Fighting Final Fantasy IX - Parts 14-26: Grumpy Man Yells At Cloud... No Not THAT Cloud!

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Episode Guide

  1. Episode #1 (Parts 1-13)
  2. Episode #3 (Parts 27-37)
  3. Episode #4 (Parts 38-49)

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.

Well isn’t that goddamned convenient?
Well isn’t that goddamned convenient?

And can I get a drum roll as to what the name of this woefully wicked wooded wonderland may be?

Someone really got payed the big bucks for naming the levels in this game.
Someone really got payed the big bucks for naming the levels in this game.

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.

At least you weren't raised in an orphanage run by a matriarch possessed by the devil.
At least you weren't raised in an orphanage run by a matriarch possessed by the devil.

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.

THE TRANCE SYSTEM IS A BAD THING!

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.

Is this actually happening, or am I having a seizure? I would honestly believe you if you said I was having a seizure?
Is this actually happening, or am I having a seizure? I would honestly believe you if you said I was having a seizure?

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?!

SEE! I don’t lie on this blog series! I’m a professional asshole nitpicker, but I’m not a liar!
SEE! I don’t lie on this blog series! I’m a professional asshole nitpicker, but I’m not a liar!

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!”

WAIT WHAT THE FUCK? THAT'S YOUR FUCKING EXPLANATION?
WAIT WHAT THE FUCK? THAT'S YOUR FUCKING EXPLANATION?

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!

This shit will never stop in video games, now will it?
This shit will never stop in video games, now will it?

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.

This is incredibly important information I honestly needed to know
This is incredibly important information I honestly needed to know

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.

Final Fantasy IX is the “Ice Ice Baby” of video games.
Final Fantasy IX is the “Ice Ice Baby” of video games.

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.

Oh hey, here's Zidane talking like a real human-being with a sense of compassion.
Oh hey, here's Zidane talking like a real human-being with a sense of compassion.

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.

Here's Zidane doing the complete opposite twelve seconds later.
Here's Zidane doing the complete opposite twelve seconds later.

BUT OUR JUXTAPOSITIONAL NIGHTMARE GETS WORSE! 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.

WHO ARE YOU?! WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING ANYMORE?!
WHO ARE YOU?! WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING ANYMORE?!

BUT immediately after that scene Zidane goes ahead and says this shit:

FUCK ALL VIDEO GAMES FOREVER!
FUCK ALL VIDEO GAMES FOREVER!

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.

Thank goodness this monster didn’t eat Garnet while we were busy dicking around in the airship!
Thank goodness this monster didn’t eat Garnet while we were busy dicking around in the airship!

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!

Well Blank, hopefully in Heaven you'll be able to find a pair of pants.
Well Blank, hopefully in Heaven you'll be able to find a pair of pants.

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

The last couple of locations sure have had real “creative” names.
The last couple of locations sure have had real “creative” names.

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.

Other times you have to be a complete dumb-ass to miss the treasure chests.
Other times you have to be a complete dumb-ass to miss the treasure chests.

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.

And the steal rate at this point in the game is STILL TOO FUCKING LOW!
And the steal rate at this point in the game is STILL TOO FUCKING LOW!

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.

Oh boy... I sure am excited to do this two more times!
Oh boy... I sure am excited to do this two more times!

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!

It’s important to know she’s right handed by the way. Why doesn’t this game tell me what her horoscope and blood type are as well?
It’s important to know she’s right handed by the way. Why doesn’t this game tell me what her horoscope and blood type are as well?

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.

And that's all you get...no seriously, we still have no idea why any of this is happening.
And that's all you get...no seriously, we still have no idea why any of this is happening.

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.

This is the cringiest shit I have seen in this entire game.
This is the cringiest shit I have seen in this entire game.

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

Will you look at that! There is a way to depict Zidane's infatuation for Garnet in a manner that isn't harassment. AND IT WAS AWESOME!
Will you look at that! There is a way to depict Zidane's infatuation for Garnet in a manner that isn't harassment. AND IT WAS AWESOME!

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, AND IT WAS FUCKING AMAZING!

To be honest I loved every scene where Zidane interacted with Vivi. These moments showcased Final Fantasy IX's
To be honest I loved every scene where Zidane interacted with Vivi. These moments showcased Final Fantasy IX's "heart" the best.
How was this rated
How was this rated "T for Teen?" Anyways it's good to have characters with depth in a game that will absorb fifty hours of my life.

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.

You know what? I take back all of the positive statements I made about Zidane being a
You know what? I take back all of the positive statements I made about Zidane being a "good leader.”

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.

STEINERS BE CRAZY!
STEINERS BE CRAZY!

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.

[insert Super Mario Bros. reference/joke to appeal to the denizens of the internet]
[insert Super Mario Bros. reference/joke to appeal to the denizens of the internet]

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:

Pbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbt!
Pbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbtpbt!

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.

NOPE! There's NO WAY the evil queen that you are trying to run away from is doing something even remotely evil! THERE'S NO FUCKING WAY!
NOPE! There's NO WAY the evil queen that you are trying to run away from is doing something even remotely evil! THERE'S NO FUCKING WAY!

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, please don’t. 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!

I hate Zidane so much sometimes.
I hate Zidane so much sometimes.

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.

This joke goes on for a whole GODDAMNED minute, and I didn’t laugh for a single moment
This joke goes on for a whole GODDAMNED minute, and I didn’t laugh for a single moment

Then like clockwork Black Waltz 3 shows up and BLOWS EVERYTHING TO SHIT!

SHIT GOT FUCKED SON!
SHIT GOT FUCKED SON!
Oh no! All of these Black Mages that lacked any form of consciousness are all dead!
Oh no! All of these Black Mages that lacked any form of consciousness are all dead!
Vivi will not take any of this shit sitting down!
Vivi will not take any of this shit sitting down!
YOU DUN FUCKED UP BLACK WALTZ 3! VIVI'S GOT THE TRANCE!
YOU DUN FUCKED UP BLACK WALTZ 3! VIVI'S GOT THE TRANCE!

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 DIDN’T 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.

OH FUCK ME SIDEWAYS!
OH FUCK ME SIDEWAYS!

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.

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deactivated-5c295850623f7

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Regarding the battle system, just be glad you're not playing the original version. It was AT LEAST twice as slow at times, and in PAL regions, even slower! Fuck the 9 combat.

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DrDarkStryfe

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Trance is 99% garbage. The only reason it is not 100% for me is because it actually saved my ass in the final boss the first time I played the game. And that was literally the only time I had it activate in a boss fight that I can recall. I understand that Limit Breaks could be a way to cheese the hell out of FF8, but they went incredibly overboard in stemming that in FF9.

The game likes to meander around for a good bit before the antagonist's motivation is revealed. My view of the first disc was that it was an attempt to get the player to invest more in the playable characters and their motivations before throwing them into a "SAVE THE WORLD" situation. Unfortunately, as you stated, you have asinine moments like Zidane clumsily harassing Garnet like a terrible anime trope.

I honestly never was a huge fan of Zidane. If I could, I would not have him on my active battle team.

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Fezrock

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Maybe its just my nostalgia, but I replayed FFIX myself not to long and loved just about all of it. I agree that the Trance system is total bullshit though.

As far as Zidane goes, I think his inconsistent characterization is kind of the point. He's a teenager and doesn't know who he really is, who he wants to be, or how to be that person. And his character arc is to answer those questions and I found him much more consistent by the end of the game. Its not the best arc, that's Vivi's, but at least it is one; some the characters basically stop all development (or even having dialog anymore) after Disc 2.

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ArbitraryWater

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#4  Edited By ArbitraryWater

I've listened to the podcast, so I know you do eventually turn around on this game a little, but maaaaan does the first part of this game seem to exemplify everything I don't like about agonizingly slow JRPG intros.

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azulot

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1) You've totally pinpointed my issues with the game. I remember feeling very bored for most of the game (especially the battles, maaaan) but the time spent in Dali is exactly where I was like "Ok, I need to see where this goes". I also dislike Steiner and the trance system very very much.

2) As someone who quit her last job because of sexual harassment - thank you.

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ShadyPingu

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#6  Edited By ShadyPingu

I never expected a write-up on FFIX to resonate thematically with this presidential election season, but here we are.

I'm not surprised at all that you reacted so strongly to Zidane's creepiness; I imagine the 2016 games press would've had some words for this game too, if it came out today. The conversation around sexual harassment has changed since the late 90s such that, thankfully, grabbing a woman's ass uninvited reads as abhorrent, not comedic.

It reminds me a bit of the 2nd Star Trek movie, and that scene the Internet rebelled against: the one where Kirk and the blonde lady are in a dropship, changing clothes, for reasons. The lady says, straight up, "avert your eyes, please, I don't want you to look at my near-naked body," and Kirk turns around and looks anyway. Now this is a trope we've seen a million times before, one looking to cast Kirk as some lovable rogue. But he is not in that moment lovable in any way, he's just a creep. As is Zidane. Yeeech.

I think the writers of FFIX blundered into making Zidane a creep because the series has so little experience conveying adult sexuality. Perhaps because he's a minor, there's no carnal dimension to any of Zidane's behavior -- even if he was an adult, I doubt the writers would've had any interest in Zidane's sex life -- yet his pursuit of girls is a defining aspect of who he is. Their solution was to keep this personality trait "harmless" and "cute," but they miscalculated, in some cases catastrophically.

At least Vivi's there to pick up the slack, as usual. Man, does he get fucking raw against Black Waltz#3.

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Slag

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#7  Edited By Slag

Man I totally forgot about the sexual harassment stuff in FFIX. It's been so long since I played it. Yeah it's indefensible.

The leering lech character has long been an Anime trope character played for intended comedic effect, but I've never found any of them to be anything other than annoying.

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Zeik

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Wasn't the afformentioned ass-grabbing accidental? I don't remember that scene vividly, but that's how I remember it. Not that it excuses the way he or the game deals with it afterward, but there is a difference in terms of how that makes his character come across.

Anyway, in spite of some missteps in that regard I still think Zidane is leagues more interesting and likeable than Cloud or Squall could ever dream of being. (Not that that's a high bar, but still...) Those scenes with Vivi are a great example of him actually caring about and protecting the people close to him. Even trying to picture Squall doing something like that with anyone makes my brain implode.

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beforet

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@zombiepie Okay, but you have to admit, Steiner and Vivi being able to team up for "Magic Sword" attacks is pretty awesome!

Trance is garbage. Several characters have Trances that aren't even worth anything (I love Quina, but their trance literally becomes obsolete, and is worthless in a boss battle), and in the end Zidane is the only one with battle changing abilities. I think they had one neat idea, and did not execute on it well. Or the team was told they had to have a limit break because the kids loved that shit in 7 and 8, and so they shoe horned it in. Frankly, "Trance" was best in the couple of scenes where it intersects with story telling, like the scene here.

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Onemanarmyy

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That 'naming Garnet' screenshot is something they put into the steam release right? I don't remember the naming process steering too far away from the FF7,8 screens

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beforet

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@onemanarmyy said:

That 'naming Garnet' screenshot is something they put into the steam release right? I don't remember the naming process steering too far away from the FF7,8 screens

Yes, that's a PC thing. I really like the look, also confused about why dominant hand needs to be in there. Kind of surprised blood type isn't included.

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GERALTITUDE

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Trance is good as a random, never-when-you-expected-it, ultimate state, but it is most interesting as a late game mechanic, when bosses or a handful of powerful enemies can activate it within a few moves. Early on it is a tool to "skip" battle by grinding & timing. I also find it really fascinating as a successor FFVIII's system. It's a fascinating 180 degree turn by the developer, and I enjoyed the different feelings.

Plus, like others have said, the Vivi & Steiner combo is cool.

From the screenshot I remembered the butt grab as a lesson scene, that's depressing to hear it's a joke set up.

I assume you haven't listened to the Dev Game Club podcast about FFIX for spoiler reasons, but you should listen to it at some point, pretty interesting insight from dev vets on this game. Unfortunately no special guest developer who made the game on it, I guess for obvious reasons.

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beforet

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Also, can we take it for granted that you're not going for Excalibur II? ;)

Though I guess this being a PC games means you could technically cheat engine your way to that unholy weapons.

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I will defend the ATE system to the death. It is one of the best ways I have ever encountered for a story-heavy game to build up the world around the primary characters, allowing the viewer to both gain greater insights into said characters, but also allowing some sense of dramatic irony that games are usually unable to create. It allows the player to gain information without Zidane/whoever you are controlling having access to that info, which avoids the problem of videogame characters having to be really dumb to create some element of suspense. Not all of the scenes are good, mind you, but I love the mechanic itself.

I also think you are overstating the mood whiplash this game presents, perhaps some residual mental scarring from FFVIII. The game is fairly consistent, I think you just dislike a significant portion of the things that are happening. Which you are well within your rights to dislike, of course. The grabbing scene is indeed tasteless, but I think the idea of Zidane being someone who has generally good intentions and positive qualities but is an ass around women to be almost uncannily accurate to most young men I grew up with. And older men for that matter.

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JasonR86

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I love Final Famtasy 9 because I hated Final Fantasy 8 so much. I like my JRPGs to be more lighthearted and charming and less "dark" and "serious" (i.e. Final Fantasy 8). But, it is very slow. Which I like because it was just sort of relaxing and calming to go through. But I could see how that would be irritating. Also, I don't think I noticed the Zidane sexism stuff because I played it when I was pretty young and didn't notice those sort of things. But that's pretty gross.

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#16  Edited By Teddie

I dunno why but for some reason Vivi's emotionless unmoving face in that airship attack scene always conveyed more emotion to me than most modern video game character faces do.

I really like Dali. They put a bunch of "peaceful town" cliches like kids playing tag in the street, old ladies tending a farm, and sleepy music so that the weirdness going on in that town seems all the more sinister when they fully reveal it. It's also the first area where you just hang about and get to know some of the main characters, although you didn't enjoy that part.

That butt grabbing thing sucks.

Sucks that you don't like the gameplay, next to FFX it's my favourite version of the turn-based FF's. I'm on disc 3 right now so maybe the ATB bars fill up faster now, but I have to manually pause the game so I can think more often than I have to wait to input commands. I also like the "defined roles" of characters more-- one of the things I hate about FF games that let any character do anything is that nobody feels unique to use in combat after a certain point, and the party might as well just be triple Cait Siths (you heard me). It also reflects and reinforces the characters from a narrative standpoint, ie. Steiner behaving like a knight in combat.

I don't really like the trance system either, but the game's easy enough that it kinda just ends up being a "nice surprise" in some battles (and a big waste of time in others when you don't even get to use it). I think it'd ruin the balancing of bosses if you could trigger them yourself, though-- you could just save everyone's trance and then decimate the bosses in one or two rounds I'd imagine. I wish you got to use them more often though; Zidane's learned more trance skills than I've had a chance to use at this point.

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SpaceInsomniac

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@azulot said:

1) You've totally pinpointed my issues with the game. I remember feeling very bored for most of the game (especially the battles, maaaan) but the time spent in Dali is exactly where I was like "Ok, I need to see where this goes". I also dislike Steiner and the trance system very very much.

2) As someone who quit her last job because of sexual harassment - thank you.

I'm sorry to read that. That's never an easy situation, as I witnessed several years ago. A woman at my work told me that one of my co-workers was groping her, and that it didn't stop when she told him to. In the end, she went to her boss after telling several other employees. They had a talk with him, and it stopped after that, but everyone had to have an opinion about it, and a lot of judgments were made about both people that no one has any right to decide. Some believed her, some believed him, and some admitted that there was no way of knowing. I never doubted her, but I never treated him like crap either. I just admitted to myself that I didn't know, and I offered her my support and sympathy. I also encouraged her to speak to her boss about it.

But even the one self-identified feminist at my work told me that she thought the woman was making it up or exaggerating what really happened. And while truthfully the feminist and the woman did know each other for much longer than I knew either one, I still felt that was an awful thing to make a judgement about.

As for the game, the speech bubbles were kind of blocking his hand, so I was really hoping that was a mistake, and he was just commenting on the fabric of her pants or something. But no, that is definitely her butt. For anyone who wants to see for themselves:

Loading Video...

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#18 ZombiePie  Staff

Regarding the battle system, just be glad you're not playing the original version. It was AT LEAST twice as slow at times, and in PAL regions, even slower! Fuck the 9 combat.

The Steam version also features incredibly snappy load times which are a God-send. This is without a doubt the best port of a Final Fantasy game I have played yet. That said, FUCK IS THIS COMBAT SYSTEM SLOW! I have gotten real...REAL close to "cheating" and disabling the random encounters in the game entirely.

Trance is 99% garbage. The only reason it is not 100% for me is because it actually saved my ass in the final boss the first time I played the game. And that was literally the only time I had it activate in a boss fight that I can recall. I understand that Limit Breaks could be a way to cheese the hell out of FF8, but they went incredibly overboard in stemming that in FF9.

The game likes to meander around for a good bit before the antagonist's motivation is revealed. My view of the first disc was that it was an attempt to get the player to invest more in the playable characters and their motivations before throwing them into a "SAVE THE WORLD" situation. Unfortunately, as you stated, you have asinine moments like Zidane clumsily harassing Garnet like a terrible anime trope.

I honestly never was a huge fan of Zidane. If I could, I would not have him on my active battle team.

Part of me understands what the Trance system is a reaction to. Limit Breaks in Final Fantasy VII featured incredibly long animations, and Limit Breaks in Final Fantasy VIII were just plain broken. Making the system more "pragmatic" makes sense on paper, but the execution is what is the killer in this case.

The first disc is a glorified travelogue. As most of you can probably tell from this edition of the blog series I am NOT A FAN of what the game ropes me into doing at Lindblum. Instead of providing the story with a clear purpose the game yet again provides an expositional action sequence for the sake of it. I found moments like those to be continually detrimental to my enjoyment of the story. What's frustrating is that there are great moments in the first disc where you can see the workings on an interesting world, but then you are expected to wade through fifty feet of crap to get to that.

@fezrock said:

Maybe its just my nostalgia, but I replayed FFIX myself not to long and loved just about all of it. I agree that the Trance system is total bullshit though.

As far as Zidane goes, I think his inconsistent characterization is kind of the point. He's a teenager and doesn't know who he really is, who he wants to be, or how to be that person. And his character arc is to answer those questions and I found him much more consistent by the end of the game. Its not the best arc, that's Vivi's, but at least it is one; some the characters basically stop all development (or even having dialog anymore) after Disc 2.

As I mentioned I find the idea that "Zidane is just acting like a teenager," to be a bit of a convenient excuse or equivocation. His teenage behavior makes him incredibly difficult to root for, and relate to, as the story progresses. Much of his behavior is just downright groan inducing. The fact that he does get his act together as the story reaches its conclusion is a bit comforting, but in the meantime we have to recognize that it could have logically happened earlier. I mean let's look at some of the more "mature" stuff that Zidane has seen in this journey alone:

  1. Participate in a kidnapping.
  2. Murder thousands of woodland creatures.
  3. Watch his best friend become petrified.
  4. Watch multiple acts of genocide/total war.
  5. Witness multiple character sacrifice their lives.
  6. Witness citizens grieve the loss of their loved ones.
  7. And so much more mental anguish and suffering.

YET, none of this motivates him to mature towards adulthood. Instead, he matures when the game finally decides to share his story beat to the audience.

I've listened to the podcast, so I know you do eventually turn around on this game a little, but maaaaan does the first part of this game seem to exemplify everything I don't like about agonizingly slow JRPG intros.

Now listen here! I know FOR A FACT that you have played multiple role-playing games, and JRPGs that are WAY WORSE than Final Fantasy IX! I refuse to eat crow while you continue to blog about questionable computer role-playing games, as well as attempt to convince me to play Grandia II or games from the Tales of... franchise!

@azulot said:

1) You've totally pinpointed my issues with the game. I remember feeling very bored for most of the game (especially the battles, maaaan) but the time spent in Dali is exactly where I was like "Ok, I need to see where this goes". I also dislike Steiner and the trance system very very much.

2) As someone who quit her last job because of sexual harassment - thank you.

This is both one of the most rewarding and disquieting comments that I have received thus far. I'm sorry to hear about your job, but thank you for sharing your experience and supporting my writing with your commentary.

That paragraph was one of the most difficult things I have ever written. Originally the paragraph was littered with vulgarity, and after thinking about the topic at hand I decided to "break character," and just talk from a more personal level. My hope was, and judging from the comments it turned out okay, doing so would be a more appropriate way of sharing my distaste for the scene.

I never expected a write-up on FFIX to resonate thematically with this presidential election season, but here we are.

I'm not surprised at all that you reacted so strongly to Zidane's creepiness; I imagine the 2016 games press would've had some words for this game too, if it came out today. The conversation around sexual harassment has changed since the late 90s such that, thankfully, grabbing a woman's ass uninvited reads as abhorrent, not comedic.

I think the writers of FFIX blundered into making Zidane a creep because the series has so little experience conveying adult sexuality. Perhaps because he's a minor, there's no carnal dimension to any of Zidane's behavior -- even if he was an adult, I doubt the writers would've had any interest in Zidane's sex life -- yet his pursuit of girls is a defining aspect of who he is. Their solution was to keep this personality trait "harmless" and "cute," but they miscalculated, in some cases catastrophically.

At least Vivi's there to pick up the slack, as usual. Man, does he get fucking raw against Black Waltz#3.

You have pinpointed an issue that I forgot to mention on this blog. There's no in-game explanation as to why Zidane behaves as he does in the game. It is neither carnal, nor is it a;ways comedic. He very clearly wishes to develop a relationship with Garnet, but goes about in a manner that is absolutely abhorrent. This is unfortunate because this COULD HAVE been the first relationship in a Final Fantasy game that felt natural. The pieces are there for Zidane and Garnet to work together through their problems and become more comfortable with one another, and this in turn leads to romance.

But no, the developers saw an opportunity to put in some anime bullshit and they took it. It's an absolute waste, and demotivating in terms of me feeling invested in Zidane. AND FOR SOME GODDAMNED REASON THEY DECIDED HAVE A SIX YEAR OLD CHILD JOIN THE CAST! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! THIS GAME IS GOING TO KILL ME!

At least Vivi is still a storytelling treat, and thank you for the Star Trek story.

@slag said:

Man I totally forgot about the sexual harassment stuff in FFIX. It's been so long since I played it. Yeah it's indefensible.

The leering lech character has long been an Anime trope character played for intended comedic effect, but I've never found any of them to be anything other than annoying.

The part that I find odd is the fact that the game isn't even consistent about that being a part of Zidane's character. Eventually he does develop the ability to talk to Garnet like a normal human-being... AND I HAVE NO IDEA HOW OR WHY THAT HAPPENED! In disc two Zidane tells Garnet stories multiple stories about his past, and even takes the time to listen to her. So from time to the game clearly wants me to view Zidane as a sympathetic figure.

Then I saw the "Wedding Scene," at Conde Petie.

I HAVE A LOT OF THINGS TO SAY ABOUT THAT SCENE.

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Don't tell me you're going to hate on the Vivi and Quina wedding! I may have to part ways with your blogs if you do! (Only half kidding.)

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Loving the blog as always ZP.

So the ice cavern is as far as I have ever gotten in FF IX. Game really didn't hold my interest in the same way VII, VIII & X did. Kudos to you for continuing though!

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@arbitrarywater said:

I've listened to the podcast, so I know you do eventually turn around on this game a little, but maaaaan does the first part of this game seem to exemplify everything I don't like about agonizingly slow JRPG intros.

Now listen here! I know FOR A FACT that you have played multiple role-playing games, and JRPGs that are WAY WORSE than Final Fantasy IX! I refuse to eat crow while you continue to blog about questionable computer role-playing games, as well as attempt to convince me to play Grandia II or games from the Tales of... franchise!

I have played games with worse, more agonizingly slow intros, I'm sure! But that doesn't mean that hearing about Final Fantasy IX's "first disc" being lackadaisical in its pacing doesn't immediately set off a warning flag for me. Same with hearing that the combat moves at a snail's pace, which is definitely something that can't be said about the SNES-era games that FFIX is drawing influence from.

You're right though, I do need to get back to blogging about questionable CRPGs. I'll probably get around to playing that bizarre Baldur's Gate midquel expansion thing or Underrail when I'm less busy with school.

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So I started a very long-winded reply, but it was too long, way too long. I'm going to put my experiences and thoughts into a blog post, as to not derail the discussion here. That way, people can elect to read it if they choose to do so, and I don't have a giant wall of text on here (it's already over a thousand words and I'm not even done yet).

@azulot said:

1) You've totally pinpointed my issues with the game. I remember feeling very bored for most of the game (especially the battles, maaaan) but the time spent in Dali is exactly where I was like "Ok, I need to see where this goes". I also dislike Steiner and the trance system very very much.

2) As someone who quit her last job because of sexual harassment - thank you.

I'm sorry to read that. That's never an easy situation, as I witnessed several years ago. A woman at my work told me that one of my co-workers was groping her, and that it didn't stop when she told him to. In the end, she went to her boss after telling several other employees. They had a talk with him, and it stopped after that, but everyone had to have an opinion about it, and a lot of judgments were made about both people that no one has any right to decide. Some believed her, some believed him, and some admitted that there was no way of knowing. I never doubted her, but I never treated him like crap either. I just admitted to myself that I didn't know, and I offered her my support and sympathy. I also encouraged her to speak to her boss about it.

But even the one self-identified feminist at my work told me that she thought the woman was making it up or exaggerating what really happened. And while truthfully the feminist and the woman did know each other for much longer than I knew either one, I still felt that was an awful thing to make a judgement about.

Thank you so much. The harassment was spanned out over months and I truly could have (and should have) handled the situation better. However, the whole ordeal genuinely helped me grow a lot - though I wouldn't wish that situation on anyone. Also, it's very big of you not to judge people or make assumptions of the occurrences. I told a coworker, who I thought was a close friend, in confidence about the situation and the real reason why I quit, and the response I got was "Oh, come on, did you think he was going to rape you or something?" as if that somehow makes what I dealt with alright because it wasn't as traumatic. Needless to say, I completely cut ties with that person upon my departure.

@azulot said:

1) You've totally pinpointed my issues with the game. I remember feeling very bored for most of the game (especially the battles, maaaan) but the time spent in Dali is exactly where I was like "Ok, I need to see where this goes". I also dislike Steiner and the trance system very very much.

2) As someone who quit her last job because of sexual harassment - thank you.

This is both one of the most rewarding and disquieting comments that I have received thus far. I'm sorry to hear about your job, but thank you for sharing your experience and supporting my writing with your commentary.

That paragraph was one of the most difficult things I have ever written. Originally the paragraph was littered with vulgarity, and after thinking about the topic at hand I decided to "break character," and just talk from a more personal level. My hope was, and judging from the comments it turned out okay, doing so would be a more appropriate way of sharing my distaste for the scene.

It's always good when something like this does not get swept under the rug, and I think your writing, as well as your position as teacher helps reinforce that this kind of stuff isn't okay even if it's meant to be done in comedic fashion. I truly appreciate it, as any time I see something like this, it reaffirms that my stance on what I dealt with was not only understandable but also morally right, I guess. It's kind of like a sigh of relief that I didn't realize I needed.

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I hate Trance so goddamn much. Automatically activating limit breaks are just not a good idea in any way, shape or form.

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#24 ZombiePie  Staff

@zeik said:

Wasn't the afformentioned ass-grabbing accidental? I don't remember that scene vividly, but that's how I remember it. Not that it excuses the way he or the game deals with it afterward, but there is a difference in terms of how that makes his character come across.

Anyway, in spite of some missteps in that regard I still think Zidane is leagues more interesting and likeable than Cloud or Squall could ever dream of being. (Not that that's a high bar, but still...) Those scenes with Vivi are a great example of him actually caring about and protecting the people close to him. Even trying to picture Squall doing something like that with anyone makes my brain implode.

I am going to say the video @spaceinsomniac makes it very apparent that it was a concerted effort on the part of Zidane to deliberately attempt the act. However, as you suggested the point is largely moot considering the game's handling of the "incident" is as detestable as the actual act.

Squall is a single emotion character. Cloud is a four emotion character. Zidane has all of the emotions, depicts them in the same scene, and I honestly just do not know what to make of him. But everyone keeps telling me that he get's "better." Where's the light at the end of the tunnel, because I sure as heck do not see it.

@beforet said:

@zombiepie Okay, but you have to admit, Steiner and Vivi being able to team up for "Magic Sword" attacks is pretty awesome!

WAIT A MINUTE! YOU CAN COMBINE ATTACKS BETWEEN CHARACTERS?WHAT? THAT'S A REAL THING? HOW DID I NOT KNOW THIS UNTIL NOW?

Are there any other major gameplay mechanics that I could be missing?

Trance is good as a random, never-when-you-expected-it, ultimate state, but it is most interesting as a late game mechanic, when bosses or a handful of powerful enemies can activate it within a few moves. Early on it is a tool to "skip" battle by grinding & timing. I also find it really fascinating as a successor FFVIII's system. It's a fascinating 180 degree turn by the developer, and I enjoyed the different feelings.

Plus, like others have said, the Vivi & Steiner combo is cool.

From the screenshot I remembered the butt grab as a lesson scene, that's depressing to hear it's a joke set up.

I assume you haven't listened to the Dev Game Club podcast about FFIX for spoiler reasons, but you should listen to it at some point, pretty interesting insight from dev vets on this game. Unfortunately no special guest developer who made the game on it, I guess for obvious reasons.

  1. I agree completely about Trance.
  2. HOW DID I HONESTLY MISS THIS UNTIL NOW? WHY DOESN'T THE GAME TELL YOU THIS IMPORTANT INFORMATION?! WHAT ELSE AM I MISSING OUT ON???
  3. WAIT UNTIL YOU HEAR WHAT I HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THE MARRIAGE SCENE IN CONDE PETIE!
  4. I'll check out the podcast after I'm done, but this reminds when of when my Tumblr account had four or five people sending me links to a YouTuber named "SpooneyOne" while I was playing Final Fantasy VIII. I still have no interest in watching that video series.
@beforet said:

Also, can we take it for granted that you're not going for Excalibur II? ;)

Though I guess this being a PC games means you could technically cheat engine your way to that unholy weapons.

@thatpinguino has successfully acquired Excalibur II on a few occasions legitimately. I have no interest in making a game that I am barely fully on board with a complete chore. Also, my rule is to play this game and similarly as the original release. Unlike the other members of penguin's podcast, I have never turned off random encounters or sped up the game using the keyboard shortcuts.

@jesna said:

I will defend the ATE system to the death. It is one of the best ways I have ever encountered for a story-heavy game to build up the world around the primary characters, allowing the viewer to both gain greater insights into said characters, but also allowing some sense of dramatic irony that games are usually unable to create. It allows the player to gain information without Zidane/whoever you are controlling having access to that info, which avoids the problem of videogame characters having to be really dumb to create some element of suspense. Not all of the scenes are good, mind you, but I love the mechanic itself.

I also think you are overstating the mood whiplash this game presents, perhaps some residual mental scarring from FFVIII. The game is fairly consistent, I think you just dislike a significant portion of the things that are happening. Which you are well within your rights to dislike, of course. The grabbing scene is indeed tasteless, but I think the idea of Zidane being someone who has generally good intentions and positive qualities but is an ass around women to be almost uncannily accurate to most young men I grew up with. And older men for that matter.

I do not dislike the actual content of the ATEs. Instead, I dislike their overall impact to the pacing of the game. The ATEs are systematic source for the game's slow paced story. They should have been better spaced out, but instead immediately after entering any new location you are barraged by more than half a dozen of them. The payoff to many of the ATEs require patience that I feel Final fantasy IX does not earn. It has already taken its sweet time trying to justify why Garnet wanted to leave Alexandria, as well as why Queen Brahne is evil. So why should I be patient in wanting to see what happens to Ruby after she gets left behind?

All of the Final Fantasy games that I have played have had issues with their transitions. Every single one of them. Yes, I agree that Final Fantasy VIII is worse than IX in regards to its juxtapositions. Regardless of what these blogs may suggest, I am not a crazy person. That does not excuse the fact that the men and women behind IX shouldn't have learned from their mistakes, and that this issue does not exist in Final Fantasy IX.

@jasonr86 said:

I love Final Famtasy 9 because I hated Final Fantasy 8 so much. I like my JRPGs to be more lighthearted and charming and less "dark" and "serious" (i.e. Final Fantasy 8). But, it is very slow. Which I like because it was just sort of relaxing and calming to go through. But I could see how that would be irritating. Also, I don't think I noticed the Zidane sexism stuff because I played it when I was pretty young and didn't notice those sort of things. But that's pretty gross.

Wanting a lighthearted game is fine. However, any adventure needs to have a "call to action," that provides the cast with a clear reason for being together. There should be a narrative glue that keeps all of the characters motivate to work together rather than separately. This game does not do that...FOR AN ENTIRE DISC. As a result, the game becomes almost entirely reliant on its charm to keep motivate to see this adventure through to the end. It is equally baffling how the only character that receives a clear and cohesive character arc is the deuteragonist. Vivi's scene are indeed amazing, but these scenes highlight how hollow all of the other characters are for half of the game. Worse yet, the game had so many opportunities to share similar stories for other characters in order to create a more well-rounded cast throughout the first disc.

The sexism stuff actually gets worse during the second disc. I damn near wanted to set Zidane on fire.

@teddie said:

Sucks that you don't like the gameplay, next to FFX it's my favourite version of the turn-based FF's. I'm on disc 3 right now so maybe the ATB bars fill up faster now, but I have to manually pause the game so I can think more often than I have to wait to input commands. I also like the "defined roles" of characters more-- one of the things I hate about FF games that let any character do anything is that nobody feels unique to use in combat after a certain point, and the party might as well just be triple Cait Siths (you heard me). It also reflects and reinforces the characters from a narrative standpoint, ie. Steiner behaving like a knight in combat.

I don't really like the trance system either, but the game's easy enough that it kinda just ends up being a "nice surprise" in some battles (and a big waste of time in others when you don't even get to use it). I think it'd ruin the balancing of bosses if you could trigger them yourself, though-- you could just save everyone's trance and then decimate the bosses in one or two rounds I'd imagine. I wish you got to use them more often though; Zidane's learned more trance skills than I've had a chance to use at this point.

I have reached the conclusion that my displeasure with Final Fantasy IX's combat system is largely due to my lack of experience with a 2D Final Fantasy game. The combat system in Final Fantasy IX is largely a regression, and do not mean that as an insult, in comparison to the combat systems in Final Fantasy VII and VIII. It is a pragmatic system that requires due planning on the part of the player, and most of all patience. I simply was not prepared for this. The closest I have ever come to a more traditional JRPG was Golden Sun: The Lost Age...way to go Chris, way to buy the second game in a JRPG. I will readily admit that I am genuinely afflicted with "ANALYSIS PARALYSIS." I take my time in selecting my attacks and many of combat frustrations are due in large part to this.

I was debating if I should bring up Final Fantasy IX's difficulty. It's an easier game than VII and VIII in regards to the number of times I have died in the game, but I was not sure if Final Fantasy IX is actually a relatively easy game, or it just takes its sweet ass time to ramp up its difficulty. I have heard terrible things about the final boss.

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@zombiepie: I'm almost positive the game specifically mentions the Steiner/Vivi combo when it's made available. I distinctly remember a coversation between Steiner and Vivi about Steiner trying out a new trick involving Vivi's magic in battle.

They never specifically tutorialize it though, so I guess I'm not surprised you overlooked it given how you seem to want that kind of stuff to be made fully transparant and obvious by the game. Still, I don't remember it being particularly hidden or anything. If you have Steiner and Vivi in the same party you should see the option on one of their battle menus.

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If brevity is the soul of wit, then FUCK does Final Fantasy IX seriously lack both

Best line.

So when do we talk about Kuja's midriff. And when does pinguino apologize.

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At some point I wonder if it is possible to have an extended video game story that can fulfill what is typical seen as "good" story telling. I personally would argue that no story telling of any medium is universally good they are all merely working well within their own constrains at best and the viewer adapts and accepts these constrains.

In a 1 to 2 hours movie there's hardly time for raises and falls, the same for plays as we were taught classically, it starts, rises, climax, then falls. To plot it out it is a single peak curve with a sharper drop. Intermedial falls if presents at all are usually done as smash cuts with hardly any true "down time" or it serves as springboard for the next climax, the action never truly stops. In a 40 hours game that is not possible, on the other hand we see shorter games able to adapt that technique better...yet occasionally they get lampoon as just going for bigger, more bombastic, and eventually reaching ridiculous levels sometimes across multiple games in a series.

Characters having (at least 1) unlikable trait or flaw is honestly one of the oldest trick in the book in theater. Viewer acceptance or rejection of the character as a judgement call on the work as whole however will always reminds me of the wide range of receptions of Catcher in the Rye and Holden Caulfield. Fine he is a shitty character, some reader can't relate to him, hates him, but is that enough ground to dismiss the whole thing? Or do we take the side of the reader is suppose to hate him, to criticize him? In other words does the story and characters have to agree with the viewer's desire and where the viewer wants to go, "what would the viewer do?" in order to be accepted as good. Or are we in a constant guessing game of asking what is the creator trying to do?

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#28  Edited By beforet

@zeik said:

@zombiepie: I'm almost positive the game specifically mentions the Steiner/Vivi combo when it's made available. I distinctly remember a coversation between Steiner and Vivi about Steiner trying out a new trick involving Vivi's magic in battle.

They never specifically tutorialize it though, so I guess I'm not surprised you overlooked it given how you seem to want that kind of stuff to be made fully transparant and obvious by the game. Still, I don't remember it being particularly hidden or anything. If you have Steiner and Vivi in the same party you should see the option on one of their battle menus.

Correct, it is a conversation. Vivi says "Magic Sword?" and then it appears as a command option. There is no outright tutorialization, and with ZombiePie's analysis paralysis I'm not too surprised he never got the chance to see that menu option.

Basically, if Steiner and Vivi are both in the party, then Steiner has the "Magic Sword" command. Steiner can use any spell that Vivi knows. I believe it uses a combination of Steiner's strength and magic stats for damage, and it only draws from Steiner's MP pool. Also, all attacks with this are single target, even if the spell itself is exclusively multi target.

Oh, ZombiePie, since you're pretty far in the game I bet, have you been hunting down the Stellazio collectibles?'

Edit: And to answer your other question, this is the only combo I can think of.

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#29  Edited By Jesna

Wanting a lighthearted game is fine. However, any adventure needs to have a "call to action," that provides the cast with a clear reason for being together. There should be a narrative glue that keeps all of the characters motivate to work together rather than separately. This game does not do that...FOR AN ENTIRE DISC. As a result, the game becomes almost entirely reliant on its charm to keep motivate to see this adventure through to the end.

This bit about the "call to action" only really applies if you try to shoehorn all fiction into the Hero's Journey. The characters here are nearly always given a reason for being together at every point in the story, and when they don't have legitimate ones the party splits temporarily. The call to action may not occur as fast as you'd like, which is reasonable given the slow pacing, and a quicker plot could potentially improve the game as a whole, but its not some horrible storytelling sin. What is the actual call to action in Dune? How come we have to read about hobbits not know whats going on for dozens and dozens of pages? (I should note that FFIX is by no means as good a story as either of these examples)

The pacing you seem to prefer is more prevalent in movies than novels, but I think the latter works better as a comparison for JRPGs due to the length of time you engage with the work. This pacing trend is also pretty common amongst JRPGs, but FFXIII has a call to action almost immediately. So you can enjoy that while your mind breaks from the other, uh, "oddities" of that story.

Also I forgot to mention that trance being auto-activated is the dumbest mechanic. God, who thought that was a good idea?

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#30  Edited By thatpinguino

@zombiepie: Man, Steiner and Vivi have a conversation about magic sword in the Evil Forest. Steiner has the option of teaming up with Vivi every single time they're in the party together.

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Man, I'm glad I played this before adulthood told me about sexual harassment. I was too busy going, "THIS WALTZ IS FUCKING CRAZZZZY!"

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#32 ZombiePie  Staff

@spaceinsomniac: Thank you so much for your post and embedding that video. Re-watching that video just makes me angry all over again. I am decidedly NOT HAPPY about 75% of Zidane's interactions with Garnet on the Second Disc. They have all but ruined Zidane as a character for me, and I honestly wish that I could dump him from my party if that were possible.

@zeik said:

Don't tell me you're going to hate on the Vivi and Quina wedding! I may have to part ways with your blogs if you do! (Only half kidding.)

That fucking scene... whoever on the writing staff that thought that scene was "okay," needs to be found and prosecuted for their crimes against writing. Also, did the original translation for this game always have terrible 90s references in the dialogue? Every single goddamned time Zidane and his buddies use 90s era slang makes me want to set the world on fire.

I want to see Zidane burn. SPOILERS:I'm pretty sure that is going to be the title of one of these blogs at some point.

Loving the blog as always ZP.

So the ice cavern is as far as I have ever gotten in FF IX. Game really didn't hold my interest in the same way VII, VIII & X did. Kudos to you for continuing though!

What specifically about the ice cavern or any of the preceding scenes proved to fatal to your interest? I'm really interested to know what ultimately was the final nail in the coffin.

If brevity is the soul of wit, then FUCK does Final Fantasy IX seriously lack both

Best line.

So when do we talk about Kuja's midriff. And when does pinguino apologize.

I'm happy that you saw that, and equally happy that someone from the previous blog saw my syphilis joke. I almost cut that joke, but then again I have made even more crass jokes on @thatpinguino's podcast.

Speaking of which, penguin does indeed believe that the game properly justifies Kuja's outfit.

At some point I wonder if it is possible to have an extended video game story that can fulfill what is typical seen as "good" story telling. I personally would argue that no story telling of any medium is universally good they are all merely working well within their own constrains at best and the viewer adapts and accepts these constrains.

In a 1 to 2 hours movie there's hardly time for raises and falls, the same for plays as we were taught classically, it starts, rises, climax, then falls. To plot it out it is a single peak curve with a sharper drop. Intermedial falls if presents at all are usually done as smash cuts with hardly any true "down time" or it serves as springboard for the next climax, the action never truly stops. In a 40 hours game that is not possible, on the other hand we see shorter games able to adapt that technique better...yet occasionally they get lampoon as just going for bigger, more bombastic, and eventually reaching ridiculous levels sometimes across multiple games in a series.

Characters having (at least 1) unlikable trait or flaw is honestly one of the oldest trick in the book in theater. Viewer acceptance or rejection of the character as a judgement call on the work as whole however will always reminds me of the wide range of receptions of Catcher in the Rye and Holden Caulfield. Fine he is a shitty character, some reader can't relate to him, hates him, but is that enough ground to dismiss the whole thing? Or do we take the side of the reader is suppose to hate him, to criticize him? In other words does the story and characters have to agree with the viewer's desire and where the viewer wants to go, "what would the viewer do?" in order to be accepted as good. Or are we in a constant guessing game of asking what is the creator trying to do?

I honestly feel that it is an inevitable conundrum/paradox for any game as it progressively elongates its play length. Sidequests, filler, and character moments all have the potential to drag any narrative, and run the risk of violating some of the basic tenets of Chekov's gun. The best possible option is to limit filler, maximize genuine character moments, and provide sidequests that have a direct impact on the main story. I have always found the incentives for completing sidequests and character moments to be "wanting." Current and past game design is relatively guilty of invoking the principle of "BECAUSE IT IS THERE!" in terms of motivating players to complete their mundane tasks.

The way that Square depicts characters is predictable, and occasionally pedantic, so I think that we can agree on that. I feel like I have said this story over a dozen times, but I'm happy to repeat it again. There was once a time when Holden Caulfield was my favorite "character" in all media. He spoke to me in a way that no character had ever before. I felt something as the world around him melted away, and as he ruined his interpersonal relationship throughout his downward spiral. Holden was me.

Holden Caulfield is no longer me, and I cannot read The Catcher and the Rye anymore. Holden is a spineless and selfish oaf that lacks any form of human compassion. His behavior is nonsensical, and counter-intuitive. I feel that fact is painfully obvious by the second chapter. His treatment of his younger sister, and discussions of his school friends is beyond the pale. As a result, I cannot go on that journey ever again.

I kind of wish that Square, and most anime as well as video game writers, realized that people change and their characters should change as well.

@jesna said:
@zombiepie said:

Wanting a lighthearted game is fine. However, any adventure needs to have a "call to action," that provides the cast with a clear reason for being together. There should be a narrative glue that keeps all of the characters motivate to work together rather than separately. This game does not do that...FOR AN ENTIRE DISC. As a result, the game becomes almost entirely reliant on its charm to keep motivate to see this adventure through to the end.

This bit about the "call to action" only really applies if you try to shoehorn all fiction into the Hero's Journey. The characters here are nearly always given a reason for being together at every point in the story, and when they don't have legitimate ones the party splits temporarily. The call to action may not occur as fast as you'd like, which is reasonable given the slow pacing, and a quicker plot could potentially improve the game as a whole, but its not some horrible storytelling sin. What is the actual call to action in Dune? How come we have to read about hobbits not know whats going on for dozens and dozens of pages? (I should note that FFIX is by no means as good a story as either of these examples)

The pacing you seem to prefer is more prevalent in movies than novels, but I think the latter works better as a comparison for JRPGs due to the length of time you engage with the work. This pacing trend is also pretty common amongst JRPGs, but FFXIII has a call to action almost immediately. So you can enjoy that while your mind breaks from the other, uh, "oddities" of that story.

Also I forgot to mention that trance being auto-activated is the dumbest mechanic. God, who thought that was a good idea?

All good points, but I would deny categorically that my narrative preference fits exclusively with books and movies. To be perfectly honest I am "that guy" when it comes to modern game design and games becoming shorter. If I am going to be playing a game that wishes convey a narrative I want it to be quick, snappy, and accurate with its tone. The influx of independent games that accomplish within four to five hours has been one of the most exciting things I have seen in video games my entire life. I include the launch of consoles regarding that statement.

The structure that I have called upon also fits massive epics. The Iliad and The Brothers Karamazov are not short experiences. As are games from Bioware, Lionhead, and Richard Garriott; all of whom have applied clear narrative structures for their fantasy setting to their benefit.

@zeik said:

@zombiepie: I'm almost positive the game specifically mentions the Steiner/Vivi combo when it's made available. I distinctly remember a coversation between Steiner and Vivi about Steiner trying out a new trick involving Vivi's magic in battle.

They never specifically tutorialize it though, so I guess I'm not surprised you overlooked it given how you seem to want that kind of stuff to be made fully transparant and obvious by the game. Still, I don't remember it being particularly hidden or anything. If you have Steiner and Vivi in the same party you should see the option on one of their battle menus.

@zombiepie: Man, Steiner and Vivi have a conversation about magic sword in the Evil Forest. Steiner has the option of teaming up with Vivi every single time they're in the party together.

@beforet said:
@zeik said:

@zombiepie: I'm almost positive the game specifically mentions the Steiner/Vivi combo when it's made available. I distinctly remember a coversation between Steiner and Vivi about Steiner trying out a new trick involving Vivi's magic in battle.

They never specifically tutorialize it though, so I guess I'm not surprised you overlooked it given how you seem to want that kind of stuff to be made fully transparant and obvious by the game. Still, I don't remember it being particularly hidden or anything. If you have Steiner and Vivi in the same party you should see the option on one of their battle menus.

Correct, it is a conversation. Vivi says "Magic Sword?" and then it appears as a command option. There is no outright tutorialization, and with ZombiePie's analysis paralysis I'm not too surprised he never got the chance to see that menu option.

Basically, if Steiner and Vivi are both in the party, then Steiner has the "Magic Sword" command. Steiner can use any spell that Vivi knows. I believe it uses a combination of Steiner's strength and magic stats for damage, and it only draws from Steiner's MP pool. Also, all attacks with this are single target, even if the spell itself is exclusively multi target.

Oh, ZombiePie, since you're pretty far in the game I bet, have you been hunting down the Stellazio collectibles?'

Edit: And to answer your other question, this is the only combo I can think of.

WELL OKAY THEN! I GUESS I AM JUST AN IDIOT!

One thing about the combat that is really getting me is how I still cannot cast magic spells on multiple characters. Which ability do I need to level up in order to cast magic spells on multiple characters?

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WELL OKAY THEN! I GUESS I AM JUST AN IDIOT!

One thing about the combat that is really getting me is how I still cannot cast magic spells on multiple characters. Which ability do I need to level up in order to cast magic spells on multiple characters?

Press G or H when targeting an enemy, then reread the first sentence of this quote.

(Although some stuff like Protect/Shell is one-target only, basically every other spell is multi-target)

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#34  Edited By Zeik

@zombiepie: If I'm not mistaken (I'm pretty certain it's IX that I'm thinking of) all you have to do is push R1 or L1 (don't know what that translates to on PC) while hovering over a target to select and it will turn almost any magic skill into an aoe.

Now that is not well conveyed at all and I'm pretty sure it took me a long time to figure out myself. (Although I'm sure it's mentioned in the manual somewhere.)

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@teddie: Guess he should have listened to Mogster.

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@zombiepie

This was well over a decade ago, but from what I remember it was a combination of what I felt were really poor characters (except for Vivi, everyone loves Vivi) who had very little in the way of redeemable qualities, followed by the fact I didn't really like the Evil Forest either. It kept failing to make me want to keep coming back to it like other FF games did (as bad as the writing was in 7 & 8, I always wanted to continue to see where the story went, whereas 9 never made me care about the where the story was going).

The Ice Cavern was just another dull area after a previously dull area, and was the final nail in the coffin. I honestly think if they hadn't been so close to each other, and there was a more interesting section between them, I may of continued, but for how long, who knows.

Your blog has however got me curious to give it another go though, just to see how I'd feel about the game now. I only ever gave it that one chance as a kid.

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@zombiepie As someone who has read The Brothers Karamazov almost half a dozen times, I'd argue that the call to action in that book (specifically in regards to Dmitri Karamazov's court case, which is the actual central conflict of the story) doesn't truly appear for hundreds of pages. The Iliad does have an immediate call to action, but it cheats because it happens before the story starts and everyone is expected to know what the Trojan War is about. Nitpicking aside I do understand where you're coming from, haha.

You have been able to target multiple people with Vivi's magic since about 5 seconds after he joins your party.

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@zombiepie: Like others have said, you press whatever equivalent there is on the keyboard is L1 or R1. This has no explanation, you didn't miss anything, the game just never bothers to tell you this. You can do this with most spells.

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#39 ZombiePie  Staff

@slag: @encephalon: @fezrock: @geraltitude: @hassun: @jasonr86: @spaceinsomniac: @drdarkstryfe: @mikachops: @dudeglove: @soimadeanaccount: @shindig: @teddie: @zeik: @thatpinguino: @robbparris: @thatpinguino: @jesna: @beforet: @jacksukeru@riostarwind@zirilius@shodan2020@redking56@cloudymusic@iburningstar@mchampton

Oh CRAP! I'm going to have to do another all call to everyone who has commented on this blog series for help. So here's my situation: I am about to start disc three of Final Fantasy IX. As with previous Final Fantasy games I have no idea which side quests are worth completing, and what point in the game is the best time to complete the side quests. As many of you have noted I have avoided the side quests like the plague so far. So here are my questions:

  1. Which side quests are worth completing.
  2. When is the best possible point in the story to complete side quests. Try to be spoiler free.
  3. What are the side quests that will most cause me to experience an existential break down. I have had one every time playing a Final Fantasy game, so why stop now?

Here is the list of side quests that I pulled from a non-spoiler source:

  • Getting the Blue Magic Spells (Can one of you just tell me which spells are worth getting?)
  • Tetra Master (NOPE! FUCK THIS!)
  • Catching Frogs
  • Friendly Monsters
  • Knight's House Monster Challenge
  • Ragtime Mouse
  • Chocobo Hot and Cold
  • Chocographs
  • Rare Coffees
  • Kupo Nuts
  • Mognet
  • Stiltzkin
  • Stellazzio
  • Chocobo Dive Spots
  • Chocobo Beaches
  • Chocobo Mountain Crack (MAN! THERE'S A TON OF CHOCOBO NONSENSE IN THIS GAME!)
  • Hippaul Racing
  • Daguerreo
  • Treasure Hunter
  • Excalibur
  • Nero Family
  • Master Synthesis
  • Ultimate Weapons

And just to be entirely clear I am going to outright refuse to beat Ozma or try to get Excalibur II. I have limits. Otherwise, there's a bunch of side quests and most of them seem, at least from my perspective, to be entirely inconsequential.

I am also willing to do the worst side quest in this game that does not involve Ozma or Excalibur II by the way.

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#40  Edited By Zeik

@zombiepie: Pretty much all the chocobo stuff is connected to chocobo hot/cold. I'd say that stuff is probably the most worthwhile and rewarding side thing in the game. It's not overly difficult (albeit time consuming and tedious depending on your tolerance for it) and you can get some very good rewards out of those treasure hunts. Plus I personally found it fairly satisfying to see my chocobo grow. Although ideally you would have wanted to start that as soon as it was available, as a lot of those early rewards will probably be pretty underwhelming at this point and it will take a decent amount of time to catch up to where you could be. The question you have to ask yourself is: How much extra time are willing to add to your playtime of this game?

I'm pretty sure you fucked up the Stiltzkin quest already if you've been ignoring it. As I recall, you need to locate him as you progress in the story before he moves on of his own accord and you can't backtrack to find missed encounters. If you've been decently thorough with your exploration you may have already been doing it, as it's not like he's super hidden.

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  • Getting the Blue Magic Spells - only if you actually want to use Quina (you don't).
  • Tetra Master - yeahhh, no.
  • Catching Frogs - again, only if you want to use Quina. It's really on beneficial to him/her.
  • Friendly Monsters - good source of AP, but if you're not fighting Ozma probably not worth it.
  • Knight's House Monster Challenge - you've missed stuff already if you haven't been fighting the monsters, since they change at different points in the story. I don't think there's a reward for beating all of them, just beating them individually, so go for it if you want.
  • Ragtime Mouse - I've never done this, but it seems like a waste of time unless you want some money/exp.
  • Chocobo Hot and Cold - takes forever, but kind of an interesting progression and some good items. If you put up with the FFVII chocobo stuff, there's no way this is worse than that.
  • Chocographs - see above.
  • Rare Coffees - you've almost definitely missed this already, it involves going to Dali at a certain point in disc 2 to complete it.
  • Kupo Nuts - random item rewards, but if you want a unique but ultimately worthless comedy item, give him a kupo nut at the start of disc 4.
  • Mognet - I think you need to do some of the chocobo stuff to even access the later part of this quest. Get a good item for it, but you can get it elsewhere. Depends how much you like the Mognet letters, and I recall you hating them.
  • Stiltzkin - Missed it if you haven't been keeping up with buying his items.
  • Stellazzio - Good items, probably one of the more worthwhile items to get.
  • Chocobo Dive Spots - you get some really good items from it + someone's ultimate weapon. Worth it if you're doing the chocobo stuff anyway.
  • Chocobo Beaches - nope, not really worth it at all unless you think healing is hard to do in this game.
  • Chocobo Mountain Crack - same as the dive spots, only you'd need this to do the Mognet quest.
  • Hippaul Racing - only if you want cards, but it's just button mashing anyway.
  • Daguerreo - yeah, do that asap. One of Steiner's missable weapons is there,
  • Treasure Hunter - it's a ranked thing based on treasure chests + key items + cards, so you'll never get it anyway if you don't do the card collecting stuff.
  • Excalibur - if you have a bunch of money to spend at the auction, go for it. Kind of a boring side quest though since you have to stand around the auction house buying junk.
  • Nero Family - I've never heard of this, but it seems like a huge pain. Gives you the same item as the Mognet quest, so probably not worth doing both of those.
  • Master Synthesis- I'm not sure what this is, but if it's just synthesizing the best stuff in the game then you'd need that for the best skills/weapons. If you're not fighting Ozma then... not worth it?
  • Ultimate Weapons - Some of them are kinda easy to get, Vivi's is just examining a spot in the final dungeon for example. A bunch are in the chocobo sidequest. Quina's involves catching frogs so fuck that.

As for when to start them, aside from the specific stuff I mentioned you can probably just put it off until endgame. "Spoiler", you're going to be able to move around the world map very easily soon, so wait until that moment at least to start them for the least frustration.

Re: Ozma, he's seriously not that bad! I beat him without a guide, which is more than I can say about some of the FFVII superbosses you took down. Honestly I can't take him seriously, he dealt the final blow on himself when I fought him. Uh, if you do go for it in the end... prepare to be visually disappointed...

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@zombiepie: Chocobo Hot and Cold provides some very nice quest rewards and is pretty fun (albeit time-consuming), and is worth doing if you want to change your mind and beat Ozma/get Zidane's ultimate weapon. Ozma is also not that bad if you prep right, he is not nearly the slog of something like the Weapons in FFVII, but isn't really a pivotal piece of content if you don't want to do it.

Catching frogs only matters if you plan on using Quina in your endgame party. S/he is fairly powerful as both a physical attacker and a spellcaster, but is not so powerful as to be mandatory if you still really really hate the character.

Rare coffees are worth finding if possible, but you may have missed one of the quest triggers, or are very close to doing so. Look it up if you need to I suppose.

Stellazio are worth grabbing just for the rewards from the duck lady. Getting all of them is great if you feel like it.

Mognet is worthwhile if you haven't already missed needed quest triggers. Same with Stiltzkin. If you're still able to go to Mognet you should just to see it.

Absolutely see Daguerro, its a cool side area with nice shops.

The ultimate weapons are usually quite easy to acquire. Two will require you to have a powered up chocobo and hot peppers.

None of the others are really vital for the kind of playthrough you are shooting for. Do them if you find them but don't stress over them. Nothing is as outright bad as Chocobo racing, so breathe easy.

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#43  Edited By soimadeanaccount

I don't know if asking for a series to grow up with its audience is an easy or even the correct thing to do, and I don't know if it is just an age thing. Nintendo and pokemon pretty much swear by there will always be 6 years old, there's also the matter of a series' expectation to stay true to its roots. For animu and FF there will always be teenagers, and then there's also culture differences to consider. People knocks the current FF for pretty much taking their design out of the covers of whatever j-pop/j-rock magazine...or so I heard, because quite frankly I don't know, how would I? I don't live in that part of the world. But that's not necessarily wrong if that's what's popular and people are into that half way across the world.

The PR line of "...bring in new audience/ideas, but stay true to satisfy existing fans...blah blah" is in full effect here, although I would argue that there's an added slight twist to it. Part of the "existing fans" are actually changing, and the same old formula would likely hook the new audience as they did with the old, but would actually distance the former.

As for side quests and Western RPGs, for some reason I always find the central story of Western RPGs to be the most by the number magical macguffin chase with an ancient evil thrown in. Their side quests however are best when they distance themselves away from the main plot, showcasing the world and giving it a hint of "everyday life" in small bites. It isn't going to rescue the main story, but when done correctly it makes the world and the characters feel more lively.

Back to the game at hand...I think most of the chocobo stuff are related to each other, and they also lead into ultimate weapon and master synthesis which leads to getting powerful equipment and skills. Those might be worthwhile. Could be a bit time consuming, but infinitely better than the god damn chocobo racing in FF7...the reward might not be as broken tho.

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Yeah, the chocobo stuff is worth doing, from what I recall. It unlocks Ozma but the stuff you get on the way to that is valuable. I think. I'm trying to think back 16 years here.

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Chocobo treasure hunt stuff is the one I had the most fun with because it's actually surprisingly well done with all the chocograph stuff.

Tetra master is garbage, there's zero point to it.

Of the other things that stand out from that list...

- Quina is garbage and his/her (the fuck is that thing anyway) ultimate/trance is RNG IIRC, so no

- Stellazio rings a bell, but that sounds like the coin bullshit. Can't remember the point to it.

- The Auction was sorta ok? I don't remember it being that annoying

- AVOID EVERYTHING TO DO WITH MOGS THEY'RE SHIT AND THIS GAME IS SLOW ENOUGH AS IT IS

- At least see Ozma to see how shit it is.

- Maybe get a couple of ultimate weapons I dunno

Try to endeavor to get most of the stuff you want done before the final disc because A Thing Happens. Pinguino will tell you which ones will become unavailable.

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#46  Edited By hassun

Other have already given you the advice you need but I do want you to at least attempt Ozma. Many people have bitten off more than they could chew on Ozma.

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Huh. I've beaten this game maybe half a dozen times and I never knew you could make spells have multiple targets. Good thing its not a particularly hard game.

Far as the side quests go; none of them really are worth it. I usually do the Mognet stuff since I like the letters, but thats about it. Sometimes I do the Chocobo stuff too, there's some good items there. Also, if you haven't been using Quina at all, there is at least one time coming up when you are forced to use him/her; so you may want to catch a few frogs/do something so that s/he's not a total waste of space.

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The side quests feel like window dressing rather then distractions in this game, and none of them are really that "pull your hair out" levels of hard.

I always made sure to beat Hades to unlock the Synthesis shop. You get one of the strongest summons for Dagger, and best gear and accessories in the game for most of the roster. The Stellazzio fetch quest ties into this one pretty well.

The Chocobo mini-games and Friendly Monster sidequests are tied into the Ozma superboss fight.

Ultimate Weapons are like any other FF game. Some of them are easy to get and some of them are some straight up bull. They are spread out among most of the major side-quests of the game (Excalibur is kinda one of Steiner's for example.)

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Attempting Ozma likely require doing the friendly animal quest. It is actually possible to defeat Ozma without doing it...I have done it with a healthy dose of luck.

The difficult part with Ozma is how RNG and unpredictable it behaves. It is totally possible that you get lucky and bum rush him down quickly or have the most prepared set up but still get wipe. After all this is a game that many have done level 1 run on.

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@zombiepie: Stellazio, chocobo stuff, daguero, find a friendly monster, find the ragtime mouse once, get the coffee, find garnet's real name, go to quan's dwelling with Vivi and quina, and find mognet central (you don't have to do the quest, but find it).

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