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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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.”
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!
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?
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?
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.
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.
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!
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?
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?
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.
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!
Oh, and before you ask, the answer is “” 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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:
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.
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:
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?
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.
But then the game rejects this simplicity and proposes real anxieties and personal maladies you can relate to:
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.
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.
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?
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!”
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.
Plus, and I do not think this is an unreasonable request, ! 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 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.
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.
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!
Part 101: I Just Don’t Even Know Anymore
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,