Part 14: Let’s Get Excited... For Filler!
After the concluding events of Garnet’s kidnapping our fair ship, the Prima Vista, is officially FUBAR-ed. The airship is largely a waste, and most of it is on fire, but miraculously everyone survived the crash. Unfortunately for our party, we are immediately informed by Baku that the forest we have crash landed on is dangerous. Huh, will you fancy that kind of video game luck! In fact, the game even spells it out how no one has ever survived exploring this cantankerous forest.
And can I get a drum roll as to what the name of this woefully wicked wooded wonderland may be?
Before we jump directly into the nitty-gritty of the story, there are several things about the Evil Forest level that I wish to dissect. The Evil Forest is effectively Final Fantasy IX’s sewer sequence. It’s a quick level where the player is introduced to a handful of battle mechanics they will be expected to use. The boss found on this level is less of a boss, and more of a cautious reminder for the player to get their shit together.
I have no qualms with this in concept. I would much rather the game provide me with a level where I can learn game concepts via personal practice, rather than direct instruction, any day. Similarly the less I see of Mogster the better. Having said that, there are a number of missteps that irked me about the Evil Forest. First, the Evil Forest is one of Final Fantasy IX’s most generically designed levels. It’s a forest... that’s dark... and apparently evil. I find this to be problematic for a couple of reasons. My primary issue stems from the lack of variety in what you see and experience at the Evil Forest. The art design is without a doubt monotonous, and your battles here are littered with your typical fantasy enemy types. As such, there’s a serious lack of wonderment to be had here. Say what you will about Alexandria as an introductory set piece, but waltzing down the streets of Alexandria was at least a visual treat. As such, I found the Evil Forest to be a disappointing follow-up to the high points we experienced in Alexandria.
My final issue with the Evil Forest is a criticism that is less directed at the level, and more directed at the fundamentals of the game. What the Evil Forest introduces to the player IS A BUNCH OF BULLSHIT! Which leads us to….
Part 15: The Trance System Is A Horrible Abomination
Last episode I made it very apparent that I dislike how Final Fantasy IX plays mechanically. I can confidently say this has not changed at all. My main issue stems from how slow the battles usually play out, and that there seems to be an incredible amount of “dead time” associated with every battle to be had in the game. This is due in large part to the rate at which the ATB meter fills out being tied to the speed trait of your characters. My point of contention comes from the fact that the speed trait takes forever to improve dramatically. In fact, by the time I reached the end of the first disc I had already dreaded the random encounters in the game. However, I digress.
It is a horrible follow-up to the limit break systems found in Final Fantasy VII and VIII. In fact, I can safely say the Trance System is the worst version of the Limit Break idea I have ever seen. Its usefulness is dramatically handicapped thanks in large part to two major design flaws. The first being that Trance deploys itself automatically, and the second being that the Trance meter resets after a certain amount of time.
To my first issue, the automatic deployment of Trance shunts the system into the realm of inconsequentiality. Not being able to have a say when Trance deploys means it is more likely to pop off during a random encounter, rather than a major boss battle where it would be most appreciated. The automaticity of the Trance System deprives it of any semblance of strategy as it is impossible to plan for, or rely on. More likely, even if you get Trance to deploy during a boss battle it will most likely do so at the tail end of the battle. This scenario is entirely unavoidable, and to me, that is a major design flaw of the system. Limit Breaks worked wonders in Final Fantasy VII and VIII on account of how snappy and cinematic they felt. Limit Breaks added extra visual flair to already graphically delightful boss battles in their respective games. Or, you could throw them into random encounters to make even the most benign battle visually interesting. Lacking this sense of control; I feel entirely disinterested in taking advantage of Trance when it deploys.
To my second issue, that your progress in filling your Trance will reset is a MAJOR BUMMER! This further deprives you of the opportunity to develop your Trance strategically in preparation of upcoming battles. Worse yet, this further adds to the already erratic nature of the Trance System. In Final Fantasy VII and VIII you could reliably use each of their Limit Break systems to your advantage. Both games employed final attack systems that were easy to follow, and even easier to predict. In Final Fantasy IX Trance is effectively a nuisance whose long start-up animations deprive me of a quick release from inconsequential battles. Really, the word “inconsequential” is an effective descriptor of the Trance System overall. Rarely is the system the origin of a climactic victory, nor does the system seriously handicap your progress. Trance is just there, and there’s nothing you can do to change that fact.
It bears mentioning that the Trance System is horribly tutorialized. When Trance first pops off you watch Steiner exclaim “Could it really be Trance?!”
That exclamation from Steiner is all you really get in terms of tutorializing when the Trance System first deploys. It is ultimately up to the player to make sense of how to use Trance effectively, and why Zidane is sporting a neon pink merkin. Yes, I know Mogster will eventually explain how Trance works in combat, but Mogster is honestly just terrible. He harangues you about game concepts via direct instruction, and I do not learn new concepts this way. Mogster also fails to differentiate how Trance differs between the characters, and the game leaves the responsibility of figuring out that in the hands of the player. That right there is what I would call a “jerk move!”
No wait, seriously time-out! Trance is induced whenever the characters feel a surge of emotions? So how has Zidane avoided going into Trance until this point in his life? Does this mean Zidane has never once felt anger, stress, or depression? If Trance is tied to a "surge of emotions," then why doesn't Zidane's infatuation with women cause him to enter Trance? Or how about the dozens of times Zidane and Steiner get into verbal altercations? Why the FUCK doesn't anything that results in an emotional rise out of anyone cause them to go into Trance? Why don't we see hundreds of people going into Trance at the marketplace in Alexandria? WHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?
FUCK THIS! THIS GAME WONT EVEN PLAY BY ITS OWN GODDAMNED RULES!
Part 16: All Aboard The Exposition Train! Choo-Choo!
So here we are staring into the shattered remains of the Prima Vista with Garnet, Vivi, and Steiner nowhere to be seen. So what does our libertine hero, Zidane, do to remedy this problem? Why he immediately runs directly into the horrible forest that the game just said no one has ever survived exploring!
It’s important to recognize that the player is introduced to the “Active Time Event” system prior to your initial folly into the Evil Forest. I will parlay my overall thoughts about the Active Time Event system until the Dali level. However, can we at least all agree that “Active Time Event” is an utterly moronic name for what are essentially optional cutscenes? The first handful of ATEs you witness at the Evil Forest are innocent enough, but they end up acting as distractions that ultimately delay the natural progression of the plot. Princess Garnet has been kidnapped by an alien plant monster, but the game decides that it is of the utmost importance I know who and where Ruby is.
After ferreting Zidane along a painfully straightforward pathway you discover that Garnet has been ensnared by some alien plant monster. I would have never expected to see vore in a Final Fantasy game, but BAM there it is! Zidane ends up tagging along with Steiner to rescue Garnet from her vore prison, but alas they fail and the alien plant monster is able to run away with Garnet in tow. After the completion of this battle I was immediately expecting a climactic boss battle against the source of these monsters. Then we could all move on with our lives and get out of the Evil Forest. Per contra, it turns out the game wants Zidane to fight ANOTHER one of these alien plant monsters, but this time the alien plant monster has Vivi in tow.
This right here highlights one of my aforementioned issues pertaining to the Evil Forest. I understand that the location is a testing ground that allows the player to get accustomed to the gameplay, but it ends up coming across as an exercise in repetition. Can someone honestly justify forcing the player to fight the exact same goddamned boss a second time around? The random encounters aren’t any better. Those battles are against the same renditions of wild woodland creatures you could find in any video game ever. Additionally, the exposition here is all heavy handed and rarely progresses the characters down any viable arcs. Worse yet, it all feels incredibly “convenient.” Despite there being no assurances of the opposite, I guess we can count our lucky stars that the hostile alien plant monsters from earlier didn’t do something HORRIBLE to Garnet. I get that this is all nitpicky shit that no sane person should complain about, but I’m not exactly a sane person now am I?
Part 17: I Am Still Conflicted As FUCK About Zidane
An issue I have with all the characters is that each character has a “joke” intrinsically attached to them. Vivi is the fish out of water character whose hapless and klutzy nature leads to a majority of the game’s physical gags. Garnet is royalty that lends herself to several situational gags that reek of “The Prince and the Pauper.” Steiner is the straight arrow buffoon that lacks social skills. My complaint here is that these jokes and gags get stretched horribly thin, and at least for me, become tiresome by the fourth hour. I get that Steiner can’t think of anything other than protecting the princess and distrusting Zidane. I did not need for the game to spell this out to me over twenty hours, again and again.
Then there’s Zidane, and FUCK do I not find his recurring “gag” to be funny at all. His recurring joke is that he is a womanizing libertine whose luck with the ladies more resembles that of a “casanova wannabe.” Now I have a myriad of issues with this. First and foremost, the moments where Zidane uncomfortably fawns over Garnet usually occur immediately after he exposes some semblance of humanity or empathy towards another character. This makes it excruciatingly difficult to understand who the “real” Zidane is, or what the writing wishes to accomplish with Zidane.
Here’s a scene that really highlights my issue. After rescuing Vivi from one of the alien plant monsters our party is transported to the Prima Vista where they recover from their battle wounds. Noticing that Vivi was emotionally shaken from the battle, Zidane physically seeks Vivi and attempts to comfort him. This scene was ingeniously done, and endeavored to show a more sensitive, and emotionally vulnerable, side to Zidane. As such, it became immediately easier to empathize with Zidane as a character.
However, in the very next scene Zidane goes back to his casanova tendencies, and talks about Garnet as if she is an object, and thus unpends the tone of the previous scene.
In the very next scene we witness a scene where Zidane implores Vivi to join Steiner and him in their quest to save Garnet. Here Zidane highlights all of Vivi’s strengths in an attempt to boost Vivi’s self-esteem. Better yet, Zidane does this without coming across as condescending, and instead seems as if he cares about Vivi as a friend and compatriot.
BUT immediately after that scene Zidane goes ahead and says this shit:
No... NO! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! You can’t do this! You cannot switch your character between two opposite emotional states, at least this quickly, in the same fucking set piece! Zidane already lacks a character arc, but to add on inconsistent characterization is just a recipe for disaster. Moments like these cause me to not only question the direction of the game, but also what the writers wish to accomplish with Zidane. I get that Zidane is a personable character that has great leadership qualities, but why would you also depict him as sexually harassing Garnet every opportunity he has? Having Zidane do both feels entirely contradictory, and as a result I honestly have no idea what to make of him. I do want to like Zidane, and there are more scenes with him I really enjoyed. That said, there are plenty examples of him saying gross shit whenever he talks to and about females. As a result, I’ll just tentatively call him a “mixed bag,” and move on.
Part 18: Are We Done With The Evil Forest Yet, Because I Am!
Holy shit am I spending too much of my time grousing about the Evil Forest than I honestly should. After Zidane declares his intent to rescue Garnet from her impending doom, Baku flips out and demands that Zidane fight him once again, but this time one-on-one. As was the case last time you make quick work of Baku, but the unsettling idea that Baku enjoys beating young children is lingering in the back of my mind. I would hazard a guess that at least half of Zidane’s interactions with Baku involve the act or discussion of bodily harm. After offing Baku, Zidane forms a rescue party comprised of Steiner, Vivi, and himself. Almost immediately after initiating their trek into the forest they encounter Garnet ensnared by a giant flower monster.
Luckily for all of us, Zidane’s close friend, Blank, jumps in to join our party. With the power of their forces combined the party quickly dispatches the plant monster, and Garnet is saved from her vore based Sisyphean torment. Lamentably, the moment the evil plant monster dies all Hell breaks loose and a swarm of monsters come after your party. It also turns out that the forest is simultaneously becoming petrified. I don’t know... they both happened and I do not understand if they are connected or not. Are the swarm of monsters trying to escape the petrification process, or are they the one's bringing the petrification process to the player’s party? Did killing the boss plant monster cause this petrification to start? Why is this happening? Oh wait, it looks like Blank is dead!
Turns out the scroll Blank tossed at us was a complete map of the Evil Forest. This map even contained instructions on how to get to Lindblum from the Evil Forest. This is a map related to the same Evil Forest the game just told us no one has ever survived exploring. Wait, what the fuck? So how does Baku have a fucking map of the Evil Forest? How did Blank know where to look for Zidane, Steiner, and Vivi? How is any of this happening right now? How is it I am eight hours into this game and I STILL do not know why we are going to Lindblum, or why Garnet wished to escape from Alexandria in the first place?
For whatever reason the party has a map leading to Lindblum, which is their intended destination. Prior to reaching the fabled city of Lindblum our party must trek through the overworld and enter several less than welcoming locations. Most of which I found to be intolerable to stomach through.
Part 19: Oh Hey, This Game Has An Ice Level
You know what? Credit goes to the game designers for creating an ice level that ISN’T a wintery coniferous forest. It is faint praise, but at least the designers knew they couldn’t have their inevitable ice level be the same shit that has been in this series since the first goddamned game. I mean... it’s a nice level to look at. That’s about all I have in regards to saying nice things about the Ice Cavern. Despite its interesting looks the Ice Cavern is full of BULLSHIT!
Navigating the Ice Cavern is not nearly as painful as navigating some of the two-dimensional backgrounds in Final Fantasy VII, but that is faint praise yet again. Because the level is almost entirely monochromatic, it’s difficult to parse out what is and is not intractable in the environment. The Ice Cavern also serves as your first reminder that all the environments in Final Fantasy IX have scads of hidden treasures. Here it is nakedly transparent which parts of the environment can be warped using Vivi’s fire magic to reveal hidden secrets. Latter levels will be less forthcoming about where their hidden goodies are. I found the lengths at which the developers went to hide weapons and items in the environment slightly disconcerting. In future locations you will have to obscure your player character entirely in the environment in order to locate certain secrets. That is without a doubt far from sporting as there isn’t a logic or language to decipher in the environments. Instead, cool shit is surreptitiously placed in the environments, and you basically need a guide to pinpoint most of this stuff out.
Subsequently, we are subjected to another one of Mogster’s lectures. This time around we are taught about the various status effects that can be seen in the game. Now there are twenty status effects total, yes I counted them, and they are both positive and negative. I hope you were able to memorize what all of them are in the two or three minutes you had with Mogster. Hopefully you can learn via direct instruction only, as the American education system expects you to. Rest assured that there will be a quiz pertaining to all of this information! Need I remind you that your performance on said quiz will determine your place in society for the rest of your life!
This is all window dressing compared to the “elephant in the room” for the Ice Cavern. As your party trudges along to the end of the cavern everyone in your party quickly succumbs to a slumber and passes out. Zidane does as well but eventually awakens from his slumber for reasons I do not entirely understand. Let’s just say “a wizard did it,” and move on. After locating Black Waltz 1 Zidane is immediately thrown into a battle with both Black Waltz and his lackey Sealion. This matchup is decidedly FUCKED!
Part 20: A Less Than Optimal Situation, And I Hate Final Fantasy IX’s Combat
I think it goes without saying that a two-on-one boss battle, especially this early in the game, is decidedly NOT COOL. Not only do you need to be careful about your selected moves, but the battle entirely necessitates the use of potions and healing items. This results in a myriad of turns being taken using potions instead of attacking the enemy. This alone makes an otherwise insurmountable task a complete and utter slog. Often I would afflict Black Waltz or Sealion with damage only to watch them heal, and reverse my damage, on the same turn I used to heal. This meant that I had lost two turns rather than just one.
This boss battle provides me with a segue to one of my more fundamental issues with Final Fantasy IX. That issue is regarding the speed of its combat system. To call Final Fantasy IX’s combat initially “sluggish” would be an understatement, as the game’s combat progresses on par with the speed of a glacier. The root of this issue stems from the fact that every character’s ATB meter is tied to their “Speed” attribute, and it takes a good long time before increasing that attribute has any noticeable effects. To make matters worse, the animations for many of the spells and summons painfully elongate even the most simple of random encounters.
I know what many of you will respond with after I say all of this. Yes, you are correct to point out that the speed of battles can be adjusted in the menu system. That’s all fine and dandy, but that doesn’t change another major issue I have with the ATB meter. That issue is that the ATB meter never pauses during attack animations as in the previous games. This means it is downright impossible to get two salvos of attacks lined up against any foe you face. On top of that, even if you change the settings, battles where the size of your party is limited are still excruciatingly long.
Sealion was the true threat during this confrontation as it is the primary damage dealer. If you attempt to attack Sealion before Black Waltz is dead, Black Waltz will cast a healing spell that reverses all the damage of your attack. I guess there’s also some hidden depth to Sealion’s attacks, but I kept hitting the “Attack” option until everyone was dead, and that worked.
Part 21: It’s Time For MORE Questionable Exposition!
Zidane discovers the party to be awake and well, but with no recollection as to what has just transpired. Somehow in the world of Final Fantasy IX people may sleep directly on snow, for hours upon end, without having to worry about frostbite. As your party finally exits the Ice Cavern, you discover a small village in the distance. Realizing that using her real name may be problematic for a princess on the run, Garnet allows Zidane to “rename” her in the form of a new alias. Oh and it turns out that Garnet is a teenager because practically EVERYONE IN THIS GAME IS A MINOR!
The village we end up entering is named “Dali,” and from a distant vantage point it appears to be a quaint farm town. However, like many of the Final Fantasy IX’s set pieces, there is a hidden secret for the party to uncover. I enjoyed how the game quickly established that there was a nefarious secret to uncover through the use of its dialogue and Active Time Events. I also enjoyed the overall pacing at this set piece as the events here built up to a climax that was more than sufficient at maintaining my interest. Overall I found my time in Dali worthwhile, especially considering that the characters inch by inch appear to be cracking away at their initial facades. It took almost ten hours, but now the game is finally providing me with substance I find compelling.
I really appreciated the scene where the party enters their room in the inn at Dali. Steiner and Zidane immediately butt heads, and you can understand where each of them are coming from. Steiner has a reason to distrust Zidane, and Zidane has shown time and time again to know the party’s surroundings the best. Vivi is occasionally seen trying to smooth things over as a neutral observer that wishes to avoid conflict, and that fits his character perfectly. Finally, we have Garnet... who is kind of just there standing in the corner. Hey, I never said this scene was consistent for all the characters! It’s a quick little moment that provides the viewer with a better understanding what the perspectives of each of the characters are. You don’t have to like all of their perspectives, I for example still dislike Steiner, but you have to respect that the writers took the time to provide a scene where you feel empathy for all the characters. Moments like these are what I really felt Final Fantasy VII and VIII lacked when they so desperately needed them. In Final Fantasy VIII Squall desperately needed a handful of scenes where he led his party with a sense of caring as Zidane receives in this game from time to time. On that note I feel Final Fantasy IX deserves almost universal praise for its depiction of human empathy, but with the keyword being “ALMOST.”
There was still plenty of crap in, and associated with, Dali that annoyed the piss out of me. One of my primary annoyances is related to Garnet’s hesitation to surface why she wished to be kidnapped in the first place. Doing so would provide the cast with a unifying aim, and give the player an understanding as to why the events of the game are happening. But alas, Garnet stonewalls providing the story with a raison d'être, even though we are ten plus hours deep at this point. To me the story is practically begging for a “call to action,” but no battle horn can be heard. As a result, I continue to feel apt in calling much of the first disc directionless and without stakes. Instead of providing the player with a clear and cohesive narrative, much of the first disc feels more like a travelogue that checks away at the boxes of your usual fantasy tropes. Now I don’t hate the game for doing this, but I mention it to highlight my storytelling preferences.
Part 22: Listen As A Grumpy Man Shakes His Fist At The Sun (i.e. I Complain About The ATE System)
Whelp, as I suggested in the previous section it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns in Dali. Dali was the first location where I developed a near universal hatred for the Action Time Event system. As mentioned before, the Action Time Event (i.e. ATE) system is a series of optional cutscenes that the player can transition to when entering and discovering a new location. I have to hand it to the designers, the ATE system is a novel approach for world building. Praise is warranted to the developers for going to such lengths to create additional scenes that build the mythos of their game world. The ATE system shows that a great deal of care and attention was put into every character in the world of Final Fantasy IX to make them seem significant to the plot.
My ultimate criticism of the ATE system is how it compounds many of my pre-existing issues with Final Fantasy IX’s story. I have no issue with wanting to build the character of the primary and secondary cast members, but how the ATEs go about doing so just rubbed me the wrong way. Taking the time to provide Garnet with a “hilarious” scene where she attempts to speak like a commoner comes across as insulting when I still do not understand what her motivations for being on this adventure are. My other primary issue stems with the frequency at which the ATEs pop-off. In future locations like Lindblum and Treno, there are well over a dozen ATEs to get through. Even if you elect to skip them the interface to start the ATEs still blares in your face. I found this to be disorienting, and a misuse of the cutscene medium. Just as I was about to become immersed with a new environment I have an interface that blares like a klaxon to remind me I am indeed playing a video game. When the ATEs occur with a breakneck rapidity, you can even risk losing your train of thought, or even your tenuous grasp on what your mission objective is.
Cutscenes are NOT meant to throttle me away from the story, and that’s why I found the ATE system to be a major miscalculation on the part of the developer. If I were to sell you a game, and expected you to read a book in order to know the context of the story, is that fair? In that scenario the book would be too separated from the game, and an undue burden on the player. I feel the same way about the ATEs in Final Fantasy IX. Even if the ATEs are interesting to watch, which I do not feel is always the case, they feel too separated from the events in story they seek to support. To compound my disinterest even further, it is all the more frustrating to watch comical ATEs play out when there are still big story related dragons for this game to slay. As a result, the ATEs ended up painfully highlighting the gaps in Final Fantasy IX’s “fossil record.”
Part 23: A Series Of Unfortunate Events... That Happen To Vivi
When Zidane and Garnet meetup back at the inn they quickly discover that Vivi and Steiner are nowhere to be seen. Because the two of them recognize that Steiner can go fuck himself, they both become immediately concerned about Vivi. After exploring the town of Dali the couple expeditiously discovers that Vivi has been thrown into the hidden depths of the town against his consent. It is at this moment that the game finally gets its act together in terms of its pacing. We, as the audience, have an immediate goal you can get behind, and that’s rescuing Vivi. It also helps that Vivi is a character that the game has spent a good amount of time building your empathy towards, and thus you want to rescue him.
As mentioned before, I appreciate how Final Fantasy IX foreshadows how there’s a darker side to Dali that you will eventually discover. Then as you explore the hidden depths of Dali you find that its citizens are more nefarious than you could have ever predicted. It avoids coming across as a “bait and switch,” on account of the game feeding your suspicions as the story plays out, and eventually confirming your suspicions to be correct. This right here is the naturalistic storytelling I have been asking for! A location provides a multifaceted role in building the characters and foreshadowing the activities of the initial villain. Was that honestly too much to ask for?
In the bowels of Dali Garnet and Zidane discover complicated machinery that bears the markings of Alexandria. Quick to connect the dots Garnet assesses that Dali most likely manufactures something important to the kingdom of Alexandria. This then suggests that all the machinery was given to the township of Dali at the behest of the queen. After imploring Zidane not to attack or harm any of the factory workers, because pacifism appears to be one of Garnet’s defining character traits, Garnet and Zidane locate Vivi in a boarded up coffin. After freeing Vivi we witness yet another touching aside between Zidane and Vivi, wherein Zidane once again attempts to improve Vivi’s low self-esteem,
As you explore the underground factory you eventually discover that the machinery is used to create black mages like Vivi. The assembly line suggests that Vivi is a manufactured creation meant to serve Alexandria blindly. To what end, we do not know, and I do not expect the game to provide all of the answers to this question at this point. What I expect is that the game prompt me to ask questions as the story progresses that aren’t different derivatives of “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?!” What I have qualms about is that at this point Vivi is the only character we have a character arc for, and he’s at best the deuteragonist. You could combine all of the other cast members together and you still would not have half of the characterization that Vivi has at this point. So while we watch Zidane fawn over Garnet, Steiner grouse about the princess, and Garnet... just standing in the corner; I feel as if there is only one character I can honestly use to project myself into the story. That I only really feel like I can live vicariously through the perspective of a single character, in an entire role-playing game, is a major error on the part of the writing. There are certainly roles to play in Final Fantasy IX, but only one feels immediately satisfying.
If brevity is the soul of wit, then FUCK does Final Fantasy IX seriously lack both. Oh, and for some goddamned reason Zidane has the bright idea to stuff everyone into one crate and hope that no bodily harm will ever come to them.
Part 24: Let’s Talk About Why I'm Such An Asshole About Steiner
Many of you have probably been able to pick up that I dislike Steiner for much of the first disc. Some of you have commented surprise as you very much like Steiner as a character in Final Fantasy IX. So is the issue with Final Fantasy IX, or is it me? Well, as you might predict I think it is a little of both. I find Steiner’s grandstanding and “holier–than–thou” attitude to be incredibly one dimensional. Now if you like that dimension then you’ll gravitate towards Steiner as a character. However, if you find his grandstanding to be grating, then you will most likely err towards my camp. Time and time again I found Steiner to be a juxtapositional nightmare regarding the game's awkward tonal shifts.
After we witness the black mages being manufactured on the assembly line, and are forced to question Vivi’s personhood, we immediately transition to Steiner dicking around with an old guy who loves coffee.
The developers and writing provide themselves with no middle ground here. Either you find this to be a garrulous scene, or a gigantic waste of your precious time. Maybe if the jokes were less situational, or Steiner’s comedic bits pined for different topics or subject material, I would then find him more appealing. Hell, I would have even appreciated more scenes where Steiner shows off more humanity than that of a sloppy automaton. You got a little bit of that when we watch Steiner talk to a bartender. Furthering that scene with a moment where Steiner is trying to out wit the bartender in order to force her to divulge information about Dali, would have added some much needed depth to Steiner. Otherwise he’s a walking buffoon that results in major tonal shifts I found nauseating. His scenes were the same shit over and over again, and there’s little variety to what Steiner does in the environments. Either Steiner would jeopardize Garnet’s cover with his formal way of speaking, or attempt to use his knightly status in order force people to do his bidding. If Seth MacFarlane wrote a Final Fantasy character, the result would most likely be Steiner. So, his scenes either speak to you, or they don’t, and the developers painted themselves into this corner.
In any manner, Steiner locates a cargo ship he correctly suspects is heading for Alexandria. Now this is less a character moment and more a case of the game trying to “spell it out” for the audience. Steiner conveniently locates the barrel that Zidane, Vivi, and Garnet were packaged in, and as a result the gang's all back. Oddly enough there’s a moment that touches upon what I asked for in my above dissertation about Steiner. After Zidane asks Steiner where the cargo ship is headed Steiner lies and states that the airship is headed to Lindblum. SEE, was it that hard to get a character willing to work BEYOND the tropes that initially define them! For fuck’s sake, that’s all I wanted to see! I just want to see these characters work outside of their initial tropes and do things beyond their “comfort zone.” The only problem is that this characterization is not built upon until the end of disc two. Oh and we have to fight one of these assholes again:
Part 25: Before We Get To The Cool Shit There’s Bullshit To Deal With
Luckily for all involved the second Black Waltz battle is a cinch. This would normally lead me to question why it’s here in the first place, but there are bigger dragons to slay than complaining about repeat boss battles. After we have offed Black Waltz 2 the party recollects their thoughts. Zidane and Steiner butt heads, and Garnet is left to question things she should already know the answers to.
Steiner, still confident that his deceit will play out in his favor, moseys his way to the airship. Zidane, in a moment that absolutely took me by surprise, is able to put two and two together and identify that the airship is most likely headed for Alexandria. Well then, I guess there’s more to Zidane than a womanizing pervert. We also watch Zidane once again assuage Vivi’s self-esteem issues. Huh, I guess the writers realized that they should have Zidane do….
Okay... let’s talk about this. I’m not okay with this scene. I’m just not, and there’s honestly nothing anyone can say to change my mind. In fact, . This scene, and many of the succeeding scenes that feature Zidane interacting with Garnet, are incredibly off-putting and ruin much of Zidane’s positive characterization that occurs later in the story. Many of these scenes involve Zidane basically sexually harassing Garnet, and it is clear that Garnet does not appreciate these advances. What I find especially deplorable is how all of these scenes are played for comedic effect. I don’t give a shit that they are teenagers. I don’t accept that as an “excuse” for this behavior. I will have you know I am a high school, and former middle school, teacher. I feel strongly that this behavior is unacceptable for all ages, and a growing majority of teenagers know that. In fact, I would argue that I am in a career that endeavors to educate why this behavior is unacceptable. I have not seen any playful grab-assery in all my years of teaching that could be brushed aside as simple “teenage joshing around.” So after I remind you that I love you all very much; I will warn you not to tell me not to feel this way. This is just something I am not okay with, and will never be okay with. Fucking call me “sensitive” if that makes you feel better. As I have said time and time again, I have been called practically everything in the classroom. But the one thing I ask is that you not tell me how to feel about this bullshit.
Okay then, now that the histrionics are done I would again like to say I love you all very much. Let’s get back to having fun with Final Fantasy IX. So anyway, what does Zidane say to try to “redeem” himself? Why he deflects the source of the offending scene and tries to shift the blame on Garnet! I AM NOT LYING ABOUT THAT!
Part 26: But Wait! It’s Vivi To The Rescue!
Thank goodness for Vivi being a constant delight in terms of the story. After the party enters the airship we witness several black mages in action as they operate the machinery in the airship. Despite Vivi’s best efforts to break them from their trance, his efforts are all for naught, the black mages on the ship are under the control of some immaterial force. With Garnet watching over Vivi, Zidane ascends to the top deck of the airship. There Zidane watches a bumbling Steiner lament that the airship left without Garnet in tow. When Zidane corrects Steiner, Steiner immediately goes back to his wanton sense of grandeur, and even bellows about how he looks forward to seeing Zidane in prison for life. The joke here is that Steiner forgets all about Zidane, and thus permits Zidane to correct the ship’s course to allow it to head towards Lindblum.
Then like clockwork Black Waltz 3 shows up and BLOWS EVERYTHING TO SHIT!
As contrived as it may be it is touching that the designers had Vivi immediately break into Trance at the start of your battle with Black Waltz 3. Having a visual cue that one of the characters is experiencing anguish is another one of those “small touches” that I appreciate about the game. It is an inelegant visual metaphor considering that random battles can wantonly engage Trance, but it works in this context. So does this mean that my characters experienced mental anguish as they fought evil birds and wolves earlier in the game? Likewise, why is it that Steiner and Zidane have never entered Trance while having one of their verbal tiffs? Both of them looked rather cross during those arguments, so why didn’t they get all sparkly and glowy during one of those moments? It’s still respectable that the developers attempted to depict a character’s emotional state in-combat. So credit where credit is due.
This scene is most likely one of the true highlights of disc one. There are other masterful small touches I picked up on and greatly appreciated in the game. On the airship deck there’s a hat that sways to and fro that came from one of the black mages from earlier. I like how there are three Black Waltz enemies, and classical waltzes have three movements. It also bears mentioning that the game maintains this pace in the succeeding scene. Black Waltz 3 commandeers a flying car, let’s just say “a wizard did it” and move on, originally piloted by Zorn and Thorn. The airship chase scene that ensues is one of the game’s best pure action sequences yet. It was quick, visually stunning, and filled to the brim with breathtaking moments. The scene also does wonders to depict all of the characters working as a team. Zidane shows wonderful leadership qualities, and everyone helps out in accomplishing the parties goal of crossing the South Gate. Unfortunately, such comradery is not built upon in the succeeding scene as the characters immediately devolve back to their character tropes.
At the conclusion of this chase sequence I was looking forward to a “quiet” moment in Lindblum where we watch a more casual side of the characters. But what I want to see was some bullshit filler scene where we dick around with monsters in Final Fantasy IX’s version of the Running of the Bulls! What happened to having Vivi questioning his humanity? Why aren’t we following up any of that? Why am I instead wasting my time killing bullshit birds on the streets of Lindblum? Man... sometimes this game can honestly go fuck itself.
It is important at this point to note how much I immensely respect what is attempted in Final Fantasy IX. The care and craft of this game far exceeds many and most of the games that come out today. Be that as it may, there’s a serious disconnect between that respect and my actual enjoyment of the game. Much of the world feels flat, and the characters are quickly wearing my patience down. I want a clear reason to care for the characters, and what they are experiencing, but at every turn of the corner the game deprives me of this. The one exception in that regard is Vivi, but even then it baffles me that Vivi receives greater characterization than all the other characters in the story combined. At the very least things are getting better, and I can assure you that I am warming up to Final Fantasy IX. I simply wish that things would progress at a snappier speed. With that, let’s call this an episode.