rods. My only “defense” is I was never the inquisitive type to begin with. To be honest, I always interpreted daggers in the chests to be a giant middle finger by the designers to the audience.

I also missed this cue on account of being an moron.
I also missed this cue on account of being an moron.

I would also like to discuss the level design and structure of Ipsen’s Castle. The level is visually remarkable right up until you have to navigate through it. Much like the Desert Palace from earlier, it is painfully difficult to discern which parts of the foreground and background are navigable. The simple task of determining the game’s critical path quickly becomes a laborious chore. You can spend what amounts to ten minutes in Ipsen’s Castle, following a pathway to its ultimate conclusion, and discover it to be a dead end. Was there anything to assist you in avoiding this soul-crushing outcome? Of course there isn’t, what are you mad? You end up spending what feels like an eternity navigating narrow corridors and twisted pathways only to discover the game’s critical path leads you to a pedantic wall puzzle.

I feel as if the game does not want me to happy anymore.
I feel as if the game does not want me to happy anymore.

After solving the inane wall puzzle, you discover Amarant has beaten Zidane to the punch. Once he declares himself the victor, Amarant triumphantly waltzes out of the scene and exits my consciousness for the rest of the game. We, on the other hand, are left to marvel a wall with glowing magical tablets. After removing the magical tablets from their perch a horrible worm monster pops out of nowhere to attack our motley crew.

That’s right, I’m playing a Final Fantasy game.
That’s right, I’m playing a Final Fantasy game.

After defeating the penis looking worm demon we discover each of the tablets coincides with a specific location on Gaia. Zidane assumes placing these tokens in their respective locations will lower the magical barrier to Terra. I forgot to mention this, but Zidane has the magical ability to read unintelligible text pertaining to Terra, because “REASONS!” Our party expeditiously exits Ipsen’s Castle only to discover Amarant is nowhere to be found. Surprise, Amarant was injured in his selfish attempt to assert his superiority, and thus proves the necessity of working in a team. Did you see this pain train coming, because I sure did!

The ass band will play a song of farts to celebrate your failure.
The ass band will play a song of farts to celebrate your failure.

Part 101: I Just Don’t Even Know Anymore

This sure sounds like it is going to be a ton of
This sure sounds like it is going to be a ton of "fun."

Final Fantasy IX has some wonderful characters. Then there’s superfluous garbage like Amarant who serves as a naked attempt to ape Aesop. There are scenes which serve the story and its characters in magically amazing ways. Then there are off-putting moments where the game insults your patience. So here’s the existential crisis I have now reached regarding Final Fantasy IX:

I love 50% of Final FantasyIX, but actively hate the other 50%.

Thus, I have no idea how to feel about this game. I have tried in vain to accept the game’s spectacles for its literal components. I have turned off the hyper-critical parts of my olfactory cortex. I have done everything in my power to enjoy the ride much like I would for a summer movie. Going to this extreme has sufficed for the most part, but I’m still struggling to find it within myself to remain patient. Then, just as I want to walk away from the game, it provides touching moments between its characters. The game almost is cognizant of its inadequacies and immediately deploys countermeasures to ensure I remain engaged.

It’s just Final Fantasy IX ends up placating or playing to the expectations of its predecessors more than standing on the laurels of its own accomplishments. This, more than anything else, is the aspect of the game I find especially frustrating. It plays to the trope in which Final Fantasy games MUST have a hard pivot which inverts the previous setting and genre. Final Fantasy IX, more so than VII or VIII, required this the least because its previous setting was so wonderful. There was always the looming threat of an impending disaster in VII, and with VIII you always had the sense there was something more to being a SeeD than what the game originally proposed. Final Fantasy IX needed a science fiction pivot like you or I need a cold.

But the worse is yet to come. I haven’t even begun to rant about what I think is “the worst part” of Final Fantasy IX. If you enjoy me tearing these Final Fantasy games a new fucking asshole, then goodness, you are going to enjoy the next episode.

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I skim through your blog, but it's still super enjoyable. I have yet to go through all of FFIX. (I'm like halfway?) Hm, should I or should I not?

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I still contend that stuff like the candle puzzle in Kuja's palace are simply standard JRPG mechanics (i.e. pointless puzzles that don't actually have any context) and aren't any knock against the game.

I agree that Amarant was a wasted character (fun fact: Amarant and Quiana are the only party members who do not appear in any CGI cutscene in the game other than a half-second cameo in the ending), but I liked Ipsen Castle as a location. And 13 year-old me playing this back in 1999, felt like a genius for figuring out the gimmick. And Zidane being able to read Terran I felt was supposed to be a mystery to be explained later (which it is) and is supposed to stand out to players as odd.

Far as the big twist goes, I like it. These days I have more of a hankering for RPGs that tell more personal stories and don't result in needing to save the world (sadly, almost none go for this); but when I want big melodramatic, world-saving stories, Final Fantasy is the place to go (at least, through X; maybe not past that). I agree that the game pushed Kuja as a bit too evil, so the impact of him being manipulated by someone else (mirroring him manipulating the Queen) was somewhat lost; but the idea was sound. With the Queen dead, and all other conflicts in the game resolved by this point, the game needed some sort of twist to set-up the final act; and based on what had already been established I think it either needed to be something like this, or that Kuja on his own was already planning to destroy the world (which is not something that had been stated previously).

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I don't think Kuja is on his path of rampage at this point of the game yet, I think that's a little later.

As for story twist go, couple of things to chew on. Firstly I don't think a blanket statement on FF, or any game for that matter, to avoid doing any sort of twist be it sci-fi or otherwise is a sound approach to the issue at hand. The existent of a plot twist on its own isn't necessarily a sin, I would almost argue too eventful of a story could be dangerously boring, both depends on execution, and I don't know if one is necessarily "easier" than the other. Second, let's be honest, we know this is coming, this is a FF game of that era (perhaps even currently still), this happened before. You were burn the last time yet chose to dive into the pits again. From a repeating consumer/product perspective this is a non issue, you signed up for this; if someone new come into this and finds it repulsive, now they know not to try it again or think twice before trying again. Third...the twist, imo, is kind of tame really, it is essentially a follow up to the introduction of Garland and leads to the reveal of Terra, Kuja, and Zidane.

Oeilvert on its own really isn't that bad, it is a relic of an ancient time. You aren't going to get any character moment telling you anything, you are digging through scrap and pieces of essentially audio and video logs. The grander issue however is that you know the game is running out of time. The direct info dump feels almost too complete; rush and cobbled together by the devs as oppose to the only hints dropped during early game I think was when Kuja said something about Zidane the first time they met (end of disc 1?) the timing of which things should have fired feel off. It gets worse, but I think the worst offender lies not in the twist and its reveal, but in Zidane's "moment."

Amarant is more of a non character than a character lol, I can't find any other way to put this, he isn't really offensively bad, but he certainly doesn't add anything. I remember Hilda moment was kind of weird, but at the same time also kind of forgettable. As for Garnet, I can think other things that need to die before hair cutting...such as one dimensional characters and the classic chosen heroes fighting evil journey :p.

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The only thing I remember about this game is Vivi's arc. I think it's the only thing worth remembering about this game.

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#5 ZombiePie  Staff

The only thing I remember about this game is Vivi's arc. I think it's the only thing worth remembering about this game.

If that is all you remember form Final Fantasy IX, then you at least remembered the best part of Final Fantasy IX. @thatpinguino and many other users on this blog series have articulated the perspective that Vivi is even the protagonist of Final Fantasy IX. @sparky_buzzsaw even made an argument in favor of Garnet being the protagonist.

I always felt that Zidane was clearly the protagonist, and all of this input is really messing with my brain.

I skim through your blog, but it's still super enjoyable. I have yet to go through all of FFIX. (I'm like halfway?) Hm, should I or should I not?

Give me the exact moment you are on. If we are talking about the actual end of Disc Two then I would argue you should keep on trucking. At least get to where I am on this episode of my blog series. You should at least see the inklings of the story pivot, and at that point I think you can make an informed decision if you want to see more of the game.

Otherwise, I finished this game so you can as well. I didn't even know how to cast spells on multiple characters until Disc Four.

@fezrock said:

I still contend that stuff like the candle puzzle in Kuja's palace are simply standard JRPG mechanics (i.e. pointless puzzles that don't actually have any context) and aren't any knock against the game.

I agree that Amarant was a wasted character (fun fact: Amarant and Quiana are the only party members who do not appear in any CGI cutscene in the game other than a half-second cameo in the ending), but I liked Ipsen Castle as a location. And 13 year-old me playing this back in 1999, felt like a genius for figuring out the gimmick. And Zidane being able to read Terran I felt was supposed to be a mystery to be explained later (which it is) and is supposed to stand out to players as odd.

Far as the big twist goes, I like it. These days I have more of a hankering for RPGs that tell more personal stories and don't result in needing to save the world (sadly, almost none go for this); but when I want big melodramatic, world-saving stories, Final Fantasy is the place to go (at least, through X; maybe not past that). I agree that the game pushed Kuja as a bit too evil, so the impact of him being manipulated by someone else (mirroring him manipulating the Queen) was somewhat lost; but the idea was sound. With the Queen dead, and all other conflicts in the game resolved by this point, the game needed some sort of twist to set-up the final act; and based on what had already been established I think it either needed to be something like this, or that Kuja on his own was already planning to destroy the world (which is not something that had been stated previously).

Here are a few of my response to your well articulated rebuttals:

  • I can at least appreciate that in the Desert Palace there is a tangible reason to solve the candle puzzles. This is the one time where the puzzle has a genuine impact on the next event in the game. In this case solving the puzzles make the next boss battle easier.
  • What I find disappointing about Amarant is the fact he is the most interesting character mechanically. He is an amalgam of previous character types in RPGs and in combat can be a ton of fun to play. I also enjoyed Ipsen Castle, but again feel like it is a bit of a waste considering the high point there is solving a wall puzzle and beating a demon worm monster. Considering how much time navigating the environment genuinely takes I was expecting more from the level.
  • 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 to what the pivot brought to the story. A character "pipebomb," or general plot twist works best for me with it is complimentary to the tone and setting of the introduction of the story. The Sixth Sense's plot twist is related to its horror underpinning, and it doesn't all of the sudden add in comedy melodrama to the film. In Final Fantasy VII and VIII both of those games have science fiction based pivots, but at least they were science fiction based stories.

I don't think Kuja is on his path of rampage at this point of the game yet, I think that's a little later.

As for story twist go, couple of things to chew on. Firstly I don't think a blanket statement on FF, or any game for that matter, to avoid doing any sort of twist be it sci-fi or otherwise is a sound approach to the issue at hand. The existent of a plot twist on its own isn't necessarily a sin, I would almost argue too eventful of a story could be dangerously boring, both depends on execution, and I don't know if one is necessarily "easier" than the other. Second, let's be honest, we know this is coming, this is a FF game of that era (perhaps even currently still), this happened before. You were burn the last time yet chose to dive into the pits again. From a repeating consumer/product perspective this is a non issue, you signed up for this; if someone new come into this and finds it repulsive, now they know not to try it again or think twice before trying again. Third...the twist, imo, is kind of tame really, it is essentially a follow up to the introduction of Garland and leads to the reveal of Terra, Kuja, and Zidane.

Oeilvert on its own really isn't that bad, it is a relic of an ancient time. You aren't going to get any character moment telling you anything, you are digging through scrap and pieces of essentially audio and video logs. The grander issue however is that you know the game is running out of time. The direct info dump feels almost too complete; rush and cobbled together by the devs as oppose to the only hints dropped during early game I think was when Kuja said something about Zidane the first time they met (end of disc 1?) the timing of which things should have fired feel off. It gets worse, but I think the worst offender lies not in the twist and its reveal, but in Zidane's "moment."

Amarant is more of a non character than a character lol, I can't find any other way to put this, he isn't really offensively bad, but he certainly doesn't add anything. I remember Hilda moment was kind of weird, but at the same time also kind of forgettable. As for Garnet, I can think other things that need to die before hair cutting...such as one dimensional characters and the classic chosen heroes fighting evil journey :p.

  • Again, my issue does not stem from the fact the game provides its story a "twist." My issue is how the twist beings an entirely alien genre and tone to the story which did not explicitly already exist. The attitude that the Final Fantasy franchise is a franchise steeped in just adding in insane nonsense to its stories is a it troubling to me. The odds of utilizing twists to maintain an audience can prove counter-intuitive, and if this is what defines the franchise it practically sets up entire entries for failure.
  • I think we can agree on many of your points regarding Zidane. While the game intends for Zidane's fluency in alien technology and language to be the segue to a pending mystery it comes across as too much of a cop-out. Having Zidane just drone and lecture about what we see on the holograms is far less compelling than actually solving that mystery via intuition or the completion of a task. There are also not enough opportunities for the rest of the cast to share input and attempt to add-in their own perspective to what they learn. The lack of "dot connecting" deprives the characters of an opportunity to showcase what they have learned while on this journey.
  • Amarant could have been so much better. The idea of an introverted character warming up to the people around them would have been wonderful to watch. I thought for a bit that was the reason why Freya and Amarant spend so much time together at the start of Disc Three. Freya would slowly pick away at Amarant's cold exterior and this would lead to him sharing his insecurities and anxieties. This doesn't happen, and in fact, the two stop with their playful banter for the rest of the game. So why was that in there in the first place?
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#6  Edited By soimadeanaccount

I honestly don't see IX having much of a "genre twist". Getting to the root of it FF doesn't really follow a well defined classic genre especially from VI onward. Its own version of madness, fantasy or sci-fi (if it could even be label as such) is not really the typical elves and wizards nor spaceships and warp drives. For better or worse it pretty much does whatever it wants. If view and judge by a standard of what "normal" fantasy do and what "normal" sci-fi would do then FF would definitely be way off the mark, but it isn't any of those. It isn't easy to define FF in its own terms either, even when IX was tout to be a return to form to the series the definition of it was vague at best, it boils down to there will be airships, there will be job class, there will be crystals (whatever THAT means), and it does not look like VII and VIII.

The identity of what FF is as a series, if there's even one, and what does that mean is probably an entire separate discussion on its own. As for IX, to me the entire reveal is pretty much boils down to Garland/Terra created Kuja and Zidane as tools much like Kuja created black mages. Along with relating Vivi and Zidane as they share similar fate. The tone and themes are inline with what was established. The build up and timing is where it went wrong.

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Oh definitely. Mechanically, Amarant is really cool and he's a staple of my party once he joins up (I usually roll Zidane, Steiner, Vivi, and Amarant; sometimes swapping Vivi for Freya. White mages are not necessary and Quina sucks). His big issue is that he doesn't join the party until shortly before the game gets very "small" and most characters stop having any importance, connection to the plot, or even dialog. Which I think was due to time and budget constraints.

The reason Freya and Amarant's banter ends is because Freya's dialog basically ends with everyone. Post-Bahamut attack on Alexandria, only Zidane, Garnet, and Vivi regularly talk anymore; the other characters pretty much only do at a couple set points where everyone talks. From the point Amarant joins onwards, Steiner & Freya (and Quina, but who cares about it?) get just as little character development or story beats as he does for the rest of game; they are just carried by the fact that they got so much earlier in the game. Eiko is still relevant a little while longer, but after she rejoins the party post-Kuja capture she fades away too.

And its not just the party members; there's very few NPCs that do much of anything (other than Cid and the Terrans) the rest of the game either. Tantalus is there in the background, but there are no characters like them, Puck, Beatrix, Tot, etc. doing anything Post-Bahamut. From that point on, the game is a series of moments in the race to defeat Kuja and Garland and nothing else (well, there are the actual side quests; like Chocobo Hot and Cold, but those have no story importance either), and because Amarant joins so late, he never got his moments before all that to become a real character.

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#8  Edited By Teddie

@fezrock:I noticed it too, but when all the characters start talking less is the same time you get the option to switch out party members to whichever ones you want for the first time. So places like Oeilvert where you can send any of your party to, have basically no dialogue because they didn't write lines to account for every character being there. Zidane is basically the only character who always gets lines because he's required to be in your party (and central to the plot at that point).

Basically I get why it's like that, but it still sucks because IX's characters are the best part of the game.

@zombiepie: You might not like this twist, but wait until you get to FFXV where a huge plot twist is brought up, immediately discarded in the same scene, and then never mentioned again. And will probably be expanded upon in paid DLC despite having zero plot relevance anyway.

In regards to the twist in IX, I didn't think it was as hard a shift as you did. Sure the "dying planet merging with ours to save itself" is pretty out there, but it ties into the themes of the game very closely (death, dealing with death-- Kuja and Terra itself are both just exploring other aspects of mortality). Aside from that, they change up the visuals to have completely different architecture to what you're used to, the music shifts to be more synthy than usual, just to make the world feel alien. I think you're supposed to feel a bit thrown off at this point, but once Garland expositions all over you, I settled back into the story without issue.

Those aren't so much excuses for the game as they are reasons why I didn't suffer the same whiplash as you did. This is coming from the guy who didn't see a problem with switching from war-torn Burmecia to Garnet's Magical Pickle Adventures, though.

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Only current party members getting dialog is sort of a hold over from that era, it sometimes leads to only characters that deal with the main character have any exposition. The issue sort of get solve in later entries where everyone is technically present all the time or when group split happens it is character dependent. Persona also does the same time. Funny enough I remember Mass Effect having this issue and there is this meta game of who should I bring to this mission to get the most out of them character and story wise.

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#10 ZombiePie  Staff

I honestly don't see IX having much of a "genre twist". Getting to the root of it FF doesn't really follow a well defined classic genre especially from VI onward. Its own version of madness, fantasy or sci-fi (if it could even be label as such) is not really the typical elves and wizards nor spaceships and warp drives. For better or worse it pretty much does whatever it wants. If view and judge by a standard of what "normal" fantasy do and what "normal" sci-fi would do then FF would definitely be way off the mark, but it isn't any of those. It isn't easy to define FF in its own terms either, even when IX was tout to be a return to form to the series the definition of it was vague at best, it boils down to there will be airships, there will be job class, there will be crystals (whatever THAT means), and it does not look like VII and VIII.

Terra is very clearly a blue future world whose culture is defined by its use of holograms and airships such as the Invincible. These two points, as well as Terra's ability to clone and transfer souls, suggest it is a culture on the disparate opposite side of the spectrum when compared to the culture of Gaia. I mean this both figuratively and literally. Maybe in a perfect world Final Fantasy IX uses this location to its advantage, but what prevents this from happening is how it bites at its figurative apple eight or nine times, and then chokes on its cud.

All stuff related to Garland trying to convince Zidane to be evil... I wanted to rage quit the game so bad during those moments. The game does not even depict Zidane in the correct moral or emotional state as his life is being shattered around him. Instead, the game has him crack wise for 80% of time we spend in Pandemonium.

And this almost killed me.

@fezrock said:

The reason Freya and Amarant's banter ends is because Freya's dialog basically ends with everyone. Post-Bahamut attack on Alexandria, only Zidane, Garnet, and Vivi regularly talk anymore; the other characters pretty much only do at a couple set points where everyone talks. From the point Amarant joins onwards, Steiner & Freya (and Quina, but who cares about it?) get just as little character development or story beats as he does for the rest of game; they are just carried by the fact that they got so much earlier in the game. Eiko is still relevant a little while longer, but after she rejoins the party post-Kuja capture she fades away too.

And its not just the party members; there's very few NPCs that do much of anything (other than Cid and the Terrans) the rest of the game either. Tantalus is there in the background, but there are no characters like them, Puck, Beatrix, Tot, etc. doing anything Post-Bahamut. From that point on, the game is a series of moments in the race to defeat Kuja and Garland and nothing else (well, there are the actual side quests; like Chocobo Hot and Cold, but those have no story importance either), and because Amarant joins so late, he never got his moments before all that to become a real character.

This is so frustrating in terms of my enjoyment of the game. Certainly, the dynamic between Zidane, Garnet, and Vivi is good but variety is the spice of life which gives us the reason to wake up every day. The game has plenty of opportunities to use the ATE system or the game's "breathing periods" to create interpersonal relationships with the rest of the cast, but doesn't. Freya is left in the background, whereas Quina is provided with every possible opportunity to remind you he/she exists. Where is the justice in that?

AND BOY, HOW ABOUT THAT ATE SYSTEM?! A ton of users came to its defense on the first couple of episodes when I decried it as being a colossal waste of the audience's time. If it was such a revolutionary system then why does it essentially DIE halfway into Disc Three? How many of the ATEs featuring the non-player characters genuinely factor into the progression of the story, or critical path? Where is the worth of this system now?

@teddie said:

zombiepie: You might not like this twist, but wait until you get to FFXV where a huge plot twist is brought up, immediately discarded in the same scene, and then never mentioned again. And will probably be expanded upon in paid DLC despite having zero plot relevance anyway.

In regards to the twist in IX, I didn't think it was as hard a shift as you did. Sure the "dying planet merging with ours to save itself" is pretty out there, but it ties into the themes of the game very closely (death, dealing with death-- Kuja and Terra itself are both just exploring other aspects of mortality). Aside from that, they change up the visuals to have completely different architecture to what you're used to, the music shifts to be more synthy than usual, just to make the world feel alien. I think you're supposed to feel a bit thrown off at this point, but once Garland expositions all over you, I settled back into the story without issue.

Those aren't so much excuses for the game as they are reasons why I didn't suffer the same whiplash as you did. This is coming from the guy who didn't see a problem with switching from war-torn Burmecia to Garnet's Magical Pickle Adventures, though.

In regards to Final Fantasy XV is this "twist" at all hinted at in the anime tie-in? Because if it is, I may already know what it is.

It is a hard twist when you actually annotate every single supporting plot development Terra, Bran Bal, and Pandemonium bring to the story which are never hinted at previously. How the writers ever thought they could effectively do soul-transfer, parallel universes, free will vs. predeterminism, soul theory, Malthusian decay, and existential crises is beyond me. This is where Final Fantasy essentially digs its own grave in my own opinion.

And as I mentioned earlier Garland's exposition dump is one of the worst moments in the entire game. I would rather have my chest dragged through hot coals than deal with that exposition dump again.

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A lot of this seems to check-out with what I can recall from memory, though I can't recall many of the smaller, finer details. I still remember the penultimate part of the game being fairly out of left field for me, but admittedly it's been several years since I've replayed FFIX (it's definitely the PS2-era FF game I replayed the most of).

Do you take notes as you go along? Obviously you take screenshots as you go along but I assume you must do the former as well. Otherwise, you have an extremely good memory Mr. Pie.

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@zombiepie: I do think the ATE system was great when it was around, and I think the game would've been greatly improved if it continued to exist in Discs 3 and 4. I think the reason it doesn't, and why the other "smallness" issues I mentioned happened, was because Square ran out of time and/or money and needed to ship the game already. Between biting off more than the writers could chew (while I do like all the plot-twist stuff, I will agree that it was an awful lot to throw in there), not solving the issue of how to deal with so many different party combinations, and having a weird developer team set-up*, the back third of the game isn't nearly as polished or complete as the rest of the game. There some great moments still, like basically everything with the black mages, but this is why I love Discs 1 & 2 so much more.

*The developer team was split between Japan and Hawaii; in an era before the internet was really a thing. Also, the US-based developers weren't from Hawaii, they were just ordered to work from there since it was physically the closest they could get to Japan while still staying in the US. I suspect this made coordination and concentration more of a challenge, and it shows at times.

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@zombiepie: I didn't watch Brotherhood, but if they do hint at it in there then that's just hilarious because they never once hint at it in the game, but talk about it like they did. FFIX at least sort of built up to the twist by putting Oielvert before the big plot dump. FFXV feels like a game where they took the story, found all the big plot moments and cut everything in between so that it's just a long sequence of unconnected events that have zero impact.

In other words, can't wait for you to play it!

Also I liked Garland's exposition dump because his theme is playing the whole time and I really like that theme. Seriously though exposition dumps suck, and JRPGs sure do love pulling them out at the end when the true villain is revealed to be someone you don't know or care about who usually has unrelateable motives because they're god or some shit (making it one of the worst recurring twists in the genre, but I guess somebody likes them?). You've probably noticed it's "a thing" by now.

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I haven’t even begun to rant about what I think is “the worst part” of Final Fantasy IX

You don't know how long I've waited.

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Loving 50% of FFIX...

Amazing where you have come from. Like others who played this game at release (with a few replays here and there) the truth is that Vivi's character and the storylines closest to him are those that really stick with you over time. That, and fucking Gargan Roo.

Oh and Freya actually. Her and the story of her people really struck me too. I can still see Odin clear as day running vertically out of the eye of the storm.

But one very important correction: Final Fantasy never gestures to its past. There are no call backs, or references. Technically, it's a circle... in a hoop... that never ends. FFVIII hinted at this. Every FF is the same FF. Garland, Cid, Gaia, Terra, the Four Warriors of Light, Jump, etc so on. Like a stack of mirrors punched through with ah fuck it. Did you see The OA? Anyways if you do a crazy dance the reality of FF will reveal itself to you but by god trust me - you don't want that.

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ATE is good in concept, and I think the lack of it towards the end is partially due to all the key characters are almost always on screen so there's really no need to show what other characters are doing, and when there needs to be a party split it is involve enough to have gameplay session dedicated to it.

I do wonder if these games are developed in sequence with story progression, coming off fresh from XIII there's definitely a point in the game where everything else that happens afterward seems to be given lesser and lesser care. Yet I feel like they don't skim on endings sequences, perhaps learning from what happened with VII.

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#17 ZombiePie  Staff

Good God almighty it appears I forgot to keep everyone I asked for input about using my Steam Funds on JRPG nonsense! Anyways I'll just send this out to everyone who sent me "advice" about how to best use my $40:

@imhungry@soimadeanaccount@kmfrob@dochaus@teddie@beforet@lawgamer@sparky_buzzsaw@fezrock@dudeglove@hassun@mikelemmer@audiobusting@wchigo

So here's where my money went:

I even was willing to go $3 over budget!
I even was willing to go $3 over budget!

So I would declare the slate here mostly successful. But there's a new "development," regarding my ability to play JRPGs. That development would be this little contraption:

No Caption Provided

For those who have no idea what they are looking at, this is a Raspberry Pi. A Raspberry Pi I just downloaded every NES and SNES era JRPG from Square. To my horror/joy the only game which did not emulate correctly was Final Fantasy II. I guess there is actually some justice in this world. ANYWAYS, this basically changes everything! I can basically take suggestions regardless of platform, era, or in some cases country of release. So if there was anything you were avoiding as a suggestion due to my staunch PC only lifestyle, have at it. @mento can already testify I think the Ys games are baller.

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@zombiepie: Souch proud display of highly illegal activities!

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@geraltitude: At the time I distinctly remember FF9 being marketed as "returning to the crystal" (or words to that effect, some crap about crystals coming back) in part because the new style of FF8 had supposedly turned people offdue to the aesthetic and the bad romance angle. I never played the pre FF7 games (apart from 4 on the DS, which is real good and got remade like twice?) so I have no idea what these crystals are meant to signify, but I assume like all fantasy they get corrupted or shattered or lost or something.

I still can't remember the way this game ends *wander off to look it up on youtube*

oh. right.

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@dudeglove: It wasn't just FF8; FF9 was marketed a return to the pre-FF6 days. The first five games were all basically pure, high fantasy; but then FF6 came along and introduced Magitek and was mostly about the rise of technology and then FF7 and FF8 were more science-fiction than fantasy. And even though FF6 was fantastic and FF7 was a huge beloved hit, SE still decided after FF8 that it was time to get back to their roots with FF9; which is why damn near everything is a reference to those original games.

The crystals in the pre-FF6 games were originally an implementation of the elemental philosophy/observation of nature that pretty much all ancient real-world civilizations had; there was a fire crystal, earth crystal, wind crystal, and water crystal and together they were the source of all life. Some of the games also had other crystals, like a light crystal or a dark crystal. FF6, FF7, and FF8 sort of had generic references to crystals, but they didn't play the same role in those games; FF9 brought back the idea of crystals as the source of life. Though they had just one giant, super-important crystal surrounded by many lesser ones and didn't go into all the elemental stuff. Which is basically the concept that all the post-FF9 games went with, if they included crystals at all.

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@teddie said:

@zombiepie: I didn't watch Brotherhood, but if they do hint at it in there then that's just hilarious because they never once hint at it in the game, but talk about it like they did. FFIX at least sort of built up to the twist by putting Oielvert before the big plot dump. FFXV feels like a game where they took the story, found all the big plot moments and cut everything in between so that it's just a long sequence of unconnected events that have zero impact.

In other words, can't wait for you to play it!

Also I liked Garland's exposition dump because his theme is playing the whole time and I really like that theme. Seriously though exposition dumps suck, and JRPGs sure do love pulling them out at the end when the true villain is revealed to be someone you don't know or care about who usually has unrelateable motives because they're god or some shit (making it one of the worst recurring twists in the genre, but I guess somebody likes them?). You've probably noticed it's "a thing" by now.

You forget that there are two completely unexplained plot twists in XV. The one I assume you're talking about, and also the one where one of your party members leaves and then comes back with huge scars that are never brought up or mentioned again.

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@zombiepie: So, real talk for a new-ish user who's not been keeping up with your trek through the Final Fantasies... do you hate JRPGs? And if so, why are you putting yourself through all this? Or is this some kind of Giant Bomb inside joke that I've missed the setup for?

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nice pull @dudeglove!

I tried my best to find a scan of the mag advertisement but no such luck so far - definitely you're right - I remember the tagline was "THE CRYSTAL COMES BACK" which, if I am also not mistaken, is what it says on the back of the FFIX box.

Crystals, man.

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#24  Edited By ZombiePie  Staff

@zombiepie: So, real talk for a new-ish user who's not been keeping up with your trek through the Final Fantasies... do you hate JRPGs? And if so, why are you putting yourself through all this? Or is this some kind of Giant Bomb inside joke that I've missed the setup for?

I do not hate the JRPG genre I simply avoided due to my preference being strictly in the camp of western CRPGs. I have talked at whits end about Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale, or Baldur's Gate with many a number of users on the site. In fact, @arbitrarywater and @sparky_buzzsaw can attest to this.

As the story goes, about two years ago I assisted @thatpinguino in promoting the Giant Bomb Community Endurance Run charity streaming event. I found myself gravitating towards pinguino's stream on account of me never having seen a Final Fantasy game being played to completion. As I watched him play, and eventually complete Final Fantasy IX I asked he a myriad of questions pertaining to the franchise. These questions made it nakedly apparent I had never played a JRPG before. Finding this to be unacceptable he proposed I play a Final Fantasy game of his choice, and he would play a game of my choice.

I selected Myst, and he selected Final Fantasy VIII. This is not entirely true as I could only play Final Fantasy games available on PC, and this limited our choices to Final Fantasy VII or VIII. Final Fantasy VIII was my first impression to the entire franchise, and BOY HOWDY is that game NOT the game to play if it is you first go at the franchise.

Why am I still playing these Final Fantasy games? Because I am on a quest to not only lose my sanity, but also on a quest to make up for lost time, and see if I can finally find "that" JRPG which everyone who loves these games can list at least ten. I want to find my video game unicorn.

nice pull @dudeglove!

I tried my best to find a scan of the mag advertisement but no such luck so far - definitely you're right - I remember the tagline was "THE CRYSTAL COMES BACK" which, if I am also not mistaken, is what it says on the back of the FFIX box.

Crystals, man.

Wait... crystals are an important part to this franchise? I thought collecting crystals was only a thing in like the first Final Fantasy game?

@lawgamer said:
@teddie said:

@zombiepie: I didn't watch Brotherhood, but if they do hint at it in there then that's just hilarious because they never once hint at it in the game, but talk about it like they did. FFIX at least sort of built up to the twist by putting Oielvert before the big plot dump. FFXV feels like a game where they took the story, found all the big plot moments and cut everything in between so that it's just a long sequence of unconnected events that have zero impact.

In other words, can't wait for you to play it!

Also I liked Garland's exposition dump because his theme is playing the whole time and I really like that theme. Seriously though exposition dumps suck, and JRPGs sure do love pulling them out at the end when the true villain is revealed to be someone you don't know or care about who usually has unrelateable motives because they're god or some shit (making it one of the worst recurring twists in the genre, but I guess somebody likes them?). You've probably noticed it's "a thing" by now.

You forget that there are two completely unexplained plot twists in XV. The one I assume you're talking about, and also the one where one of your party members leaves and then comes back with huge scars that are never brought up or mentioned again.

Also, YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO THAT ANIME IS TERRIBLE! But worse yet, the anime sets a horrible precedent for video game storytelling if SquareEnix decide to use it as their

The idea SquareEnix plans on people watching the anime in order to know what the context to the story of their actual million dollar video game is... just the worst thing ever. Remember when Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith came out, and you needed to watch the cartoon show tie-in just to know who General Grievous was? Or why there was a massive battle over Coruscant?

This is going to be a re-occuring issue if this takes on.

@fezrock said:

@dudeglove: It wasn't just FF8; FF9 was marketed a return to the pre-FF6 days. The first five games were all basically pure, high fantasy; but then FF6 came along and introduced Magitek and was mostly about the rise of technology and then FF7 and FF8 were more science-fiction than fantasy. And even though FF6 was fantastic and FF7 was a huge beloved hit, SE still decided after FF8 that it was time to get back to their roots with FF9; which is why damn near everything is a reference to those original games.

The crystals in the pre-FF6 games were originally an implementation of the elemental philosophy/observation of nature that pretty much all ancient real-world civilizations had; there was a fire crystal, earth crystal, wind crystal, and water crystal and together they were the source of all life. Some of the games also had other crystals, like a light crystal or a dark crystal. FF6, FF7, and FF8 sort of had generic references to crystals, but they didn't play the same role in those games; FF9 brought back the idea of crystals as the source of life. Though they had just one giant, super-important crystal surrounded by many lesser ones and didn't go into all the elemental stuff. Which is basically the concept that all the post-FF9 games went with, if they included crystals at all.

WAIT! Which games use crystals, and when does the crystal collecting trope get retired? Is the Materia in Final Fantasy VII the same as a crystal? Does Final Fantasy VII even have magic, or do you just use rocks?

But one very important correction: Final Fantasy never gestures to its past. There are no call backs, or references. Technically, it's a circle... in a hoop... that never ends. FFVIII hinted at this. Every FF is the same FF. Garland, Cid, Gaia, Terra, the Four Warriors of Light, Jump, etc so on. Like a stack of mirrors punched through with ah fuck it. Did you see The OA? Anyways if you do a crazy dance the reality of FF will reveal itself to you but by god trust me - you don't want that.

Sometimes it takes me a while to realize when you are being sarcastic. But I honestly have no idea if you are being serious or not if this is canonically correct or not. If it is... I just do not want to live in this world anymore.

The OA ended in one of the most self-defeating manners I have ever seen a television show end.

@wchigo said:

A lot of this seems to check-out with what I can recall from memory, though I can't recall many of the smaller, finer details. I still remember the penultimate part of the game being fairly out of left field for me, but admittedly it's been several years since I've replayed FFIX (it's definitely the PS2-era FF game I replayed the most of).

Do you take notes as you go along? Obviously you take screenshots as you go along but I assume you must do the former as well. Otherwise, you have an extremely good memory Mr. Pie.

My standard schedule is to play two to three episodes worth of game, and take notes as I go. While playing the game I take screen captures at a ridiculous rate. I am not kidding about this... while playing Final Fantasy IX I was taking so many screen captures during cutscenes the game's framerate would actually drop. To prevent anachronisms I try to write with a guide right next to me, but you can probably tell I get things wrong from time to time. This "season" I included a rant on the Fossil Roo switch puzzle on the section for Gargan Roo. I swear these names will be the death of me.

However I attempt to use the usuall excuse of my blogs being "thematic" to get away from any anachronisms.

@geraltitude: At the time I distinctly remember FF9 being marketed as "returning to the crystal" (or words to that effect, some crap about crystals coming back) in part because the new style of FF8 had supposedly turned people offdue to the aesthetic and the bad romance angle. I never played the pre FF7 games (apart from 4 on the DS, which is real good and got remade like twice?) so I have no idea what these crystals are meant to signify, but I assume like all fantasy they get corrupted or shattered or lost or something.

The aesthetic to Final Fantasy VIII is the least of that game's worries. Every time I see Patrick or Brad rank VIII higher than VII a part of me just wants to die.In terms of the romance angle... I mean if you are going to swing for a romance angle you might as well swing hard. The game clearly missed and fell on its face, but that is part of the reason why I gravitated towards the game. It's the hottest of hot messes.

Every time I see Patrick or Brad rank VIII higher than VII a part of me just wants to die. OH, AND SPEAKING OF WHICH! I found GameSpot's "PlayStation One Flashback" from 2008! Check out a young Brad, Matt Rorie, and Brain Eckberg talk about how much they love Final Fantasy VIII's story and romance plot... and Jeff is on point about Final Fantasy VII. Seriously you all need to watch this because it is AMAZING:

Loading Video...

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I never finish VIII, made it to a little past disc 1, and thought it looked pretty interesting up to that point, but I keep hearing from people that's when everything gets worse and worse. Normally that wouldn't be enough to deter me from powering through, but the battle system in VIII really bothered me, so it ended up in the back burner ever since.

What irks me more when the GB crew talk about FF is their reverence for IV, luckily they came to their senses and the recent FF related talk is usually about FFVI, which I can totally get behind. Also not knowing exactly what is going on until the very end is a good thing about VIII?

Crystal is...well for the most part it is a magic mcguffin, it is whatever they need it to be to get their world/story going. It could be a physical object that exist and the big bad is trying to get their hands on, or it could also be a representation of life/magic/power what have you, very often they have an element tied to them, like fire crystal, water crystal, etc. In VII materia serve as the stand in for crystal, it is crystalized lifestream (therefore essentially life) that enable magic, power, and occasionally energy source for technology and the world to build around. In IX I think it serves as origin of life. In VI it is tied to summon. In XI you can use it to cook a pizza.

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#26  Edited By CommodoreGroovy

Your blogs about your misadventures through the Final Fantasy series are great like always! As someone who does a little creative writing from time to time, I really enjoy the way you've torn through these games with a fine analytic brush (even if it breaks my heart a little to see you tear through precious childhood memories). I would say it's even been educational, having you go through these stories, seeing what works and what doesn't in ways I wouldn't have thought of. When I see detailed critiques like yours, it really puts in perspective how much more I have to learn. Not to mention that your blogs are funny as hell. So yeah, thanks a lot for these blogs, ZombiePie! Hope you keep them coming.

Oh, a little side note, I saw that Trails in the Sky was on your list of JRPGs you purchased and planned to eventually get to. As you mentioned that you know nothing about the series, I wanted to point out that the game is effectively part one in a two-part series. The first game can stand alone by itself, as you can play it and get a complete story experience out of it, but it's fairly clear by the end that it's only the first part of a larger story and game. It's a fairly solid and straightforward JRPG, yet maybe a bit too straightforward as it stays mostly safe with its storytelling by not taking too many risks. The strongest parts of the narrative in Trails, in my opinion, are the characters and the way narrative presents and builds on the world. Also, the entire series is very long. First game clocks in around 30 hours, while the second game can take up to 70.

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@zombiepie: Pretty much all of them have crystals; its like Cid or Chocobos. Or actually I guess its more like Moogles, since its not quite every game.

FFI: The heroes each have an elemental crystal (fire, earth, etc.) and so do each of the bosses; and the main throughline of the game is restoring the bosses' crystals to save the world.

FFII: There are crystals that you can interact with to boost stats and gain spells; but there' no plot importance; IIRC.

FFIII: There's four light crystals and four dark crystals which have lots of power in them, and the bad guy is trying to destroy the light crystals to destroy the world. The party members get the light crystals and that gives them their powers.

FFIV: There's again four light crystals, which are the elements, and four dark crystals (and some other crystals), and the bad guy is trying to bring the eight crystals together to destroy the world.

FFV: There's four elemental crystals on each world, responsible for maintaining life on that world; the bad guy is trying to destroy the crystals to destroy the worlds.

FFVI: Magicite is crystalized espers; but its a bit of a stretch. Basically just a minor reference to past games.

FFVII: Materia is crystalized Mako, which is the lifestream, so there's still a connection between crystals and life but its mostly just a reference to past games.. Its my understanding that in some of the spinoffs Materia started being treated more like crystals, but I never played/watched any of them.

FFVIII: There's the Crystal Pillar inside the Lunatic Pandora, which somehow can causes Lunar Crys. Not ever really properly explained.

FFIX: Crystals are back big; they're the source of all life, with one primary one at the center of each world.

FFX: Spheres are water that's been crystalized with pyrefiles; though that's basically just a minor reference. There's also all the crystals in the room before the final boss in Sin; though those aren't explained.

FFXI: Crystals are freakin' everywhere and used for everything; I never played much of it though so I don't know if there's ever any plot importance to them.

FFXII: Crystals are really common and are somehow connected to magic, but I never got far enough into the game to learn if there's real importance there.

FFXIII: The fal'Cie, who are basically artificial gods, are powered by crystals. If l'Cie fail their tasks they become big crystalized monsters and if they succeed their tasks they become flawless, lifeless crystal statues (bit of a raw deal there). I beat the game, but I'm still not sure if the fal'Cie's crystals are ever fully explained.

FFXIV: Crystals are everywhere, just like in FFXI. But I actually played a decent amount of this one; there's also a single massive crystal that's the source of all life.

FFXV: No idea; haven't touched this one since its not on PC and I don't have a current gen console.

In sum, crystals are either the source of all life or have the power to destroy the world, in I, III, IV, V, IX, XIII, and XIV; and are at least in all the games in some way or another (and maybe are important in XI, XII, and XV; I don't know).

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@fezrock said:

FFVIII: There's the Crystal Pillar inside the Lunatic Pandora, which somehow can causes Lunar Crys. Not ever really properly explained.

Truer words never spoken

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#29 ZombiePie  Staff

@fezrock: I am going to guess you can also tap "having a character named Cid," moogles, and Chocobos as being other franchise mainstays. Many years ago (i.e. two) I had an extensive debate with @sparky_buzzsaw on whether or not Final Fantasy is a "franchise" or not. I advocated the franchise "mainstays" are referential content rather than being devices meant to narratively connect each game. This means Final Fantasy is a name and nothing more. Sparky of course, advocated for the opposite perspective.

I mostly stand by my perspective. Personally, I would advocate that when the creative vision of the series starter is effectively no longer being honored narrative or mechanically the "franchise" essentially ceases.

@fezrock said:

FFVIII: There's the Crystal Pillar inside the Lunatic Pandora, which somehow can causes Lunar Crys. Not ever really properly explained.

Truer words never spoken

YO! Not sure if you remember but everything in Final Fantasy VIII related to Esthar is a crock of half-developed good ideas that never get followed through on. Like Esthar having the technology to go to space, but don't have any military technology to deal with the Lunatic Pandora. Oh, and remember when we went to space? Remember how there was a perfectly functioning space ship idly floating around the monster moon we were able to commandeer and use without issue? Or how about Esthar having a tomb for freezing witches in perpetuity, and was surrounded by security, but someone decided to place the second most dangerous witch into space, and right next to a moon populated by monsters?

What a video game....

I never finish VIII, made it to a little past disc 1, and thought it looked pretty interesting up to that point, but I keep hearing from people that's when everything gets worse and worse. Normally that wouldn't be enough to deter me from powering through, but the battle system in VIII really bothered me, so it ended up in the back burner ever since.

What irks me more when the GB crew talk about FF is their reverence for IV, luckily they came to their senses and the recent FF related talk is usually about FFVI, which I can totally get behind. Also not knowing exactly what is going on until the very end is a good thing about VIII?

In XI you can use it to cook a pizza.

The battle system is one of the most gloriously broken things ever conceived in video game history. As @thatpinguino can testify, you can essentially "break" the combat in Final Fantasy VIII within the first two to three hours. That is one of the reasons why my Final Fantasy VIII retrospective spoke sparingly about the battle system. Well, besides the terrible tutorials in the game.

SPEAKING OF WHICH do these games EVER have tutorials which aren't horrible wastes of my time?

The last thing this blog series needs is me sharing my opinions about pizza.

Your blogs about your misadventures through the Final Fantasy series are great like always! As someone who does a little creative writing from time to time, I really enjoy the way you've torn through these games with a fine analytic brush (even if it breaks my heart a little to see you tear through precious childhood memories). I would say it's even been educational, having you go through these stories, seeing what works and what doesn't in ways I wouldn't have thought of. When I see detailed critiques like yours, it really puts in perspective how much more I have to learn. Not to mention that your blogs are funny as hell. So yeah, thanks a lot for these blogs, ZombiePie! Hope you keep them coming.

Oh, a little side note, I saw that Trails in the Sky was on your list of JRPGs you purchased and planned to eventually get to. As you mentioned that you know nothing about the series, I wanted to point out that the game is effectively part one in a two-part series. The first game can stand alone by itself, as you can play it and get a complete story experience out of it, but it's fairly clear by the end that it's only the first part of a larger story and game. It's a fairly solid and straightforward JRPG, yet maybe a bit too straightforward as it stays mostly safe with its storytelling by not taking too many risks. The strongest parts of the narrative in Trails, in my opinion, are the characters and the way narrative presents and builds on the world. Also, the entire series is very long. First game clocks in around 30 hours, while the second game can take up to 70.

Part of my writing style is an odd amalgam of RedLetterMedia and my education background. While I will not hesitate to throw in a little vulgarity for added humor, it's best used when there's an intellectual heart to the vulgarity. I also strongly believe in the idea of nitpicking only if a scene is rotten to its core as a legitimate overall criticism. A ton of Final Fantasy IX works in the grand scheme of things. The nitpicks are certainly annoying, but so long as the game's heart is in the right place you can almost forgive it for its shortcomings.

This of course, is disregarding some of the bullcrap we are about to discuss in Disc Three and Disc Four.... LET'S JUST SAY I HAVE SOME THINGS ABOUT THIS GAME'S FINAL BOSS BATTLE!

Oh... it sounds like I just wasted $10 on Trails in the Sky. I have zero interest in playing something which could take me two years to complete. I'm pretty sure doing so would be the death of me.

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@zombiepie: The games aren't all narratively connected (although even that is kind of complicated; FFXII is a confirmed prequel to Final Fantasy Tactics, there's evidence that Final Fantasy X is a prequel to Final Fantasy VII, and I'm probably forgetting some other stuff), but I think there's more to 'Final Fantasy' as a franchise than just the referential stuff. There are common themes across the games, such as a failure of existing institutions to deal with the world's problems, the corruption of power, and the idea of a life force that connects all living beings. There are common plot elements across the games, such as there always being a villain behind whoever you first think the villain is and that your party is always a collection of rebels, outcasts, and misfits. There's usually an evil empire and if there's a church, its central organization is corrupt. And so on. There used to be common gameplay elements too, but that's mostly gone out the window at this point.

I don't think there's a single creative vision driving the franchise; how could there be with so many different development teams working over a thirty year period? But I think there's enough stuff tying all the games together that 'Final Fantasy' isn't just a name. Also, I think there's plenty of other franchises where the original vision isn't being honored but there's no debate that its a franchise; for instance the Assassin's Creed series doesn't have much to do with the original game anymore, nor do the Grand Theft Auto games.

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@zombiepie: I think you actually managed to sway me in that argument, especially given the last decade or so of Final Fantasy releases. If they start pushing more "classic" feeling Final Fantasies, it'll be an argument we revisit, but I'm not sure shared universal world-building elements are enough to call it a franchise anymore, despite the numbering.

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Teddie

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@zombiepie: I think Final Fantasy as a franchise made more sense up until FFXII (which was the first FF I actually played, so I didn't have the common hangups of it "not being a Final Fantasy game" that a lot of people did at the time). Now that turn-based is completely off the table, there's really nothing tying XII, XIII and XV to the other games outside of the recurring creatures and terms. Tthe fact they changed Versus-XIII to XV speaks volumes to "Final Fantasy" just being a big name to bring in the cash at this point.

Oh... it sounds like I just wasted $10 on Trails in the Sky. I have zero interest in playing something which could take me two years to complete. I'm pretty sure doing so would be the death of me.

People talk about liking Trails in the Sky for the same reasons I like FFIX (indepth NPC interactions/stories, slow start with good worldbuilding, great characters as opposed to a great plot), but holy crap I can't get through that game. It's too slow even for me.

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@sparky_buzzsaw said:

@zombiepie: I think you actually managed to sway me in that argument, especially given the last decade or so of Final Fantasy releases. If they start pushing more "classic" feeling Final Fantasies, it'll be an argument we revisit, but I'm not sure shared universal world-building elements are enough to call it a franchise anymore, despite the numbering.

As someone now in the process of writing about XV, I think that they'd be better off ditching the "classic" feel as much as they can. I think one of the central takeaways of my time with XV is that the series definitely has trouble moving out of its own shadow, and that the relentless need to pay homage to history is what is actually holding the series back. XV is great in the first few chapters during the open-world, when it's most different from prior Final Fantasies. It's in later chapters where they start to trying to make a bunch of call-backs to the older games (they have a hard-on for VI in particular) that it becomes significantly less good.

They've committed the cardinal sin of any remake or spiritual successor: Don't remind people of other games if those games are better than the one you're making.

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@lawgamer: Terrifically good point. I'd be happy if they moved either way - back towards gameplay like X, or away from all the previous trappings altogether.

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@zombiepie: I'm a HUGE fan of Ys. Oath in Felghana and Origin were my faves. That being said, It's more for the action than the story. The stories are fairly typical JRPG trope-fests. Just about every single Ys game has a damsel in distress that falls for the protagonist after he saves her in some capacity or another. If you're looking for story, I'd lean more toward Grandia II. If you're after some good action then Ys is your game.

Also, since the first moment I saw you making a blog for this game I've been waiting for the moment you get to the final boss. I'm going to savor it.

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#36  Edited By GundamGuru
@zombiepie said:

I do not hate the JRPG genre I simply avoided due to my preference being strictly in the camp of western CRPGs. I have talked at whits end about Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale, or Baldur's Gate with many a number of users on the site. In fact, @arbitrarywater and @sparky_buzzsaw can attest to this.

As the story goes, about two years ago I assisted @thatpinguino in promoting the Giant Bomb Community Endurance Run charity streaming event. I found myself gravitating towards pinguino's stream on account of me never having seen a Final Fantasy game being played to completion. As I watched him play, and eventually complete Final Fantasy IX I asked he a myriad of questions pertaining to the franchise. These questions made it nakedly apparent I had never played a JRPG before. Finding this to be unacceptable he proposed I play a Final Fantasy game of his choice, and he would play a game of my choice.

I selected Myst, and he selected Final Fantasy VIII. This is not entirely true as I could only play Final Fantasy games available on PC, and this limited our choices to Final Fantasy VII or VIII. Final Fantasy VIII was my first impression to the entire franchise, and BOY HOWDY is that game NOT the game to play if it is you first go at the franchise.

Why am I still playing these Final Fantasy games? Because I am on a quest to not only lose my sanity, but also on a quest to make up for lost time, and see if I can finally find "that" JRPG which everyone who loves these games can list at least ten. I want to find my video game unicorn.

That's actually really fascinating, and thanks for the long reply. Believe it or not, I'm one of those weirdos who's played all of the FFs and will still tell you that FFVIII is my favorite (I liked the scifi direction, premise, setting, and characters, not the weird ending), but that's neither here nor there. Your blog/playthrough of IX makes much more sense in that context, since it peddles so much in nostalgia, which you don't have. I suppose I was the opposite of you in that regard. I grew up on a steady diet of JRPGs, and only got into western stuff late in high school, when I got handed-down my first desktop computer. I've soured a ton on the genre in my old age. I suppose my only suggestion would be to branch out of the FF series soon, well before playing them all (it's not worth it). Might I recommend Xenogears/XenosagaStar Ocean or Legend of the Dragoon?

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CommodoreGroovy

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@teddie said:

Oh... it sounds like I just wasted $10 on Trails in the Sky. I have zero interest in playing something which could take me two years to complete. I'm pretty sure doing so would be the death of me.

People talk about liking Trails in the Sky for the same reasons I like FFIX (indepth NPC interactions/stories, slow start with good worldbuilding, great characters as opposed to a great plot), but holy crap I can't get through that game. It's too slow even for me.

Yeah, the entire series is like that. It's definitely not for everybody, and I totally get why people are turned off from a huge commitment like that. I'm the type of person who can sit through a long game (as long as the slow parts are still interesting enough) in anticipation for the more impactful story beats. I sort of reason Trails in the Sky to be something like going on a long adventure and experiencing every moment of that journey: both the quiet and exciting times. Is all of that really necessary? Not really, but I still find it enjoyable.

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