Part 1: Setting Myself Up For Failure
Whelp...here we go again. Now many of my eagle-eyed viewers will most likely be a wee bit surprised to see that I am jumping into Final Fantasy IX as expeditiously as I am. This astonishment is well founded, and entirely the fault of thatpinguino. Due in large part to a series of unfortunate events on his part, he got married after all, the need to immediately transition to Final Fantasy IX reared its ugly head. Though my desire may have been to parlay this ill-fated folly onto another lifetime; penguin simply would not permit this.
So here we are my dear readers! I am playing ANOTHER Final Fantasy game...and I’m just riveted with bewilderment about my present situation. There is however some background information that I feel is necessary to extrapolate upon before we jump into the game. First and foremost, Final Fantasy IX isn’t just thatpinguino’s favorite Final Fantasy game; it is without a shadow of doubt his favorite game of all-time. In fact, it is as if he has written an article on this very website discussing this matter...on multiple occasions. On that note, it is important to discuss how Final Fantasy IX was the game that he originally intended me to play for the purposes of this blog series. How serious was penguin regarding this matter? At one point he indicated a willingness to ship his PlayStation One from his home in New York to my apartment in California. I know what you may be thinking, but you really have to respect his dedication. It goes without saying that this was not a cheap folly for him to commit to, but he seriously considered it nonetheless. As we say, the first step when dealing with addiction is admitting you have a problem.
If my excitement regarding this new edition of my blog series sounds or appears to be a bit tempered, well to be honest it is. Final Fantasy IX has practically been billed as being a “religious experience” of sorts by my own readers, as well as my comrade in arms. Like previous entries in this blog series I jumped into this game with very little knowledge or understanding as to what actually happens in it. While I did bear witness to thatpinguino’s live-stream of the game two years ago; it goes without saying that I have since forgotten much of what I saw. I mean JESUS, I barely remember what I consumed for dinner last night! So with that in mind let’s annotate my initial understanding of Final Fantasy IX:
- The main character is some sort of monkey thing.
- There’s a princess that moans and groans a lot.
- There’s an annoying knight asshole.
- There’s this black magical wizard dude that has no face...that’s kind of weird.
- The final in-game boss comes out of nowhere.
- Ozma is the superboss, and is a massive dick.
- There’s a Shakespearean play.
- Dude looks like a lady.
Well will you look at that. I’m working with even less background information than what I worked with when I slopped through Final Fantasy VII or VIII. Hopefully that doesn’t mean that these blogs are any less entertaining than what you are normally accustomed to!
Part 2: Let’s Talk About How The Controls Are Not A Nightmare
Yes, you did indeed read that correctly! I’m finally playing a PC port of a Final Fantasy game that has workable controls! For those wondering, I am still playing this game with the mouse and keyboard controls rather than using a controller. If there’s one thing that I am it’s “stubborn,” so why should I change now? However, to my defense, this time around we FINALLY have a Final Fantasy game that supports WASD controls!
Do you know what this means? This means that I will spend significantly less time moaning and bellyaching about the controls, and can instead re-direct my energy towards story based nitpicking! This justifies a goddamned celebration!
If there is one niggling issue, regarding the controls that is, it stems from the fact that the controller face button inputs still translate to the X, C, and V keys respectively. My issue here is that shifting your left hand from W-A-S-D to these keyboard inputs occasionally feels awkward. The good news is that this is at most a slight complaint rather than a game breaking issue. At no point did I feel as if I had to contort my hand into a gnarled mess. I will honestly take small victories like this any and every day.
It is also worth noting that the Steam/PC release of Final Fantasy IX is a spectacularly well done package. The PC version has a myriad of choices in regards to the resolution and display options. You can even change the key-bindings if you decide to play this game using a mouse and keyboard like myself! Speaking of options, the game allows players to seamlessly adjust the difficulty of the game whenever they want, and you can even disable the random encounters if you wish to. All the while you are subjected to minimal load times, and higher resolution character sprites. The only real issue regarding those character sprites stems from the fact that the characters are clearly of a vastly higher resolution than the environments. I found it to be a bit jarring to watch these high fidelity character sprites gesticulate within the blurry two dimensional environments in the game.
However, it goes without saying that I had far fewer technical issues playing this game than I did with my previous two Final Fantasy games. Once again, I’ll take these small victories whenever they present themselves.
Part 3: Let’s Talk About How Beautiful This Game Is
I’m going to level with you for a bit before we begin discussing the pathos, ethos, and logos of Final Fantasy IX. I have to be honest with you...I HATE high fantasy. My hatred for high and medieval fantasy settings is downright “genre xenophobia.” I have always been a science-fiction nerd that scoffed at the works of Tolkien and George R. R. Martin just based on the genres of their expertise. I know that this sounds arbitrarily harsh, but we all have our preferences, and it would behoove me to come clean as what my genre preferences may be. However, even with my cold dead heart I have to admit that Final Fantasy IX is a great game to look at. There’s a great deal of visual variety to the locations that I greatly appreciated. Likewise, all of the locations appear to be thematically connected. Final Fantasy IX exudes a more traditional high low tech fantasy setting, and practically every location reinforces that tone and setting. At no point have I been subjected to a location that feels completely out of place, or improperly juxtaposed to. In that regard Final Fantasy IX has succeeded where Final Fantasy VII and VIII failed spectacularly.
The environments in Final Fantasy IX also have numerous small touches that elevate them beyond just being your typical place settings. A major problem that I had with both Final Fantasy VII and VIII was the fact that some of their locations felt vapid and empty. In both of those games while you had the opportunity to explore new worlds and settings; few, if any, came across as worthwhile locations you felt motivated to explore. Final Fantasy IX rectifies this issue by adding in NPCs who feel like worthwhile characters. Most of the named NPCs have their own story, and some are even given the opportunity to shine during brief cutscenes in the game. Greater care was also taken to ensure that the dialogue that you witness is more impactful, and narratively appropriate.
The characters also reinforce the feeling that we are within a multicultural world. Within the confines of the game we utilize an ensemble cast the features different classes (and I mean that both literally and figuratively), as well as in-game races. The ensemble cast also adds in the element of different perspectives and life experiences to the story. One of my major complaints about Final Fantasy VIII was the fact that every character, besides Squall and Rinoa, were comic relief characters. I would even argue that Final Fantasy VII’s cast was plagued with the issue of “character redundancy.” I honestly feel as if Final Fantasy IX has addressed entirely, or at least muted, much of this issue.
Part 4: Let’s Talk About Why I Hated The First Three Hours Of This Game
All right then, let me make something very clear before I start:. No really, I love all of you from the bottom of my heart. The fact that many of you have been following this blog series from the very first episode continues to boggle my mind. You have supported me throughout my efforts, and for that I am forever in your debt. As such, I hope that we can all understand that whatever I feel or say about this game is in no way a slight against anyone who does honestly and sincerely enjoy it. Be that as it may, I really have to get this off my chest:
I know that this may come across as jaded, but to me first impressions are a critical part to any art form, and I feel that this is especially the case with video games. As such, and it pains me to say this, I found the first three to four hours of Final Fantasy IX to be a massive slog, and a test of my patience. The first handful of set-pieces exuded stale fantasy tropes that pushed me away from the game’s wonderfully colorful world. So much of what occurs on the first disc honestly felt like box checking. The game exhaustively runs through every practical fantasy trope over the course of three to four hours. Do we have a casanova wannabe as our protagonist? CHECK! Do we have a character that is of a royal bloodline, but wishes to break free from the shackles of their current social caste? CHECK! Is there a “fish out of water” character that is constantly doubting their abilities, but in reality is far more powerful than anyone could predict? CHECK! Is there a comic relief character with a heart of gold? CHECK CHECK CHEEEEEEEEECK!
Despite the fact that Final Fantasy IX spends most of its time on “world building,” everything feels superficial and saccharine in the first disc. There are dozens of races in the game, but at no point does the game ever take the time to pontificate about its cultural diversity. There’s no sense of culture or social order in any of the cities that you initially explore. This is especially the case when the story introduces the city of Alexandria. Here we are led to believe that the city is being controlled by this fanatical or corrupt queen, but this initial antagonist is tenuous at best. Despite asking the players to buy into the assumption that the queen is evil, the player enters the city only to witness an un-phased population and township in Alexandria. Rather than depicting the queen as a clear dictatorial and/or malevolent force; life seems to be running smoothly for everyone in Alexandria. Plus, the world of Final Fantasy IX is saccharine to a fault for much of the game. Everything that happens throughout the story for the first ten hours is just so cloyingly sweet and positive that I found it to be painful to watch. To call Garnet and Zidane “naïve” would be an understatement. The world of Final Fantasy IX is gleaming with “twee,” and opportunity. As such the story lacks any real grit or texture that you can sink your teeth into. If I could compare Final Fantasy IX to a dessert, I would most likely compare it to banana pudding. It’s okay...but if you eat too much of it then you’ll most likely end up with a headache.
My final issue in regards to Final Fantasy IX’s narrative stems from how slow its first disc is. Because, and let’s be honest here Final Fantasy IX fans, HOLY SHIT IS THE FIRST DISC SLOW! This game features what I can only describe to be the WORST SENSE OF ECONOMY OF ACTION THAT I HAVE EVER SEEN! The number of real notable confrontations that you have in the first ten hours can honestly be counted on a single hand. Worse yet, most of those confrontations occur back to back during the last moments of the first disc. Now in terms of writing I understand and appreciate the desire to preserve action set-pieces until they feel appropriate. However, in Final Fantasy IX I really do feel as if my patience is not being respected throughout the course of the first disc. A truly excellent story sets associated goals within the geometry of the game. The “economy” here occurs when I receive the rewards from the previous missions, or series of events, and I then understand that achieving the goals within any given game is worth my time. The goals that Final Fantasy IX sets up are obscure, and the narrative rewards for completing those goals is tenuous at best. This issue is compounded by the fact that the story lacks any sense of having a clear villain until the final hour of the first disc, and that’s some fucking BULLSHIT to say the least!
Part 5: Let’s Talk About Why I Hate “Playing” This Game
Goodness is Final Fantasy IX a hard game to transition to after playing Final Fantasy VII. There’s nothing mechanically broken in Final Fantasy IX to grouse about, except maybe the Trance System. OH WE WILL GET TO THAT IN THE NEXT EPISODE! That aside, my major problem with the game, mechanically speaking that is, is its rigidity regarding its character classes, as well as its overall speed. Oddly enough, Final Fantasy VII and VIII were great games to start with because they didn’t have rigid character classes. This then permitted me with a level of mechanical freedom that I am more familiar with. For all the problems that I had with Final Fantasy VII, I honestly did enjoy how it rarely, if at all, punished me for tinkering around with its Materia System.
Final Fantasy IX is a much more pragmatic Final Fantasy game, and this is negatively impacting my overall enjoyment of the game. First off, each of the characters have these faux character classes which I am still struggling to wrap my mind around. Zidane is clearly the “thief,” and as such starts out with certain abilities that Garnet and Steiner do not have at their disposal, and vice versa. This is interesting on paper, but what I am less enthused about is how long it takes me to figure out which ability stones work best with which character. Add insult to injury, it is also up to the player to discover on their own what each of their character’s strengths and weaknesses are via trial and error.
I’m honestly struggling when it comes to grasping Final Fantasy IX’s mechanics, so I do honestly apologize for any errors or misconceptions that I equivocate about the game. Nevertheless, this game does a terrible job at explaining how to effectively use any of the abilities you acquire throughout your journey. Now as I understand it abilities come in the form of magic stones and equipment that you can attach to your characters. Each character has a limited number of slots to learn new attacks and magic. Once they have “mastered” any given ability they permanently remember that attack regardless of whether or not you have that item equipped or not. Not every character can learn every ability, and if a magic stone’s attribute is greyed then that character cannot learn or use that ability.
This is a less than orthodox approach to take regarding abilities and magic. On one hand Final Fantasy IX adopts Final Fantasy VIII’s attitude of having equipment be the floodgate to new and more powerful spells. On the other hand, Final Fantasy IX adds in the complexity of character classes into the mix. The end result involves myself placing a variety of magic stones across all of my party members and hoping for the best. My lack of experience with a more traditional Final Fantasy game is seriously rearing its ugly head. So much so that I’m relying on the “Optimize” option whenever managing my characters.
Do you want to know what would have made this game vastly easier for a doofus like myself? Why not make every equipable item have a specific color or naming convention? This convention would indicate which character class would benefit the most from equipping that specific item. Remember when the different Materia in Final Fantasy VII were all a different color between four types? That’s exactly what I am asking for, and I fail to see how that is an unreasonable request. The weapons kind of employ this technique, as each character uses a different rendition of their starting weapon, but why not do the same with every other bit of equipment? As a result of all of this I feel as if I have lost countless hours fiddling away at the interface, which isn’t all that great to begin with.
Part 6: Oh And The In-Game Tutorial Is TERRIBLE!
Well will you look at that! It looks like we are now zero for three regarding good in-game tutorials on this blog series! I mean seriously...can one of you please tell me if there are ANY good in-game tutorials in the Final Fantasy franchise? Please tell me that there are good examples...I don’t think my heart can handle this bullshit anymore. Did I really need to have these two fucking Moogles ramble about in-game mechanics, thus interrupting the flow of the game? Was that really the best way to teach me new mechanics in an already bewildering game? Hey assholes! How about you provide me with information regarding the advantages and disadvantages of the various character classes? Or how about providing tips and tricks on how to make the most out of those character classes? No? WELL WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU GOOD FOR?!
Oh cool, this bullshit Moogle can explain what the Trance System is all about! I wonder what this asshole has to say about Trance:
Hey dickhead! How about you explain what each of my party member’s Trance is capable of doing! That way I would know how to use them in combat better. This is the kind of shit that I’m talking about! Rather than provide useful information that could actually improve my performance in battles this fucking Moogle just rambles about random trivia bits! Worse yet, all of this information is extrapolated via direct instruction, and it is up to the player to finally put these concepts into practice. The problem here is that these tutorials do not start until AFTER you have been subjected to your third or fourth combat scenario. HOW IS THAT FUCKING FAIR! WHO THOUGHT THAT WAS A GOOD IDEA?
Are you asshole Moogles still listening to me? Well if you are, then is there any way to make Zidane a better thief, because right now he sucks at his job! Despite being a “thief” it takes like two or three tries to steal anything from random enemies, and twenty plus tries to steal anything from bosses. The whole point of him being a thief is so that I can steal cool shit from bosses that allow me to break the game, but it takes FOREVER for that to happen! What the fuck can I do to increase this percent of a percent so I can stop pulling my hair out in frustration? PLEASE HELP ME! I’M SLOWLY GOING CRAZY BECAUSE OF THIS PROBLEM!
Do you want to know something that I just find baffling? For a game that values world building and role-playing, Final Fantasy IX sure does have a bunch of bullshit that ends up breaking the natural flow of the narrative. First you have these bullshit tutorial sequences, and latter you are subjected to the Active Time Events. OH DON’T WORRY, WE WILL GET TO THAT ON THE NEXT EPISODE! I just find it curious that a role-playing game of all things would be this obsessed with cramming in tons of irrelevant expository information, even if it risks breaking the player’s immersion. Isn’t that the opposite of what a role-playing game should do?
Part 7: Creating A World...Of Boring
Let’s get down to brass tax and discuss the story at hand. We are introduced to what I can only assume is our protagonist, Zidane, who is seen spelunking through a dark and lumbering airship. After Zidane catches up with a smattering of his compatriots they are immediately thrust into a battle against some random bozo wearing a dragon mask. Unfortunately for us, Zidane doesn’t headbutt this asshole the minute he insults his mother. Regardless, you blow through this jackass only to find out that he is the head honcho of a Shakespearean acting troupe that has somehow been tasked with kidnapping a princess...WAIT WHAT? Is that really our initial story premise? Well okay then...I guess I can roll with the punches. I did play Final Fantasy VIII after all!
Let’s go back to my issue of this game having a dubious introduction of sorts. Our initial story premise involves a troupe of actors, who just happen to be professional thieves, tasked with kidnapping the princess of a kingdom. But hey at least the princess wants to be kidnapped. This isn’t exactly what I would call a rip roaring start to a fifty hour commitment on my part! At least Final Fantasy VII started out with the exciting and riveting reactor sequence. Also, as nonsensical as Final Fantasy VIII’s initial premise may have been, what with dozens of school children marching into battle to die for the sake of a school exam, it made sense within the context of the game. Here we have no clear sense as to why we are performing this task, or who the main antagonist is. You are essentially left to your own devices to fill in these critical blanks as you play hours upon hours of this game without fully understanding why anything is happening.
The game provides this premise almost just for the sake of having its first action set-piece. The consequences here are two-fold. Firstly, none of the characters are honestly provided with any opportunities to introduce or develop their character arcs, and thus behave like walking tropes. Instead of introducing the ethos, pathos, and logos of the characters you have to stomach through hours of Zidane playing grab-ass, Steiner acting like a complete dolt, and Garnet attempting to act like a commoner. A vast majority of these character moments are just cringe inducing. Secondly, your time at Alexandria feels incredibly rushed, and as such you are not able to immerse yourself into the environment as much as you do in Final Fantasy VII or even VIII. Midgar and the Garden were each able to coherently introduce the introductory story premises for their respective games. So what did Alexandria bring to the table? I guess it was there to provide you with an annoying acting minigame, as well as your first real boss battles. Beyond that...it’s the complete definition of “meh.” It’s a spectacular level to look at, but the intractability here is seriously lacking.
It’s all worth noting for the sake of me developing the notorious distinction of being an asshole nitpicker how “convenient” the first three hours of the story felt. Boy howdy, it sure was convenient that the ONE nice black mage in the entire world ran into Zidane. Oh jeez, isn’t it “great” how the princess that we are tasked to kidnap consents to this? Golly gee wilikers, I’m incredibly happy that Steiner is able to put aside his blind allegiance to Alexandria for the sake of tagging along with Zidane. It’s shit like this that’s really pulling me out of the otherwise beautiful worlds that the game endeavors to showcase to you. The scaffold in which the story functions upon is so nakedly transparent, and structurally unsound, that I’m honestly having a hard time continuing on with this adventure.
Part 8: Well At Least Vivi Seems Okay
Rest assured that it is not all doom and gloom when it comes to my adventures in playing Final Fantasy IX. After revealing the main conceit behind the plot the game transitions to our deuteragonist, Vivi. With that I would like to state that I unequivocally love Vivi. He’s a great character, and I found a vast majority of his character moments throughout disc one to be wonderful. In fact, I would hazard to say that I enjoy Vivi far more than any other character that I have encountered in the game thus far.
At Alexandria we witness Vivi down on his luck. He approaches a gentleman at a circus tent only to discover that the theater ticket that he purchased is a fake. With few options beyond just begging, Vivi ends up performing a series of meaningless tasks for a talking rat, eventually revealed to be named Puck, in order to gain entrance to the play. Now I didn’t really understand what Puck the rat was aiming for during this sequence, but it did provide the player with multiple opportunities to pick up on Vivi’s unsureness with both himself, as well as his surroundings. The game effectively frames this around a massive play that everyone in Alexandria wishes to go to and witness.
Vivi also provides a multifaceted role for the purposes of the story. Vivi is consistently depicted as being the “fish out of water” character that is most at odds with the progression of the story. Throughout the story players witness Vivi being the most inquisitive, and hesitant member of the party, and to be perfectly honest his skepticism is almost entirely justified. Not only is Vivi the game’s most level headed character, because it sure as fuck isn’t Steiner, but he’s also the game’s best vessel for the audience. Vivi’s bewilderment is much more easy to relate to than Garnet’s naïveté, or Zidane’s libertine swagger.
As such, Vivi ended up becoming the character that I most often used to project myself into the story. The reason for this is simple: if I was a Final Fantasy character I would most likely be Vivi. Like Vivi, I would practically be falling apart at the seams if I was forced to deal with half of the situations that occur in the story. Not only that, but I would be falling flat on my face as Vivi does throughout the first disc.
Part 9: Tetra Master Is Hot Bullshit
While the minigames in Final Fantasy IX have not been as terrible as the minigames found in Final Fantasy VII, there is one that I feel comes close to the awfulness of the snowboarding sequence. That unmitigated shit show would be Tetra Master, and as my subheading may suggest I found Tetra Master to be a smoldering pile of bullshit. It is an unrelenting trash fire that never ceases to amaze me at how poorly thought out its mechanics are. I have been informed by multiple sources that Tetra Master has its own stand-alone application for mobile phones. So if any of you are interested in directly funneling bullshit into your eyes and ears...I would recommend your local dairy farm instead of playing Tetra Master.
The saddest aspect of this affair is that things start off promising enough. From a distant vantage point Tetra Master appears to be similar to Triple Triad. For those of you that are unaware, Triple Triad was the card based minigame found in Final Fantasy VIII. The big difference here is that Triple Triad is fun, whereas Tetra Master is terrible. There are a variety of reasons as to why this is the case. Firstly, the value for the cards is almost entirely pointless as the combat system is decided by a random die roll, ala Risk. This means that a high ranking card of a value of fifteen or more always runs the risk of losing to a card of an inferior value.
It also bears mentioning that a coin flip decides who goes first, and there’s a definite advantage for the player that goes second. This issue is EXACERBATED by the random placement of stones on the game map which can create corners that set up the first player for immediate failure. Then there’s the combo system...MY GOD THE COMBO SYSTEM! The combo system is complete bullshit, and rarely pops off when you want it to. Oh but rest assured that this shit show just get’s worse! At the conclusion of any Tetra Master match the losing player is forced to surrender any of their cards that ended up “flipped” over. If you end up losing a card that you really liked, or even possibly leveled up, then you have to challenge that exact opponent all over again and try to win your card back! BUT FUCK YOU, because now you need to beat your opponent with an inferior deck! So you end up in this hole where you keep losing your good cards, and NOW YOU ARE COMPLETELY FUCKED!
The ultimate elephant in the room regarding Tetra Master is what you are rewarded with for your time. By rewards I really mean JACK SHIT! You end up sinking in hours upon hours into the minigame, and your usual reward is just receiving more cards. You have no idea as to who has the better cards, so the player is forced to challenge every possible character in the world. Once again I cannot preface enough how these matches are ultimately pointless to the overall conclusion of the story. One could argue that Triple Triad ended up having too much of an impact on the gameplay of Final Fantasy VIII. However, Tetra Master is too much of the polar opposite of that. So much so that the only real reward or “satisfaction” associated with playing Tetra Master is being able to say that you found all of the cards. So this minigame is trash. Don’t play it if you intend to play Final Fantasy IX.
Part 10: Will The Real Villain Of Final Fantasy IX Please Stand Up?
Let’s get back to the story at hand, and one of the major issues that I have with Final Fantasy IX. I’m not sure if this is just an issue with every Final Fantasy game ever, but in Final Fantasy IX it takes well over eight hours before the game has any clear sense as to who its initial antagonist is. Certainly there are hints that the queen of Alexandria is a villain of sorts, but we never overtly witness her engaging in villainous activities until the tail end of the first disc. The only real visual hint that there is something amiss in Alexandria is during the introductory cutscene for the play. Here we briefly witnessed a very clearly distraught princess Garnet. To me that moment isn’t enough to entirely buy into the idea that the Queen is a malevolent force. Garnet is what I can only assume to be a teenager, and for all I know she could be angry at her mother for buying her a car but in the wrong color.
There’s another issue in Final Fantasy IX that has been bothering me ever since the beginning of the game. Be aware that this is a nitpick, and NOT a legitimate complaint. Why does the queen look like a monster? Like seriously...why does she practically look like something I could summon in a Shin Megami Tensei game? If I’m getting this correct then she gave birth to Garnet, so if the queen looks like a Hellish version of Violet Beauregarde then why doesn’t Garnet look like that as well? In fact, why does NO ONE in Alexandria look like the queen? Why isn’t the queen just a normal human that behaves erratically? My guess is that the designers made the queen look like a monster for the sake of making the transition that she is evil easier for the player to understand.
Oh and then there’s the bullshit play sequence where Zidane and Blank fight for the Alexandrian masses. This scene was downright painful. Admittedly, this entire sequence is vastly superior to any of the minigames in Final Fantasy VII, but that’s a low bar to say the least. Indeed, contracting syphilis is better than developing polio, but that sure as fuck doesn’t mean that you want to get syphilis. The conceit behind this sequence is simple to understand, but impossible to master. A myriad of button prompts will grace your screen, and you are expected to input them in quick succession during the performance. This is without a doubt the most pointless quick time event I have seen in a Final Fantasy game since the fighting minigame in Final Fantasy VIII. The problem here is how narrow the window is for inputting the button prompts, as well as how little you get out of the scene. Well...at least in theory. For reasons that I still do not understand I ended up getting a 100 out 100 during this sequence on my first try. thatpinguino informed me that in all his years playing this game he has never accomplished this feat:
But seriously, what’s the point of this scene? Other than having it for the sake of it I don’t really have an answer to that question. We discover no real new or pertinent information about our current situation, or the overall story for that matter. Nor do we learn more about why exactly we are attempting to kidnap the princess. How and why do these band of thieves know how to act and speak in Shakespearean iambic pentameter? Does this band of thieves act on their spare time when they are not stealing shit? Or were these band of misfits originally actors that had to resort to crime in order to support themselves? How do the characters in the world of Final Fantasy IX know how to speak Early Modern English? Why are they attempting to kidnap the princess under the guise of a massive play? Wouldn’t the castle be on high alert on account of this being a major event, thus necessitating a greater level of security? Why don’t they attempt to kidnap the princess when the queen would least expect it, like as she’s reviewing the city budget? Oh wait, it’s because the plot needs this all to happen right now in order for the story to work. Without the play there’s no real reason to have all of the characters that are important to the story in one place. That’s a cynical way to look at things, but I’m convinced that it is the truth. Well...at least it was fun to look at. Oh and I got a Moonstone!
Part 11: The Cringe Quotient Is At An All Time High And Steiner Fucking Sucks
My grousing here actually has a purpose. Final Fantasy IX has a spectacular world to work with, but ends up pissing it away in order to create a visual spectacle instead of building up its characters. Three hours deep and the character still behave like walking tropes, and lack any sense of having a character arc. Sure one could argue that Garnet wishes to leave Alexandria, but to what end? On this regard I feel that the game hems and haws far more than it should, and you are expected to trust the game without question. You essentially have to place your blind trust in the game that it will eventually reciprocate your desire to know more about it, and this just rubs me the wrong way.
I know that I have mentioned it before, but I might as well beat this dead horse again, but isn’t it really convenient that the princess that we wish to kidnap just happens to want to be kidnapped? Anyway, after your performance on the stage Zidane and Blank are off to kidnap the princess. After Zidane ascends a flight of stairs he encounters a hooded female character who is so painfully Garnet that the proceeding scene was honestly painful to watch. Instead of immediately informing the poorly obscured Garnet of his purpose and mission objective, he instead takes the time to pass unwanted sexual advances on Garnet.
So instead of creating a cast of characters that I want to root for this game continues to spoil everyone that I am going to end up listening to for fifty hours. OH FUCK MY LIFE! Garnett then runs away causing Zidane to comically spin around in circles, because somehow this game all of the sudden became a Looney Tunes animated short. At any rate, after the queen is informed that Garnet is nowhere to be found she does the unthinkable and assigns Steiner with the responsibility of relocating Garnet. Garnet is her daughter, as well as next in line for the throne, and yet she goes ahead and assigns Steiner with the responsibilities of relocating her. I...fucking...just...don’t...even...know...anymore. This is despite the fact that Beatrice, her most capable and able bodied knight, is right next to her. So does the queen straight up hate her daughter, or does she just give zero fucks about Garnet?
Steiner is my least favorite character in the entire game, and if it were not for the fact that he is a beast in combat then I would kick him to the curb entirely. What I really “enjoy” about Steiner is how much he “improves” throughout the course of disc one. While he’s only a slightly insufferable asshole during this sequence, he quickly becomes an entirely insufferable prick by the time he fully joins your party. All of Steiner’s lines of dialogue about wanting to blindly protect the princess are some of the cringiest moments in the entire game. It never gets good, and entirely spoils Steiner as a character for me. It doesn't help that Steiner is also a complete dumbass throughout the story, and fails to improve time and time again. From watching Steiner think that Garnet died during the course of the play; to watching him slop around the streets of Lindblum; every line of dialogue that Steiner utters is an assault on my senses and common decency.
What I find especially intolerable about Steiner during this specific sequence is how he loudly bemoans how the queen prefers Beatrice’s knights over his own. I find this grousing insulting because Beatrice’s Alexandrian Soldiers are clearly vastly superior to Steiner’s Knights of Pluto. While the Alexandrian Soldiers are cool and collected the Knights of Pluto are a motley crew of bumbling buffoons. Oh and the sidequest where you attempt to relocate all of the members of the Knights of Pluto is just terrible. I fucking hated that sidequest so goddamned much because there’s this one asshole who runs in the opposite direction of Steiner, and you have to trick him into running into Steiner by forcing him into a corner. Easier said than done, right?
Part 12: It’s Time To Tie A Neat Little Bow On The Story Thus Far
After controlling Steiner for a bit we witness Zidane confronting Garnet on the roof of a building. Garnet then decides to jump from the top of this building, and somehow knows that the impact will not kill her. Zidane, being a man who thinks with his dick rather than his brain, decides to jump down from the building as well. Oh but the wacky hijinks was all in good fun because everyone is okay, and Garnet actually WANTED TO BE KIDNAPPED ALL ALONG!
Seriously, if she wanted to be kidnapped then why did Garnet run away from Zidane when she first saw him? Why didn’t she tell Zidane about wanting to get kidnapped at the top of the building? That way we wouldn’t have to jump from a perilous position and hope that we not die. Why is any of this happening? Did Garnet read the script? Did I forget to take my crazy pills? Is this really happening?
But the ridiculousness just keeps on going. After funneling the princess into the bowels of the airship Steiner appears and announces that he’s here to “save the princess.” Why Garnet doesn’t tell Steiner to fuck off, or the truth about her present situation, is beyond me. What we are subjected to next is what I can only describe as a “comedic” boss battle with Steiner. I place extra emphasis on “comedic” considering that the battle ends when one of the characters unleashes a swarm of bugs, called oglops, on Steiner. This “hilariously” causes Steiner to run away in fear.
These people are behaving life cartoon characters in a television show meant for six year olds! None of the characters behave like a human-beings, and they are just trying my patience. I’m sitting here twiddling my thumbs, and rolling my eyes in hopes that all of these douche weasels will eventually get better. But they aren’t, and if anything I think they are getting worse. Our first major action set-piece is effectively played for yuks, and this is to the game’s detriment.
Part 13: Our First Boss Rush And Other Dumb Stuff
Boy howdy is the next scene where you watch Steiner, Garnet, and Zidane act out the final scenes of the play DUMB! I do respect how the writers were able to weave the events of the story into this play seamlessly, but the payoff is such a disappointment. The game takes the time to build up this highly intricate and decadent play, and ultimately it results in a series of boss battles with Steiner. What the fuck kind of payoff is that? Do you want to know what I think would have been better? If the plan went without a hitch, Zidane was able to kidnap Garnet, but miraculously Steiner was able to sneak into the ship on a hunch that the actors were up to something. I say this because by having the play not succeed it almost feels as if the play was inserted into the story for the sake of having a CGI cutscene with explosions. What does this play actually do to set up the characters, as well as their character arcs? Don’t bullshit me, the answer is NOTHING! Call me a cynic, but at least you can understand where I am coming from more so than the game’s intent. Nevertheless, Garnet is able to act out the last couple of scenes without being noted by any of the audience...including HER FUCKING MOTHER.
As per her role she ends up biting the dust, and Steiner, being the dumbass that he is, believes that he has murdered her. Meanwhile, the game transitions back to Vivi who is accosted by a security guard and is chased onto the stage of the play. This somehow results in Garnet’s highly convincing disguise being ripped off, and immediately thrusts the player into an inconsequential battle with Steiner.
Then as we attempt to beat a hasty retreat all Hell breaks loose as the queen orders her army to shoot at the ship that we are on...despite the fact that she wants Garnet alive. Somehow the Soldiers of Alexandria are really good at their aim and can prevent their explosive cannon shots from harming Princess Garnet.
Oh and we have to fight Steiner AGAIN, but this time he’s accompanied by a giant fireball demon. Why? BECAUSE FUCK YOU, THAT’S WHY!
Look now, I feel as if I have had this lecture about boss rushes in Final Fantasy games about a dozen times, but it appears that we have to have it again. I am okay with boss rushes in the end of a game against a variety of enemies. Having a boss rush in the beginning of the game is kind of a dick move, and having a boss rush with the same character(s) is just plain lazy design. This isn’t a “hard” boss encounter, but having the player confront Steiner three times in a row is a bit much. After offing Steiner and the ball of fire the airship that we are on lumbers slowly into the distance as the queen rightly commits herself towards apprehending her daughter from a den of thieves.
Our airship has clearly been irreparably damaged. While it is able to lumber out of Alexandria, it is in no shape to make the long trip to Lindblum. While there is much to talk about the ensuing couple of set-pieces I think it is time to call an end to my first episode.